“…for the joy that was set before him, Jesus endured the cross…” – Hebrews
The figures of four men can be seen trudging through the rocky grounds of Mount Olives. It is first century Palestine. Jesus leads Peter, James and John to Gethsemane. It is late into the night and although the disciples have endured such late night before with the Master, as they went from city to city preaching the gospel, they cannot understand why they must be out here, in a solitary place, in the dead of the night and with the Jerusalem temperatures dangerously approaching single digits.
The Master stops abruptly. He looks on his beloved disciples; he looks troubled. Before Peter could venture to make his characteristic remarks, Jesus says: “I am deeply troubled. Please stay here while I go over there to pray”. As Jesus walks into the dark, the disciples settle down to rest their aching feet. Events of the last two days, nay, of the last three years began to float through Peter’s mind.
Life at the sea of Galilee had been normal until that faithful day when this Nazarene approached Peter and asked him to cast his net out to fish, after they had toiled all day without catching anything. The fish they caught that day alone was more than what they would usually catch in total for a month. From then on, he became Jesus’ disciple. Following Jesus from city to city, proclaiming the coming of God’s kingdom and asking men to repent to be part of it. This man wrought great miracles that it was difficult not to believe that he was not the promised Messiah to Israel.
And as abruptly as he came into the Galilean scene, so also did he announce his coming demise: “I will be going to Jerusalem where I will be betrayed to the hands of the rulers and killed. I will however rise again on the third day.” Sitting out on the hills that cold night, Peter mutters softly to himself: Is this the reality of what Jesus had spoken about just some days earlier?
In the middle of his thoughts, Peter dozes off. Jesus however returns and rebukes Peter and the other two for not being vigilant enough. And from that moment on, things began to happen in quick succession: Judas leads a group of soldiers to arrest Jesus; all the disciples flee and abandon their Master; Christ is taken to the chief priests and is tried before Pilate and condemned to death. Finally, Jesus Christ stands erect on the cross, nailed through at his hands and feet. Life is ebbing away from him little by little. The Nazarene dies…
The Apostles and other disciples of Christ are huddled up in a house. There is fear and forbidden written on everyone’s face. “But he said he would rise up on the third day…”, a little known female disciple says to break the silence. No one pays any attention to her. What does she know? This is the reality: the man whom they all had wasted three and a half years following after is dead.
Early Sunday morning, without anyone noticing, Mary Magdalene rushes to the tomb where Jesus was buried. At first glance she realized the tomb was empty. Who has stolen the Master’s body, she asks herself. She runs to get the other disciples. They come, inspect the tomb and return even more dejected. But Mary remained behind at the tomb, weeping. Then someone asks from behind “woman, why are you crying? What are you looking for?” “If you have taken my Master’s body, please show me where you took it to,” she replied, thinking it was the Gardener.
“Mary” Jesus said.
“Master!” Mary said, realizing it was the risen Lord.
The Bible records that following her encounter with the risen Lord, Mary Magdalene returned to her fellow disciples with “fear and great joy” to report that the Master had risen.
The strange combination of the cross (or fear) and great joy has been the lot of God’s people since the Master purchased our redemption 2,000 years ago. Jesus himself beheld the joy and glory of a redeemed people that must be purchased by his vicarious death on the cross, and so endured great suffering to obtain it. Today, God’s people are called Christians because Jesus Christ died and rose again.
This is wishing all readers of this column a happy Easter celebrations and to remind us about the reason for the season. We have the joy of redemption today because someone endured the cross. Others will have the joy of redemption also if we are willing to pay the price. May God’s grace abound to us in all facets of life and equip us for the great work he has called us to. And if such a work demands we endure a cross, may we overcome the fear and dread of it to obtain its joy.