Monday, May 2, 2011

Peter's Perspective - The Passover Lamb (Friday)

Sometimes I just have to laugh at myself... I tend to make big plans that never quite work out as I envisioned.  There's a bit too much on my plate right now.  I had planned to write an Easter series that looks at the story from Peter's perspective, but only Thursday's post actually made it to the blog.  I've decided I'm still going to finish the story.  You don't mind, do you? ;)  Peter reminds me so much of myself, which I will elaborate on in the near future.  To be honest, I think it's far too easy to come down from the intensity and spiritual richness of Easter and forget the fact that the glory of the resurrection and the sacrifice of Christ needs to be real and vital to us every day.  With that in mind, please don't pass this over just because it's past Easter.  It is my prayer that the richness of the gospel of Christ would be portrayed through these words, and that I and all who take the time to read will continue to expand in our knowledge of and love for the gracious and glorious Savior!

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After the Passover meal was finished, and our host had been thanked, Jesus led us to the Mount of Olives once again, to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray.  As we left the house, I asked Jesus if Judas would be coming with us, but He simply replied, "He will return when the time comes for the Son of Man to be offered up." 

The sun had already passed beyond the horizon as we climbed the dirt path up to the Mount again, but the gray light still lingered to light our steps.  By the time we reached the garden of Gethsemane, the darkness was complete.  We lit a small fire for warmth and light, and sat huddled around it.  Jesus told the others to stay with the fire, but called James, John, and I to go under the olive trees to pray.  The joy and peace that Jesus had displayed as we sang the Passover Hallel was now overshadowed by a deep sorrow that we did not understand.  He looked up at us, and with pain in His voice, but gently, as if to beseech us, He said, "My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me."  He went a little beyond us and fell to the ground, sobbing, "“My Father! Abba! If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”  He continued in prayer, affirming His desire to do the will of the Father, but obviously overcome with anguish as He considered the coming darkness.  Two times more, He asked that the hour may pass Him by, and then He fell to silence, still kneeling beneath the olive trees.

Our souls were stricken at His prayer. Could it be that His words long ago to us that He would go to Jerusalem and be killed by the elders and scribes were now to come true?  At the time, I had rebuked Him, saying "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You!"  His response to me was a harsh reproach.  "Get behind Me, Satan!  You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but on man's."  This time I would not fail Him.  I would not question His words, and I would never leave Him.

Even with the weight of sorrow and strength of resolve, fatigue began to catch up to John and I, who had been on watch the night before.  When Jesus returned to us, we were beginning to drift into sleep, overcome by exhaustion and anguish.  He said to us, "Why are you sleeping? Get up and pray that you may not enter into temptation!"  We shook ourselves awake, and as I looked up with sleep-blurred eyes, I was startled to see that the drops of sweat on His forehead glistened red in the light from the fire.

He led us back to the other disciples, who had also dropped into slumber.  Rousing them, He said to us all, calmly now, "Are you still sleeping and resting?  Keep praying.  The spirit is willing but the flesh is weak."  Looking up into the darkness, He said, as much to Himself as to us, "Look!  The hour is at hand and the Son of Man is being betrayed into the hands of sinners. The one who betrays Me is at hand."  Startled, I saw that indeed, a crowd was coming near us in the garden.  Judas, who led them, greeted the Master with a kiss, but then went to stand beside the chief priest.

Stunned with the implications of this turn of events, my first reaction was hatred for the betrayer.  "Traitor!" I hissed.

Jesus, filled with quiet courage, ignored me and said to him, "Friend, do what you have come for."


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Rage filled me as they seized Jesus, and I drew my sword.  I would never deny Him!  I would die defending Him!  Blindly, and with a cry of desperation, I struck out at the member of the crowd closest to me, the slave of the priest.  My blade sliced through sinew and cartilage, and his severed ear fell to the ground.  The slave screamed with pain as he grasped his bleeding head. Immediately, guards rushed towards me and the garden erupted into chaos.  I was struggling in the grasp of three Roman soldiers, yelling out threats and curses, when a stunned hush fell over the gathering.  Jesus was walking towards the wounded slave, hands outstretched.  As if they were the ones bound, the pharisees and guards stood watching dumbly as Jesus took the bloody hands of the man I had wounded.  Putting His hand over the flow of blood, He healed him so that his ear was perfectly restored.  The slave looked at the ground, where his old ear lay, and felt the new, perfect skin and cartilage with awe.  Turning, Jesus looked at me. "Put your sword back in its place, for those who take up the sword will perish by the sword.  If I were to ask my Father, He would at once put more than twelve legions of angels at my disposal.  But this is now happening to fulfill the Scriptures of the prophets."

He then turned to the mob, and asked them, "Whom do you seek?"

"Jesus the Nazarene."

"I AM He."  At these words, the name of God, spoken with the very voice of God, the assailants drew back and fell to the ground.  He said to them, "I told you that I AM He, so if you seek me, let my followers go on their way.  I will drink the cup the Father has given Me."

With that, they were again overcome by hate, and bound Him, taking Him into the court of the high priest.  All of us deserted Him in fear of his accusers, but none of us were taken.  John and I followed the cohort at a distance until they reached the court of the priest.  John knew the owner of the house and entered with Jesus, but I remained outside, overcome by fear.  The coming King had been arrested as a common criminal, and my confidence was shattered.  I stood there, slumped dumbly against the door of the outer court, and the darkness within me became greater than the darkness of the night.  Little time had passed before John came out again, begging me to come in to the fire.  I was fearful of being recognized, but I followed him, attempting to warm myself while staying in the shadows as much as possible.  Despite my efforts of concealment, a young servant-girl started as she caught a glimpse of my face from across the fire, and blurted out, "This man was with Him too!"

"I don't know Him - I don't even know what you're talking about!"  It was said too quickly.  My Galilean accent was made even more pronounced with the terseness of my words.

She gave me a strange look, but left to speak to the other men in the courtyard.  Before long, one of them came over to me.  "Surely you are one of the followers of Jesus of Nazareth."

"Sir, I am not."

Another slave came over who was a relative of the man whose ear I cut off.  Standing over me with his arms folded and a scowl on his face, he asked menacingly, "Didn't I see you in the Garden with Him? Even your accent betrays you!"

At the word "betray", I cringed, but I maintained my assertion.  "I don't know the man!" 

The moment the words left my mouth, a cock crowed from just beyond the wall.  I looked up to where Jesus was being led into the courtyard by guards who were preparing to beat Him.  He turned and looked at me, eyes filled with such gentle sadness and reproach that I felt as if I had been dealt a death blow. Overcome with sorrow and shame, I fled from the courtyard and began to weep uncontrollably.  "Oh, forgive me Lord!  Forgive me!  What have I done?"

How could I even cry out to Him? I was utterly undeserving... nothing but dust.  Nay!  Worse than dust - I was the vilest offense; a stench, a worm, and not a man. 

What unfolded in those hours, I cannot now tell, but from sunrise to well into the day I numbly wandered the streets of Jerusalem as if I were in a dream.  The city of promise had become a city of death to me, and by my denial, I knew that I too had betrayed the Lord, the Son of God.  I, who had been so bold in my assertion of loyalty, was now stripped of all pride and forever separated from the Lord I loved.  At noon, the sun was strangely darkened, though there was not a cloud in the sky, and I knew that this was a sign from God.  The streets were now empty, as if the citizens dreaded some strange omen.  A man was coming towards me from a gate in the city, groping in the peculiar darkness, dressed in the robes of a temple official.  I recognized him as one of the men who had arrested my Lord.  "Where is Jesus?" I croaked through parched lips.

He spat on the ground and squinted at me in derision.  "Nailed to a cross on the Place of the Skull, where He belongs.  And who are you that you should ask?"  Overcome by a wave of nausea, I did not answer him, but brushed past to make my way to Golgotha, the place favored by the Romans to hang criminals sentenced to crucifixion.  When I arrived there, it was nearly three o'clock.  Three men hung on the cross-shaped instruments of torture, and a small gathering of men and women stood or knelt before them in grief.  John was there, kneeling with his arm around Mary, the mother of Jesus, who shook with sobs.  At first I did not recognize the man who hung in the middle, because he was so disfigured by bruises and bleeding wounds.  With a gasping sob, I realized that it was Jesus who was lifted up there to die.  How could it be?  With amazement, I saw Him push Himself up to draw in a ragged breath as He cried, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  He fought for a few more precious breaths with which He said His last words, "It is finished!  Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."  As His limp head fell to His chest, the earth shook, and even the Roman soldiers said that "this man was surely the Son of God."  I had crucified the Son of God.

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