Thursday: Intense Suffering

            Jerusalem was filled with activity.  Devout Jews from all over the “world” had converged on the city to celebrate the most important of three annual festivals on the Jewish calendar, the feast of unleavened bread with its Passover feast.  It was the day of Passover.  The vendors in the markets were busy selling lambs for the evening feast.  Wives and mothers were preparing the slain lamb and baking unleavened bread for the occasion.  Others were seeking out quarters large enough to accommodate a large gathering.  This was an important feast.  It was meant to remind the people of Israel of the great deliverance from the land of Egypt and the night during which the angel of death passed over the houses whose doorposts were smeared with the blood of the lamb.

That morning Jesus sent Peter and John to prepare the Passover feast for him and his twelve disciples.  By evening they were gathered in a large room in the upstairs of a house.  The table had been set, the food prepared, and thirteen couches (they didn’t use chairs) were placed around the tables.  What was otherwise a festive occasion was not so for Jesus and his followers.  The Jewish Sanhedrin was threatening his life, the people who at the beginning of the week enthusiastically supported him had deserted him, and Jesus himself was filled with sorrow.

Three events took place during this last supper.  First, Jesus took a bowl of water and a towel then proceeded to wash his disciple’s feet.  To this Peter had vehemently objected until which time Christ pointed out to him the significance of this action.   It symbolized our need to be cleansed in the blood of Jesus Christ in order to have a part in the kingdom of God.  By means of it Jesus also left us an example that we as God’s children must be willing to wash the feet of our fellow saints.

The second event that took place at this last Passover feast was the dismissal of the traitor, Judas Iscariot.  Jesus announced, “Verily, verily I say unto you, that one of you shall betray me.”  The disciples looked around at each other while some posed the question, “Lord, Is it I?” Finally, at the beckoning of Peter John leaned over and asked Jesus who was the betrayer.  Jesus answered that it would he with whom he shared the sop (unleavened bread dipped in a bowl of better herbs).  He gave the sop to Judas with the words, “What you do, do quickly.”  Judas left and immediately went the chief priests to inform them that Jesus knew of their plot to kill him and that they should act now.  Judas knew exactly where to lead the men who would eventually take Jesus captive.

The third event of this last Passover feast is the institution of the Lord’s Supper, a sacrament the church of Christ still celebrates today.  As the disciples were yet eating Jesus blessed the bread, broke it, and then distributed it to his disciples. “Eat this bread in remembrance of me.”  What is the church called to remember?  That as the bread is broken before us so also was Christ’s body broken on the cross to save us from sin.   Christ then took the cup gave thanks and again distributed it to them.  “Drink this wine in remembrance of me.”  The church of Christ is called to remember that as the wine is poured out before us so also was Christ’s blood shed on the cross to make us righteous before God.

Words of instruction were given before leaving that upper room.  Peter was also informed that before the night was over and the rooster crowed twice that Peter would betray Jesus three times.  Together this band of disciples sang a Psalm and left the room for the Garden of Gethsemane.  On the slow walk to the Mt. of Olives Jesus continued instructing his disciples concerning the Comforter, that is, the Spirit that he would send after his death.  Having reached the garden he prayed what is recorded in John 17, told eight of his disciples to wait for him at the edge of the garden, then took Peter, James and John with him.

The Bible records for us, the intense suffering of Jesus in the garden as he faced the cup he had to drink, that is, his suffering under the eternal wrath of God against our sin on the cross.  Luke informs us that his sweat at this time was as great drops of blood so intense was Christ’s suffering!  Three times he asked God that if there was another way to appease his divine wrath against our sin, then let this cup pass from him.  But he knew this was God’s will for the salvation of his people.  As the obedient servant of Jehovah he prayed that God’s will be done.  Bearing the burden of what was to take place on the next day he left the garden only to be met there by a band of ruffians sent by the Sanhedrin to take him captive.  At the head of the band stood Judas who betrayed Jesus with a kiss.  Then Jesus displayed his divine power by causing this entire band of soldiers to fall backward – not stumble forward, mind you – but to fall on their backs.  This reveals that he could very easily have avoided his death, but instead he now willingly gave himself to these men who, in turn, took him captive to the house of Caiaphas to put him on “trial” before the Sanhedrin.

Was this trial late on Thursday night yet, or was it now the wee hours of Friday morning?  It is hard to say.  But the mock trial of Jesus took place in secret in the middle of the night.  Peter and John followed this band of soldiers from afar then slipped through the gate in order to mingle among the soldiers in the courtyard.  The men of the Sanhedrin were wakened from sleep and called to gather in another room of Caiaphas’ house, while Jesus waited in a room with Annas.  It was then that the “melancholy” fall of Peter began.  A maiden approached him to accuse him of being one of Jesus’ disciples.  Peter strongly denied.  A little later another accused him.  Peter again vehemently denied it.  But word was spreading through the soldiers gathered and finally in front of them all Peter was accused a third time and he denied this time with cursing and swearing.  At that very moment Jesus was taken from the room where he was waiting to the room where the elders of the people now gathered.  The rooster began to crow.  At the same time Jesus looked into the eyes of Peter.  Peter now knew what he had done.  Leaving the courtyard he wept bitterly in sorrow and grief over his sin.

Jesus himself now sat in the midst of the Sanhedrin.  The chief priest, Caiaphas attempted in every way to make Jesus out to be a guilty insurrectionist.  Caiaphas even brought false witnesses to testify against Jesus, but their testimony was faulty.  Finally, Caiaphas placed Jesus under oath: “Tell us whether you are the Christ, the Son of God?”  Jesus’ reply: “You said it.”  Caiaphas sanctimoniously rent his mantle and charged Jesus with blasphemy.  He called for the verdict.  The elders agreed, “He is guilty of death.”

“He is despised and rejected of men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him.” Isaiah 53:3

It was night.


Originally published April 2021, Vol 80 No 4