Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Matthew 26-27

These chapters contain a bunch of the stories about Jesus’ life that we get familiar with in church – The Last Supper, Judas’ betrayal, Peter’s denial, Jesus’ arrest, trial, crucifixion, and death. This time when I read them, I was more aware of how these chapters deal with multiple revelations of the true character of the people surrounding Jesus in his final days in his earthly body.

The high priest Caiaphas and his associates are shown to be afraid of the power of the people. They plan to arrest Jesus after the Passover feast to avoid a potential riot. Judas is shown to be a betrayer. All of the others disciples are shown to have questions about their own faith:

In the evening Jesus was sitting at the table with his twelve followers. As they were eating, Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, one of you will turn against me."
This made the followers very sad. Each one began to say to Jesus, "Surely, Lord, I am not the one who will turn against you, am I?"

Jesus asks them to pray with him, but they all fall asleep instead. This verse hits home with me. That’s just how I feel in my walk with Jesus. Here he is, asking this one thing of me, and I can’t even stay awake to do it. Like this blog – I can’t set aside 30 minutes a day to put my thoughts together and write them down consistently. I’m encouraged that Jesus doesn’t give up on them. He doesn’t let them off the hook, but he still wants them to come with him when the time comes. He is faithful enough for their unfaithfulness – he believes in me enough for my unbelief.

Next, Jesus calls out the people who come to arrest him on the duplicity of their schemes, coming to arrest him in secret like they haven’t had every opportunity to arrest him in public.

Then Jesus said to the crowd, "You came to get me with swords and clubs as if I were a criminal. Every day I sat in the Temple teaching, and you did not arrest me there.

Peter is revealed in his denial of Christ to fear man more than he fears God. Pilate, the great leader, is unwilling to take the authority that is his and casts the accountability for Jesus’ death on the people. The people are happy to take it on, not knowing that they are cursing themselves. They are revealed as thirsty for blood. I have always felt a little scared and confused by the behavior of the “masses” in these scenes. Maybe that comes from the fact that my first exposure to this scene was from the musical Jesus Christ Superstar and I always here them singing “Crucify Him” in my head when I read it. At the time, I really didn't know what Pilate was going to do, and I remember feeling shocked when he made his decision to go with the crowd. But maybe there is another explanation for their behavior. When you find yourself in the presence of true righteousness, isn't there a moment when you have no choice but to flee it or face your own unrighteousness? Jesus wasn’t going anywhere, so I imagine that those who could not accept their faults would be driven to expunge Him from their presence.

Finally, Jesus’ true character begins to come out. We read this story knowing the end, but to the actual players were more like the 8-year old me at the theater - there was some mystery to it. They saw the miracles, they heard the claims, but in the end, surely they were watching and wondering if it would all stand up. If this man was the son of God, the Messiah, his story couldn’t just end with death at the cross at the hands of an impotent leader and an angry mob.

Then the curtain in the Temple was torn into two pieces, from the top to the bottom. Also, the earth shook and rocks broke apart. The graves opened, and many of God's people who had died were raised from the dead. They came out of the graves after Jesus was raised from the dead and went into the holy city, where they appeared to many people.
When the army officer and the soldiers guarding Jesus saw this earthquake and everything else that happened, they were very frightened and said, "He really was the Son of God!"

And that is what it comes down to - He really is the Son of God.