The Lenten season has come and gone for another year. We’ve celebrated the sorrow of the betrayal and crucifixion and the joy of the Easter resurrection story.
During this season our Bible class studied a book entitled “24 Hours That Changed the World”.
The first lesson began with the disciples gathered in the Upper Room for the Last Supper and it concluded with the empty tomb…Jesus the Christ had risen and the tomb was empty.
As we went through this last week of Jesus’ life, I found myself rethinking some of my assumptions about the disciples and their, in most of our minds, disappointing support for Jesus when it came to his betrayal and death.
We talked about Jesus picking Judas out of the group as the one who would betray him. How he took his Peter, James and John with Him to the garden to pray. These were the men who had promised him undying loyalty and support. Peter especially was adamant that he would never deny Jesus.
But we all know that even as Jesus prayed, He knew what was to come. He did say, “Let this cup from pass from me” but he added, “Not my will but thine be done.”
And while he prayed, the disciples slept and soon the soldiers and Judas came to take Jesus prisoner.
It was the so-called religious leaders who wanted Him dead. Pilate tried to find a way out of this horrendous decision to put Jesus to death but in the end he gave into the crowd crying, “crucify him”.
And this beloved disciple Peter who said he would always be with Jesus and never deny him did just what Jesus predicted. He denied Him not once but three times.
Where we wondered were all those loyal disciples and the crowds that followed Jesus?
I think it is quite easy for us to sit secure in our homes and churches and pass judgment upon these men. But, in the same circumstances, what would we have done?
Speaking of Judas, I would surmise he did love Jesus but thought of Him as someone who would become a leader who would ‘rule’ and bring about an earthly kingdom. After all, often in the Old Testament when the people were in captivity and slavery, some leader came and they were restored to their homes again. Perhaps this is what he dreamt of but he was so out of touch with Jesus message of salvation for eternity and not power through earthly kingdoms. He must have regretted his betrayal because we are told he killed himself because of remorse.
And where were the disciples most of whom melted away into the night out of fear? Would you and I have been any different? Would we have been afraid for our own lives?
We know that the two Mary’s and John were at the foot of the cross because Jesus asks John to ‘behold your mother’. Where were the others? I have no idea, but while in times past I might have thought them cowards, now I wonder if my bravery would have stood the test.
I suppose I’ve often wondered about the two other men put to death with Jesus.
I remember Jesus promised the one that ‘you will be with me in paradise’ when the man spoke up for Jesus saying they might deserve to die, but Jesus was innocent.
The author in our study book spoke of rival factions who were trying to overthrow the government and said that the one thief was someone caught and I supposed accused of treason and thereby sentenced to death. Is this a proven fact or an assumption? I don’t know, but whatever the case, I can’t begin to imagine the horrible pain crucifixion entailed.
Lastly we have Joseph of Arimathea, who scripture tells us was a member of the Jewish Supreme Court, who asks Pilate for Jesus’ body and it is then buried in a rock tomb, with a stone rolled in front of the opening. It was sealed with a guard watching over it.
And still the miracle of the resurrection came to be. Jesus came back after three days just as He said. There were those who at first didn’t recognize Him and some who expressed doubt. But put yourself in their place and would you find it difficult to understand and accept such a miracle?
As I said, I found the book to be interesting as it explained this last day of Jesus’ life but also raised questions about some of the things I had never considered.
One thing that is apparent is the fact that while the disciples may have left Jesus to die that horrendous death out of fear, they, upon acknowledging Him in the resurrection became emboldened and they themselves preached the message of salvation and most all died horrible deaths themselves.
Can you imagine one event many, many years ago that had such a tremendous effect on the whole world?
When Jesus died upon that cross and presented us with the gift of salvation, it brought a change that is still at work today.
I still ponder the fact that most of us judge those disciples very harshly for leaving Jesus, but I truly doubt we would have showed any more ‘guts and courage’.
They walked with Jesus, ate with Him, saw the many miracles He performed, but still that final act of Jesus was beyond their comprehension until ‘afterwards’.
And I guess for each of us, perhaps it is the same. Until we can really be convinced of this gift of salvation through Jesus the Christ, our lives will not change.
But when we accept this gift, such a sacrifice should make a ‘huge’ difference in how we view our world and how we live our lives.
Will we become ‘perfect’? I don’t think so. But we will look at others differently. We will strive to become kinder, more forgiving, more understanding, more generous of time, talent and possessions, and on and on. Will we always be what we’d like to be? I don’t think we’ll be able to do that either. But isn’t it comforting to know that our God understands us, strengthens us in our weakness, forgives us our mistakes, and never ever leaves us. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the most powerful example of this tremendous love that I could ever imagine.
And beyond that, all I can say about the Easter message is, “Alleluia, Christ Has Risen” and I will live my life trusting in that love.