Before Our Lord faced arrest, persecution, trial and arrest he shared a great deal of counsel and prayer with and for his disciples. John’s Gospel commences his account of these events in chapter 13, verse 1: “Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
It is very painful to consider these events. Think of Jesus giving himself over to these authorities, with their jealous expedience. They knew about of Jesus’ ministry, of his teaching, the witness of the crowds. They knew of his miracles. Caiaphas’s response to the raising of Lazarus was to arrange and approve the plot to kill Jesus. They saw him as a threat – even though knowing the scriptures and being reminded by Jesus that this was the classic error of authorities challenged by the prophets – and so the expedient thing to do is simply eliminate the threat. Most often the threat then dissolves, the band of followers that had formed breaks, and order resumes.
Then think of Jesus giving himself over to Roman justice, with all the unmitigated cruelty they could muster for non-citizens, people not even accorded the basic rights for citizens, such as existed in those times. The Romans were experts at subjugation through power and fear. Whole nations would cower in the corner like a physically abused child, too weak to protest, hoping to simply survive the onslaught and wounded to the core by the experience.
The Romans were very good at this, and Jesus’ time was just about the peak of Roman power, so they felt confident and justified in their purpose and methods. Pilate was a cruelly effective governor. And though we see some hesitation even on his part, once the machine starts rolling it rolls at it has across the entire Mediterranean world, up to England and across to the borders of modern Russia and Iran. They had proven methods of dealing with rebels and upstarts. Their expertise was applied to Jesus.
Every stripe laid across his back, every thorn that tore his skin, every insult hurled at him, every ring of the hammer driving nails through his flesh into the hard wood of that cross, all of it is horror quite beyond most of our experience. To view it, to touch it in mind or heart, is pure violence and pain.
It is, in all of Jesus’ humanity, unbearable. Yet he bore it.
Considering that they did this to Jesus Christ, the only Son of the one true living God, in all his deity, is unbearable. Yet he bore it.
And the hard truth of it is, he did it for me. He did it for you. He did it not in spite of our sin, but because our sin had us so impossibly trapped.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
The way of the cross is the ultimate act of love ever accomplished by anyone – all done for us. When I say it was done for us, we must remember it was done for the purposes of saving all who would be reconciled to the Father through him. We must regard it, therefore on the cosmic scale it demands.
And we must also regard it on the personal scale it demands. This Passion is passion directed at you and me personally. Every one of us bears complicity in his suffering by our complicity in sin just as every one of us reaps a share in the victory he accomplished that awful day. That is why we call it Good. This is Good Friday because it is God’s Friday, the day when he accomplished that ultimate good for his people – but at a terrible cost.
A few weeks ago I reflected on Jesus as the embodiment of love using Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Let’s consider that in light of the Passion.
Paul wrote, “Love is patient.”
Was there ever more patience shown than Jesus showed during his arrest, trial, beatings, walk and crucifixion? Unlike whole nations of his time, he is not some helpless, defenseless soul cast down before the mighty Roman Empire. He is the only Son of the living God! What Satan taunted during his temptation is still available to him. He could call legions of angels to assist him. He could call upon his Father to deliver him. Chains, would fall off. Thorns would fade. Locked doors would open and he would pass through his persecutors unharmed.
But that is not his Father’s will, so it is not his will. Like a sheep before its shearer he opens not his mouth. Oh, if we could have even a morsel of the patient Christ holds for one reason and one reason only – his love of the Father and of his people. He must accomplish this.
Paul wrote, “Love is kind.”
In the midst of his suffering Jesus is unfailingly honest, yet he is also kind. In the midst of his pain his heart is poured out for the daughters of Jerusalem who weep, for his disciples who flee and deny him, for his jailer, torturers, mockers and abusers. He shows compassion for the thief on the cross. He gives his mother over to John’s care. He cries out to his Father on behalf of the crowds who have demanded his crucifixion and death.
Has all creation ever seen greater kindness? Jesus said love your enemies. Almost all Jesus has at this point is enemies. All he does is love them.
Paul wrote, “Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”
Jesus is bound, beaten, spit upon, mocked and cursed. He makes only the barest reference to rights or justice according to human law. He has done nothing wrong, he simply speaks that truth.
At no point do we see this pitiful figure envy the palaces, fine robes and position of the people around him. From the mob to the Jewish authorities to the Roman footmen, soldiers, Herod or Pilate EVERYONE in this narrative has it better off than Jesus. Even the thieves on the crosses beside him at least know they are dying for actual crimes.
At no point do we see him boast. He does acknowledge his divinity. But it ain’t braggin’ if it’s true.
Arrogance? Rudeness? We see none. Instead we see faithfulness, purpose and obedience again for one end – to accomplish that ultimate act of love reconciling the world to his Father.
Paul wrote, “Love does not insist on its own way, it is not irritable or resentful.”
Jesus insists on the way of the cross. He is not irritable, not resentful.
Paul wrote, “Love does not rejoice in the wrong, but rejoices in the right.”
Jesus does not rejoice in the wrong being done to him – “Hah ha you’ll get yours!” or “I’ll show you!” But he rejoices in the truth. Woman, behold your son. John, behold your mother.
Jesus bears all things. Believes all things. Hopes all things. Endures all things
I believe in Jesus. I believe in his Law of Love and the ways he demonstrated it on his way to the cross and on the cross itself. I have cast my lot with him. I owe him everything, and it is only through him I have hope. We owe him everything, and it is only through him that all people have hope.
The very next thing Paul says about love, starting at verse 8, is “Love never ends…”
I believe that too. See you Sunday.