Meditations on the Passion of Jesus

First Passion Reading: John 18:1-11

When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.”10 Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.)11 So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?”

Devotion: “Violent”

As Jesus is arrested we begin to see some of the worst that humanity has to offer. Not just other people, people a couple thousand years ago on the other side of the world, but all people. You and I included. We see here the worst that is in us beginning here at the garden of Gethsemane.

In this first stage of Jesus’ passion we see the violence and anger that is inherent in human beings like us. The soldiers, chief priests, and Pharisees led by Judas come to find Jesus. They come with lanterns, torches, and weapons. They come armed to fight. They come prepared to beat back any resistance. They come with weapons to arrest the man who has never laid a finger on anyone to harm them. They come to arrest the one person whose touch is able to heal and save rather than cause pain and injury.

It’s not just the ones who don’t believe in Jesus either. As the arrest starts to go down Peter pulls out a sword and lashes out at the mob that has come to arrest Jesus. He cuts off a man’s ear!  In the gospel of Matthew Jesus says to Peter at this point, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”

Like the mob that has come to arrest Jesus and like Peter, this anger and violence lurks in our hearts too. This anger and violence lashes out with words and actions at those we dislike, those we perceive to be a threat, those who see the world differently than us. This same violence lives in us.

For violent and sinful hearts like our own there is good news today. Christ has endured the worst violence that this world, our sin, and the devil can dole out. He has endured the cross and has won forgiveness for the anger and violence that lurks in us. His death paid for our violence.

 

The Second Passion Reading: John 18:12-27

12 So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13 First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14 It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people.

15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself.

19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.”22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?”23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24 Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest.

25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.

Devotion:“Fearful”

The violence still lingers here. When the officers who arrested Jesus don’t care for the way that He answers the questions the high priest asks Him they lash out again and strike Him. But Peter, who not long before lashed out with a sword and cut off a man’s ear, is not so bold anymore. He has moved from one extreme to another.

Now, rather than boldly standing up for Jesus and even trying to fight for Him, Peter is left cowering in fear. Violence and anger gives way to terror and fear. Just as Jesus had predicted, before the rooster crows Peter denies that he even knows Jesus three times. To the servant girl at the gate he says, “I am not one of His disciples.” To the others standing around the fire warming themselves he says the same thing. To a servant of the high priest who was related to the man whose ear Peter had cut off just a short while before Peter again denies. And the rooster crowed.

Fear paralyzes. Fear immobilizes us. Fear leads us even to deny the Lord who bought us with His death on the cross. The fear that we see in Peter here is a fear that lingers in our hearts too. It flairs up when we aren’t sure what the people around us would think of us if we told them what we really believe about Jesus, if we let them see who we really are, if they knew that we are Christians. Like Peter we also deny Christ. We deny Christ with our words when we don’t speak of Christ when the opportunity presents itself (even by telling ourselves that there was no opportunity) and when we fail to love one another as Christ has loved us first.

For fearful cowering disciples like us there is also good news today. Good news that Christ did not cower in fear, but carried on to the cross to die for fearful disciples like us. By His blood He has redeemed us from our sins of fear and given us new life. Stand tall, therefore, bold, forgiven in Christ.

 

The Third Passion Reading: John 18:28-40

28 Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29 So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30 They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31 Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32 This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die.

33 So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34 Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35 Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37 Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38 Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”

After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them,“I find no guilt in him. 39 But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40 They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber.

Devotion: “Skeptical”

            As Pilate enters the scene for the first time we are confronted with something different. An outsider, a non-Jewish person, someone who has no baggage or history with Jesus. Pilate is confronted here with a problem, should he believe the crowd or believe in Jesus? Can he really believe that this is some kind of heavenly King who has come to earth or will he have to side with His own people who have rejected this so called king?

Pilate’s skepticism about Jesus shines through in these words: “What is truth?” He has gone back and forth with Jesus, tried to understand Jesus, but Jesus remains elusive for Pilate. Jesus says that He has come into the world to bear witness about the truth. Jesus has already told the people that He is the Way the Truth and the Life. He bears witness about the truth and He is the truth. What is the truth? That God would send His Son into the world to redeem and rescue the world from sin. But, does Pilate believe that truth?

“What is truth,” is all that Pilate can say. This “truth” seems pretty farfetched. Is there such a thing as truth in the world anyway? Isn’t truth subjective, doesn’t truth mean something different for everyone, could there be just one truth? Yes, there is one truth, Jesus is that truth. But are we able to accept that truth or do we want our own truth? Pilate is skeptical and so are we. Truth sounds great as long as it agrees with what we already think is true.

For skeptics there is good news today too. Christ died for skeptics in order to show us the truth that He would go so far as to give His own life on a cross to show His love for us and save us from sin. This is a truth worth believing.

 

The Fourth Passion Reading: John 19:1-16

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11 Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.”

12 From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13 So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15 They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

Devotion: “Authoritative”

            The trial with Pilate continues. After Jesus is beaten, flogged, mocked, and crowned with thorns Pilate questions Him again, “Where are you from?” But Jesus does not answer. “Don’t you know that I have the authority to crucify or release you?!” Pilate demands. I have the authority, don’t you know that, I am in charge here! Answer me! Jesus responds simply, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given to you from above.”

Pilate can’t let go of his authority. He has earned His position in life after all. He is the governor of the entire Roman province of Palestine. He has worked his way up through the ranks with his work ethic and determination. He has earned this authority and feels that Jesus ought to respect that authority. He wants to do what is best for Jesus, after all.

Who has the authority? Who has the authority in your life? At first we might be quick to say, “Well in my life God has the authority, He is number 1.” But when God’s authority starts to crowd our own sense of authority we might change our tune a bit. We fall back into saying things like, “It’s my life; I’ll do it my way.” It’s not that we don’t love God, we just don’t want Him telling us what to do all the time. We don’t want His authority over us. We’ve earned what we have (our way of life, our station in life) and we aren’t planning on giving it up any time soon. “Don’t you know,” Jesus says, “that whatever authority you have comes from above?” We are power hungry, like Pilate, and hold on to whatever authority we can get our hands on.

For authority obsessed people like us there is good news for us today. Christ laid aside His authority as the Son of God and willingly took on the role of a servant. He washed the feet of sinful men like us who argue about who is the greatest. He died a criminal’s death for sinners like us. His death paid for our power hungry struggle. He reigns on high so that we can lay aside whatever authority we think that we might have and follow Him, our King.

 

The Fifth Passion Reading: John 19:16-24

So they took Jesus, 17 and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha.18 There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek.21 So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.[a]But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom,24 so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things.

Devotion: “Greedy”

Pilate hands Jesus over to be crucified and the soldiers lead Him out to Golgotha. He carries His own cross out there and is nailed up with two criminals, one on either side. At the foot of His cross the soldiers remain. The majority of their work is done, Jesus hangs there on the cross dying. Now they have to decide what to do with His clothing though. Most of the garments are easily split up among the four soldiers, but Jesus tunic is different. It is one solid piece of woven fabric from top to bottom. It would seem a waste to split up and destroy such a garment, the soldiers decide, so that cast lots to see who will get it.

Here we see the blindness of greed. These soldiers seem not to care about the fact that they have just nailed a man to the cross to die (not just any man either, but the Son of God!), but they do care about this garment. They wouldn’t want to destroy a fine piece of fabric like that but they have no problem destroying a human life. Greed drives them in their game of casting lots to covet this clothing that by all rights does not belong to them. It is greed that drove Judas to betray Jesus. For 30 pieces of silver he handed over His Lord and Master.

Greed drives us too. Greed drives us to pursue more and more for ourselves even if it might be to the detriment of others around us. Greed drives us to accumulate things for ourselves even if they might not actually belong to us. Greed makes us covet the things that others have. Greed blinds us to the value of people, to what God is doing, to the love the God shows us in His Son.

There is good news for greedy people like us today too. The good news is that Christ, willingly surrendered not only His clothing, but every possession He ever could have owned, and even His life for your sake. He died for our greed so that we could be set free from greed to love one another. He freely gives everything to us so that we have no need to accumulate things.

 

The Sixth Passion Reading: John 19:25-30

25 But standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29 A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth.30 When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

Devotion: “Helpless”

            Something changes now. We don’t see the sinfulness of humanity here. Instead we see the helplessness of humanity. We see the helplessness of a woman whose son is hanging on a cross dying. We see her grief; we see her fear; we see her uncertainty about what her future will hold without her son to care for her. But Christ, in the midst of the helplessness provides an answer. He looks at His mother Jesus said, “Woman, behold your son.” And looking at the disciple whom He loved Jesus said, “Behold, your mother.” Jesus provides help for the helpless.

For you too Jesus has provided help in the midst of helplessness. If you feel helpless, if you feel alone in this world, if you feel the burden of your sin and do not know where to turn for relief, Christ has an answer for you. Having made arrangements of the care of His mother, Jesus says, “It is finished!” and He bows His head and hands over His Spirit.

Just as Jesus appointed the disciple whom He loved to care for His mother in His absence, Jesus hands over His Holy Spirit to you to care for you. Jesus does not leave you alone as an orphan, He does not leave you without help. He pours out His Spirit in His death to be our help in the midst of sin and darkness. This Spirit draws us back again and again from the edge of oblivion into the good news of the cross. The Good News that Christ died for the helpless, for sinners who could not help themselves. Rejoice dear friends, in your helplessness there is a helper, the Holy Spirit of Christ our Lord.

 

The Seventh Passion Reading: John 19:31-42

31 Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32 So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33 But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34 But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35 He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. 36 For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39 Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus[a] by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds[b] in weight. 40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42 So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.

Devotion: “Looking Upon Him”

With Jesus’ final words from the cross, “It is finished!” His work was truly complete. Nothing now remained to be done. He gave up His spirit and died. With that the soldiers re-enter the scene. They aren’t tossing dice over His clothes anymore. Now they are making sure that each of the men crucified that day is dead by breaking their legs. When they come to Jesus they do not break His legs because He is already dead, but they pierce His side just to make sure. Suddenly, from His side flows a stream of blood and water. The life of Christ poured out for the salvation of the world. All this happened, John tells us, to fulfill the Scripture that says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.”

With all the characters who appear along the way during our Lord’s Passion, with Peter, Pilate, the soldiers, Mary, and everyone else, this is where we are left on Good Friday, looking upon the one that we have pierced. It would seem to be a dismal, depressing scene. A scene devoid of hope. A scene full of guilt for what has happened. But we need to remember the words of John the Baptist, “Behold (look!), the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” Looking upon Him whom we have pierced means looking at Him who has taken away our sin.

In His passion we see the worst that man can offer, the true nature of our shared sinful condition is on display. We are confronted here with our own attitudes and conceptions, we see our own sinfulness here. But we also see the One who has dealt with our sinfulness once and for all. As His body hangs there on the tree the good news is as real as it could ever be. Your sin is taken away, your guilt is covered, you will live forever with God in eternity. In Jesus name. Amen.

 

 

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