The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“When he came near the place where the road goes down the Mount of Olives, the whole crowd of disciples began joyfully to praise God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen:
“Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!”
As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes…..because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you” (Luke 19: 37,38,41,42,44b NIV).
The Gathering Darkness
The halls of Heaven resounded with shouts of jubilation and rejoicing as the angels leapt and danced and shouted their delight at seeing their beloved King enter his Holy City.
It was about time, Gabriel thought.
It was time for all the spiritual forces of wickedness to see who they were dealing with. It was time for the Jewish people, God’s chosen nation, to recognize the coming of their King, their Maschiach, their God. And the heavenly celebration mirrored the joyous singing of the disciples down below on the dirt road leading to Yerushalayim.
The report of the heavenly disturbance and its cause was quickly brought to Lucifer who rose immediately to the pinnacle of the Temple to witness the unscheduled event. Again doubts assailed him as he wondered what Jesus was up to. It frustrated him that Jesus could not seem to make up his mind whether he wanted to play the role of a warrior-king or a suffering servant. Like many of his human counterparts, Lucifer simply could not reconcile the two. For now, he would not interfere. The spiritual forces of Heaven were out in strength and could not be deterred from this event.
He would watch and wait.
Jesus was seated sidesaddle on a young donkey, a colt that had never been ridden but was compliant and docile under his hand. Both of his legs dangled on the one side of the animal with part of his robe dragging on the ground. Jesus was sitting upon a seat of cloaks and outer garments loaned for the occasion by his disciples. The hood of his robe was thrown back and his head was bare to the Heavens as Jesus rocked back and forth on the back of the donkey in regal acknowledgment of the praise and adulation of the crowds.
And the crowds were gathering. For the past six days, Jesus and his disciples had been staying in Beth-Anyah, in the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. Outside of the Twelve, these three were counted among his closest friends and he had chosen to stay with them for the days leading up to his death. A large number of Jews had heard that he was there and came to see him, and also to catch a glimpse of Lazarus whom he had raised from the dead. The sight of Lazarus really and truly alive brought many to belief in Jesus as the promised Maschiach. And the news had spread. It was in large part because of this that the crowds were responding so well to the spontaneous celebration of Jesus’ entry into Yerushalayim.
The disciples themselves were overjoyed. They were still shocked and excited by the obvious display of power that Jesus had demonstrated in the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And now that Jesus was going to Yerushalayim, seated upon a donkey, as a popular King entering his city, the disciples enthusiastically began to lay their cloaks and outer garments on the road for Jesus to ride upon, the crowds following their example.
As he approached the downward slope of the Mount of Olives and they came within sight of the ancient walls of the city of Yerushalayim, the whole group of disciples joyfully began to praise God at the top of their voices for all the miracles they had seen.
“Blessings on the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” they shouted. And the children were the first to join in the praise to Jesus the King. “Hosanna to the Son of David! Hosanna in the Highest Heavens! “
The Heavens echoed their praise with loud Amens! and Hallelujahs! and Gabriel’s voice was the loudest of them all.
Of course, the Pharisees that were constantly close at hand were indignant at this obvious acclamation of Jesus as the long-awaited Maschiach and said to Jesus, “Master, check your disciples.”
Jesus smiled and said with total sincerity, “I tell you, if my disciples and the crowds kept silent, the very stones lining the side of the road would cry out in praise!”
Jesus moved on as the crowds swelled and the chanting became louder and louder. Palm branches were stripped from trees and other greenery cut in the nearby fields and laid on the road and waved in the air in celebration.
Already some of the more arrogant demons were trying to mock Jesus and the disciples for the ludicrous public display they were making, but their insults became hollow as row upon row, and rank upon rank of Heavenly Hosts unveiled themselves, shouting and praising their King with such adoration as to make the demons sick with disgust.
In truth, on an earthly level, Lucifer had seen much more impressive displays of power in the Imperial processionals of Rome. The pageantry and color, the show of strength in arms and troops clearly identified the leader as one to be reckoned with. If one did not know better, one would laugh at this puny display of power.
But Lucifer did know better. The spiritual power behind the scenes was enough to cower the boldest demonic forces. And it was that power that mattered.
Jesus was grim as he saw the crowds rejoicing in this historic moment, for he knew that most rejoiced for the wrong reason. They had seen the miracles, they had witnessed the demonstration of his power and authority, and now they anticipated the destruction of their enemies and his subsequent reign in Yerushalayim as their King. Even his disciples did not truly understand, even after he had told them clearly and repeatedly that he had come to this city to be rejected, to be handed over, to die.
As he drew near and came in sight of the city he shed tears over it and said, “If you in your turn had only understood on this day the message of peace! But, alas, it is hidden from your eyes!”
Jesus was overcome with grief for a moment and stopped. Then almost in a whisper he said, “Yes, a time is coming when your enemies will raise fortifications all around you, when they will encircle you and hem you in on every side… They will leave not one stone standing on another within you – and all because you did not recognize your opportunity when God offered it!”
Only a few of his disciples had seen the tears and had heard the words. The crowds continued their rejoicing and celebration as they carried Jesus in triumph into the city right into the Temple courtyard.
The whole city was in a turmoil. “Who is this?” people asked, and the crowds answered, “This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.”
Jesus smiled warmly as the children continued their chanting. “Hosanna to the Son of David!” Their praise was the purest of all, a rejoicing in his presence without any expectation of reward.
But as he looked around at the Temple courtyard, his anger was kindled at the unbridled greed that filled the place. He had already once cleared the temple of these vermin who preyed upon the poor but they were back again.
Jesus strode angrily toward the nearest table where a money changer was at work. The Pharisees had legalized every technicality of the sacrificial system to such an extent that one could only buy the proper pigeons, or doves or other items of necessity for the ritual here in the Temple courtyard. And the money changers charged exorbitant prices to make each transaction possible. It was a flagrant offense to God that His laws, which were meant to free the people, instead enslaved them. It was a flagrant offense to God that these sacrifices that were a dim but real reflection of what Jesus himself was about to do, were portrayed as a heavy taxation on a people already suffering from extreme poverty.
This was to be a place of prayer, not a robber’s den.
Jesus grabbed the table and heaved it upwards to spill the coins and scatter the chairs and pigeons amidst the angry words of the money changers. At first it was only Jesus, in his anger, who did the damage and began to drive them out. But soon the disciples started to help and then the crowds, and before long the Temple was filled with the righteous anger of God’s people righting wrongs and bringing justice.
And when it was done, the people stopped and looked around at the devastation they had caused and then looked to Jesus for a sign of what the next step would be.
Would they march on the palace of the High Priest? Maybe it was time to show the Romans what power their Maschiach had? The Son of David was here and he had come in power and authority! He would reestablish the Kingdom of David and there would be peace and prosperity in the land!
But the people were ready to fight the wrong battle, and they became confused when Jesus simply stopped and began to heal the blind and the lame who came to him and to teach the people like he had done so many times before.
And when it was evening, he left the city as if nothing had happened and spent the night in Beth-Anyah, at the home of Lazarus. Later in the week he would spend his nights on the Mount of Olives, sleeping in the open like many visitors to the city would during the Passover celebrations.
Tundrac was as confused as the rest about Jesus but he had his orders. His preparations were complete and everything was going as planned. It only remained to target Jesus when the crowds were not around and do away with him before they understood what was going on.
That was where Judas, son of Simon Iscariot, would be useful. Already he had made his offer to the chief priests to betray Jesus to them. More than the rest, he was disappointed that Jesus wouldn’t take that final step to Kingship.
Judas had a passionate love for his people and his country and believed in their destiny to rule the nations. He was not above stealing to support his cause, or lying to promote it, or spying on his friends if it meant that the Great Cause would be fulfilled. He was a patriot above all else, in his own eyes, and this was his great weakness which the devils exploited.
The unbelief of the Pharisees in the face of so many magnificent signs and wonders was hard to believe. But the unbelief of Judas was worse, and better, Tundrac chortled with glee.
The Pharisees understood the choice they had been given, and they clearly sided against Jesus, afraid in their weakness of losing the power and prestige of their position in the eyes of the people.
But Judas had aligned himself with Jesus. He was one of the Twelve. He had witnessed first hand the power and wonder of every miracle. He had joined his fellow disciples in bringing the good news to the towns and villages of Isra´el. By his own hand, in the authority that Jesus had given them, he had cast out demons and healed the sick. But for all that, he had shut himself up in a prison of his own making.
It was not for vain conceit, or religious pride that he rejected the Christ. In fact, he had not rejected Jesus at all, Tundrac knew. He was one of his earliest and most ardent followers. He knew that Jesus was the Christ, the Maschiach who was to come. And he welcomed him with all of his heart. He wanted nothing more than to help Jesus ascend to the throne of David, and be at his side as he returned Isra´el to her rightful place as the nation to rule all nations as the prophesies had said.
But any passion that was not a passion for God can be turned to evil and Tundrac enjoyed the game of temptation immensely. He had learned from the best.
Gabriel shook his head sadly as he contemplated the folly of Judas.
It was folly after all, he thought, to try and control the One who is uncontrollable, to guide He who needs no guidance. It was not Jesus that Judas really loved, though he had some affection for him. It was not to Jesus that Judas had given his loyalty but to the Great Cause for which he lived and breathed. Gabriel thought for a moment, it was a good thing in some ways, this patriotism, but loyalty to Jesus not Isra´el, or his aspirations for Isra´el, was what Judas needed. Many would consider Judas a good man appointed to a difficult, thankless task. But it was not so.
Judas was a betrayer, a traitor pretending loyalties that he did not have. He still wanted to decide for himself what was good and what was bad for himself, for Isra´el, even for Jesus. The fruit of the tree firmly in his hand, he was the master of his own destiny and tried to extend that mastery over Jesus as well. He thought that Jesus wanted the same thing, but blind to everything but his own goals he had not really heard when Jesus explained clearly and patiently, again and again, what Jesus considered important. Righteousness mattered to Jesus, but it was merely a means to an end for Judas. Humility mattered to Jesus, but Judas had no room for it in his life.
Who was the King and who the servant? Finally, blinded by his own version of the truth, Judas had decided to betray Jesus in order to force his hand, to force an encounter, to die or become the King of the Jews.
It was not difficult for Lucifer to encourage him to make his move, and Judas found himself building alliances with the enemy to promote the common good. Deception, stubbornness, unbelief.
Temptation can take root in good desires just as well as in bad, so long as disobedience was the result, and, no doubt, Lucifer laughed at how easy it all was.
Jesus was deeply troubled. It was time.
In Beth-Anyah, before coming to Yerushalayim, Mary had anointed him with costly perfume in preparation for this hour, the hour of his death. He smiled tenderly at the thought of Mary, always so in tune with his moods and wishes.
Jesus was spending his last days upon the earth in teaching and prayer but it was not easy. The Pharisees challenged his authority again and again, outraged at his presumption in entering the city like a king and wrecking havoc in the Temple courtyards. What gives him the right?
Jesus finally quoted to them the scripture, “It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone. This was the Lord’s doing and it is wonderful to see!”
Then, just so that there was no doubt in anyone’s mind, Jesus turned to face the chief priests and elders who had come personally to challenge him. “I tell you, then, that the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.”
Of course, they wanted to arrest him immediately in their frustration and anger but one look at the crowds and no doubt they knew they wouldn’t get away with it.
Jesus went on to prophesy the destruction of Yerushalayim within one generation and the coming Day of the Lord when creation itself will announce the coming of the Son of Man upon the clouds with power and great glory. The voice of Jesus rang loudly in the Temple courtyard with the proclamation, “When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your redemption is near at hand!” And though the prophecy was solemn, the people cheered at hearing it, most thinking that he was still talking about Isra´el rather than the souls of men.
The Pharisees had kept up a continual attack on Jesus throughout those first days, bringing first one question and then another. It was an attempt to discredit him in the eyes of the people, but his answers made the crowd eager to hear more, considering him to be a great prophet. The Pharisees worked together with the Herodians to try to trap him in political questions of loyalty to Ceasar. The Sadducees tried to trap him in a question related to the resurrection of the dead. But when finally a young scribe came to ask Jesus an honest question, Jesus was quite pleased.
The young man had been listening to the debate and noted how well Jesus had been answering the questions. He now elbowed his way to the front of the crowd and, getting Jesus’ attention, asked him a question dear to his heart. The other scribes claimed that this Jesus was a heretic, that he set himself up as another god to be worshipped and followed. But this young scribe had to see for himself.
In great seriousness he stated his question as if it were the most difficult question of all. “Of all the commandments that we have been given by Mosheh and the Prophets, which of these is the greatest commandment of all?”
Jesus, quoting the ancient scriptures, went to the heart of the matter and said, “This is the first, the most important commandment of all: Listen, Isra´el, the Lord our God is the one Lord, and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: You must love your neighbor as yourself. There is no commandment greater than these.”
The young scribe said to him, “Well spoken, Master, what you have said is true: that he is one and there is no other.”
Then the young man revealed a depth of wisdom and love for God that brought great joy to Jesus’ heart. The young man, waving his arm in a wide gesture that included all the activity of the Temple, said, “This love for our God and for our neighbor is far more important than all of the burning and ritual and sacrifices of this Temple.”
Jesus, seeing how wisely he had spoken, said, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” It gladdened his heart to see that not all of the scribes were without understanding of the things of God.
And after that no one dared to question him any more.
On the final day before the Passover, Jesus was troubled and heavy of heart. He told his disciples, “Now the hour has come, and unless a wheat of grain falls on the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain; but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.”
He went on, a bit more subdued. “My soul is troubled. What shall I say: Father, save me from this hour? But it was for this very reason that I have come to this hour. Father, glorify your name!” Show forth your true character and holiness to the world.
And suddenly, a voice came from heaven, saying, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”
The people standing by, who heard this, said it was a clap of thunder; others said, “it was an angel speaking to him.”
Jesus answered, “It was not for my sake that this voice came, but for yours.”
And Jesus stood up, straightened his back, and lifted his voice for everyone to hear, human, angelic, and demonic. “Now sentence is being passed on this world; now the prince of this world is to be overthrown. And when I am lifted up from the earth, I shall draw all men to myself.”
And immediately the demonic messengers left to take the report to Lucifer who studied it with great care, his bloodshot eyes riveted upon that one word, “Overthrown!”
“Counterattack!” Tundrac hissed ferociously under his breath at Slimfroth. “Why don’t you do something?”
They were in the outer vestibule of the palace awaiting audience with the Evil One and Tundrac was frustrated. Tundrac had grabbed Slimfroth by the throat and was shaking him violently. All of his preparations had come down to this moment, and nothing was happening!!
It was in the hands of Slimfroth and the vermin in the Sanhedrin. What were they waiting for?! Slimfroth cowered in the corner where Tundrac had him trapped, hissing through clenched teeth in terror of his Master’s anger.
But there was really nothing anyone could do. That’s what really bothered Tundrac, the sense that he was not in control of the march of events. Even more, he still felt that they were being used.
They could only control or manipulate human activity up to a point, unless they took a more direct approach. But direct possession was out of the question when dealing with the religious leaders. In any event, he was thankful that the Sanhedrin was so in tune with their own goals and aims in this situation. But what if they did not act quickly enough, decisively enough.
Truth be told, Tundrac told himself, they were getting reckless.
Demons were causing mischief and unauthorized terrorizing, and general spiritual chaos. It was Tundrac’s job to keep this part of the plan under control, humans and demons alike. But with a sickening sense of foreboding he knew he would not be able to control anything once the bloodlust began.
The interesting thing, thought Tundrac, is that I don’t care, anymore.
He, too, had been battling this strange, exquisite temptation to forget the consequences and just plunge in. The thought of slapping God in the face and bringing as much pain and suffering upon him as possible before the angelic armies came to avenge him made him shudder with both unbearable lust and unimaginable horror at the audacity of it.
But it was worth it, his evil soul screamed. It was worth just one terrible, wonderful moment of revenge!
And his red, bloodshot, demonic eyes grew wide as he gazed into his demented imagination at what he would do to the Son of God if he got the chance. And the saliva dripped slowly from the corner of his gaping mouth upon the head of Slimfroth still pinned terrified in the corner of the room.
Lucifer was worried, though he would admit it to no one. The last few days had been a very sobering experience. Jesus had demonstrated his power quite clearly both on the human as well as the spiritual level. He was indeed a warrior-king but what happened to the suffering servant? What had happened to the prophecies of his death? Lucifer believed that somehow the two went together but he wasn’t sure how.
Still, in his evil heart, he knew – or maybe he just hoped – that Jesus had come to Yerushalayim to die. Jesus believed that he would overthrow him, the prince of darkness. But how? What was he missing?
Jesus was controlling the march of events right now and that was worrisome. But it wasn’t the first time that it had happened. Lucifer was used to working within the limits set by Heaven, though he chaffed under the restraint. All the same, he brooded over the latest report in front of him. Jesus had said that no one could take his life from him, that he lays it down of his own free will.
It was true, Lucifer thought. I have no authority in him, but if he willingly surrenders himself to me… He chuckled evily. I would be happy to host him in the deepest dungeons of my domain.
The temptation still lay like a sleeping serpent in the dark recess of his mind awaiting the moment to awaken and Lucifer kept a wary eye on it. He wanted to think through the situation logically.
First of all, he knew who Jesus was – his hated enemy in the flesh!
Second, he knew that Jesus had prophesied his own death, by crucifixion. Yes, oh yes, let it be so!! Lucifer gritted his teeth in concentration and bore down upon his desire in ruthless discipline. Not now, not now. Wait.
Third, Jesus also prophesied his own resurrection. But that was impossible! He had no authority to do so! Well, he paused, come back to that.
Fourth, and most interestingly, Jesus was afraid, or concerned, or unwilling to suffer at the hands of Satan even as a substitute for the people. Lucifer was not certain how to describe this last discovery he had made in the desert and again at Peter’s confession of faith. He knew that there was no sin in this thing that Jesus felt, but he also knew that it had the seeds of great temptation in it, and he wondered how to exploit it.
So far, so good. The question was, what was he going to do about all of this.
Well, first of all, he was willing to take Jesus as a substitute for the Jewish people. He would trade his authority over their lives to have authority over the life of Jesus.
What a trade! Yes!! If only it could be so!!
Stop it, stop it!! Lucifer bore down once again on his wayward emotions.
Jesus obviously expected to get the better of this trade and rise from the dead after three days. This was a sticking point with Lucifer. How would that be possible? If he had the authority to capture Jesus in death, even God himself could not break that pact.
Or could he? Lucifer was unsure, he had never asked himself such a question before. What good was a substitute if you took him back?
No, he had to work from basic assumptions. He had established his authority in the lives of men, from the very beginning. That was a given. God would have to destroy the very existence of death and hell. He would have to make sin of no account, of no consequence to change this basic truth of depraved human existence.
That was impossible, Lucifer knew. He had first hand experience both of the Holiness of God and the Justice of God and he knew that neither one would ever be violated for any reason. No, if Jesus was given to him as a substitute, he would remain his. He would demand it! But still he was uneasy.
He brooded over the problem like a dog worrying over a bone, working it from one side to the other and then over again. Suddenly he realized what the problem was. It didn’t matter. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead after three days, it was still a good trade.
No, he would not let go! His desire spoke harshly, in rebellion. It was his desire for revenge, for visiting hatred upon that soul that made him so uneasy.
No, he agreed, he would not let go, if at all possible.
He would fight to keep that soul under his power. But really, three days of suffering and death visited upon the Holy One of Isra´el was still a good trade for this small tribe of backward Jews.
Lucifer remembered that Jesus wanted to create a human army that he called a church, filled with his authority and power to fight the human armies of Satan and take over the world. A whole army of warriors like Mosheh and Joshua, David and his mighty men, was enough to make Lucifer pause and rethink his plan.
But no, there were ways of dealing with even mighty warriors of faith. They still existed in the body, and bodies can be undone by bigger armies, and he had control of the greatest armies of the world. He was confident of his worldly power. He had set up the Roman Empire slowly but surely with the intention that it would rule this part of the world for centuries to come. He would have to set the wheels in motion to get the Roman armies in place to deal with this church as quickly as possible, before they had a chance to establish themselves.
Yes, Lucifer thought, that was the way to handle it.
Let Jesus have his ragtag army of warriors of faith. He would destroy them in one grand battle as soon as possible.
Already Lucifer was feeling a bit better now that he had established his bottom line and had his battle plans in hand. He considered himself a grand master at the game of strategy and was in his element. Plans within plans and strategies within strategies. Lucifer decided to add one more twist to the complex events that were already in motion. If he could nip the whole thing in the bud, all the better.
He would attack the small band of disciples while Jesus was still in his power for three days. Even if Jesus did rise from the dead, he would have no one to work with. The efforts of three years of teaching faith and obedience could be undone in a moment if it was handled properly. And Satan vowed to handle it personally.
He would make application to sift the disciples like wheat and test their faith. It was a proposition that he brought to the Halls of Heaven upon occasion. He would ask permission to test the disciples, and it would be approved by a God who was always proud of the faith of His people. If he could destroy the seed of faith in the disciples, and especially in Peter, this warrior-church may never be born at all.
Yes, he thought. Attack at the key strategic points. Timing was everything. “Now, we will see what we will see,” he muttered, content and at peace at last.
Gabriel could feel the darkness gathering its strength. He could feel the spiritual undercurrents in the Sanhedrin and the palace where Lucifer held court. So far, Jesus had held those forces in check but Gabriel was worried.
He knew the Divine Sting was in motion but it was dangerous. He knew that Satan’s greatest enemy was his own evil desire, his own arrogant pride, his own lack of understanding of the nature of love and faith. But even so, the path that Jesus must follow to complete his mission was a path into the jaws of Hell itself.
Already emotions were threatening to overwhelm him as he realized that Jesus would really do it, he would really place himself at the mercy of these human and demonic people. He would really die, he would really spill his Holy Blood upon the ground.
It was no longer only a grand scheme, a marvelous concept, a wonderful demonstration of God’s love for His people. It was all that, but now it was more.
It was terrible! It was unthinkable! It should not, could not be! The Creator of the world mocked by his creation, the Holy One of Isra´el treated like a common criminal, a sinner. No, more than that. He was a sinner. He would become sin for them, on their behalf.
The mere thought of it challenged the limits of rationality. But it was true. It was true!
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, it seems a bit strange to read the story and drama of your redemption through a novel written from the point of view of the angels. Your word is always the only source of truth but I find some interesting ways of looking at things here. Lord, help me to get into your story and feel it and see it and hear it with new eyes and new ears in a fresh way this Easter as we go into the final days before Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday. Teach me your ways O Lord. I want to follow you on this Via Dolorosa. In your name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from The Temptations of the Cross)
He was hidden below the crest of the hill just out of sight of those below.
He lifted his head slowly, careful to keep the scrub brush in front of him so that he wouldn’t be seen against the desert sky. It was filled with a thousand lights and the moon was in her glory. It was only the desert itself that was full of darkness and death.