Thursday, March 28, 2024

          Today is commonly called Maundy Thursday.  We remember Jesus’ last supper with the disciples—what would come to be known as the Lord’s Supper to us today.  With the simple elements of bread and cup, Jesus would offer an immortal visual object lesson for what was about to happen at the cross.  Mark described this momentous meal in this way, “While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “’Take it; this is my body.’  Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. ‘This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,’ he said to them. ‘Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God’” (Mark 14:22-25). 
            Soon after Jesus would pray, for the Father’s will to be done, in the Garden of Gethsemane and experience betrayal by Judas and Peter’s three denials.  The air was heavy with the wrath and the justice of God coming to bear on the sins of the world.  The meeting place for this divine judgment would be the cross where Jesus died.  Betrayal.  Denial.  Death.  All three words were hanging in the air like rotten fruit waiting to be picked.  The enemy had been planting the seeds of this fruit for years—even back in the Garden of Eden when he first raised doubts about God’s Word and God’s ways.  When the serpent finally broke Adam’s trust in God, everything suddenly fell apart.  Adam and Eve fell and fell hard.  And even today, we still feel the pain and suffering of that fall.
            Betrayal seems like a harsh word.  A three-syllable sinister word that does not bring to mind anything good. Jesus was betrayed by one of his own—Judas.  It was Judas who sold out Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.  Imagine trading your Savior for a roll of quarters.  But we have betrayed Jesus too.  We have looked the other way and sinned without regard to what our Lord may have thought.  We have loved ourselves more than Him. We have been fans more than followers.  We loved His gifts more than we have loved Him as the Giver. 
            Denial sounds no better than betrayal.  Sure, we have denied Him.  Maybe not like Peter did on a cold night in the Middle East but we have denied Him as sure as we are breathing.  We have settled for the easy sins rather than the hard obedience.  We have trusted our eyes more than His hand or heart.  We deny Him when we make life more about us and less about Him.  We can often ask Him to ride in the backseat or to stay down when we are challenged about our faith and what we believe.  It is much easier to stay seated when a situation calls for you to take a stand.
            Death.  Jesus suffered a hideous death.  History’s greatest miscarriage of justice was the execution of Jesus on Calvary’s cross.  The creation killed its Creator.  The innocent died for the guilty.  The sinless Son of a Nazarene carpenter took on sins that He had never committed, harbored or savored.  Heaven’s perfect Lamb.  The apple of the Father’s eye.  He was in the world and the world was made by Him and the world did not recognize Him.  The world tossed Him aside as one would throw away table scraps to a pack of yelping dogs. 
            It was a brutal death.  The false arrest, the show trial and the manufactured charges were bad enough.  But the cross was simply unimaginable.  It was the legal definition of a cruel and unusual punishment for anyone.  And here was Jesus, guilty of nothing but assigned a place on a cross to die for everything.  The crowds cheered and jeered—openly wanting Barabbas to go free while Jesus was taken away.
            Even today, it would not be hard to imagine a crowd cheering for the release of a terrorist, a serial-killer or a child molester and demanding that Jesus be taken away.  We often prefer villains to heroes.  We would rather settle for a few good lies than the undiluted truth of God.  We’re stubborn enough to want our sin-stained and error-ridden ways more than His perfect ways.  To borrow an expression from the book of Exodus, we can be a stiff-necked people.   
            On this Thursday, the cross comes into even sharper focus.  When Jesus prayed in Gethsemane, His plan to go to the cross was confirmed.  He gave Himself to the Father’s will and ways.  There was no fine tuning to do.  There is no way to nuance what is about to happen.  The betrayal, denial and death Jesus faced cannot be softened in any way.  They were brutally harsh and wrathfully stinging.  Yet, Christ endured all of this so we never would.  The cries of the celebrating crowd on Palm Sunday have decidedly died down.  And now, many of those same voices that praised Jesus just days ago will join with a chorus of scoundrels to denounce Jesus and demand His death.  How quickly the tide turned! How fickle, feckless and faithless mankind can become! 
            The judgment that Jesus would endure was yours and mine.  Yet, there is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.  And Jesus would die—for His friends but also for those who rejected and renounced Him and called for His cross.  By His stripes we are healed.  Tread lightly and thoughtfully on this Thursday.  Take time to see the gathering darkness as the world turns its hatred toward Jesus and the wrath of God gathers to be poured out on Him.  It is Maundy Thursday—the last full day of Jesus’ life. 
            We will gather tonight to worship at 7:00pm and remember the bread and the cup, the cross and the agony, the sins we all share and the wrath of God poured out on those sins.

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