The story of the Passion of Jesus is shortened by the lectionary readings. We had left off where Jesus had just spoken to his disciples after Judas left to complete the task he was compiled to do – because of his own misunderstanding of Jesus’ purpose, because of Satan who had sway over him, or because another reason that is not yet uncovered/understood. It is interesting that the gospel of John does not contain the institution of the bread and the wine. That is the reason I included the I Corinthians passage; plus it seemed to continue the theme/direction of my writing. But I digress. After John 13, but before Jesus and disciples when to the garden, Jesus has some final teachings for his disciples. As I read through them, a phrase caught my eye. One of the disciples said that Jesus is now talking plainly instead of in parables, and that presumably the disciples more clearly understood then things they needed. Or at least most of the things – we will pick that up later on.
“After Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the Kidron valley to a place where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, because Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas brought a detachment of soldiers together with police from the chief priests and the Pharisees, and they came there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that was to happen to him, came forward and asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” They answered, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus replied, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they stepped back and fell to the ground. Again he asked them, “Whom are you looking for?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So if you are looking for me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken, “I did not lose a single one of those whom you gave me.” (John 18:1 – 9)
Two things I want to highlight, but briefly because the scripture passages before us today are lengthy – I suspect however I will break in multiple times to point things out. First, that when Jesus identifies himself, those who came to arrest him were so taken aback that they fell to the ground. I like to believer that Jesus’ power and presence was so absolute that it was stunning. Biblical commentators have also noted the way the writer of the gospel of John have described this interaction. The other portion I want to point out is that Jesus was safeguarding his disciples – his 11 disciples, or so the biblical commentators hint at. Does this mean that Judas was not “given”? This idea might come up again.
“Then Simon Peter, who had a sword, drew it, struck the high priest’s slave, and cut off his right ear. The slave’s name was Malchus. Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (Verses 10 – 11)
Ah Peter! Impetus quick to act Peter. It is a rough road ahead for one of my favorite disciples.
“So the soldiers, their officer, and the Jewish police arrested Jesus and bound him. First they took him to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jews that it was better to have one person die for the people. Simon Peter and another disciple followed Jesus. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he went with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, but Peter was standing outside at the gate. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out, spoke to the woman who guarded the gate, and brought Peter in. The woman said to Peter, “You are not also one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” (Verses 12 -17)
The lectionary passages thus far have not included Jesus forewarning Peter he would deny him. But we did not need to read that to know Jesus warned him. But I am inclined to wait to discuss Peter’s back pedaling assertion.
“Now the slaves and the police had made a charcoal fire because it was cold, and they were standing around it and warming themselves. Peter also was standing with them and warming himself. Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. Jesus answered, “I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.” When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” Jesus answered, “If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?” Then Annas sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.” (Verses 18 – 24)
It may interest you to know, beloved readers, it was very unusual for anyone to be brought to the temple officials in secret, during the night hours. But there was an urgency to deal with this matter, this Jesus. And the temple officials needed and desperately wanted to get this dealt with.
“Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. They asked him, “You are not also one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” One of the slaves of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” Again Peter denied it, and at that moment the cock crowed.” (Verses 25 – 27)
Again, I am deferring on Peter.
“Then they took Jesus from Caiaphas to Pilate’s headquarters. It was early in the morning. They themselves did not enter the headquarters, so as to avoid ritual defilement and to be able to eat the Passover. So Pilate went out to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” They answered, “If this man were not a criminal, we would not have handed him over to you.” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him according to your law.” The Jews replied, “We are not permitted to put anyone to death.” (This was to fulfill what Jesus had said when he indicated the kind of death he was to die.)” (Verses 28 – 32)
The situation is indeed dire, as we knew it would be. Pressed with not being able to mete out the punishment that the temple officials wanted, and probably felt that Jesus deserved, they had to rely on what could achieved by appealing to the government that was in control over them. How galling it must have been, to not mete out judgment on their own.
“Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you ask this on your own, or did others tell you about me?” Pilate replied, “I am not a Jew, am I? Your own nation and the chief priests have handed you over to me. What have you done?” Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.” Pilate asked him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone who belongs to the truth listens to my voice.” Pilate asked him, “What is truth?” (Verses 33 – 38a)
Aside from the threat of death, it sounds like a philosophical discussion. And it sounds like Pilate is more inclined to see it that way.
“After he had said this, he went out to the Jews again and told them, “I find no case against him. But you have a custom that I release someone for you at the Passover. Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” They shouted in reply, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a bandit.” (Verses 38b – 40)
There comes a point in the Passion story where the events seem to take on a life of their own. What I mean by that is regardless of what anyone does or tries to do, Jesus will be put to death. There is an inevitability that was set in motion at Jesus’ birth, and culminates now in Christ’s death – Judas’ betrayal completely aside. Or maybe more likely, Judas’ betrayal part of the inevitability. Who than can be said to be culpable? Judas? The temple officials? Pilate?
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. And the soldiers wove a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and they dressed him in a purple robe. They kept coming up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and striking him on the face. Pilate went out again and said to them, “Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no case against him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has claimed to be the Son of God.” (Chapter 19, verses 1 – 7)
I find it interesting that the “Jews”, meaning not the common Jew on the street but the temple officials and those who were in support of them, never considered that perhaps Jesus was actually the Son of God, the Messiah. That Jesus’ claim was not blasphemy, which is the charge the “Jews” now leveled at him. It becomes clearer that the Jewish officials have an agenda that they insist on pursuing.
“Now when Pilate heard this, he was more afraid than ever. He entered his headquarters again and asked Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above; therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.” From then on Pilate tried to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.” (Verses 8 – 12)
And back and forth it goes as to what Jesus is charged with – religious or political? The two have a bad tendency to be blurred, then as now.
“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside and sat on the judge’s bench at a place called The Stone Pavement, or in Hebrew Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; and it was about noon. He said to the Jews, “Here is your King!” They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.” Then he handed him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in Hebrew is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” (Verses 13 – 22)
If you remember back, beloved reader, in chapter 18 verse 38b, Pilate asked “What is truth?” Pilate did order written what the truth was, is, and ever shall be – not just for the Jews but for all of humanity.
“When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” (Verses 23 – 30)
So ends Jesus’ ministry, and his human life. I have to sit and reflect on all the endings and finishes that I have known. All the culminations and denouements that have come about. For all intensive purposes, this is the time to turn and walk away.
“Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. [I want to briefly explain that in crucifixxions breaking the legs greatly hastens death.] Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, “None of his bones shall be broken.” And again another passage of scripture says, “They will look on the one whom they have pierced.” (Verses 31 – 37)
The psalm passage for Good Friday suggests the emotions that Jesus might have had; not that it is a reporting of what Jesus said. But that the psalmist wrote these words many generations before, and some of the gospels place the opening lines in Jesus’ mouth. As the psalmist continues to speak, it is easy to discern what can be applied to Jesus – indeed, some “fulfillment of prophecy” is contained here. And what is not applicable to Jesus. In its entirety however, it is a good way to close out today, Good Friday. For it is true, out of lamentations and sorrow does come good.
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from helping me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer; and by night, but find no rest.
Yet you are holy, enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our ancestors trusted; they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried, and were saved; in you they trusted, and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm, and not human; scorned by others, and despised by the people.
All who see me mock at me; they make mouths at me, they shake their heads;
“Commit your cause to the Lord; let him deliver— let him rescue the one in whom he delights!”
Yet it was you who took me from the womb; you kept me safe on my mother’s breast.
On you I was cast from my birth, and since my mother bore me you have been my God.
Do not be far from me, for trouble is near and there is no one to help.
Many bulls encircle me, strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint; my heart is like wax; it is melted within my breast; my mouth is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws; you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs are all around me; a company of evildoers encircles me.
My hands and feet have shriveled; I can count all my bones.
They stare and gloat over me; they divide my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far away! O my help, come quickly to my aid! Deliver my soul from the sword, my life from the power of the dog!
Save me from the mouth of the lion! From the horns of the wild oxen you have rescued me.
I will tell of your name to my brothers and sisters; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him; stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he did not despise or abhor the affliction of the afflicted; he did not hide his face from me, but heard when I cried to him.
From you comes my praise in the great congregation; my vows I will pay before those who fear him.
The poor shall eat and be satisfied; those who seek him shall praise the Lord.
May your hearts live forever!
All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord; and all the families of the nations shall worship before him. For dominion belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations. To him, indeed, shall all who sleep in the earth bow down; before him shall bow all who go down to the dust, and I shall live for him.
Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord, and proclaim his deliverance to a people yet unborn, saying that he has done it.” (Psalm 22)
May you, beloved reader, find the good in this Good Friday. Selah!