A Maundy Thursday reflection I wrote several years ago.
The night itself was pregnant with the pangs of irony and opposites. As the mob marched with torches and lanterns—in search of The Light. Gathered in anger, anxiety and anticipation soldiers, Priest, police and Pharisees brandish their weapons to make war against the Prince of Peace. Judas, backed by an army, but lacking integrity, leads the crowd in search of The Way. Men connected by their own desire to snuff out The Life.
And of course, in a manner completely opposite of what anyone would suspect, instead of running away, Jesus steps forward. After a night of praying that this moment would not have to come, Jesus does not hesitate to walk the road He and His Father have chosen.
The scene is so much different than you’d expect it to be. In the recesses of my mind it has always been like a movie. They’ve got the building surrounded. The roadblock is in place; the city is under siege. Drop the bunker-buster. That’s how you arrest someone that’s dangerous. It’s John Dillinger outside the movie theatre. It’s Elliot Ness racing horseback across the countryside, while the Canadian Mounties rush down from the hills above.
But that’s not really what happened here. Sure they thought – no they knew – Jesus was dangerous. So they send a “detachment of Roman soldiers” to make sure that nothing went wrong. And just in case that wasn’t enough the Jewish Temple police came along for the ride.
A detachment of Roman soldiers? That could have been up to 600 men. The chief priest and the Pharisees? That is serious religious and political power. Not to mention all the hangers-on and rubber-neckers. What they were doing tonight was too important. This arrest couldn’t go wrong!
The last thing they needed was this arrest to go like the first six times they tried it. Sometimes they were scared that the crowd would revolt, other times Jesus just walked through them because it “was not time.”
But then the one thing they hadn’t planned on happened. When Jesus reveals who He is, it is they who step back and fall to the ground. It in all there clandestine proposals to rid themselves of Jesus, through all the late night planning sessions, back-room deals and political back scratching when the moment comes to apprehend Jesus they find it is they themselves who are arrested.
It’s not our Lord who shrinks back in the moment of confrontation. It’s not the Christ who suddenly feels the thunder of His heart pounding away in His chest. It is not Jesus whose hands and voice shake and crackle with nerves in the moment of truth.
Jesus is captured, not because of their might, but because of His strength.
But the question is “why”?
One of the things that is so often lost is the fact that Jesus is not murdered or assassinated. Judas doesn’t hand Jesus over—Jesus hands over Himself.
Sure there’s a mock trial and cruel beatings. But it’s Jesus who says in John 10:18, “No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”
Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “the one way to show love to an enemy is to refuse to defeat him…if you hate your enemies, you have no way to redeem and transform them.”
And the Thursday arrest that lead to the Friday of pain, was the mark of our redemption. Because we all live as enemies to the cross. Jesus chose His capture that night. Because in that night, He chose you!
Knowing that you weren’t going to be everything that you could have been. Knowing that in your brief time on Earth you would turn away from Him countless times.
Jesus knew that we’d speak harsh words to one another, seek out our wants before the needs of others. Jesus knew that we would read and study God’s word and still not do it. He knew that we would break our promises to people we care about. He knew that we would be inclined to make other people suffer before we chose to sacrifice. He knew that we’d rather take than give.
I suspect that if Christ had wanted to he could have walked out of the garden on Thursday and avoided the pain of Friday. He could have rallied His supporters and fought the powers. He could have done all of those things – and much more – and still been Jesus. But He couldn’t have done those things and been Hosanna—the one who saves!
Make no mistake about it. Jesus suffers to save us from our sin…and from ourselves.
It is His unfailing love, His great compassion that blots out our transgressions.
Without Jesus’ choice to suffer the fierce suffering of the cross, we are lost in the woods. We cannot help ourselves. No one here, no one anywhere, is good enough to save themselves.
D.M Stearns was preaching in Philadelphia. At the close of the service a stranger came up to him and said, “I don’t like the way you spoke about the cross. I think that instead of emphasizing the death of Christ, it would be far better to preach Jesus, the teacher and example.” Stearns replied, “If I presented Christ in that way, would you be willing to follow Him?” “I certainly would,” replied the stranger without hesitation. “All right then,” said the preacher, “let’s take a first step. Jesus did no sin. Can you claim that for yourself?” The man looked confused and surprised. “Why, no,” he said. “I acknowledge that I do sin.” Stearns replied, “Then your greatest need is to have a savior, not an example!”
In the wake of Jesus’ death, our Lord leaves us with a lot of things. An example, a comforter, a source of strength in times of weakness. But in the garden, He willingly leads the crowds to His own death, because we need a Savior. He has heard our deepest cry to the heights of Heaven: “Hosanna! Save Us!”