The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover….”
When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God” (Luke 22:7,8,14-16 NIV).
The Dark Night of the Soul
“Yochanan, sit over here.” James kept his voice low. He pointed at the place where he wanted his brother to sit.
Expectations were high among the Twelve. It had been a spectacular week and they were filled with the heady emotions of great events. Although they had hoped that Jesus would make his move sooner, Passover had come upon them and it could not be ignored.
In fact, it was anticipated eagerly. After all, the Passover was a celebration of freedom. Freedom from slavery, freedom from Egypt, and now Rome. Freedom to be the people and the nation that they had dreamt of for so long. In their hearts the disciples were still singing “Hosanna to the Son of David!”
“What do you think you’re doing?” The question came from Peter.
Yochanan looked up at Peter and then quickly away. He looked like a hen trapped in the hen house between two roosters. He moved as if to rise but his brother James grabbed his shoulder and pushed him down on the couch.
“It’s no affair of yours’ Peter. Jesus told us to sit here.”
“What are you talking about? Since when have you two been given a place on each side of the Master? What about me? Where do I sit?” Peter’s intense whisper intruded on the quiet conversations of the disciples as they waited for their host to make his final preparations before leaving. A few looked over at Peter.
“Sit where you want, its no concern of mine,” James said. “We are sitting here.”
Yochanan tried to stand up and move away but his brother pushed him down again and Yochanan’s face flushed. The eyes of all the disciples were on them now and sides were being taken.
“Peter’s right,” Andrew said in defense of his brother, “he should sit beside Jesus.” It was out in the open now and Peter was already starting to feel foolish. What if Jesus heard them arguing like this again?
At that moment Jesus walked in, looked around at them but did not say a word. He went to the sideboard as the host left the room and removed his outer garment. What was he up to? He picked up a towel laying there and wrapped it around his waist. He then poured water into a basin, knelt down and, before anyone could protest, he began to wash Philip’s feet.
It was customary to ritually wash themselves from the eldest to the youngest in preparation for the Passover meal. One of them, in the absence of the women, should have offered to do so.
“Master, don’t do this. Let me.” Philip voiced his protest, together with the others but Jesus paid no heed.
Andrew was standing closest to Jesus and made to take the pitcher of water from his hands but Jesus ignored him, placed the pitcher on the other side of Phillip’s feet, away from Andrew and began to rigorously dry Philip’s feet with the cloth around his waist. Andrew looked around the room, searching for advice but nobody knew what to say or do.
Finally, they sat down on their couches in silence, each one taking the nearest one.
Jesus started on the side of the room closest to the water basin, not at all concerned about who would be first or last, eldest or youngest. And the room was absolutely quiet.
As the long minutes ticked by, Jesus continued his service until, finally, he came to Simon Peter.
“Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”
In the quietness, they could all hear the question though it was not more than a whisper. It was a question they all wanted to ask.
Jesus began to pour water on Peter´s feet, and said “At the moment you do not know what I am doing, but later you will understand.”
Peter’s reaction seemed violent in that quiet atmosphere. He moved his feet away and allowed the water to spill on the cold stone floor. “You shall never wash my feet!”
Jesus sat back on his haunches, put the pitcher down and rested his arm on his leg. He looked up at Peter briefly and then back down at his feet. With his free hand, he took hold of one of Peter´s feet and brought it closer and then the other and said, “If I do not wash you, you can have nothing to do with me.”
Harsh words. What did they say or do to deserve such words? Softly spoken perhaps, but harsh words nonetheless, firm and final.
It was not until much later that they understood what Jesus meant, that this was the shame of the cross, that the one who is worthy must die for the unworthy, that the one they would call Master must serve his own servants. It is shameful for the servant to bear; knowing that he has caused it to be so, but without this service there is no salvation. And so shame must give way to love. Not that they understood it all at the time, but the spirit can still do what the mind does not understand, and Peter´s shame gave way to love for no other reason than that it was there. Love accepts the shame for the sake of something better. It was a lesson that Peter would soon learn in much more detail and with much more pain.
“Then, Lord,” Peter said with quiet fervor, “not only my feet, but my hands and my head as well!”
Jesus smiled, but said, “No one who has taken a bath needs washing, he is clean all over. You too are clean, though not all of you are.”
Judas looked up quickly, glancing around at the rest of the disciples, but nobody was looking at him, no one suspected.
Other than Jesus.
Judas’ face flushed but then he gritted his teeth.
You’re doing it for his own good. He´s ready. He wants to make a statement? Now´s his chance. But the arguments that sounded so good when he was alone sounded hollow in front of Jesus himself. Still, he wasn’t trying to stop him from carrying out his plans.
But he didn’t approve either.
No. It was too late for second thoughts.
Everything was in place. Tonight was the night it would happen. They all wanted it over as quickly as possible and no one was willing to wait a moment longer. They would know that Jesus would be with his disciples tonight. The crowds would be out of the way, celebrating their own Passover meals in their homes and Jesus would leave the city later in the evening to find a place to sleep in one of the groves or gardens surrounding the city as he had done every night that week. It was time.
They had insisted on paying him thirty pieces of silver for his services, his betrayal. Betrayal? Is that what this is? No, he was providing a service, he was forcing Jesus to make a stand and declare himself King of the Jews. It was time.
He took the money, of course – blood money the elders had called it, but it wouldn’t come to that. Jesus was the Maschiach. He believed it with all his heart. Jesus would not let himself be taken by the Romans to be crucified, and the Jews had no power to put anyone to death. It was safe. No, the money wouldn’t matter once Jesus took control of the city. And an extra thirty pieces of silver could be useful.
Still he was uneasy, unaware of the magnitude of the choice that he had already taken, unaware of the foothold that he had given the enemy to encourage him in a direction already decided upon. Judas looked around the room at his friends, his master. He had always felt an outsider here.
Guilt is a difficult taskmaster, but Judas had learned to keep the guilt at bay with his patriotism. Everything for the Great Cause.
“I have been looking forward to eating this Passover with you.” Jesus said, “because, I tell you, I shall not eat it again until it is fulfilled in the kingdom of God.”
Then Jesus covered his head with his prayer shawl and, taking a cup of wine, he raised one hand in blessing over the cup and gave thanks.
“Take this,” he said to his disciples, “and share it among you, because, from now on, I will not drink wine until the kingdom of God comes.”
The disciples looked around at each other. They already had wine at their places but Yochanan took the chalice from Jesus’ hand and poured a bit of the wine into his own cup and passed it on to the others.
Gabriel looked on, his eyes moist. Jesus would drink no wine this night; he had another cup to drink that would be difficult enough.
And for the next while, Jesus and his disciples ate together and discussed what had happened to them over the past few days, and what the future held. But Gabriel could see that Jesus was troubled in his spirit, and he knew with mounting certainty and awe that Jesus grieved for his betrayer.
Gabriel stood directly behind Jesus, his wings unfurled, his feathers soft and downy white. His head was bowed low, his arms hung down the front of his dazzling white robe, his hands clasped together. His wings curled forward, almost embracing Jesus in front of him. He was in a position of great reverence in the presence of his Lord and Master on this final Passover night.
Guards were posted all around the house, their presence obvious, their swords unsheathed. They would not be disturbed this night. Only the Evil One had leave to come and go as he pleased. And he was there, working his evil in the life of Judas, who was unaware of him so far. There was an unholy alliance between them, a bond that would give Satan his foothold. But not against the will of Judas. That was the great evil, the same evil that existed from the beginning. No, not against his will, but with his full consent.
While they were eating the Passover lamb, together with the unleavened bread and bitter herbs, Jesus, troubled in his spirit for Judas, said, “I have to tell you something. One of you is about to betray me.”
“Not I, Lord, surely?” Matthew said.
“I would never –“
“Lord, please don´t let it be me.”
Some were indignant, competing with one another to ask their questions, though Jesus did not answer. It was not Jesus’ intention to expose the traitor but rather to warn him.
Judas sat quietly not daring to say anything, but he evidently didn’t want to look conspicuous by not showing indignation and confusion along with the rest. So in the babble of voices, even Judas asked him, “Not I, Rabbi, surely?”
Without looking up, Jesus replied quietly, “your own words condemn you.”
Simon Peter signaled to Yochanan to ask Jesus quietly who it was.
“It is the one to whom I give the piece of bread that I shall dip in the dish.” He dipped the piece of bread in the dish of bitter herbs and gave it to Judas, son of Simon Iscariot. No one really noticed in the confusion of the moment other than Yochanan and Peter, but even they were uncertain of what it all meant.
Judas paused with the bread in his hand, having just received it from Jesus, while a small piece of the bitter paste of herbs dropped to the table.
Jesus quieted the group and said to them. “Listen, all of you. I have something I want you to hear.” He was careful not to look at Judas directly. “What will happen to me is already written, but the man who betrays me must be warned. He has a choice. Better for that man if he had never been born.” Those last words were the clearest warning that Jesus could give him. It would be the last. The decision was his. He could turn away or continue his reckless scheme.
The room was quiet. Judas was oblivious to anything but the bread in his hand and he stared at it intently. He slowly took the bread and brought it to his mouth, his face wincing slightly at the bitter taste of the herbs, forgetting for the moment that they represented the bitter years of slavery in Egypt and the years of punishment in the desert that God had inflicted upon the Isra´elites for their stubborn rebellion and unbelief. And now, Judas had decided upon that same path.
At that instant, after Judas had taken the bread, Satan entered him. The doorway had been opened, more than once in fact, but Judas was beyond understanding his reasons or his motives. His mind was filled with the swirling deceptions of justifications to rationalize his plans. Satan had a willing accomplice.
Jesus finally turned to look at Judas and said, “What you are going to do, do it quickly.”
None of the others at the table understood the reason he said this. Since Judas had charge of the common fund, some of them thought Jesus was telling him to buy what they needed for the Shabbat preparations which began the next day or telling him to give something to the poor.
As soon as Judas had taken the piece of bread, he went out. Though he had participated in the feast of Passover, he would not participate in the communion of the new covenant in the body and blood of Jesus. And that was as it should be, Gabriel knew.
Night had fallen. But it would be no ordinary night. For this was the dark night of the soul.
It was a moment of profound and ancient holiness. Gabriel could sense the power of the Holy Presence in unusual force in the room, though it seemed to have no effect on the disciples.
They all became quiet. The ceremony was not yet at an end. The supper was over, and it was now time to recite the ancient story of liberation from the tyranny of Egypt and to drink the cup of rejoicing.
It would be a blessed time of remembrance that evoked childhood memories in each one of them.
Why is this night different from all the rest?
But Jesus did not speak of the ancient story at all. Instead of looking to the past, he spoke of the future.
For the next few hours Jesus taught them many things while they sat together over the Passover meal. He spoke at length about the Paraclete, the Holy Presence, who was to come. He spoke of his going away, and the disciples were troubled and sad.
“Don´t be troubled,” he said. “Continue to trust in God, and trust also in me.” This was a new thing, to trust also in him.
But Simon Peter said, “Lord, where are you going?”
“Where I am going,” Jesus said, “you cannot follow me now, you will follow me later.”
“Why can’t I follow you now?” Peter said. “I will lay down my life for you. I would be ready to go to prison with you, and to death.”
“Lay down your life for me?” Jesus said. “Simon, Simon! You have no idea of what is in store for you. Satan has got his wish to sift you all like wheat and test your faith. But I have prayed especially for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail, even if your courage does. Once you have recovered, you in your turn must strengthen your brothers.”
For once, Simon Peter didn´t know what to say.
Then Jesus looked around at them and he said, “You will all lose faith in me this night. It is so written in the Tenach. I shall strike the shepherd and the sheep of the flock will be scattered. But mark my words well, for after my resurrection I shall go before you to Galilee.”
It came as an explosion, forceful and strong. Peter could not contain it any longer. “Maybe all the rest will lose faith in you,” he said, “but I will never lose faith.”
Before anyone else could speak, Jesus spoke, his eyes dark. “I tell you, Peter, by the time the cock crows today you will have denied three times that you know me.”
“Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” There was a wild look about him, his eyes wide and fierce, daring anyone to doubt his loyalty. And he wasn´t the only one.
“Do you think for a moment that I would -”
“I will never –“
“You know that I will be faithful.”
Jesus quieted the room with a gesture and then put his hand on Peter’s shoulder, squeezing gently. Looking at the rest of the disciples, Jesus said to them, “When I sent you out without money or provisions or extra sandals, were you short of anything?”
“No,” they said.
“Well, now, if you have money, take it and if you have provisions, do the same. If you have no sword, sell your cloak and buy one, because I will let myself be taken as a criminal, just as it has been foretold. It is happening right now, as we speak.”
“If there´s going to be a fight,” Judas, the zealot, said, “we are ready. There are two swords right here.”
“That is enough,” Jesus said, which, to the credit of some of the disciples, confused them even more.
“There are many rooms in my Father’s house,” Jesus said. “If there were not, I would have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you.”
“You´re leaving?” Peter said. He grabbed Jesus´ arm with his large fist. “When are you coming back?”
“I will come back and take you with me,” he said. “But you know the way to the place where I am going.”
“Lord, we do not know where you are going,” Thomas said, “so how can we know the way?”
“I am the Way, the Truth and the Life,” Jesus said. “No one can come to the Father except through me.”
Gabriel understood what the disciples would only later realize. Jesus would lead them back into the Garden of Eden, back into the Presence of God. He would open the way with his own body and his own blood. No longer would the blood of bulls and lambs suffice. The shadow must give way to the reality. They knew the Way even if they did not understand it yet. It was the Way, the Path they had already chosen – belief in Jesus, in his character and word and, most importantly, in what he would do for them as the Passover sacrifice. Loyalty and discipleship were the expression of that relationship of faith. They knew the Way, it only remained for Jesus to complete his mission.
“Master,” Philip said. “Show us the Father, somehow, before you go, so that we can see Him with our own eyes, that would be enough.”
Jesus turned to look directly at him. “Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me?”
A sharp intake of breath and eyes that grew wide showed Philip’s distress as he glanced at Peter and then Matthew and Andrew and the rest looking for answers. But Jesus calmly went on teaching them the truth about himself.
Gabriel could sense the moment arrive, the moment the entire night had been building toward, the moment that would make sense of hundreds of years of ritual and remembering and waiting and hoping, the moment Passover would be transformed into a New Covenant. He could sense the Holy Presence slowly and majestically filling the room. The Spirit would always be present at this celebration no matter where it was held, no matter if there were only two or three of the followers together. It would always be a moment full of the healing ministry of Ruach HaKodesh of God.
Finally the moment came and Jesus stopped teaching, took some bread, raised it to heaven and gave thanks. He broke it and gave it to each one of them with his own hand, slowly reaching across the table to give it to each one in turn.
“This is truly a night of remembering,” he said. Take it, this is my body which will be broken for you, do this as a memorial of me.”
What did this mean? Was this night not a memorial of the Passover, the liberation from slavery? But there was no time to ask questions, and the moment was too solemn.
Jesus did the same with the cup of wine after the supper, the cup of rejoicing. “This cup is the new covenant in my blood which will be poured out for you.”
A new covenant in my blood? Death and blood were the same. What´s going on here?
It would be much later before the disciples realized that Jesus himself had become the true Passover lamb and that this meal would be changed forever, the shadow giving way to the reality of his suffering and death.
“I have told you all this now before it happens, so that when it does happen you will remember my words and believe. I shall not talk with you any longer. It´s time to finish here because the prince of this world is on his way.”
Jesus paused and Gabriel tried to gauge the effect of his words on the disciples. It would be hard to believe. It was important for the disciples to know that Jesus was not a victim but a volunteer, that every terrible deed, every anguished moment to come would be filled with the voluntary, intentional love of Jesus for his Father and his Father’s love for the world.
“He has no power over me, but I will submit to him for a time because the world must know that I love the Father and that I am doing exactly what the Father told me to do.”
“Come now, let us pray and then we will go.”
Jesus stood with his disciples and raised his hands and his eyes to heaven and ended the celebration with a prayer. Filled with love for his disciples, he prayed for them to his Father that they would understand and live in the unity of love that he and his Father experienced as their natural ambiance.
“Father, the time has come. Now is the time to show the world who you really are. It will be difficult but it must be done. Your glory, your true nature and character, will be shown for what it is starting this very night. The lies of the evil one will be silenced once and for all. Then you will give me power over all mankind. Let me give eternal life to all those you have entrusted to me.”
Jesus paused, deep in communion with his Father. Gabriel watched him in open admiration as he revealed his deep love for his Father.
That is the essence of the matter. That is what eternal life really means, to know, really know, the Father, the only true God, and Jesus the Maschiach, the anointed One, whom he has sent.
“I have shown the people who you really are and I finished the work that you gave me to do. Now, Father, it is time for you to glorify me with that glory I had with you before ever the world was.”
Gabriel thrilled to the spiritual tremor that filled the room as Jesus admitted his eternal divinity with the Father before all time. He could sense the disciples’ awe as if they were in the very throne room of Adonai Elohim Almighty, surrounded by the angelic hosts and witnessing the reuniting of two who belonged together, whose love was established before all eternity. And not one of them could move or speak or so much as sigh in the presence of this Holy Communion.
“I have made your name and character known to the men you took from the world to give to me.” Gabriel could see that the disciples felt conspicuous as they were named before the throne of God.
“Now at last they know the truth that I came from you, and they truly believed that it was you who sent me.”
It was true. Gabriel looked around the room. From Peter to James and Yochanan to Philip and Andrew and all the rest, all except Judas, they all believed that Jesus was the Son of the Living God. It would not be until much later that they would realize why this was so important. None of the events that would happen in the next twenty four hours made any sense at all, if Jesus was not the Son of God. The value of the cross is in the one who would hang upon it in a voluntary sacrifice of love.
“I pray for them,” Jesus continued. “I have watched over them and not one is lost except the one who chose to be lost, and this was to fulfill the scriptures. I am not asking you to remove them from the world, but to protect them from the evil one.”
Gabriel noticed that a few of them shuddered at that prayer. Were they in such dire danger of the evil one that Jesus had to make a direct plea on their behalf to the throne of God? They had no idea.
“I pray not only for these, but for those also who through their words will believe in me.” The fervor in Jesus’ voice rose as he expressed his deepest desire for his warrior-church in the years to come. “May they be one, Father, may they be one in us, as you are in me and I am in you, so that the world may believe it was you who sent me.”
As Jesus finished pouring out his heart to his Father, the silence hung in the air for a few moments, like a fragrant aroma until quietly but firmly, Jesus’ strong baritone voice began singing the hymns of the Hallel to finish the Passover celebration. And Peter’s deep bass and Yochanan’s tenor and the rough voices of the other disciples joined in with great reverence.
“Yahweh is my strength and my song, he has been my Savior.”
Lucifer was satisfied. It had been a tricky moment.
He had not expected Jesus to give Judas such a clear warning, and for one long, awful point in time, he thought that Judas might come to his senses. But the roots of sin are deep, and Judas made his choice and ate the bread. In doing so he had given him the authority to enter in and complete the rest of the plan. Lucifer had not wanted to leave the last crucial steps to chance, no last minute problems, no hesitation, no doubts, no turning back.
Tundrac had done his work well, Lucifer thought, turning his mind to the other preparations. The temple guards were assembled and waiting, armed with weapons and lanterns and torches to find their way through the night. This was the personal guard of the High Priest and they would do what they were told.
Caiaphas and his father-in-law, Annas, had pulled some strings to arrange for a cohort of Roman soldiers to accompany them from the garrison in Yerushalayim. They had fabricated some story about arresting a criminal dangerous to Rome, intending to make the charges stick later. For now, they just wanted him in custody and, once they had him, they would not let him go.
It was reckless but that was the general mood of the night. Reckless! Lucifer didn’t care anymore. He would not lose this opportunity.
Originally he was going to wait until he understood better what was going on but he was running out of time. He hadn’t really, finally, decided to commit himself to killing Jesus but he found himself doing it anyway. The temptation to indulge himself in that bit of delicious revenge was just too strong for him to reject.
But he was still cautious. He wanted to get back to Jesus and the disciples as quickly as possible to see what was happening. He still wanted to test his theory about the weakness he had found in Jesus. But, unless he uncovered something really dangerous at the last moment, he would take his chances and go ahead with the scheme to arrest him and put him to death.
Yes! He would spit on that face and mock him and have him whipped within an inch of his life and cruelly pound those spikes into his hands and feet and watch that precious blood spill on the ground and he would run him through with his death sword that was his power it would always be his and he would drag this Jesus this so-called savior this hated enemy off to the deepest dungeons of hell. Yes! Yes!! The desire within him screamed its joy in defiance at the heavens.
But the heavens were silent.
And Lucifer spread his dark wings and flew off to the Mount of Olives to find Jesus, cackling and cavorting in the air like a young novice, his normal restraint stripped away as the bloodlust began to take hold of him.
Gabriel’s eyes pierced the darkness, searching for anything unusual, anything unexpected as he hovered above Jesus and the disciples leaving the city. The entire twelve legions of angelic warriors were on full alert.
It had started in a garden and it would end in a garden. It was nothing more than a small estate really – part of the olive groves that grew on the Mount of Olives just across the KedronValley from Yerushalayim. But it was there that Jesus would face the great temptation that would determine the rise and fall of many and the eternal destiny of the world.
It was a small group that walked in two’s and three’s along the dirt road in the pitch dark of night, a few flickering torches lighting the way. It was already after midnight and they needed to rest for the morrow. Some of them had wondered if they should have waited for Judas, still unsure where he had gone. But Judas knew the place to which they were going, since Jesus had often met his disciples there.
Jesus walked slowly up the hill toward the ancient grove of olive trees, burdened with a great sadness that concerned them all. Peter draped Jesus’ arm around his own shoulders and put his arm around his back to give him some support, a frown on his face masking the deep worry he had for his Master.
Yochanan walked on the other side of Jesus with his brother James, holding a torch high to light the path for Jesus to see.
Finally, they came to the garden and while some of them began to gather wood to light a fire, others threw themselves down upon the ground exhausted. In the cool, spring night they wrapped themselves in their cloaks to get a few hours sleep before the morning light would awaken them.
Jesus motioned to Peter and James and Yochanan, wanting them to accompany him a little ways away to have some privacy.
He said to the others, “Stay here while I pray.”
At that moment Lucifer swooped in towards the hastily arranged encampment, but swerved suddenly aside as Gabriel blazed directly in his path.
“No!” commanded Gabriel, “you are not welcome here.” Gabriel stood erect, his great wings unfurled and ready, his sword clasped in two hands pointing to the sky.
“You dare forbid me to enter?” demanded Lucifer. “I have authority here!”
Gabriel held his ground, his orders were clear. “It is not yet time,” he said to his elder brother. “You may watch and you may listen but from outside the circle.”
One by one the angles guarding the olive grove unveiled themselves to mark the boundary across which Satan could not step.
Lucifer hovered above Gabriel, his whole body a posture of frustrated, angry questions, unsure of what to do next.
What he did not need right now, he thought, was an all out battle with the heavenly hosts. He wanted to give them no excuse to interfere in his plans this night, but he needed to get close to Jesus to take advantage of the weakness he had seen in him. The gore in his throat began to rise with his frustration and furious rage.
Then, suddenly, all of the tension left him as he resigned himself to the role of an observer. It didn’t matter anyway, he reminded himself. He would take Jesus by force if he had to. This was a temptation in which he would have no part. Instinctively Lucifer knew that tonight Jesus would have to face that nameless hesitation, that desire to find another way, any other way, to avoid the cross. But he would face it alone.
Well, maybe that was the point. Maybe this temptation was to be as pure as his own temptation was at the beginning. Maybe this was no more than God’s question mark in the life of His Son. Not that it was easy. God had a way of asking His questions that laid bare the secret thoughts of the heart in a rather painful way. The thought did not make him feel any better. He was not confident that Jesus would succumb in any event, but he wanted to be there to confuse him, to deceive him, to plant doubts in his mind if he could.
Gabriel watched as Satan backed away and began to circle the garden looking for the best vantage point. Gabriel could imagine what he was thinking.
Temptation was not really Lucifer’s exclusive domain after all, not in its purest form at least. It was a natural part of the created order. It was nothing more than choice really. There was nothing wrong with desire, so long as it was desire for something good and did not interfere with obedience.
Like many of the vices which Satan had perverted from virtues, temptation was also a counterfeit. Satan had never created anything, he could only destroy. His own existence was proof of that, an archangel turned traitor.
Temptation was no different, Gabriel knew. Desire and choice were the creation of God that simply formed the context for loving obedience. What you did with that choice was the essential question of life. Because of the disobedience of mankind, desire and choice was empowered by sin and rebellion and became temptation. That perversion of choice, empowered by sin, was the Devil’s playground. A simple act of loving obedience was his greatest nemesis.
Mankind simply did not understand how easy it was to defeat his schemes. A simple act of loving obedience would cut through all of the confusion and doubt and leave Satan with nothing, no power to coerce or deceive or destroy. That secret must be kept hidden at all costs.
But then again, the Devil was good at deception, even deception about deception.
Satan had decided to perch in a nearby tree like the vulture he was, grabbing the branch with both his hands and feet, his wings extended and fluttering slightly to help him maintain his balance.
He had chosen a place higher up the hill so that he could see and hear what would happen below, but he made certain he was outside of the circle of angelic guards who had the authority to keep him out. He began to listen with great interest to the drama that was beginning to unfold below him.
Jesus was making his way deeper into the grove of trees, uninterested in the small bushes and branches lying on the ground that he repeatedly tripped over. Peter grabbed him again to support him and Yochanan held up the torch for better light, James was leading the way. They were approaching the place where the Devil looked down from his perch.
Lucifer smiled at the luck that brought him such a great front row seat to this grandest of moments. He was still under the impression that Jesus feared him and the pain and suffering that he could inflict upon him. And his impression seemed to be confirmed.
With a groan that seemed to come from somewhere deep within him, Jesus sagged to the ground. Peter tried to hold him up but tripped over his own feet and they fell to the ground in a heap. Peter scrambled to his feet throwing out apologies and questions with equal ferocity as James berated him for his clumsiness.
“I’m so sorry. Are you all right?”
“What’s wrong with you. Can’t you stand–
“Are you hurt?”
“—on your own two feet?”
Jesus wiped the matted hair from his eyes, the sweat glistening on his face though the night was cool, and looked up at them. Peter and James fell silent and Yochanan looked on with eyes wide in the torchlight.
“The truth be told,” he said quietly, “I can hardly breathe. My soul is sorrowful to the point of death.” He lifted his arm and Peter hauled him to his feet. Jesus leaned on him for a moment and then pushed himself upright and said, “Wait here and stay awake.” They didn’t even think to ask him where he was going.
He started to stumble away but then stopped and half turned toward them, his face in shadow and said in a firm voice, “Remember what I told you. The Evil One wants you. Pray not to be put to the test.” He left them standing in the flickering light of the torch and moved away into the darkness about a stone’s throw away and sank down to his knees and began to call out to God.
It began in the very depths of his being, grief and sorrow at what his Father planned for him erupting into tears and deep sobs that shook his body, sending him into the dust, prostrate before the Throne of God.
“Oh God,” he cried, “Oh my God, my God.”
Words could not express his anguish – neither words, not tears, nor grief. But words were still necessary, despite the grief, because of the fear, in order to overcome the temptation.
“Not my will, not my will but yours, O God,” he repeated over and over again, breathless, his fists clenching and unclenching, his fingernails biting into his palms.
After a while, his thoughts turned to his friends and the danger they were in. He lurched to his feet and stumbled down the hill. When he found them, they were asleep.
He shook Peter from his groggy sleep.
“Pray with me,” he said. “Stay awake and pray. The enemy is near.” Peter roughly pushed James and Yochanan into a sitting position as they all averted their eyes and started to pray again.
Again Jesus stumbled away, groping his way up the path and finally tripping over a loose rock and banging his knee as he fell. His hands shot out and a wicked thorn caught him in the palm of his hand and drew blood. He hardly noticed. He was sprawled out, half on the path and half in the shadow of a nearby olive tree.
“Oh God, spare me your wrath. I cannot bear it. It is too much for me.” The tears squeezed out of him and ran down his face like a river of grief. “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God,” he repeated over and over again. “Father, don’t be angry with me. It is too much for me.”
And then a long moment of silence and he whispered, so quietly that he was not even sure that he had said it aloud, “not my will, only yours be done….only yours…..always yours.”
But then the grief and fear came again and almost overwhelmed him with its power. “Oh God, no, I can’t bear it. How can I bear your anger? Without your love I am destroyed. It is too much for me.” And the tears came again, and sobs racked his body again and again.
Time stood still, everything suspended in anticipation while the Son of the Living God wept and sobbed shamelessly until there were no tears left, just the exhaustion of grief. He lifted his head slowly and glanced into the dark sky but only the deep void of heaven confronted him as he sought for some sign from his Father.
The Heavens were silent. Silent and dark and waiting.
He searched deep within himself and found the only answer that he could give in this dark night of the soul. “Not my will, only yours be done…..I trust you. I trust you.” He took a deep breath, his entire body shuddering. “I know who you are. I trust you even with this.”
He placed his palms in the dirt and pushed himself up to his knees. He had to get back to his disciples. They were in danger. He swayed as he stood up but turned and made his way back down the hill. He almost tripped over Peter, wrapped in his cloak and fast asleep.
“No, no,” Jesus said. “You need to stay awake and pray. This is not the time for sleeping.” He knelt down and grabbed Peter’s arm and shook it so hard that Peter came awake with a startled look.
“I’m so sorry, so sorry. It won’t happen again.” Peter said.
Peter shook James and Yochanan awake.
“Come on, you two, wake up. The Master is here. We should be praying.”
Finally, they were awake and Jesus stayed for a few minutes to pray with them and for them. He was the High Priest and, in the end, he would always have to pray for them. The spirit was willing but the flesh was weak. Most of all, he knew from personal experience what temptation was truly like. He knew its power, he knew its threat, he knew its deception.
He got up, numb and cold and tired, his head bowed, his eyes unseeing and retraced his steps through the olive grove to be alone with his grief. He passed a wine press and reached out his hand to steady himself. He sensed a deep oppression upon him as if the weight of that massive rock was on his back, the olive oil slowly pressed out of him and flowing into the cistern below. He shuddered violently, and started to take in great gulps of breath as his mind was gripped by a deep sadness and sudden fear. He fell to the ground, his hand grabbing a fistful of dust and throwing it on his head, and then his fist pounded into the earth once and then twice and then, finally, a third time. He lifted his head, stretching his neck back and sent his fierce gaze into the sky.
“Why? Why must it be so? How can I become what my soul hates?” How can I accept what my heart so completely rejects?”
The questions swirled through his mind but understanding would not come. He lay his head back down in the crook of his arm and curled up into a ball and began to rock back and forth. “No, no, no, no, no……” and then a determined pause and then a deep, shuddering sigh.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes…..” The affirmations seem to ooze out of some deep place and simply appeared on his lips but he grabbed on to them like a drowning man.
“Yes, your will be done. I trust you. Your will be done.” He trusted Him. It was as simple as that.
Peter had noticed the marks of grief on the face of Jesus. He stood up and indicated to James and Yochanan to follow him. Carefully, they made their way in the darkness, following in his steps, until they could hear his cries and sobs which stopped them cold.
Peter wanted to rush to his side but they were stayed by uncertainty at violating this intimate moment. So they simply sat down where they were and listened to the sounds of his weeping, and before long they, too, were weeping with uncontrollable grief and understanding none of it.
Satan sat upon the tree in dumbfounded awe, his gaping mouth sucking in great gulps of air, his eyes wide and trance-like as he lusted after the purity and power of this temptation.
He did not understand it yet, but Jesus was extremely upset – did he fear him? He could not quite believe it, but he loved it nonetheless.
He watched in fascination as Jesus struggled and trembled and great drops of blood-like sweat fell from his forehead while in the throes of this terrible temptation.
A temptation that surpassed even his great liberating experience at the beginning of time. After all, he had not fought it but rather embraced it and found freedom.
Jesus seemed to fight with the tenacious stubborness born of someone enslaved, someone who didn´t want freedom, but rather something else, something more.
What it was that Jesus was fighting for escaped him, but it didn´t matter anyway. All that mattered was the outcome, which was uncertain at best.
Gabriel shuddered and trembled with his beloved Master as he suffered His temptation of the cross. He heard every cry that was wrung from his holy throat, he ached with every spasm that wracked that holy body as it bore the anguish and sweated and fought the great battle within.
Gabriel wanted to be there with him, to comfort him, to give him strength. He wanted to fly to his side in a blazing comet of divine help, to knock Satan out of his voyeuristic trance and kneel there beside his beloved Master.
Suddenly his wish was fulfilled and he felt the Presence within give him leave, and immediately he was there beside him soothing him with words of comfort.
Satan had seen enough. Jesus would not fall to the temptation or the fear. He would not turn away from the pain and suffering of Hell. God was determined to have his warrior-church and Lucifer would get Jesus in return. Perhaps only for a short while, but long enough for him to drink his fill of the revenge he so craved.
He rose into the air, the bloodlust filling him with evil joy. Now there was no turning back. He and his demon hordes would feast upon the carcass of their hated enemy.
“Yesssss! It is done. It is done.”
His evil scream carried clearly to the demons moving into the KedronValley with the mob below them, their torches and lanterns reflecting grim and sweaty faces as they made their way through the darkness.
And the demons joined in with their own screams and cries of lust and depraved joy until the night was filled with the evil sound.
Meanwhile, Gabriel helped Jesus to his feet and guided him back towards the disciples, still weak with the anguish within him. Gabriel smiled. The Divine Sting had taken root. Lucifer would be undone this night and not even know the reason why. His own great pride and evil desire would be his downfall.
It was not Lucifer, or his pain and suffering that brought such anguish to his Master. It was love. It was the deep, abiding natural love that Jesus had for his Father. He lived in that love, he breathed in that love, he existed every moment in that love and could not imagine otherwise. Now it would be taken from him and he could not bear it.
Satan was merely being used. He would be the instrument of pain and suffering and death, but it was an instrument in the hands of a wrathful, loving Father. It was the cup of wrath, his Father’s wrath that he could not bear. The depth of this temptation was equal to the depth of his love for his Father. The strength of his love – and therefore also of his anguish – nearly destroying the fragile body that clothed this most holy, loving Son.
But Jesus had chosen obedience over love, obedience over fellowship, obedience when all the world had forsaken him, when even the face of his Father was turned against him. Still he obeys.
This is truly the dark night of the soul and the only way out is to obey despite appearances, to have faith without evidence, to love without expectation of return.
This was Eden in reverse. Jesus would not doubt his Father’s love, even if the fires of Hell rose up around him. He would not doubt his Father’s will, His Word, as the best thing for him in every circumstance. He would not decide for himself what was good or what was evil, even in the desolation and grief of abandonment.
The fruit would stay on the Tree, the Tree itself would be cut down and cast into Hell by his own hand. The great bow of deception would be torn from the hands of Lucifer to be broken and burned to a cinder in the hottest fires of God’s wrath, never to bother the sons of men again. And so it would be.
Gabriel also knew the power of temptation but it was a small thing in comparison with what he had just witnessed. And because Lucifer, his brother, had never understood love and faith from the very beginning, he would be defeated, destroyed. He would be cast down forever. The Divine Sting would expose his pride and demonstrate to the world, both spiritual and human, just how insignificant he really is.
Although Jesus stumbled briefly on his way back to the disciples, he was regaining strength quickly and Gabriel was able to let him go on alone. Jesus found them asleep once again, but in the flickering firelight of the torch he saw the stains of dried tears on their faces. They must have heard his sobs and cries of anguish in the darkness and wept with him, not understanding his grief but sharing it just the same, until exhaustion finally overcame them. And Jesus loved them.
He spoke to them gently as they stirred uncomfortably in their sleep. “You can sleep on now and take your rest.” But then Jesus cocked his head to one side, listening.
He turned back to his disciples, shaking them awake, and saying loudly, “Now the hour has come when the Son of Man is to be betrayed into the hands of sinners. Get up! Let us go! My betrayer is already close at hand.”
Peter and James and Yochanan stumbled through the darkness, the lethargy of sleep still clinging tenaciously to their feet, to warn the others that someone was coming.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God….
Lord, I hardly know what to say. Your great anguish humbles me. I have never made that kind of effort to avoid temptation or to please you. Forgive me, Lord. Yes, I know that is why you took my place. Thank you. I want to learn from you to obey out of love whether or not I get what I want or whether my prayers are answered. I trust you in life and death. Free me from my lack of trust. In your name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from The Temptations of the Cross)
“That’s not what I said.”
Gamaliel’s voice was harsher than he had intended. Why was it that he could never talk to Saul without getting upset?
“Yes, it is. You said that Isra´el would be better off without him and his kind.”
“I didn’t mean for you to have him killed.”
“What then? Did you want me to scold him and tell him to go home and mind his own affairs?” Saul’s voice was low, insistent, but still respectful. (Read more….)