It had been a very long day--for Jesus, it was the longest day ever, as it went all the way through the night.
Passover dinner in the Upper Room was unique from the start as Jesus washed the disciples’ feet, an act usually reserved for a servant. Over the evening, Jesus talked about leaving the disciples to return to the Father, but promised he would come again for them. There was the sudden departure of Judas from the room, which was strange for the group. And then Jesus and his men walked down the stairs, out into the night and across the Kidron Valley to the Garden of Gethsemane. (pictured as it looks today)
One of the disciples later recalls it vividly, ‘Jesus asked us to wait, watch and pray with him . . . and in the stillness of the night, we could hear him agonizing in prayer. But in spite of that, as tired as we were, as late as it was, we all fell asleep. Our Lord had to wake us up three times! The third time, as he was standing near us, noise of clanging metal split the quiet and we heard harsh voices approaching.’
Judas stepped forward from the crowd and kissed the Lord. His friend and one of the inner circle of 12 disciples ensured those who had come to arrest Jesus that he was indeed 'The Man'.
From Luke's gospel: "While he was still speaking, behold, a crowd came, and the one called Judas, one of the twelve, was preceding them; and he approached Jesus to kiss him. But Jesus said to him, "Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?" When those who were around him saw what was going to happen, they said, "Lord, shall we strike with the sword?" And one of them struck the slave of the high priest and cut off his right ear. But Jesus answered and said, "Stop! No more of this." And he touched his ear and healed him. Then Jesus said to the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders who had come against him, "Have you come out with swords and clubs as you would against a robber? While I was with you daily in the temple, you did not lay hands on me; but this hour and the power of darkness are yours."1
A sobering scene, isn't it? Jesus rises from his position of prayer under the boughs of the olive trees, probably rubs his knees a few times, and then walks over to the disciples and wakes them up again. As he is talking to them, a crowd of heavily-armed men sent by the Sanhedrin (the Jewish supreme council), accompanied by a Roman troop with lanterns, torches, and weapons, approaches, with Judas leading the way.
You know, we read right through the narrative of Judas' betrayal, accepting it as part of the familiar story--of the beginning of Jesus' end on that night. But this narrative has had my attention for years. When we take communion, we hear a few verses Paul wrote, "The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body..."2
When we remember the Lord's sacrifice by taking communion, that night wasn't described as 'the night Jesus ate the last supper', or washed his disciples' feet, or the night Jesus was arrested, beaten, tried, etc., rather it was called, 'on the night Jesus was betrayed'. Jesus' betrayal by one of his own was not missed by God! Paul's words portray God's knowledge of how betrayal cuts his children to the core, leaving broken hearts in its wake. Think on that for a moment. 'Been betrayed? God knows your heartache. Your pain matters to him. I believe it is the reason that Jesus' betrayal was noted in Scripture like it was.
Immediately after, Jesus is apprehended and a series of trials ensues: Jesus of Nazareth tried by Jewish leaders in the high-ceilinged Hall of Justice, at the east end of the temple. Once Jesus answers their question, "Are you then the Son of God?" with "You are right in saying I am," they twist it to sound like some kind of a political threat to Rome--a form of sedition. It is all the council needs to send him to the Roman governor, Pilate. The council could condemn Jesus to death on the basis of blasphemy, but they could not carry out the death penalty under Roman law. Note: the Romans have to find Jesus guilty in order for him to be put to death--and that is the goal of the Jewish leaders.
High priest, Caiaphas, clad in his lavish garb, leads this trial, with great pomp. Just what has Jesus done that is so bad? They are accusing him of blasphemy, claiming to be God. In truth, Jesus accused himself by answering Caiaphas' question, "You are right in saying I am." These men knew the significance of Jesus' 'I AM statement; in this way, Jesus identified himself with God when he used this Old Testament title for God.
The irony is this : the only reason Jesus is standing in front of them is because he is exactly who they are 'trying' him for being! Theologians, philosophers, scientists and college professors regularly set out to debate the claims of Jesus Christ in our present day . . . the very thing that was at issue and for which they brought him to trial all those years ago. Yet history, science, (including archaeology), fulfilled prophecies and changed lives all serve to shore up the validity of Jesus' claims of being the Son of God.
There was so much that happened the night the church calls Maundy Thursday. [Remember that a new day starts at sunset for the Jewish people.] After sunset on Thursday--Passover, Gethsemane, betrayal, arrest, trials, mocking, scourging, a crown of thorns jammed into his head, Jesus carrying his cross out to the place of the crucifixion, Golgotha, his being nailed to the cross, crucified, death. Jesus did not have to endure that long brutal day, but he did--for you, for me.
Have you taken some time alone to pray this week, as Jesus got alone in the Garden of Gethsemane? Not in your usual chair, or as you drive to work... I mean stopping at a place you can have a little bit of 'set apart' time just to pray, without your cellphone in your hand. WAIT! Do not read right past that and discount it.
Nothing you do this week will mean more to God than giving him a little of yourself.
There was a reason Jesus went to the mountain . . .
or to a garden . . .
or by the water . . .
Jesus got outside to pray.
I pray you will do the same, this Maundy Thursday or Good Friday~
And then...this glorious song--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IVumVrkbq4s
1 - Luke 22.47-53
2 - Corinthians 11.23-24