Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him and afflicted…We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. By oppression and judgement he was taken away…
(Isa 53. 4,6-8)
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.”
Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas, the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. But Peter followed him at a distance, right up to the courtyard of the high priest.. [they] were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death..Then the high priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Are you not going to answer?…” But Jesus remained silent.
The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.”
“Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses?..What do you think?” “He is worthy of death,” they answered.
(Matt 26. 57-59,62-66)
We are so accustomed to the stories told of the life and death of Jesus that it may never occur to us to wonder just how all this information became available to the gospel writers, but we should! Following through on that question takes us to some interesting places – like the context in which Mary, Jesus’ mother, would have shared the intimate details of his conception and birth, and all the struggles which she and Joseph faced at that time. Did Jesus learn this as he grew up, or did Mary share it only when he embarked upon his ministry?
This week, I have been reading Matthew’s account of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, and found myself wondering just who it was in that council of the chief priests, teachers of the law and elders who later told the story of that dark night. It can’t have been Peter, whose own sad tale of betrayal took place outside in the yard – and that tale too must have been revealed to later writers, for our blessing and instruction by Peter himself. It must have been one of the council themselves; somewhere in that gathering of hostile and frightened men (and it would have been an entirely masculine gathering), there was a heart which was already tender and open to God’s leading; a heart which would in time confess Jesus as Messiah and embrace the truth of the gospel.
They were all steeped in the Hebrew scriptures, and perhaps for one or two the words from Isaiah that foretold the suffering of the perfect servant would come to mind as they watched this Galilean hold his tongue and refuse to defend himself. Jesus’ demeanor would have spoken so loudly and clearly to those who should have recognised him as their longed for Messiah, and it seems that for at least one of them (then or later), the evidence finally became too much to resist.
When we put this together with Jesus command to love and pray for those who persecute us, we have a powerful encouragement to never give up on those who seem most adamant in their opposition to the gospel.
We cannot tell which strident aetheist, or sceptical humanist; which campaigner for secularism or advocate for universalism might be under the hand of the holy and relentless God, whose love for them took his son to the cross to win their salvation. I think this is a very important lesson for us in these days of increasingly bitter hostility against the Christian faith around the world. Will I obey the command of Jesus to pray for those who hate what I believe and hate me for believing it? Will I follow his example so that my life speaks of the truth of the gospel, of a God whose love for the broken children of this world is so powerful, steadfast and passionate? The offer of salvation is made to all who will confess Jesus as Lord – am I pressing this offer on my ‘enemies’ in prayer?
Perhaps someone was praying for Saul the Pharisee, even as he held the coats of those who stoned Stephen…someone loved him well enough to intercede with God for this young man who was consumed with hatred for the Jesus movement..and how God answered that prayer! Lord, let me be faithful in this, that I might love my enemies as you love them.