‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 26. The Runaway Train – Thursday
Lk 22:7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed.
Approach: It’s Thursday. I have been tempted, because so much happens this day, to spread it over two days but felt if we were to catch something of this day we need to pile it all in together. It strikes me that it is like a runaway train, flashing through the countryside so we almost miss everything we’re passing. Perhaps it would be best to simply itemize the things that took place and leave you to look them up yourself. Let’s start from, “Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives.” (Lk21:37)
– THE MEAL
– Jesus sends his disciples to prepare the Passover meal (Mt 26:17-19)
– in the evening (v.20, Mk 14:17) they participate in the Last Supper.
– Jesus washes the disciples’ feet (Jn 13:1-12)
– Jesus declares one of them will betray him (Mt 26:21)
– Jesus instigates what we call Communion, The Lord’s Supper, etc. (Mt 26:26-28)
– Judas slips out (Jn 13:30) to convey Jesus’ intentions and prepare the arresting force.
– Jesus predicts they will all fall away but he will rise again (Mt 26:31,32)
– Jesus predicts Peter will deny him three times (Mt 26:33-35)
– Jesus gives extensive teaching (Jn 14-16)
– Jesus prays (Jn 17)
– THE GARDEN
– They go out to the Garden of Gethsemane outside the city (Jn 18:1, Mt 26:36)
– There Jesus prays three times while the disciples keep falling asleep (Mt 26:36-44)
– THE ARREST
– Judas, knowing where Jesus would be (Jn 18:2) arrives with the arresting party (Mt 26:47-50)
– When Jesus reveals himself, the whole arresting group fall back and down (Jn18:6)
– One of the group, Peter (Jn 18:10) lashes out with his sword taking off the ear of a servant (Mt 26:51) but Jesus heals him (Lk 22:51 – notice it is Dr. Luke who picks up on this detail!)
– one of the party, a young man flees (Mk 14:51,52 – thought to be Mark who wrote for Peter)
– the rest of the disciples flee (Mk 14:50)
– They take Jesus to the High Priest’s palace (Mt 26:57)
– Peter follows at a distance and his threefold denial takes place. (Mk 14:66-72)
– the mock trial takes place through the night, through what we would call Thursday night, Friday morning, but from Thursday sunset to Friday sunset is Passover.
Confusion: In formulating the list above, I have included at least twenty items, all things that occurred on this Thursday, starting from their return from overnight on the Mount of Olives, possibly back to the temple precincts and maybe some more teaching, preparations for the evening meal, probably taken after sunset, the meal and all the conversation that went with it, two lots of prayers, the betrayal and arrest and the denials. Yet, again, we must ascertain what was going on in people’s minds:
– For Jesus it was time of absolute certainty, knowing exactly what would happen and who would react in the way they did, and never losing control.
– For the disciples generally, they are in the heart of the storm. It started off like an ordinary day except Passover was about to happen. How would it happen? Jesus directed them. Before the meal Jesus insists on washing their feet. Peter, in particular, found this especially confusing. They lounge around participating in the meal and then Jesus starts speaking of his death again. They must be struggling to take it in still. As we’ve seen from John’s detailed account of the teaching at the Last Supper, Jesus again and again refers to his departure. They are still confused and various questions are asked. Then Jesus starts predicting that one of them would betray him. Uncertainty. Who? Then he predicts Peter will deny him three times. Uncertainty. Peter is almost heartbroken at the thought. The he predicts they will all fall away and desert him. Uncertainty. Surely not! He prays some things that must have left them even more confused in its nature (Jn 17 – read it and think about it from their viewpoint then.)
They follow him to the Garden of Gethsemane and he asks them to stay awake while he prays. They cannot and I guess felt bad about that. But it is late in the evening and they are no doubt tired and coming into constant semi-wakefulness they will be bleary eyed and muzzy-headed. Then there are voices and lights and the shambles of the arrest take place. The disciples flee in terror but Peter and John follow the arresting party at a distance. It is the middle of the night. They are confused, frightened and fearful of where this might end. It is the most terrible night of their lives. The word ‘uncertainty’ cannot do justice to all they feel. They mostly hide away behind locked doors. Are the authorities going to come hunting for them? They are ordinary guys facing the might of institutional Judaism and maybe even the Roman authorities. What is going to happen to us?
– For the authorities, it must be exactly the opposite to the experience of the disciples. Whereas their day had started off without problems but turned worse the further on it went into the night, for the authorities their uncertainty earlier in the day, about how and when they could arrest Jesus, gave way to certainty when Judas turned up with the information where Jesus could later be found, and agree to go along in the dark with the arresting party to identify Jesus in the half light of lanterns.
– And for God the Father? Here is someone who is rarely considered, but let’s speculate here, for that is all we can do. This is the Father who had led His Son on earth for three wonderful years, bringing good into this fallen world, day in, day out. This is the Father who had spoken His words of approval of His Son audibly more than once. This is the Father who delighted in His Son, the only one who could truly understand the wonder of who this being referred to as ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ was, His divine Son who had put off his heavenly glory to live as a human on earth. And now that plan, formulated from before the foundation of the world, was coming to its awful climax. Two terrible things have got to happen. His Son in human guise is to experience the ghastliest death experience mankind has devised with all the physical agony that that would involve, made worse by the emotional sense of rejection as he is abandoned to his fate. And yet something far worse is to happen, but that we will leave to the next study with all it entails. The Father’s heart must be breaking for His Son and it’s going to get worse.
And Us? I’m not sure, having run through these things above, if I can make any further comment. Perhaps without sounding too trite, I can just sum up by saying we have been reading what the apostle Peter summed up: “This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge and you, with the help of wicked men….” (Acts 2:23) There was no other way the Son of God could die for your sins and mine. Let’s be staggeringly thankful in the midst of whatever other emotions we may have as we ponder these things. Enough said.