I was glad the night before Palm Sunday 2019 when my husband set up his laptop at the far end of the dining table with Dr. Paul Maier’s Easter week documentary — ‘Three days that Shook the World’. Seeing another presentation on the historical facts behind the wondrous Gospel laid out with ‘many infallible proofs’, to borrow from the words of synoptic Gospel writer, Luke, made the chicken vegetable soup I served for supper that evening go down with great satisfaction.
I was especially struck by the good doctor’s pointing out what he described as one of Scripture’s most overlooked passages: the one in which Luke plainly portrays the sorrow and lamentation of the crowds of Jerusalem when Jesus, having been maligned and unjustly tortured and condemned to death, was walking the way of suffering to the place of crucifixion. This passage, he explained, disproved the usual assumption that it was the same crowd that had shouted “Hosannah!” on the day Jesus entered Jerusalem, which later called for His death in Pilate’s courtyard.
Yet it is hard to not imagine that doubts, disillusionment, and confusion must have pierced the hearts of many of Israel’s faithful who had become convinced that Jesus was indeed the long-awaited Messiah. It is not unreasonable to assume that anger could have resulted from that profound disappointment.
A couple of his closest followers drew quick, even hasty conclusions — Peter had rebuked Jesus when He tried to prepare them for what He would face in Jerusalem. Rebuffing that rebuke with a rebuke of His own — Jesus called Peter ‘satan’, for his rejection of God’s stated plan, in the Scriptures, to deliver by a suffering servant: a God with piercings. Judas was perhaps the only one who took Jesus’ words at face value. Consequently, he planned his own exit strategy, seeking a little silver from the religious leaders for his troubles. He betrayed the Just One and sealed his own fate, condemned by his own disillusioned heart.
Even John the Baptizer, Jesus’ forerunner, had wavered towards the end of his tenure. He sent his disciples to have Jesus confirm His messiahship, though he had already identified Him as the One on whom the Spirit-Dove had rested, twice! Jesus reassured the imprisoned John, inviting him to consider the gracious teachings and mighty works which He was then actively performing in fulfillment of the Scriptures. A virtual ascetic himself, and perhaps sensing his own approaching earthly demise, John suffered not merely the pain of unjust incarceration and looming death but also had to grapple with the difficulty of a God who could heal the sick and raise the dead yet would not deliver his own cousin’s earthly life from the evil scheme of Herod’s mistress and her corrupted daughter. But neither would this God spare Himself piercings at the hand of power-maddened rulers.
Jesus’ mother, Mary, received even earlier preparation than the disciples. She was told that a sword would pierce her own soul — a searing sword, edged with the poison of temptation to disillusionment and confusion. More than anyone, Mary knew her bairn was the Son of God. So the confirmation of the aged Simeon and of the lifetime-faithful Anna must have been heartening at the time of Jesus’ dedication in the temple. Like the young virgin-turned-mother, these wizened ones did not stumble at the contradiction. They identified Messiah in the scrap-wrapped baby of a poor craftsman and his young wife and exulted over Him as the Lord’s salvation, undaunted and unoffended by His humble presentation.
No doubt, the later visit of the Magi also strengthened Mary to bear the paradox. Kings, following celestial bodies, worship the boy-child of peasants and leave Him the gifts of a prophet, priest, and monarch. Yet Mary had to continue raising Him through the years, in her and Joseph’s ‘low estate’, and even later in her widowhood. She saw Him through all the growing pains of a young man of the ancient Middle East, from His first bruised knee as a toddler, to the thrust of a Roman centurion’s spear through His heart. Yet she held on in shameless hope, pondering the puzzle and wondering at the angel’s, the prophets’ and Scripture’s promises concerning this Child. Thus she portrayed the sufficiency and availability of grace to trace the face of mystery in the mundane and to pursue eternal purpose in the painful spaces of life. In a unique way, Mary would touch the places where God would allow Himself to be pierced for us.
And so, the written Word and plan of God trumped trending expectations: The ‘news networks’ of the ancient world had broadcast it— Jesus had opened blind eyes, delivered wild demoniacs, healed lepers, fed thousands from small meal portions and even raised the dead! Oppressed Israel was quite ready for this kind of Messiah, and would have been prone to turning away in disdain from such a saviour when He later turned up dragging His own instrument of final torture through the city streets, a victim of the schemes of the jealous Jewish leaders.
It should have been nothing for this One — who raised the dead and walked on water, to resist this crushing at the hands of the occupying Roman machinery, to scorn the shame of the bruisings, beatings and floggings — to bring judgement down on the head of cocky, compromised Pilate by a wave of His own hand, or to at least rouse Israel’s oppressed masses to rebellion.
However, in accordance with the judgment written before the foundations of the world by His Father, Jesus lay those palms open, choosing to be God the bruised, the chastised and the pierced, by nails, crown of thorns and spear, for us. He entered into our weakness, poverty, rejection, and brokenness; enfleshing sinful humanity He let Himself be shot through with the shards of the evil device detonated from Eden by our forebears. He bore the Judgement written, having set His sights on a higher prize which only His surrendered hands could skillfully extricate from death’s grasp, which only His yielded back and shoulders could bear, which only His Way of suffering could pave: the reconciliation of Holy God with sinful Man. He was pierced for us.
“He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquity
The chastisement that brought us peace was laid on Him
And by His stripes, we are healed”
— Isa. 53:5