I spent some time yesterday at my church, Crossroads, being led through a time of self-guided reflection through the stations of the cross- the last week of Christ's life. I must say that I was impacted deeply by those moments of pondering Christ's journey to the cross. I was struck by a number of things.
Have you ever considered the number of people that were in Christ's life that betrayed him in someway that last week? There was Judas, of course. That's who we often accuse of betrayal, because the scripture has written of his actions as a betrayal.
- But there were his 3 disciples that kept falling asleep- not sensing the importance of this moment in the garden. I know there are times we just don't understand the pain in a friend's face. But if Christ was sweating blood, you think they would get that he was hurting?
- And then there are the religious leaders. They were the ones that were working to set up the betrayal in the first place. Did they 'envy' Jesus? Did they resent his accomplishments, his following, especially after they worked so hard to 'do it right' all these years? Or maybe they really didn't like the fact that he was 'changing' how things were done. Change is hard- and messy! Religious leaders so often try to keep things neat! Everyone doing the 'right stuff' so that they can please...........who, God? I think not! We create these neat little boxes that our religious activity fits in so that we can please ourselves, or other people! I KNOW! I am ashamed to say, I have been one of those 'religious leaders." Would I have been, am I now- one of those who would have sought to betray Jesus?
- Then there was Peter! Ah, Peter! Zealous, determined, speak before you think Peter! He had spoken so eloquently not so long before that he would die before letting anything happen to Jesus. Yet here he sits in the courtyard, and this Man's man Peter is brought down by the simple statement of a lowly servant girl, "You were with Jesus of Gallilee." I had to question, what is it that brings me down from my commitment to serve the Lord? Where do I become more focused on the protecting myself than on staying faithful to this ONE who gave his life for me?
- And what about Pilate? Here was this man that could SEE that something was amiss in all of this. Scripture even says that Pilate was amazed by Jesus! AND he had the power to DO something about it? But Pilate was afraid! He was afraid of offending Tiberius. He was afraid of upsetting the people. He was afraid of the bitter chief priest. He was afraid of what it would mean for Pilate. Pilate let his FEAR dictate his actions. He condems a man he considered to be innocent to die- a cruel death.
What would have happened in this story if any one of them had responded differently? Would it have changed that fact that Jesus died on that cross for our sins? NOT! God provided this sinless lamb to be offered for the penalty for sin. I rejoice that Jesus was willing to take on the awful penalty, not just for my sins, but for yours too- and for the whole world.
But what would have been different in the lives of Peter- or Pilate- Judas, or any of the others, if they had chosen to truly do 'the right thing'? How would their journey have changed if they had not had THAT MOMENT in their memories?
Or even after making those choices, what is the difference in their responses to their failure.
In Pilate's case, it seems that one decision made out of fear, caused him to make another and another till he was paying soldiers to create a lie about Jesus in order to cover up the resurrection. You have to wonder what was really going on inside his head by now.
Judas was remorseful. He says, "I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood." His heart grieved deeply with what he had done. He was so overcome that he couldn't see that even then, Jesus's act of dying was to offer forgiveness to him. He responded by taking his own life.
Peter, after denying Christ not once, but three times, weeps bitterly. And I don't recall hearing much of him for a while after that until after the resurrection. I have often wondered if Peter had been able to stay true at that moment if he might have been the one to help carry the cross for Christ later on. A friend helping a friend in a bitter moment. Instead it was some stranger- a passer-by, that was compelled to do it. I've also wondered how Peter was impacted by Judas' death. They had been in the journey together for 3 years. It had to be a slap in the gut.
Yet as I study the scripture passages, I get the sense that Peter retreated back into the 'family' of the disciples- and there he experienced healing and forgiveness.
I'm amazed at the Resurrection, when the angel is announcing to the women at the tomb that "Jesus in not here. He is risen! " The angel goes on to say, "Go, tell the disciples and Peter." AND PETER! This one who denied Jesus- tell him. Peter runs to the tomb to see what happened.
Peter is among the 11 as Jesus appears to them and issues the command, "Go into all the world and preach the good news." God used this same man, mightily, to proclaim the message of Christ's death and his resurrection. I can only imagine that it was that one terrible moment of failure that became the impetus to propel Peter to do the work of spreading this message with even more zeal- fully aware of it's power in his own life.
However, these stories of these people, their failures, and their responses to those failures are part of the story of redemption. They are here for us to read, and learn from. They are there to remind us- in our own moments of complete failure- that there is hope! HOPE that came from the life, death and resurrection of ONE who was without failure. HOPE that I so look forward to celebrating this Easter weekend!
How about you?
If you aren't sure where your hope comes from- I'd love to talk with you! I, like Peter, have found God's grace in the healing and forgiveness of my own story. I would love to point you to that source of hope- Jesus!
Here's to CELEBRATING his resurrection - and our hope- this Easter!