Sunday, March 22, 2009
We are now just three weeks away from Easter Sunday, which along with Christmas Day is the celebration of one of the two greatest events in the history of mankind. On that day of Easter we will celebrate the great victory of Jesus Christ over death, his rising from the grave into which he entered as a repentance for the sins of man. But besides that sin for which his death was payment, there was a human process of actual conspiracy and betrayal that served as the mechanization leading to his crucifixion. And near that end there were a series of denials from his most beloved and respected friend and follower. As the Bible tells it in the New Testament gospel of Luke, with the Passover festival about to begin the chief priests and scribes were looking for a way to put him to death. They feared Jesus' popularity among the people, and that many of his teachings were outside the bounds, some directly in conflict with, the tenets of the Jewish faith. The Gospel of Matthew tells that they assembled in the palace of the high priest, Caiaphas, and consulted on how best to effect his arrest and eventual execution. Their initial plan was to have this plot carried out after the festival was over, because as both Matthew and Mark tell us, they feared "a riot among the people", such was Jesus' popularity. Their plots against him came together more suddenly than they wanted because the fact is they were not in charge of things. As Luke tells it, Satan "entered into" one of Jesus' twelve disciples, Judas Iscariot, who approached the temple guards and the chief priests with an offer to betray Jesus and turn him over to them in exchange for money. When the chief priests agreed to pay him 30 pieces of silver, the conspiracy was in place, and Judas began to seek an opportunity to lead them to Jesus when there would be no crowds around to cause a disturbance. When the time came to celebrate the Passover meal, Jesus gathered with his disciples in the large upper room at the home of a Jerusalem man who was a supporter of their group. During the meal, Jesus instituted the Sacramental expression of the sharing of His body and blood. In breaking bread and passing it among his friends he said "This is my body, which will be given for you; do this in memory of me." After they ate, the Lord then took the cup of wine and said to them "This cup is the new covenant of my blood, which will be shed for you." As they further celebrated the meal, an argument broke out among them as to who was the greatest of Jesus' followers. Rather than select anyone of them, Jesus instead told them that true greatness comes not from lording it over others, but through service, saying "I am among you as the one who serves." When his closest follower and dearest friend, Simon Peter, told Jesus that he was prepared to go to prison and die for him, Jesus replied that "Before the cock crows this day, you will deny three times that you know me." He also told the twelve friends that one of them sitting among their group would betray him saying "It would be better for that man if he had never been born." As we know through history, late that very night while his followers slept in the garden at Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives, Judas saw the opportunity to turn him over. He led a group of soldiers to that location, approached Jesus, and identified him to the soldiers by kissing Jesus on the cheek. Jesus was taken into custody and brought before the Sanhedrin, the council of elders, chief priests and scribes who would begin the process of a sham legal proceeding leading to his death. While Jesus was in custody, three different times that day his friend Peter was approached and accused of being one of Jesus' followers, and all three times Peter denied that it was so, just as Jesus had foretold. As the celebrations of Easter approach we should all be reminded of these moments when the very Savior of mankind was conspired against, betrayed, and denied by his very closest friends and followers. We need to remember that while our friends and family are important, no one is beyond Satan's grasp, and no one is beyond doing the exact same thing to each of us. In the end, we hope to count on the people in our lives at the most important moments. But the fact is that in the end the only one whom we can really count on is Jesus Christ himself. He was the one who stayed faithful to us. He is the one who went to the cross so that your sins would be forgiven. He was the one who suffered and died for each of you reading this. Do not turn your back on him as his followers did. Use the approach of this holy and blessed season to set your lives on a path that draws you closer to Jesus Christ.