Narratives Of The Passion (Part 3).
Matthew 26 – 27; Mark 14 – 15; Luke 22 – 23; John 18 – 19.
The Gospels of Mark and Matthew presented the most graphic details of the gruesome crucifixion scene at Golgotha, while Luke and John spared us most of the disturbing minutiae in their narratives of the Passion. Luke presented Jesus as the righteous sacrifice, and forgiving those who condemned Him (Luke 23:34, 43, 46), while John’s Gospel depicted Christ’s sovereignty, even over His own death within the perfect will of God, towards the salvation of man (c.f., Gal 4:4).
In Mark, the death of Jesus was pre-figured from its beginning, after He healed the man with a withered arm. Immediately, the Pharisees and the Herodians began their nefarious plot to destroy Him (Mark 3:1-6). Their plans unfolded chapter-by-chapter, till its culmination at the cross. But it was in John’s Gospel that we first discovered God’s plan for His Son, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29). It is strangely ironical, yet significant, what happened at Calvary was described in the Old Testament narrative: where being crucified was not unlike a person who was condemned to die by being hung or impaled on a pole (Deut 21:22-23), and the enactment of shed blood, deeply rooted in the Jewish sacrificial system promulgated by Yahweh, is symbolic of a life exchanged for the sins of the people (Lev 17:11). Being blindsided by sheer prejudice is not an uncommon human predicament, and under those circumstances no one is able to see objectively what God was doing, except for a centurion. This professional soldier, who perhaps watched all that was happening from the side, after Jesus’ arrest, or may have even taken part in the mocking by his subordinates, kept an open mind. Mark reported that he “saw the way He breathed His last, he said, ”Truly this man was the Son of God!”” (Mark 15:39), but Matthew added that the centurion “saw the earthquake and the things that were happening, and became very frightened” (Matt 27:54). What did he actually see in Jesus? Or, was it the unusual events that convinced him? Apparently, he was the only one who may have believed on this fateful day, apart from one of the thieves, when his path crossed with the Saviour’s.
The immediate confluence of startling events that followed the death of Jesus was remarkable: darkness covered the whole country (Matt 27:45), the high ceiling Temple curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the sanctuary, torn from top to bottom (Matt 27:51), an earthquake (Matt 27:51, 54), and the opening of tombs, with the resurrection of several Old Testament saints, as they walked into Jerusalem and appeared to many (Matt 27:52-53). The Jews possibly interpreted this symbolic demonstration of God’s power as a sign of the impending judgment of the world (Isaiah 26:19; Daniel 12:2-3), but these signs only presaged the resurrection of Jesus three days later. I wonder what Jesus’ followers thought about such an apparently organised supernatural display? Certainly, to be in the presence of a resurrected Old Testament saint would itself be awe-inspiring, not to mention the shock of the resurrected themselves having to adjust to a differential time-frame. How would you react if you came face-to-face with someone who had been resurrected under similar circumstances, who claimed to be your great-great-great-granddad or grandma?
John was the only disciple who was at the cross when Jesus expired, which indicated his courage and commitment to his Lord. And only in his Gospel do we find a compassionate family incident, where Jesus, noticing the anguish of His mother, committed her to John’s care, in the presence of Mary, the wife of Clopas and Mary Magdalene (John 19:25-27). This unusual arrangement, as Mary moved into John’s home immediately thereafter, was to comfort His mother in entrusting her to someone He could depend on, in His physical absence.
After His resurrection, when Jesus was at the beach of the Sea of Galilee, He surprised His disciples by preparing breakfast for them. After they had finished eating, Jesus turned to Simon Peter and said, “Simon, son of John, do you love Me more than these?” (John 21:1-17). Do we love God more than anything else, and what does it mean to love Him ‘more than anything else?’