To get to the joy of Easter, we have to walk through the rest of the week. Today is Maundy Thursday or Holy Thursday, traditionally a day to remember the Last Supper and Jesus’s example of service through foot washing. Jesus spent most of his last free hours on earth celebrating Passover with his closest friends, giving them final instructions and teaching. “This do in remembrance of me.” All this in the shadow of the cross.
Two things are on my mind. The first was sparked by a line about Judas in Matthew 27. The writer states “When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. ‘I have sinned,’ he said, ‘For I have betrayed innocent blood.” (Matthew 27:3,4).
Matthew is the only Gospel to mention Judas’s remorse. What did he think would happen? Earlier, he sought out the chief priests and Pharisees, and agreed to hand Jesus over to them. Did he not realize what the result would be? Many commentators think that Judas may have been disappointed or disillusioned with Jesus – he expected an uprising, a triumphal ministry, not a shameful death on a criminal’s cross. Perhaps Judas rationalized that once Jesus found himself arrested, he would use his full powers against the hated Romans, and take control. Judas, in this view, was trying to force Jesus to take action and speed things along.
A column by Ray Pritchard develops this further. “If there is any way to understand Judas, it is at the point of personal disappointment. Perhaps he truly believed that Jesus had let him down and in his own twisted way felt justified in his act of treachery. But is that so much different from the way we feel when we think God has let us down? So I ask the question: How has God disappointed you? For some, it comes from shattered dreams and fond hopes never realized. For others, it comes from a failed marriage or children who turned against you. Perhaps you prayed and prayed for a loved one to be healed of cancer only to attend their funeral later. Maybe you feel deep inside that God simply hasn’t lived up to his end of the bargain. Though you would never say it in church, you feel cheated by the Lord. Let us face the fact that God often fails to live up to our expectations. Sometimes he simply doesn’t do what we think he ought to do.”
Jesus doesn’t conform to our expectations. “He’s not a tame lion.” From the comfortable vantage point of history, it’s easy to shake my head and think the disciples, and Judas, should have been more trusting. They knew Jesus! They saw the miracles! And still … they were oh so human. If salvation depended on them, or me, it would be hopeless.
And that’s the point, isn’t it? Salvation through our own efforts is a hopeless case. There is an old hymn that makes this point:
“Not what my hands have done
Can save my guilty soul;
Not what my toiling flesh has borne
Can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do
Can give me peace with God;
Not all my prayers and sighs and tears
Can bear my awful load.
Thy work alone, my Savior,
Can ease this weight of sin;
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God,
Can give me peace within.
The second thing is tangentially related: the need to rest from what Tim Keller calls “the work underneath our work. It’s the work of self-justification.” When I try to prove my worth, hurry God along, and check the boxes of religious activity, I’m not resting in the finished work of Jesus. Good works are ….good. But the motive matters immensely. In the end, so much comes down to trust in Jesus and his sufficiency. Can I learn the discipline of rest?
In his excellent book “Kings Cross: The Story of the World in the Life of Jesus”, Keller gets to the heart of it: “Most of us work and work, trying to prove ourselves to convince God, others, and ourselves that we’re good people. That work is never over unless we rest in the gospel. At the end of his great act of creation the Lord said, ‘It is finished,’ and he could rest. On the cross at the end of his great act of redemption Jesus said, ‘It is finished” – and we can rest. On the cross Jesus was saying of the work underneath your work – the thing that makes you truly weary, this need to prove yourself because who you are and what you do are never good enough – that it is finished. He has lived the life you should have lived, he has died the death you should have died. If you rely on Jesus’s finished work, you know that God is satisfied with you. You can be satisfied with life.”
Behold the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world, comes to give life abundantly, and gives us rest.