This time span before the Passion (traditionally called Easter, which we will refer to as The Passion) is important to find depth of meaning in a tradition spanning thousands of years. A tradition of this kind runs the risk of becoming stale and clichéd, even if the significance of the event it commemorates reverberates over many centuries. It is our own passion to seek renewal in the old, to learn more in the known and to experience the power in the familiar.
It is easy to fall into complacency while upholding tradition. Our goal is to know God more in every feast when we rejoice in the goodness and grace of our Father.
The nation of Israel heard the sound of the trumpet when they gathered around the mountain where God manifested his presence.
Then it came to pass on the third day, in the morning, that there were thunderings and lightnings, and a thick cloud on the mountain; and the sound of the trumpet was very loud, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled. (Exodus 19:16)
This is the goal. We are praying to hear the trumpet and tremble at the sound. This is the time of year to fall down on your knees in awe and reverence for the great work Christ has done on the cross.
Let us time travel – back to an evening meal and a dark night that followed…
Jesus and his disciples sat down for the Passover meal, according to the tradition of many centuries. It felt ordinary, but it was uniquely special and never to be repeated.
Look out for the extraordinary in every feast.
This meal began in an unexpected way. It was not customary for the host to wash the feet of the guests. It was done by either the guest himself or a slave. Jesus is comfortable in ‘breaking the laws’.
Peter’s pride excluded him. He wanted to dictate and control. He felt uncomfortable with the change. Jesus insists on doing it his way. Baptism is arrival in the Kingdom. Thereafter only a washing is necessary to get rid of the grime of the world in which we have to travel.
…that He might sanctify and cleanse her [the church] with the washing of water by the word.(Ephesians 5:26)
To receive Jesus, is to submit to his way of doing. Obedience is our worship, even if it feels awkward in the context.
Judas’s betrayal was foremost in Jesus’ mind. Judas acts normal. If the other disciples might have grasped the full implication of the situation, they would have prevented him to go ahead.
On the host’s left was the place for the guest of honour. That place was reserved for Judas. It was yet another appeal from Jesus to Judas to reconsider his actions.
To offer the guest something from the meal was a special invitation to conversation. The host was saying, this is especially for you – let’s talk. Jesus offered it to Judas. When your own devices and plans separate you from God, look out for the invitation to conversation. God speaks no blame, no reproach – just an invitation. (Isaiah 1:18)
Again and again the appeal came. The darkness and own agenda in Judas’ heart won him over. When Judas received the morsel from Jesus (an invitation to communicate) the devil entered him. He was so set on his own plan that he could not respond to Jesus’ many appeals.
John mentions that when Judas went out, it was night. This is very significant. Deeds of darkness take place in the dark. Leaving the presence of Jesus is darkness. Leaving Christ to follow your own plans is your soul’s night.
Some wealthy friend of Jesus probably gave Him the key to this walled garden outside the city gates to use whenever He needed peace and quiet. Jerusalem was too crowded for gardens and ceremonial rules forbade soil or manure in the sacred city. The garden that is shown to tourists comprises of about eight olive trees, so old they look like rocks.
Judas knew that Jesus planned to go there and that is where he planned the arrest to take place.
John states there was a company of soldiers plus the officers from the chief priests and Pharisees. The officers were the Temple police. The Temple had police to keep order and the Sanhedrin (Jewish Council of 70) had police to carry out their decrees. There was also a band of Roman soldiers. The Greek word used is speira. It had three meanings: a Roman cohort, which means 600 men or auxiliary soldiers of 1000 men (240 cavalry and 760 infantry). It is sometimes used for a detachment of 200 men.
Even the word in the last meaning indicated an overwhelming force to arrest a simple Galilean carpenter. The authorities were clearly very scared of Jesus and His influence and expected a small war. They sent an army to grab Him!! Just think how surprisingly simple the arrest took place – in surrender and peace – fully under the control of Jesus himself.
Peter was willing to fight, even against an overwhelming armed force.
He cut the soldier’s ear off.
When the church draws the sword, it cuts the people’s ears off. Their ability to hear the Gospel is taken away. Only a touch of Jesus can heal their ears. The Gospel only penetrates with a touch of Jesus himself.
Jesus is before Annas. Only John mentions this. Annas was the power behind the throne of the high priest. The high priest was a collaborator with the Romans and lived in ease, comfort, prestige and power. The family of Annas was very rich and he was the power behind it all – knowing how to play the game. The shops inside the Temple were called the Bazaars of Annas. He was notorious and of course very angry that Jesus had upset his comfortable flow of money at the cleansing of the Temple court.
The questioning before Annas was a mockery of justice, done in secret and haste under the cover of night. Jesus had no hope of a fair trial. He knew how things would go. He went through the motions. In a reading of all four accounts of the trial, found in the four Gospels, it is obvious that Jesus was in control and conducted his own trial.
Peter’s denial has been the subject of many sermons and comments over the years. Peter’s desire to support Jesus is undeniable. He drew his sword in the garden and he was present in a situation where he could have been dragged off and imprisoned just for being where he was. Yes, he failed in courage, but only because he was in a situation which the others did not even face.
Peter loved Jesus – that is a fact. He was in that courtyard because of love and loyalty.
Peter was redeemed. One must realize that the story of his denial would get around and he would suffer great humiliation with a sense of profound failure. But Peter did not flee from his family in Jesus, the other disciples. He found refuge in their company and somehow found his way back behind the closed doors where the disciples waited in fear after the crucifixion.
Jesus saw his courage, his loyalty, and his love. Jesus looked at him, not in reproach, but in love.The eyes of Jesus that night preserved Peter’s soul. Jesus saw his dear friend buckle under the pressure of vicious judgment and overwhelming odds of heartless and brutal authority. He communicated His love and redemption to Peter and that preserved Peter in a night of bitter regret and breakdown. It was notthe look of “I told you so”.
Keep in mind that Peter had the revelation from the Father that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God (Matthew 16: 13-20).
Judas went back to the leaders, threw the money down and said: I have betrayed innocent blood. He died by his own hand, full of guilt, lonely and broken without ever realizing with Whom he had to do.
Revelation knowledge made Peter brave. His courage is amazing; his defeat diminishes in the light of his leadership in the church later on.
The Jewish leaders twisted their charge against Jesus. To them He was blasphemous (Matthew 26:65). Pilate would not act on a charge like that and would dismiss it as a religious quarrel. They made it political with the hint of rebellion in. They accused Jesus of claiming to be a king.
They denied every principle they had in order to get the death penalty. They suddenly confessed they have no king but the Caesar.
Samuel said to the people God is their king (Samuel 12:12). When the Romans first instituted taxes, there was almost a bloody revolt. The declared God to be their king and only to Him they wanted to pay tribute. Now they claimed Caesar as king – a shameful about-face. Pilate must have gasped in astonishment.
PILATE, on the other hand, behaves very strangely. He most certainly realized that the trump up charges of the Jews were a series of lies. He was deeply impressed with Jesus. He did not want to condemn Him to death – yet he did.
Jesus is the majestic conductor of His own trial. Pilate recognized that Jesus is actually in control. He is not a pathetic victim of cruelty. Pilate treated Him with respect. He knew Jesus was different and special.
Jesus speaks directly about His kingdom. He does not try to explain. He states the truth. He knows He is about to die and gets the message out straight and undiluted.
He makes it clear that His kingdom is in the hearts of men, not of this earth and that the conquest would be love.
Pilate says: See the man. The word Pilate uses is ho, the normal Greek word for human being, but the Greek thinkers often used it for the ideal man, the heavenly man. Pilate is surprised that the torture has not finished Jesus off.
Pilate says he has the power to release Him or execute Him. Jesus is clear that Pilate has no power at all except what is given to execute God’s plan. Jesus is in a triumphant procession on His way to the cross.
BARRABAS: The choice of the people stayed with them forever. They chose the man of bloody force and violence and rejected the man of love and gentleness. Throughout the centuries this choice was made again and again.
It was the death most dreaded in the ancient world.
When a verdict was pronounced the execution took place immediately after. The convicted had to carry his own cross and after scourging it was a bloody procession of lashing and mocking to get the staggering prisoner to the place of execution. In front of him was a soldier with a placard stating his crime and he was led through as many streets as possible to serve as a warning to all watching. There was another reason for the long detour to the cross. If any person could bear witness in his favour, he might come forward to do so. In this case the procession stopped and the trial repeated.
The placard for the Cross was written in Hebrew, Latin and Greek. It was three of the great nations of the ancient world. The culmination of their talents could have been great. The Romans taught law and good government, the Greeks taught philosophy and art and the Hebrews had access to the one true God.
Jesus was the supreme beauty and the highest thought of God. In him was the law of God and the kingdom of God. In him was the very image of God. All the world’s seekings and strivings found their consummation in him. It was symbolic that the three great languages of the world should call him king. [William Barclay]
The tunic woven in one piece was described exactly as the one the High Priest wore. The function of the High Priest was to be the connection of the people to God. The Latin for priest is Pontifex, which means bridge-builder. This is exactly what the cross did. Jesus was the perfect High Priest, the bridge-builder to the presence of God.
The other Gospel tells of Jesus dying with a great shout on His lips. They do not say the words (Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37; Luke 23:46). John tells us what He said. He said these words not in weary defeat, but in a voice that one does not expect from a dying man.
The words: it is finished is one word in Greek = tetelestai. It also means great shout.He died when the price was paid and God said enough. He leaned back His head and gave up His spirit as if He rested after the work is done.
To make sure that Jesus was dead, a soldier thrusted a spear into His side and out flowed water and blood. It was a sure sign of death, but also the sign of a very sick man.He literally took our sickness on Him on the cross. Another prophecy was fulfilled: They look on him whom they have pierced – Zechariah 12:10.
Joseph and Nicodemus stepped out boldly after the death of Jesus. Joseph fearlessly approached the Romans for the body of Jesus. In His death he drew men unto Him just as He prophesied (John 12:32).
Death has meaning. It is never wasted. Through Jesus God showed his presence in death. After he died secret disciples stepped forward – the worst has happened. Now the tables are turned.
It was customary to visit the tomb for three days after the burial. They also believed that the spirit of the person hovered for three days but then departed. The body would then become unrecognizable through decay.
Jesus’ friends were not allowed to make the journey on the Sabbath – they would break the law. Sunday morning Mary came early. Greek= proi, which means the last of the four watches between 3-6am. Still dark grey – she couldn’t wait any longer.
Mary might have thought the Jewish leader took the body, but it is unlikely that they would touch a dead body or have anything to do with the dead over the Sabbath.
Peter was still acknowledged as the leader – it was to him that Mary went. Peter was amongst his brothers in his failure, defeat and heartbroken state of bewilderment.
John ran faster, he was younger. John looked in but Peter ran right on and in – typical of his nature. Peter was amazed and still, but John’s mind started working. If somebody stole the body why did they leave the grave clothes?
The clothes were not disarranged. The clothes were where the body had been and exactly in the shape of the body – in their folds. The grave clothes told a whole story of their own. They looked as of the body has just evaporated from them. The napkin for the head was folded neatly. The sight spoke to John and he believed. He saw with his own eyes and believed.
Love was the foundation of faith. Love brought Mary to the tomb, love made John believe. Love opened his eyes and mind.
Love is the interpreter of life. Love knows truth when the mind is still struggling and uncertain.
MARY in the garden
The scene in the garden where Mary recognizes Jesus is probably one of the most dramatic moments in literature. Mary was the first to see the risen Christ. Her love is the driving force of all her actions. She brought the news to the disciples, was probably left behind in the race, but comes back to the garden. They have already left again, running to the others with the news. Mary stood weeping. She didn’t know where to now, what to make of things. She was confused and bewildered. She could not recognize this man talking to her through her tears. Her sorrow blinded her. In loss we weep for ourselves. The loved one is with God, no need for tears there. But we feel the sharp pain of loss. As long as our tears are lifted up to God so that we do not miss the glory.
Mary’s eyes were on the tomb.It is looking in the wrong direction. Our eye must be on heaven and God with us where we will know that our loved one is in His presence. Tears are good, cry, grieve – but do not despair and keep your eyes on the tomb.
DO NOT TOUCH
Greatness of this event – truly the greatest in history– transcends time.
Jesus was on His way to enter heaven triumphantly as described in Revelation 5. He was the first fruit of the church(sheaf of wheat) to wave before the Father, just like at the Feast of the Firstfruits.
“Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, when you come into the land which I give unto you, and shall reap the harvest thereof, then you shall bring a sheaf of the firstfruits of your harvest unto the priest.
And he shall wave the sheaf before the Lord, to be accepted for you: on the morning after the Sabbath the priest shall wave it” (Leviticus 23:10-11)
The Feast of the Firstfruits is celebrated after the Sabbath in the week of the Passover and the first sheaf of wheat is waved before the priest. Jesus was the first fruit of the harvest of the church and was glorified before the Father.
But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
(Easter is associated with the Babylonian feast of first fruits, a spring festival when the pagans asked their fertility god (Ishtar – where the name Easter comes from) for new babies. The egg hunt is to celebrate the attempts to conceive new life. Fertile things in nature are worshipped like rabbits. The people wore new clothes to celebrate the buds on the trees.)
Our Easter is all about the resurrection– the first fruit of the church.
We have to explain things in calculated time. In a glorified state Jesus could enter time and leave it again as He wanted to. He had full control over His glorification. He was back in His heavenly realm and showed Himself on earth to whom He willed and when He wanted. He entered the seen from the unseen as He conducted His appearances until the Ascension.
THOMAS – briefly
Thomas refused to be dragged into something he did not understand. He was strong and wanted to come to his own conclusion. Jesus respected this and invited him to investigate. Thomas is honest to the bone. He had to be sure. His faith was established on truth, not on stories of others and things that didn’t make sense.
When he received his confirmation, he surrendered in victorious worship.His faith was based on full revelation and worship flows spontaneously.
The Gospels were not meant as biographies. The aim of the words is not to give information, but to communicate life.
It is to give life to the image of Jesus so that the reader can meet Him personally to learn from Him directly and experience true life through Him.
We read to know God, not history.