The contrast between Peter and Jesus couldn’t be more stark. Peter had talked big about his faithfulness and devotion to Jesus. He had flailed around with his sword in the garden, as if he were Jesus’ personal bodyguard. But now he is suddenly a coward. Now that Jesus is captured, he is fearful even of a little servant girl suggesting that he is Jesus’ disciple. Peter is afraid of what might happen to him. He is afraid to suffer.
And so are we. We’re in love with the idea of faithfulness. We look up to the martyrs of the church and believe that we too would rather die than deny Jesus. But we deny Him in so many little ways, when we fail to speak or act because that might associate us with Jesus in a negative light. We’re afraid of what might happen to our reputation or our income or our life if we’re stereotyped as one of “those” Christians. We don’t want to suffer for the name of Jesus.
But Jesus is most willing to suffer for us. He doesn’t hide from those who come to arrest him. Rather, Jesus goes forth boldly to meet His captors, fully prepared to drink the cup of judgment given Him by His Father. Jesus is not like Adam, who hid among the trees in fear. In this garden Jesus meets his enemies head on, so that we who are the children of Adam may go free. For this man Jesus is the great I AM, the eternal God revealed in the burning bush to Moses. His name causes His enemies to draw back and fall to the ground. For all who do not call on His name in faith will fall to their own destruction.
Peter would later not deny but confess the name of Jesus boldly on Pentecost with the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. In the end Peter would die courageously for the name of Christ. God grant us His Holy Spirit that we too may confess the name of Jesus with full confidence in Him. Let us take to heart Jesus’ words, “Be faithful even unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.”
The Jewish leaders do not want to enter Pilate’s Praetorium, especially during this time of the Passover, lest they be defiled by being in a Gentile building. But they are already defiled within by their sinful motives and desires. So also, we are all too often concerned about outward righteousness and appearances, when the Lord looks at the heart and desires the inward righteousness of faith. To be undefiled is to confess your sins for what they are and to trust in Him who is faithful and just to forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus stands before Pilate. Pilate received His authority from God. And now God in the flesh humbles Himself to be placed under this authority. The Judge of all men is being judged by a man. Judgment should be based on truth, but the only thing Pilate can say is “What is truth?” All fallen human beings are liars, the Psalm says. But Jesus is Himself the truth. He is reality. He is the way things are, the truth of God’s mercy shown to those who have not deserved it.
Pilate finds Jesus innocent, no fault in Him at all. But the crowds don’t want Jesus, they want Barabbas. The violent robber goes free so that Jesus might rob us of our sin by being violently executed. The one who took life lives; the One who gives life dies. This is God’s good and gracious will, that Christ should die in the place of sinners. Jesus goes to death in our place, so that we might live forever in His place, in His kingdom, which is not of this world. Pilate’s plan to release Jesus fails. The Passover Lamb will be sacrificed by the Father to take away the sin of the world.
People will sometimes blame their failings on the fact that “they’re only human.” However, the problem since the fall of Adam is not that we are human but that we are less than human. Our sin has dehumanized us, turning us in on ourselves rather than outward in love toward God and others. Beastly thoughts and words and actions often proceed from us. Survival instincts dominate. So it is written, “Man is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:12).
And we don’t like anyone drawing this to our attention, either. Better if they can be ignored or shut up. This is the behavior of those who are less than men. It is the behavior of the chief priests and the officers when they see Jesus. He is a threat to their territory and domain. And so they growl for His crucifixion.
But before they can cry out their desires, Pontius Pilate speaks words that were more true than he realized. He presents a bloodied and beaten Jesus and says, “Behold the Man!” Here is the One who is truly and fully human, who is not degraded and corrupted by His own sin. Here is the only real Man, who lays down His life for fallen creatures like you to raise you up as the people of God, His own beloved bride, His Church. He willingly allows Himself to be treated inhumanely to rescue you, to restore your humanity, to give you to share in His life and His glory. By His wounds you are healed and forgiven.
Behold the One who wears thorns on His head as a crown, to redeem you from the curse on the ground which you were created out of. Behold the Ram whose horns are caught in the thorny thicket of sin, who is offered up in the place of you Isaacs as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Behold the woman’s Seed who is crucified at Golgotha, the place of a Skull, whose cross is driven like Jael’s tent peg into the skull, whose pierced feet crush Satan’s head and defeat the power of death.
This is Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews. The chief priests don’t like this inscription that Pilate placed over Jesus’ head, and they ask him to change it. But the earthly authority whom God has established proclaims the truth. “What I have written, I have written.” Jesus truly is the King of the Jews, that is, the King of all those who are the true children of Abraham. He reigns in mercy over His baptized ones, over all you who believe in His promises, and who are credited with His righteousness by grace alone.
It is Friday, the sixth day of the week. It is the day not only of man’s creation in the beginning, but now also of His redemption and re-creation. For here is the new Adam who is put into the deep sleep of death, that the new Eve might be created from His side. The sacramental water and blood that flow from His pierced heart are most certainly what gives the church her life. “We are members of His body, of His flesh and of His bones” (Ephesians 5:30).
The new Adam bears the shame and the nakedness of our sin, which the fig leaves of our denial and excuses cannot hide. Jesus is exposed and laid bare on the tree of the cross. As the first Adam and Eve were clothed with the skins of sacrificed animals, so we who are their children are covered with the seamless garment of Christ, as it is written, “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). His bloody death covers our shame and atones for our sin.
In the sweat of His face, Jesus cries out “I thirst!” He who is the fountain of life is parched like the dusty ground. His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth (Psalm 22:15). He is given sour wine, vinegar for His thirst (Psalm 69:21). Our Lord endures this scornful gesture that we might hunger and thirst for His righteousness and drink deeply of the Living Water that He gives and so be honored with Him in His resurrection.
Jesus is buried in a garden, an indication of the greater Eden to come. For in Christ paradise is restored and all creation is made new. The work has now been completed. “It is finished,” Jesus said. The Sabbath is at hand. “And God ended His work which He had done, and He rested on the seventh day from all His work which He had done.” “And God saw everything that He had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠