This day, which started at 6PM, was the most intensely critical 24 hours in all of history. They are the last hours of the Lord Jesus’ physical life on earth. These hours are given more attention and painted in much greater detail than any other period of time in Jesus’ life — and obviously for good reason.
It begins with what is known as the Last Supper. To detail and expand all that occurred at this last time of fellowship and teaching would take an entire book; but since this is only a blog posting, I will do my best to summarize. This was a Passover meal; not only did Jesus and the apostles refer to it as such, but Luke gives us a glimpse of detail that others don’t as he mentions Jesus passing around a first cup of wine to begin things, as was traditional at a Passover meal. Unfortunately, the meal began with a disagreement about who would be the designated foot-washer for the meal (John 13). This was considered a very lowly job for the person who was lowest on the “totem pole” of status; but it is a job which Jesus voluntarily took up to quell the argument and teach a crucially important lesson that the apostles had struggled over for almost the whole time of Jesus’ ministry, the greatest would be the servant of all. In the midst of this Passover meal, Jesus took some of the usual elements of the meal and gave them new significance. He took the unleavened bread on the table and told them that it would now be used as a token of remembrance of the body he would be giving in death for them and us all; He blessed it, broke it, and passed it around to them all to eat of. Similarly, He took a cup of wine and gave it a new meaning; it would be a token of remembrance of His blood, the agent of purification from sin and also of the new covenant. John tells us that Jesus spent a good deal of time after establishing the Lord’s Supper in comforting the apostles with teachings about the Holy Spirit and praying for their strength and unity.
After the meal was done, the Gospels tell us that they all sang a hymn and left for Gethsemane, a garden on the western slope of the Mount of Olives. On the way, Jesus warned the apostles of the arrest and that they would be scattered. Peter vehemently proclaimed his loyalty to suffer prison or even death for the Lord, but Jesus told him that before the rooster would crow that morning, he would deny Jesus three times. In Gethesemane Jesus settled 8 of the apostles in one group to pray, but then led Peter, James, and John a little farther and likewise charged them to be praying so that they would not enter into temptation. Then Jesus walked a little farther still and fell down in fervent prayer. In this prayer He famously asked the Father to let the cup of suffering He was about to endure pass from Him — yet, not as He willed but as the Father willed. Clearly Jesus had free will to choose whatever He wanted, but He trusted in the plan and will of the Father. This prayer, the Scripture tells was very intense and fervent, so much so that Jesus began to sweat drops of blood. So deep was His grief, that the Father sent an angel to strengthen Him in His time of agony. After this time of prayer, Jesus returned to Peter, James, and John and found them asleep. He roused them and charged them with prayer again, then He returned to His own prayer. After a while He returned again and found them asleep once more. Jesus let them continue their slumber and returned to pray a third time until the betrayer and the Roman cohort were almost upon them.
Passover is always during a full moon, and April is often a dry time of year. It is likely, then, that Jesus had been able to watch Judas and the soldiers leave the city, walk across the Kidron Valley, and up the slope to Gethsemane. But He didn’t run or seek to escape; underscoring the deliberate attitude of Jesus to do the Father’s will. Judas led the crowd of soldiers right to Jesus and with a kiss on the cheek of greeting, he showed the soldiers who they should arrest. The kiss, however, wasn’t necessary; Jesus readily admitted to being Jesus of Nazareth, so that the soldiers might allow the apostles to walk away free. But Peter drew one of the swords brought along for defense and turned it into a weapon of offense to protect Jesus. He took a swing at the high priest’s servant, Malchus, and cut off his ear. Jesus, however, healed the wound on the spot and told Peter to put the sword away. From here everyone seemed to have scattered, including a young man who had followed Jesus and the apostles to Gethsemane in nothing but a sheet; most scholars believe it could well have been Mark, the writer of the Gospel of Mark.
Although Peter ran away like the rest, he and John did continue to follow Jesus and the soldiers at a distance. Because John’s family was acquainted with the high priest’s family, Peter and John were able to enter the court of the house. A fire in the middle of the court for a little warmth had been kindled, and Peter joined a circle around the fire to take the night chill off. While there, one of the servant girls identified Peter as a follower. Peter denied it. Another person around the fire, a relative of Malchus, also recognized Peter, but again Peter denied knowing Jesus. Finally, antlers person told Peter than He must be a follower of Jesus, because he had a Galilean accent; to this Peter swore that he absolutely didn’t know Jesus. At that moment the cock crowed, Jesus looked directly at Peter, and Peter remembered Jesus’ words and went outside the courtyard and wept bitterly. In the high priest’s house, Jesus faced both Annas and Caiaphas who questioned Him about His teachings, hoping to find something to accuse Him of before the Sanhedrin and the Roman governor, Pilate. At dawn Caiaphas sent to convene the Sanhedrin to condemn Jesus. Here they asked Jesus if He was the Son of God and Jesus answered yes. This, the Sanhedrin believed, was blasphemy and worthy of death. The problem, however, was that the Romans had received for themselves alone the authority to execute capital punishment; so they needed to send Jesus to Pilate.
The accusation that the high priest and Sanhedrin made against Jesus had nothing to do with blasphemy, but rather sedition, calling Himself a king. when Pilate asked with Jesus, however, it became apparent that Jesus was not claiming to be physical king, but a spiritual one. Pilate sought let Jesus go by appealing to the people and by trying to trade Jesus for a well-known murderer, Barabbas. Finally, Pilate agreed to condemn Jesus to death, but sought to soothe his conscience by ceremonially washing his hands in protest against the religious officials and bloodthirsty crowd that they had whipped up to chant, “Crucify, crucify!”
In preparation for crucifixion, it was necessary to weaken the condemned with a terrible flogging that made ribbons of Jesus’ back. The pain and shock was enough to kill some men before they were ever crucified. After the flogging, Jesus was forced to carry His own cross beam for the cross. This proved to be more than His weakened physical body could manage, and He stumbled. A passerby, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to carry the cross beam the remainder of the way to Golgotha (translated: Place of a Skull). Here Jesus was laid down on a cross as soldiers drove nails through the fleshy part just above both wrists. Then His feet were drawn up slightly and also nailed, probably through the arch of the foot. The cross then was raised and dropped into a pre-dug hole causing the body of the Savior to pull against the nails. The priests who had been responsible for His condemnation stood before Him and mocked Him. Soldier gambled for Jesus’ clothes, the condemned were usually stripped naked and clothes were valuable. From 9AM to about 3PM Jesus suffered enormous physical pain, but it may have been the spiritual pain that was the most unendurable, as Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” The Son, for the first time in all eternity, was separated from the Father, because the sin of the world was being laid on Him — Isaiah 53:6 “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all To fall on Him.” At the end, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “It is finished!” and He died.
Joseph of Arimathea, a secret disciple, but a man with status in the city, approached Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. When Pilate allowed it, Joseph took Jesus’ body and put it in His own new tomb, which was not far away from the scene of crucifixion. A hasty embalming process was undertaken and a large stone was rolled over the mouth of the tomb. Additionally, a Roman seal was put on the tomb to discourage any tampering with the body, and a guard of Roman soldiers was stationed there to stand guard — just in case Jesus’ disciples might try to steal the body and falsely claim a resurrection. And then the Passover Sabbath fell over Jerusalem.
What do these things mean?
The bread and the wine — This ritual, which became known as either Communion or the Lord’s Supper or Breaking Bread, became a weekly observation in worship every first day of the week very early in the life of the church (see Acts 20:7). There’s a two dimensional aspect to the Lord’s Supper that should be noted here. In the bread we remember Christ, whose body was given to be punished in our place should be remembered (a vertical dimension), but as a matter of communion, too, we remember the one body that we are as the church (1 Cor. 10:17), a horizontal dimension. In the cup we remember the blood of Jesus given to forgive us our sins and establish a new covenant with God (vertical), but since we are in covenant with the Father, we are all related to one another as brothers and sisters in Christ (horizontal).
The prayer for unity — This prayer uttered by Jesus in the upper room with His apostles was in the midst of a number of other important teachings about the Holy Spirit. Pay close attention to John 17:22 ““The glory which You have given Me I have given to them, that they may be one, just as We are one.” This is different from the union of the denominational world, where everybody is “OK” and we’ll just ignore the differences. The unity of the Father and Son is much, much more — real oneness.
Two more observations — although there are thousands in this section of Scriptures: In the story of Peter and what we know happened later, we can find hope for those who fall in a moment of weakness and confusion — it needn’t be fatal. The Lord is gracious.The Lord seems to specialize in fixing broken things and making them something glorious. Peter the denier became Peter the proclaimer. Maybe you’ve dropped the metaphorical ball in your life with sin or even a sinful set of years in your life, but in Christ there is always a “But God…” What do I mean? Consider this:“Among them we too all formerly lived in the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and of the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, even as the rest. But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us…made us alive” (Ephesians 2:3-5)
Just a couple words of closing comment here: Read Isaiah 53.
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.