“My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” – Jesus, Matthew 26:39
It’s about 9:00 Thursday night here, a few hours ahead of Good Friday. By this time today, around 1980 years ago, the Lord celebrated Passover with His disciples. By now they had likely finished the meal and had gone out to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas had left the company and gone to the priests to set up the betrayal. The Lord, knowing what lay ahead, went aside to pray. “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matt 26:38).
What followed was was immeasurable brutality – and immeasurable grace.
He was taken first to Annas, former high priest and father-in-law of the current high priest Caiaphas. There he was “tried” and mocked and beaten. (Remember this was a priest of the covenant with God!) Then He was led to the high priest, Caiaphas, and the Sanhedrin. Unable to find anything to convict Him, Caiaphas just came out and asked if He was the Messiah (simple question, right?). Responding with “you have said so” Jesus was beaten and bloodied, and condemned to death by caretakers of His covenant with the Jews. Of course, the Jews had lost the power to condemn anyone to death, being under Roman rule, so they shipped him to Pilate.
Pilate knew the score, and in the first go-around he declared Jesus innocent (“I find no guilt in him”). Looking for an out, Pilate sends Him to Herod, who mocks Jesus some more, but finds nothing to convict Him. Herod then sends Jesus back to Pilate, who looks for a way to “punish and release” Him. He even tries to give Jesus freedom in his “let a prisoner go” tradition – but they demand Barrabas instead. And what of Jesus? “Crucify him.”
Eventually Pilate relents, and orders the Lord beaten and crucified. First He was stripped naked and beaten, His flesh torn to pieces by whips – deep gouges in the back, legs, and buttocks; resulting in significant blood loss. Then the Romans put a robe on Him, and a crown of thorns, and beat Him some more. Then, on to Calvary.
Bloodied and beaten beyond recognition – barely recognizable as human (Isaiah 52:14) – He then had nails driven through His hands and feet to attach Him to the cross. Then came hours of suffering. More mockery from the priests, the Romans, and the people He came to save. It was a horrid death.
Two quotes of the Lord bookend the episode, and speak of His immeasurable grace. First, back in the Garden, when His disciples began to revolt against the guards, He said, “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” Then, as He hung on the cross, he said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
He could have stopped it at any time. At any point in the beating, the mockery, the brutality – He could have stopped it all. A simple call out to His Father. But, how then, would we have been saved? How would the scriptures have been fulfilled? How would our deliverance have come, if the Lord had not gone to the cross for us?
When the high priests mocked Him – He stayed focused on His goal, and “the joy that was set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). He knew what He was there for. He knew what was in front of Him. He knew that this was the way, the only way, to deliver the lost and hurting, the sheep without a shepherd.
When the high priest mocked Him on the cross, taunting Him to “come down” – He refused, because He wanted to make a way of salvation for that very same high priest (whether the priest chose to follow or not). “Father forgive them, they know not what they do.”
To die for those who hate you … amazing grace.
Today we call it Good Friday. A day of wrath, pain, and torment – darkness across the land. But the story does not end on Good Friday. Sunday morning is coming. And on Sunday morning, we all have hope.