Matthew 26:47-75; 27:11-61
DEVOTION 1: JESUS ARRESTED
Like a lot of good mystery or detective stories the story of the death of Jesus begins with a list of people as long as your arm. Some of whom have dubious motives, and others you have to wait for the story to pan out to find out where they stand.
There’s Judas, the man who was set to betray a friend. There’s the crowd, who came armed with swords and clubs to arrest Jesus—the henchmen of supposedly respectable men of society. There’s the companion of Jesus, who struck out with his dagger. And there were the disciples, who deserted Jesus and fled.
And amidst the turmoil, the violence, and the desertion, one man remains calm and steady—Jesus. A man on a mission, who willingly gives himself up for a purpose.
Now I don’t know about you, but if I’d been in that situation, I don’t think I would have coped very well at all. In fact, if I’d been there, I would have led the disciples in running away. But Jesus… Well, he knew what was coming. And despite that, he was at peace. So, to Judas he said, “Friend, do what you came to do.” To the companion he said, “Return your dagger to its place.” And to the crowd he said, “All this has come to pass so that the prophetic scriptures might be fulfilled.”
Jesus knew in advance what was going to happen. Indeed, he had spoken to his disciples many times about it. And now the time had come. He knew God’s will, and he knew that the Messiah had to suffer. And he knew that he should not be diverted from the task in hand, even at this late hour.
And just as Jesus wasn’t to be diverted from his task, we shouldn’t be diverted from our God given tasks either. Because, like Jesus, some of us have a lot of odd characters appearing in our stories. And, sometimes we are encouraged to divert from the path that God has set for us.
But despite that, doing God’s will should be as important for us as it was for Jesus. And even though that may take us, like Jesus, to places we don’t want to go, that shouldn’t stop us from following God, and walking in his ways.
The story of Jesus is a shining example of what it means to be a person of faith—to follow God wherever he leads, despite the temptation to do otherwise. It’s an example we would all do well to follow.
DEVOTION 2: BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
I guess one of the things that most of us want is to be liked, loved, and appreciated. Can you imagine, therefore, being faced with people who have been plotting to kill you; facing people who are prepared to trot out all sorts of false things about you; and basically just manipulating the situation so they have an excuse to execute you? Because that was what Jesus faced at the Sanhedrin.
Oh yes, they asked him if he was the Messiah, to which Jesus replied in the affirmative. But in reality, the chief priests and elders had already decided his fate—before he was even dragged before them. They were simply looking for an excuse to kill him, and they didn’t care from where it came.
But Jesus was not dishonest. He did not lie in the hope of saving his own skin. He gave them the excuse they were after. And as a consequence, they slapped him, punched him, and spat on him.
Now that’s not the sort of behaviour you’d expect from men of God. And yet, it’s exactly the punishment meted out to Jesus, for the “crime” of being the Messiah, the saviour of the World.
And just as the path that God led Jesus on was not easy, so the path that God leads us on is not easy either. We may well prefer to be liked, loved and appreciated, but that is not necessarily what you or I will receive if we go on our journey with God.
Jesus was abused by people who should have known better—whose morals and beliefs should have been so much higher. And we can expect to face the same reactions from the people that we meet too.
But then this world is full of hostility. Some people prefer living in the dark. It hides their faults, and their failings. And for us to live in the light, shows people up for the kind of people they really are. So, no wonder we can expect hostility.
Indeed, at times, like Jesus, we may be sworn at, spat on, or abused for our faith. But like Jesus, that shouldn’t stop us from standing up, and being counted, for what we believe.
DEVOTION 3: PETER DISOWNS JESUS
I have every sympathy for Peter. Because, it’s all very well pointing the finger at him—Peter, whose claim to fame was that the denied any connection with Jesus three times. But, I wonder, if we’d been placed in exactly the same situation, whether we wouldn’t have done the same thing.
But, then, where were the other disciples at this point? They had effectively denied Jesus by running away. In Peter’s case, however, his life was on the line. And it has to be said that even Peter still didn’t really understand who Jesus was. So you can perhaps understand Peter’s predicament.
But then, standing up and professing one’s faith to strangers—or even family members who don’t share your beliefs—would have to be one of the most difficult things to do. It can involve embarrassment, ridicule, or worse. Added to that, a lot of people are really not sure what they believe. They find difficulty in articulating it; they just don’t know how to explain their faith. As a consequence, many people like to keep their faith “private.”
And yet, one of the things about the Christian faith, is that Jesus doesn’t allow secret followers. The woman who had suffered from bleeding for twelve years, may have sneaked up to Jesus to touch his cloak—believing that in doing so she would be healed—but she was not allowed to remain a secret disciple. And, in the end, neither was Peter or any of the other disciples. Because, just as Peter denied Jesus three times, so too was he required, later, to stand up and profess his faith three times as well.
Now we all face the same dilemma as Peter. We can face it with our family and our friends. We can face it when the Jehovah’s Witnesses knock at the door. But, when it comes to the crunch, do we profess that we know Jesus—that he is our personal friend and saviour. Or, like Peter, do we deny him, and live with whatever the consequences of that denial may be.
DEVOTION 4: JESUS BEFORE PILATE
Now this is, perhaps, the most important trial in human history.
In one sense, Pilate could not see that Jesus was guilty of doing anything wrong. But Pilate was not naïve, he was only too aware of the motivation of the religious leaders, in bringing Jesus to him.
However, Pilate, had another agenda—he was keen to keep the peace. And the last thing he wanted was a public riot. And even though he knew the religious leaders were motivated by jealousy—and had stirred up the crowd to get the desired result—Pilate did nothing to save Jesus, whom he knew to be an innocent man.
Of course that’s Pilate’s motivation. But, what about the religious leaders? Well, it’s not that they weren’t happy to see the Messiah. It’s just that Jesus wasn’t the kind of Messiah that they wanted. What they wanted was someone like Barabbas. Someone who would go out and spill some Roman blood; someone who would give them independence from the Romans. But Jesus wasn’t that kind of Messiah at all.
Jesus was an innocent man, proved to be innocent in court, and yet still sentenced to death, because he wasn’t the kind of person that some people expected or wanted him to be.
It’s a pretty poor excuse isn’t it? But it’s also a warning we would do well to heed. After all, even now, not everything ends as well as it should, even for us. People misunderstand where the church is coming from. They have expectations of what the church is about. And this colours their view of its purpose, particularly regarding the rites of passage—baptisms, weddings and funerals—and in regard to the church’s involvement in political affairs.
So, when the church does get involved, in terms of sharing the gospel and in speaking out on social issues, hostility can and does arise—because the church is not seen to be the organisation that many people want it to be.
As a consequence, we might try hard to do the right thing, to help others, to share our faith. But people will not always appreciative what we do. No matter how hard we try, we will not always please everybody. There will always be someone who wants us to be something that we’re not. And there will always be someone who cannot accept us for what we are supposed to be.
DEVOTION 5: THE SOLDIERS MOCK JESUS
Much has been made of the jealousy, beliefs and prejudices of the religious leaders—people who should have known better. Indeed, we have already seen that they manipulated the evidence to find Jesus guilty; that they treated him disgracefully. That they arrested him at night; that they spat on him, punched and slapped him; and that they manipulated the crowd so that they could get their own way.
But there is this little incident where there are no religious leaders, no crowd, and no Jews.
Now the auxiliary troops were recruited from among the non-Jewish inhabitants of Palestine. As a consequence, a condemned man would have been a welcome diversion from the tension that mounted in Jerusalem prior to one of the major religious festivals. As a consequence, they made the most of the situation. They stripped Jesus, dressed him up, mocked him, spat on him, and struck him. They then returned him to his original state of dress, so he could be taken out and executed.
Even without the usual nastiness of the religious leaders, Jesus was regarded as an object of ridicule. And this time, the excuse was because he dared to rival the sovereignty of their emperor, who claimed to be divine.
In a sense, this part of the story shows that the rejection of Jesus was complete. His disciples had abandoned him. The Jewish religious leaders had rejected him. The Jewish people had chosen to side with Barabbas. Pilate, who had found him innocent of the charges, had decided for the quiet life—and consequently condemned him to death. And representatives of the Roman authorities had rejected him too.
Who else was left? No one, except God. And yet did Jesus waiver from the task in hand? No! What he had to do was far too important.
And, in that is a great message of encouragement for us.
Because how often do we feel down and without a friend in the world? How often do we feel that nothing is going right, and that we have the whole weight of the world on our shoulders? Probably more times than we would like to think. But, even so, when everyone else has deserted us, or is against us, we still have God. A God who is faithful at all times. A God who walked step by step with Jesus all the way to the cross—even when everyone else had abandoned him. And a God who is willing to be with us too, even in our darkest hour.
DEVOTION 6: THE CRUCIFIXION
Now, the story of the crucifixion is all too familiar. There are the two robbers, one on either side—neither of which (at least in Matthew’s version) were very much help at all. And there are the religious leaders still spitting out their venom.
But there are two more positive aspects to this story. Because Jesus did get some help, and from two surprising sources.
The first was from Simon of Cyrene. Now he wasn’t a willing helper, but he did help just the same. Jesus would have been far too weak to carry the cross on his own. And, so, Simon was co-opted into helping carry the cross through the narrow roads of Jerusalem to Golgotha—where the execution was to take place.
The second area of help was from those who provided the wine mixed with gall for Jesus to drink. Now tradition says that the women of Jerusalem customarily furnished this pain-killing narcotic to prisoners who were being crucified. And even though this assistance would not have been specifically provided for Jesus—and even though in this instance Jesus rejected their help—nevertheless, help was offered.
An unwilling helper, and a group who provided assistance to all—an interesting combination. However, it does suggest that when we are down, and have very little hope, help might just come from unusual and unexpected sources. Indeed, God isn’t restricted to only using the people that we know to help us, he is quite willing to use sources that we don’t know, or don’t expect, as well.
And what this means is that when we are in need (and even at other times), we need to be open to help from even the most unusual or unexpected sources. Because God wants and is willing to help us in every way that he can. Because, like the story of the crucifixion, we can get so wound up about the negative—about where help isn’t coming from—that we fail to see the help that God is providing for our needs.
DEVOTION 7: THE DEATH OF JESUS
One of the most dramatic pictures of all time. It’s like something out of a horror story.
It became dark from midday until 3pm, and at the point of Jesus’ death: the curtain in the temple was split in two from top to bottom; there was an earthquake; and tombs broke open and many of the faithful dead were raised to life. Now, is it any wonder that those guarding Jesus stood by terrified? If there was any doubt about who Jesus was, then it was well and truly dispelled for many who were near. And perhaps so too were the consequences of what they had done.
But, almost like a footnote, we’re told that standing by, seemingly unaffected by nature’s fury, were a group of women, whose only desire was to care for the needs of Jesus. Now obviously the women had been there for a while. But in the context of the story, these are the first friendly faces that Jesus would have seen since his arrest in the garden. Because there in the garden, the last he had seen of his friends would have been the backs of their heads, as they had run for their lives.
It’s like Matthew puts the comment here to say that Jesus did have friends, willing friends. It’s just that they were ineffectual, and that they arrived too late. Far too late to make any difference.
And that should be a warning we would do well to heed. Because when it comes to the spreading of the gospel, are we willing friends and supporters, or are we ineffectual, or always too late to make a difference?
In our Christian lives, God places us all in a number of situations, requiring us to stand up and be counted, and to minister to others in his name. But what sort of friends and supporters are we?
Now Jesus died in order that we might be saved. That’s clear. And he always had time for others, even when it was the least convenient. But is that a pattern we associate with our own lives? How much can we say we are his willing friends and effective in his service?
DEVOTION 8: THE BURIAL OF JESUS
It is said that Jesus was wrapped in a borrowed cloth and buried in a borrowed tomb.
Now Joseph of Arimathea, may have been a recent convert, but he knew what it meant to give. He wasn’t a poor man—in fact he had his own grave, especially carved out from a rock for his own benefit—and yet despite his riches, he knew what it was to be generous. In fact his faith in Jesus was so strong, his gratitude to Jesus was so great, that he donated his own tomb in which Jesus could be buried.
And for that he should be commended. But how grateful are we, with all the things that God has given us?
What do we give back in return? Do we give our time? Do we give our talents and abilities? Do we give our possessions? And do we give our money?
Now Jesus was born into a poor family. And at the point of his crucifixion the only thing he probably owned were the clothes that he wore—for which we are told the soldiers at the foot of the cross gambled. And yet despite that, Jesus had everything he needed. God, the Father, made sure of that. And Jesus was certainly generous with everything he had, including his time.
And yet, despite Jesus’ example, how often do we find ourselves hanging on to the things that we’ve got? Hanging on to our time, because there are just not enough hours in the day. Hanging on to our talents and abilities, preferring to do other things rather than use our gifts in God’s service. Hanging on to our possessions, because they are too precious to share. And even hanging on to our finances, because we need to make sure that we have enough, before we can consider giving to others.
And yet the example of Jesus was that although he was materially poor, he was spiritually rich. All his spiritual and material needs were met by God. A sobering thought as we recall his body, wrapped in a borrowed cloth and buried in a borrowed tomb.
Posted 6th April 2019
© 2019, Brian A Curtis