These events leading up to the cross such powerfully human moments for Jesus. The level of angst, stress, emotional exhaustion, personal betrayal, and as Jesus says in v. 53, "the power of darkness."
These are the moments where we really see Jesus enduring the worst of the human experience and at the deepest levels. His willingness to walk this road and "drink this cup" is so astonishing, so humbling... and it's so horrifying that he had to; horrifying that my guilt and sin made this necessary; horrifying that my self-centeredness could be indifferent toward that; horrifying that I can shrug that off or be unaffected by it; horrifying that Jesus is so one sided and extreme in his love that I'm uncomfortable receiving it because my response is so disproportionate... Jesus is so fiercely and doggedly determined to love us so powerfully and sacrificially and recklessly. I really can't even fathom it.
I know what it's like to experience involuntary internal and physical pain. And in the moments of that pain, not nearly as intense as Jesus' here, I would opt out in a second if I could. But Jesus opted in. And at every moment he stayed the course. He held fast. His mercy and grace has a kind of resilience that's so unnatural. I'm just in awe of Jesus and his resolve, his physical toughness for sure, but his emotional durability. He's not shut off and guarded, or detached. He's altogether emotionally connected to his own heart and to others, and yet he's able to step into the pain of all this and push through it, while not coming dislodged from his moorings.
One of the evidences that Jesus remains emotionally connected are the two times he repeats to the disciples that they should "pray that you may not enter into temptation." It reminds me of when Jesus teaches them to pray, and includes that line "lead us not into temptation..." Even at his moment of greatest vulnerability Jesus is concerned for the vulnerabilities of his disciples. He's mindful of the threats they are facing and the difficulty coming for them. I don't know what specific temptations Jesus had in my mind for certain, but I can imagine he knew that what he was about to walk through would tempt them toward fear, control, self-pity, despair, resentment, anger and violence, among other things.
And Jesus in his moment of suffering, is aware that others are facing their own struggle, and as he's drawing strength to endure from the Spirit, he's mindful that if they're going to follow him through this crisis and on the other side, they'll have to do the same.
In the midst of personal suffering he's genuinely concerned for the struggle of his friends, who are simultaneously blind to the level of anguish he's enduring... that's Jesus man. He is stunning.
I'm just grateful... and kind of, just sitting in this today, thinking about him. About his willingness step into such suffering, and to stand up straight under the unbearable weight of it. That's truly heroic.
A Prayer for Willingness:
Father, I look at all that Jesus was willing to endure on our behalf... on my behalf. Give me a willingness to meditate on that, and sit in that and linger over that long enough to feel the weight of it myself. If he is willing to suffer so brutally for me and bear my burden of guilt, give me at least the willingness to suffer the realization of why... let me feel something of the unimaginable pain Jesus went through... let me feel something of the oppression and injustice and darkness which buried him, so that I might experience a greater measure of the grace and mercy which is mine in Him. Give me a willingness to connect to Jesus' sorrow and suffering so I can enter into the fullness of the Joy he's purchased for me. Amen.
Peter gives us such a painful glimpse of ourselves here... Peter was following Jesus "at a distance" (v. 54); he denies even "knowing him." (v. 57); he disassociates from Jesus again in v. 58 and then denies any knowledge of Jesus in v. 60; and Peter wept over and felt the sting of his own cowardice in v. 62. Man, that's me.
I want to be near Jesus so desperately but there are these dark forces around me and within me which keep me following at a distance, trying to preserve my own safety while sitting among those who hate Jesus. Eventually there are those opportunities we face to either stand with Jesus or distance ourselves further from him, and we distance ourselves in all kinds of ways because the social cost, physical cost, professional cost, relational cost, or some other cost is just too great. It's the impulsive response... we regret it almost immediately. But it's too late. And we're ashamed and grieved by our own weakness and cowardice.
And while our heads are spinning and hearts are lashing ourselves, that next opportunity is there and our instinct hasn't changed. We double down on our denial of Christ... we don't want to heat that comes from identifying with him, or being "those" people. And thecycle repeats... we can't stand ourselves and we're wallowing in shame, wishing we were stronger. We want to see ourselves like Peter saw himself at the last supper when he said, "Lord, I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death." That's who we want to be, but the pressure of the moment reveals we aren't that.
And this can happen so unexpectedly, so suddenly and surprisingly. We never see it coming. We're just left in these quiet moments of our hearts to confront our true selves and with Peter, grieve bitterly over our failures. And yet, we know the end of Peter's story.
We know while Peter denied Jesus, Jesus claimed Peter. Whereas Peter distanced himself from Jesus, Jesus drew near to Peter. His failure and denial of Christ was not the defining moment of Peter's life. Jesus' commissioning of Peter, with his failures in full view, is the defining moment of Peter's life. Jesus isn't done with him over his failures. Jesus doesn't distance himself from Peter because he followed at a distance himself.
And so it is with us... we don't have to wallow in shame over our failures and sin and cowardice. We can stand up straight and face again the risen Savior who holds nothing against us but provides everything for us. We can stand up after all our failures, and again after each failure to look Jesus in the eye, not to feel the embarrassment we are to him, but to reconnect the empowerment we receive from him. He's not resentful toward us... but he wants more for us. And he'll give us what we need, including grace and forgiveness for our very real sin, but also including his power and presence for our very real ministry. He's not done with us over our cowardice... he's giving himself more fully to us to make us more courageous.
Knowing Peter's story should give us all hope. Our past may haunt us. Our weakness may humiliate us. But because of Jesus we have a meaningful future with incredible possibility and Jesus loves to use train wrecks like us to accomplish his purposes so that he gets all the glory.
A Prayer for Redemption:
Lord God, there is so much in me and in my history that's embarrassing. There are so many things I've done to reap destruction and dysfunction. I have made and continue to make a mess of my life in all kinds of different ways. But you're a redeemer. You intervene on our behalf. You get involved with our messes. You reclaim what is lost or forfeited. You create beauty from ashes. I need redemption in all these ways and at every level. Would you, in your mercy and grace, rewrite my story. Take everything, even the most broken parts of my life, and use them to display your character and glory. Like Peter, take my worst failures and use them to make yourself real to others. And give me the courage to boast in my weakness, that the power of Christ might be made known. Amen.
This passage really displays the corruption of the human heart and our natural disposition toward Jesus. First, you have the men beating and mocking Jesus. They aren't even taking Jesus seriously. They're playing games with him. Their attitude is totally cavalier and dismissive. There is an utter contempt for Jesus in how they mock him. Man, we live in a world that doesn't take Jesus seriously and which doesn't take our response to Jesus seriously...
The second part, with the Sanhedrin convening for this kangaroo court, shows us our arrogance toward Jesus in a different way. Rather than just being dismissive toward Jesus, they presume to judge Jesus. They literally but God on trial... and find him guilty. But what about every one of us... do we not also put Jesus on trial in our own hearts? Are we not constantly evaluating the legitimacy of his claims, the worthiness of his authority, and whether or not he's doing enough for us. It's pretty alarming and convicting to see the Pharisees and Scribes doing so brazenly what I am still prone to doing so privately.
The irony here is the truly guilty are condemning the righteous judge. Those who have limited authority delegated to them, are presuming to command him who has ultimate authority over all things. And this is the error we all make; it's the sin that lurks in every one of us; the elevating of ourselves to the place of authority in our lives, even above the one who gives us life. We reject God and put ourselves in his place, presuming to pass judgement on him, while scoffing at the idea that he could rightly judge us.
I wonder if Jesus is on trial with you today. I wonder if you are positioning yourself as the one in authority over him, as though he answers to you? Let's repent of that arrogant posture and disposition which we're guilty of at some level and which we're all prone toward drifting back to.
A Prayer for Submission:
Father, forgive me for my resistance to you, to your Son, and to your authority over me. Here, Jesus is taking my place willingly... suffering as one who is guilty. Meanwhile, I try to take his place on a throne I'm wildly unfit for and pretend it's a reasonable claim. Forgive me for all the ways that I try to assume the role over you and my life that is rightly yours over me and my life. Forgive me for not taking you nearly seriously enough and for playing games with you. I see myself today, in these men who hated Jesus and treated him with such contempt and it's convicting and grievous. Jesus, I vacate the throne of my life and the seat of judgment that presumes to preside over you. Rid me of such arrogance. Assert the authority over me, that is already yours. I gladly submit to you. Amen.
In this passage, we see Jesus' objective innocence. But we also see the corruption of human systems and uman uses of power. Even unelected officials like Herod and Pilate bend to popular opinion. Even though neither found guilt in Jesus, just to satisfy the people, Pilate determines to beat him. Jesus is suffering a variety of injustices, and Luke makes it obvious.
We see the devastating misuse and abuse of earthly forms of power juxtaposed with the assertion of spiritual power from Jesus. It is power, not weakness, keeping Jesus silent. It is power, not weakness, allowing him to persevere and endure. It is power, not weakness, for him to walk out his suffering. It is power, not weakness, to sacrifice for the good of others. It is power, not weakness, not to lash out at ones accusers in anger.
This is a display of the ridiculous ways we leverage human power for personal gain or protection, and with utterly inhumane disregard for others. And the power of the Spirit in Jesus, indeed the power of the gospel, is more clearly seen against that backdrop. Real power is not the ability to impose oneself or ones will on people for self-preservation... Real power is the ability to surrender oneself or ones will to God for the good of others.
Jesus is powerful beyond measure. And that power masquerades in weakness at the cross, but it also flaunts itself in the resurrection.
A Prayer for Power:
Father, I confess that to the extent I have any or grasp for any power, it's generally to use it for selfish ends. I tend to leverage power of position or influence for control and self-enhancement. That is an earthly, fleshly, and sinful impulse. Thank you for sending Jesus to demonstrate real power. And thank you for displaying that power through his life, death and resurrection... but I ask you today, to impart that power to me, by your Spirit, the power to surrender to your will and sacrifice my wants and comforts for the good of others. Keep me from misuses and abuses of power, and lead me in leveraging earthly power to combat injustice and serve others. I want to follow Jesus into that uncomfortable space... but I need you to help me. Amen.
This scene is haunting... to think about the crowd turning into an angry mob vehemently demanding Jesus' life in exchange for a real criminal and murderer. We see here two very common reactions to Jesus.
1) Irrational Rejection
So many of those who reject Jesus do so under the pretense of intellect or reasonableness. This angry mob embodies the real reason people reject Jesus... it's not clarity of thought, it's hardness of heart. Just as Jesus' innocence in this moment didn't matter to the people then, so his perfections don't matter to people today. They evidence in defense of Jesus and the trustworthiness of Jesus is strong, but people make up there minds based on there own desires, wills and assumptions.
I listened to a podcast recently, called Hinge, which is a pastor and atheist exploring together the real Jesus and his claims from a number of different angles. In discussing the resurrection, for which there is a lot supporting evidence, the pastor asked the atheist, "if the resurrection was proven, beyond any doubt, would you believe in and follow Jesus?" And the atheist paused, thought, and to his credit, quite honestly stated, "No, I don't think I would."
There are many people who fancy themselves intellectual and present themselves in that way, but their arguments against Jesus is truly rooted in their hearts not their heads.
2) Uncertain Resignation
Pilate doesn't know what to make up of Jesus, though he's not the disrupter or criminal the people are claiming. He's tried at some level to prevent Jesus' crucifixion, though he was still willing to torture an innocent man to appease the people. Eventually he gives in to their demands. There are those who hate Jesus and reject him outright. And there are those who resign themselves to popular opinion on Jesus. Because they can't figure him out or arrive at a clear conclusion, they default to a more passive rejection of Jesus that is no less a rejection of Jesus than those who do so aggressively.
Oh sure, they think they're more open minded, and more thoughtful and reasonable, but in the end they are on the side of those who rage against Jesus. In their uncertainty they remain self-reliant and self-righteous, rather than taking the leap to relying on Jesus and trusting in his righteous. Faith in Jesus isn't about certainty... it's about where we lean and put our weight down regarding things we're oncertain about. Pilate and those who follow in his steps are those who even though they have some elevated thoughts of Jesus still put their weight down on themselves.
And such were we. All of us at one point were in one of these camps. All of us at some point postured toward Jesus in one of these ways. And that's why he went to the cross... to take the sin of the angry mob and the sins Pilate which live in all of us, and to make forgiveness and reconciliation possible. If you are not in one of those places of irrational rejection and uncertain resignation, it's only because of the grace of Jesus and his power to change your heart. Praise Christ!
If you are still in one of those places today, than plead with Christ to show you himself... and if you're willing to open yourself up to Jesus, I'm confident he will do for you what he's done for so many others... to make himself real to you personally and undeniably.
A Prayer for Change of Heart:
Heavenly Father, there is still a natural skepticism in me, where doubts and questions and uncertainties linger. I still cling to barriers to my faith which I frame as intellectual and rational in my own mind, but the truth is that there's something in me that is identified with such thoughts at this point... I'm afraid of being totally convinced. I'm afraid of opening myelf up fully to Jesus and how that will make me look, or feel or what it will mean. Something of my pride wants to stay unconvinced in certain ways... and there are people I know who struggle this way too... Lord, persuade the unbelieving parts of me heart... help me lay down that resistance that aligns me in some way with the angry mob and with Pilate... change me into a rationally coherent and utterly convinced follower of Jesus.