We began our series a few weeks ago looking at Palm Sunday. The next day, we see Jesus as He curses a fig tree. On Tuesday and Wednesday of what we call Holy Week, Jesus had intense encounters with the religious leaders of the time. If you happened to look further into the accounts here in Scripture, you would have also seen a moment of compassion as Mary anointed Jesus’ head, and a hint of betrayal as Judas goes to the Temple.
This morning, we’re looking at Thursday and Friday – the last 48 hours of Jesus’ life. This particular Thursday is one that that’s given the name “Maundy Thursday,” where the word, “Maundy” means “command.” It’s the time where Jesus commands his disciples to love and serve one another, and He demonstrates this by washing their feet.
It begins with the Last Supper (what we now call the Lord’s Supper), or Communion. And the reason we call this communion is partly because it symbolizes a common union between me and you as brothers and sisters in Christ. And as we consider this passage in Matthew 26, we see Jesus breaking bread, symbolic of what was to come, and revealing Judas as the one who would betray Him. As they leave to travel towards the Mount of Olives, Jesus has an interesting moment with Peter.
Then Jesus said to them, “Tonight all of you will run away because of Me, for it is written:
I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.
But after I have been resurrected, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.”
Peter told Him, “Even if everyone runs away because of You, I will never run away!”
“I assure you,” Jesus said to him, “tonight, before the rooster crows, you will deny Me three times!”
“Even if I have to die with You,” Peter told Him, “I will never deny You!” And all the disciples said the same thing.
In this passage, we hear Jesus quote from Zechariah 37, with Peter and the rest of the disciples declaring their obedience. We’ve all had these mountaintop experiences where we refuse to leave Jesus’ side. This is where Peter is – even if he must die with Jesus. As we move further into the story, Jesus pulls His inner circle – Peter, James, and John – and commands them to pray in the garden of Gethsemane.
He went out and made His way as usual to the Mount of Olives, and the disciples followed Him. When He reached the place, He told them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and began to pray, “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me – nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done.”
[Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening Him. Being in anguish, He prayed more fervently, and His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.]
Jesus knew what was about to come. And Jesus, being both God and fully human, is afraid. Now this has been medically proven possible, but Jesus was grieved to the point to where He sweat drops of blood. He was overwhelmed by what was to come, but nevertheless was willing to be obedient to His Father.
While He was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, suddenly arrived. A large mob, with swords and clubs, was with him from the chief priests and elders of the people. His betrayer had given them a sign: “The One I kiss, He’s the One; arrest Him!” So he went right up to Jesus and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed Him.
“Friend,” Jesus asked him, “why have you come?”
Then they came up, took hold of Jesus, and arrested Him. At that moment one of those with Jesus reached out his hand and drew his sword. He struck the high priest’s slave and cut off his ear.
Then Jesus told him, “Put your sword back in its place because all who take up a sword will perish by a sword. Or do you think that I cannot call on My Father, and He will provide Me at once with more than 12 legions of angels? How, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”
Jesus is greeted by Judas with a kiss – not an uncommon way to greet a Christian during this time as it was a term of endearment. But, as Jesus is being arrested, one of the disciples (most likely Peter) reached for his sword and struck one of the high priest’s servants. This disciple was so overwhelmed with emotion that he’s attempting to murder someone. Fortunately, he misses the neck and cuts off the servant’s ears.
Jesus calls for calm. This was His purpose, to come and die for the sins of many. The Gospel of Luke tells us that He placed his hand over the side of the servant’s face, healing the man immediately. Even as calm as Jesus was, and the miracle that just took place, these men still failed to realize that they were in the presence of a Holy God. And to further draw on His obedience and willingness to die on our behalf, Jesus reveals to His disciple that there were 12 legions of angels at His disposal.
What can you do with 12 legions? First, a legion was a Roman term for 6,000 soldiers. If you were to look back to 2 Kings, you’d find the account where a single angel wiped out 185,000 soldiers in the Assyrian camp. Just imagine what 12 legions could be capable of! And yet, Jesus recognizes the significance of this moment and the moments to come.
And so, we finally come to Good Friday. What follows the account we just read begins about one o’ clock in the morning. After Jesus is arrested, the disciples flee. Even Peter chooses to follow only at a distance. The confidence and obedience he had displayed only moments before had left him. What happens next are six layers of trials that ultimately lead to the crucifixion of Jesus. Three of them will be religious trials, with three more civil.
Jesus is first taken to the home of Annas, the former high priest. As He is questioned, Jesus refuses to answer. It’s most likely that Annas was also present when Jesus drove the moneychangers out of the Temple and criticized the wavering faith of the Pharisees.
After much frustration, Annas sends Jesus off to the home of Caiaphas. Now I must remind you, this whole trial was illegal, as Jewish custom stated that trials could only take place during the day. Even more so, trials were to take place in the Temple court. But here we see Jesus at the home of Caiaphas, where he is ultimately beaten by the priestly court and spit upon.
Finally, at least in terms of the religious trials, Jesus is taken to the Sanhedrin – the Jewish equivalent of the Supreme Court. The sun has finally risen, as if an attempt to legitimize and make this whole process legal or by the books. Even so, this was all just a simple formality, as Jewish law didn’t allow someone to be put to death without going to the Roman government, which could only happen after they had been taken to the Sanhedrin. This is probably the shortest of all the trials – only 10-15 minutes. Two questions are asked of Jesus: “Are you the Messiah?” and “Are you the Son of God?” Jesus confirms their statements, which then launches Him into the civil trials on behalf of the Roman government.
The fourth trial takes place with Pilate presiding. It’s somewhere between six and seven o’ clock in the morning, and Jesus has been brought on the charges of treason, for attempting to lead an insurrection and, among all things, even tax evasion.
Pilate was between a rock and a hard place. He had a bad track record and was about to lose his post, so he saw it necessary to deal with Jesus very carefully. Finally, he finds his loophole: Jesus is from Galilee. Since Pilate had no jurisdiction over that area, Jesus is sent to King Herod.
This fifth trial takes place before the very man who had John the Baptizer beheaded. He demands that Jesus perform a miracle. All this was done to show his presumed power over the prisoner that was brought before him. Just to spite Him, Herod mockingly calls Jesus the “King of the Jews” and wants to make Him look the part. Jesus is given a sash, along with a crown of thorns pushed painfully into His brow. Once Herod has had his fun, he sends Jesus back to Pilate.
At the sixth and final trial, Pilate makes an attempt to save his political career and appease his wife, who had a dream and began to question whether or not this man Jesus truly was the Son of God. Pilate orders that Jesus is to be scourged publicly, lashes made to his back thirty-nine times, thinking that this would calm the crowd. But they only become more animated, now calling for His crucifixion.
Once again, Pilate looks for a loophole. He uses a custom only practiced during Passover, where the people could exchange one prisoner for another. The people were given a choice: Barabbas the murderer, or Jesus. Barabbas was already likely sentenced to death on the cross, while Jesus had done nothing. Ultimately Pilate washes his hands and claims no responsibility in the matter as the people choose to have Jesus, rather than Barabbas, killed.
And while all of this is happening, Jesus’ prophecy concerning Peter comes to fruition:
About an hour later, another kept insisting, “This man was certainly with Him, since he’s also a Galilean.”
But Peter said, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Immediately, while he was still speaking, a rooster crowed. Then the Lord turned and looked at Peter. So Peter remembered the word of the Lord, how He had said to him, “Before the rooster crows today, you will deny Me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
Again, Peter is following Jesus at a distance. When he denies Jesus for the third time, not only does the rooster crow, but Jesus looks straight back into Peter’s eyes. Imagine that, the moment when you deny Jesus and He looks you right in the eye. Here was the man that said he was willing to die with Jesus, outside weeping bitterly. The words used here mean to say that he wept violently.
But, getting back to our storyline, look at the crazy claim made by the people who were willing to crucify Jesus:
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that a riot was starTing instead, he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. See to it yourselves!”
All the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!”
Matthew 27: 24-25
What in the world does it take to say that “His blood be on us and on our children”? This is one of saddest moments in the depravity of mankind.
Finally, we enter into the account of the crucifixion of Jesus. I want you to notice three things about the crucifixion and then I would ask you to respond. First, I want you to notice the one thing that Jesus couldn’t do: He couldn’t come down from the cross. The One who had numbered the stars in the sky, who had gathered the waters of the oceans – even He could not step down from the cross.
Then two criminals were crucified with Him, one on the right and one on the left. Those who passed by were yelling insults at Him, shaking their heads and saying, “The One who would demolish the sanctuary and rebuild it in three days, save Yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross!” In the same way the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked Him and said, “He saved others, but He cannot save Himself! He is the King of Israel! Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He has put His trust in God; let God rescue Him now – if He wants Him! For He said, ‘I am God’s Son.’” In the same way even the criminals who were crucified with Him kept taunting Him.
Are you thankful this morning that Jesus wasn’t able to come down from the cross? He knew it was His plan and His purpose. It’s his broken body and shed blood that gives us the promise of Heaven.
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over the whole land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit.
Matthew 27:45-46; 50
Here it is, high noon, and yet there is darkness. Scholars believe that when Jesus took on the sins of mankind, God the Father had no choice but to turn His back. Jesus realizes this and cries out in pain and sadness before ultimately giving up His spirit. The phrase He uses here is “It is Finished,” which literally means “Paid in full”.
Jesus shouted again with a loud voice and gave up His spirit. Suddenly, the curtain of the sanctuary was split from top to bottom; the earth quaked and the rocks were split.
The final thing I want you to notice here is that the separation between God and man was ended. The curtain was torn, giving us access to the holy place. In the times of the Old Testament, only the high priest could enter the Holy of Holies once a year to pray and ask for forgiveness on the behalf of the people. And now, God is inviting us into His presence. This hasn’t happened since Genesis 2! When man fell, there was separation between a holy God and sinful man.
We’re only a week away from Easter and, in light of what you’ve heard, what are you going to do with this kind of love? You will never experience the unconditional love of God apart from a relationship with Christ.
Heavenly Father, we come to you in awe of your wondrous love as displayed through the life and death of your Son, Jesus Christ. As difficult as it is to hear of all that He endured on the cross on our behalf, let us rejoice and not take for granted such a great salvation.
Helps us to draw ever nearer to Your side – to not deny You or forsake You, but to live obediently and sacrificially in light of the love You have shown us. Help us to show it to others, and for those who don’t have a relationship with You, may they allow You to enter and dwell within their hearts.
For we ask all these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.