I thought I’d post some reflections on Easter as we’ve begun the Lenten season. I hope they’ll make you think more of Jesus today.
Jesus turned His face toward Jerusalem. His friends trudged behind Him with dusty feet. Their sense of foreboding was growing. Jesus had been speaking more and more cryptically in the past few weeks. They hoped all this talk of sleeping and leaving and death was another metaphor they didn’t understand but they were beginning to wonder.
They had given up everything, changed their lives for Him. They had spent the past three years hiking, camping, and serving with Him. But they were sure it was going to be worth it. They had never met or heard of anyone quite like Him–though the stories they’d been told at temple of Isaiah and Jeremiah bore some resemblance. They understood why people came in droves to hear Him. Even though they heard Him teach daily, they hadn’t tired of learning from Him. His healings and power were undeniable but constantly shocked them. He was the best friend they’d ever had and they were thrilled to have been chosen to be His disciples.
The Teacher was unexpected—moving, hilarious, always just a little disconcerting. He was a dissident who always seemed to leave the powerful and respected either disgruntled or enraged. And not without reason. What common man called Jewish leaders white-washed tombs or a brood of vipers (at least to their faces)? He made a whip and used it to drive the salesmen from the temple (John 2:14-16). He even told the Pharisees they acted like their father, the devil (John 8:44).
But with the overlooked and the hated and the immoral, Jesus was gentle and kind, even tender. When a widow lost her only son (and thereby her heart and only provision), He raised him from the dead. When a friend was hurting and confused, He didn’t only solve her problem, He cried with her. He loved His mother and honored her by making wine from water when He would have preferred to remain in the background.
He was wise. He helped people understand that anger was as wrong as murder; that only those who longed single-mindedly for righteousness would be satisfied; that lust as evil as adultery; that it is the gentle who will inherit the earth (Matthew 5). When the Pharisees complained about the disciples picking wheat berries on a Sabbath morning, He reminded them David himself had done something similar and that it was always lawful to do good on the Lord’s Day. He challenged them that if they’d understood God the way they claimed to, they would have known that He wants compassion much more than He wants sacrifices (Matthew 12:7, Hosea 6:6). He helped a lawyer prioritize the commandments and understand how to please God.
He showed his friends a new way to relate to God. He taught them to pray to God as Father (Matthew 6:9). It seemed sacrilegious. Praying to a holy God whose personal Name no one was allowed to say out loud, a God whose name the scribes wouldn’t even copy down without many pauses, purifications, and a new pen for each letter had always been a slightly terrifying and tentative endeavor. What if He wasn’t pleased with their prayers? Would He strike them with leprosy as He had with Miriam or Uzziah? But Jesus showed them a God who was as kind and merciful as He was good. Who knew how many hairs were on their head and if a sparrow fell and who was infinitely more passionate about them (Matthew 10:29-30). Who sent His only Son to save sinful people and help them to know their God personally (John 3:16). If there was ever to be a real Messiah, Jesus was He. They knew it to the core of their being.
And now, their only hope was explaining that He was leaving them and that it was a good thing rather than the worst tragedy imaginable. Why had He come if He was only going to dash their hopes? As His last minutes slipped away, Jesus patiently and urgently explained that they would still be able to talk to Him. He told them, “I am the vine, you are the branches; he who abides in Me and I in him, he bears much fruit, for apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). He told them they could still be His friends if they did what He’d commanded and loved one another as He had loved them (John 15:12, 14). He didn’t want them to be surprised. He told them that after He was dead, the religious leaders were going to come after them, too, believing that anytime they killed followers of Jesus, they were doing a holy thing. But none of these things were worth getting upset about. It was going to be incredibly difficult but, like a woman holding her newborn forgets the labor pains she just endured, they were going to be more joyful than they could imagine after He died. It was possible, he explained, because when He left, the Helper, the Spirit was going to come to them. He would guide them in all truth (John 16:13). He would never leave them. This Holy Spirit would cause the unbelievable to happen: He was going to make them one with Jesus just as Jesus was one with His Father (John 17:22). They, and everyone who believed after them, would never have to leave His presence again.
Was it possible this was what the prophets had foretold and the angels had looked forward to (I Peter 1:10-12)?