Through the Lenten season, I’ve been reading Daily Devotions from the Lutheran Hour Ministries. The series reflects on the Gospel of John and is called “Light Shines in the Darkness”.
One theme particularly grabbed me during these daily reflections on Christ’s life and ministry leading up to the events of Holy Week. Throughout everything that Christ endured, he was always in control of the situation: “As we begin this week of Jesus’ suffering and death for our sins, we notice He is completely in control. We will notice He is in control through this entire week-clear up to and including His arrest, trials and crucifixion.”
As Jesus made his victorious entry into Jerusalem, as we celebrated this past Palm Sunday, he was greeted by huge crowds cheering shouts of “Hosanna”. The people were greeting their King as the Pharisees stood by watching and despising Jesus for challenging their power and religious authority. They knew the only way to quiet this threat was to kill Jesus.
After eating the Passover meal with his disciples, Jesus lead them to the Garden of Gethsemane. There he was deeply troubled, knowing what was about to happen to him, while his disciples fell asleep, leaving Jesus to suffer alone. When Judas led the Roman soldiers and Jewish officers to identify Jesus and arrest him, Jesus did not run and hide. Instead, he asks them directly whom they are seeking. To their response: “Jesus of Nazareth” he replies, “I am He.”
At this decisive response, the Gospel reports that Judas and the band of soldiers, officers of the chief priests and the Pharisees “… drew back and fell to the ground.” Jesus repeated his question, “Whom do you seek?” When they again responded, “Jesus of Nazareth” – Jesus replied, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” Even as he allowed himself to be arrested, Jesus protected his disciples and friends.
Simon Peter then struck one of the high priest’s servants with a sword, cutting off his ear. Jesus gently rebukes Peter saying, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). His words here echo his prayer earlier that evening in the Garden, when Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36). These passages illuminate the dynamic between Father and Son. Jesus, though himself God, was also a human being and experienced great suffering as he faced death, therefore he relied on the Father to give him strength to endure the sacrifice he came to fulfill.
Over the next several hours, Jesus is shuffled between various Jewish and Roman authorities – first he’s taken to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, then the headquarters of Pilate, the Roman governor, next he was sent to Herod, while he was visiting Jerusalem for the Passover festival, and finally back to Pilate for sentencing. The political posturing and varied motives of the Jewish leaders and Roman authorities meant that Jesus was seemingly caught in a political turf war.
However, as Pilate questions Jesus, it is once again clear that Jesus is fully in control of this life-and-death situation. Starting at John 18:33, Pilate asks, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 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. 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.” Pilate said to him, “What is truth?”
Jesus spoke the truth about himself and the coming Kingdom of God. Pilate, and all of the Roman authorities and Jewish leaders, stubbornly held to their own definition of worldly power. They were blind to the spiritual power that Jesus held. There’s a somber juxtaposition between what the world views as powerful – money, military victory, fame, versus the ultimate power of Christ’s death on the cross. To the Jews and Romans, crucifixion was the most shameful and degrading of deaths. However, in full control of this worldly situation, God provided a complete and perfect sacrifice of his beloved Son, for us.