One of the wonders of the Christian faith is that we follow, worship and serve a God who is personal and understands the difficulty of life. Not a God made of stone and wood. Not a God in the distance, on his Mt Olympus, peering through some pool to humanity. Not some God who exclusively worked through a prophet or a sacred text. Not some abstract force or a God of many gods, but The God, the personal God. God, who not only sent prophets, not only gave us sacred and trusted text, but came himself as a man. He came as a human to live and experience how his creation lives and how his creation experiences mountains and valleys, joy and pain, a God who uniquely understands. Jesus wept, he was tired, he felt pain, love, hope, joy, struggle and temptation. He was fully human.
Betrayed by a Friend
Judas. Not many of us are going to name our children Judas. There are baby name books with titles like, “Beyond Jason and Jennifer,” but the name Judas is avoided like the plague. He was the one that betrayed Jesus Christ, the son of God, in the most horrific of way, with a kiss. The kiss to identify Jesus at night, the kiss in Greek, the original language of this text, is the same word as “to love.” In Matthew 26 Jesus calls Judas Friend. This kiss was a greeting of respect and honor. Make no mistake about it, Jesus was a friend of Judas. He picked him as one of the twelve to establish his church, to pass on his message to the coming generations. He entrusted Judas with the finances of the group, not a casual responsibility. At the last supper Judas was sitting to the left of Jesus, the place in the ancient world that was known as the place of an intimate friend. In the Psalms we read,
Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me.
Written by King David long before Jesus was ever born, this was a statement about David’s betrayal and glimpse into the future betrayal of Jesus. Yes, friends betray us don’t they? Friends let us and down and disappoint us. Even our closest friends will drop the ball in our relationships (and we are also those closest friends). Judas, with the greeting of a friend, turns Christ over for ridicule, torture and death. Jesus understands. Have you ever been betrayed by a friend? Disappointed and let down by a person close to you? Jesus felt and feels your pain, the breaking of a heart. Even though we walk through that valley, he is with us and has walked before us.
Misunderstood by his Followers
We forget much of what we hear within just hours of hearing it. We need to be told and re-told over and over again. Unless we review, go over, process, dissect, apply, internalize, and start the process all over again we will never get it. Some people ask how many times do I need to read the story of Easter or Christmas or Pentecost (the birth of the church); how many times do I need to study the Bible, to meditate on its truth? how many times? The answer is: as many times as it takes. We leak God’s word; it goes in us and by noon on Tuesday much has leaked out. Over and over again Jesus shared and lived the truth of what he was calling them to be and yet they regularly didn’t understand. People didn’t get it, not the teachers who knew the law and not the disciples who walked with him. Have you ever been misunderstood? Have you ever shared and re-shared from every possible vantage point ultimately discovering that the people you are talking with don’t get it? Being misunderstood by friends, family and a community is a lonely place to be. Jesus understands because that is a valley he has walked through.
Deserted by the pupil
Peter often gets a bad rap. We like to beat up on the old fella. But Peter got it right so many times. He was truly a special disciple:
- In all 4 gospels Peter is always listed first and Judas last even though the names in-between vary.
- Matthew 14:25-33 Has anyone walked on water? Peter had the faith to step out and walk on water declaring Jesus as the son of God.
- He declared in Luke 9:18-20 that Jesus is Christ, the son of the living God.
In Mark 9:2-5 he is one of only three disciples that witnesses the transfiguration.
- In Luke 22:54 he is the only disciple that follows Jesus after his arrest.
- Peter also confesses his love for Jesus after the resurrection in John 21:15-19
- In Acts 2 Peter speaks to the crows regarding Jesus Christ and 3,000 repented and where baptized.
- Reliable church history tells us that Peter was eventually crucified and not feeling worthy to die the same way as Christ, asked to be crucified upside down.
Peter was a special disciple of Jesus Christ, one of the three closest to Jesus. He was the leader of the disciples and often a very good pupil of Christ. In some of the ways just mentioned, we could say that Peter was his star pupil. The role that Jesus gave him, the hope that he had, was to establish his church with Peter as one of the first leaders. There was a lot of time and effort poured into Peter. There opportunities and harsh rebukes. Now this man will disown and abandon Jesus in his greatest time of need not one time, but three.
Peter, the premier student, the disciple of Jesus Christ denies him. The word deny in the New Testament is set up as the opposite of the word confess. When we acknowledge Christ and who he is we literally confess Christ and deny self. Peter had these inverted. Peter was in close proximity to Jesus and after the rooster crowed Jesus turned and looked straight at Peter. Jesus understands he has walked in the valley of abandonment by those who where closest to him. He has looked into the eyes of the one who should have and could have stood firm but didn’t. Jesus understands.
Mocked by the People
Have you ever been mocked, ridiculed and called names? I still remember what kids said to me in elementary school. The Bible tells us that the tongue, the words that come from our mouth, have tremendous destructive power. How they mocked Jesus, how they mocked God. Jesus was beaten with fists and words. They mocked that which he claimed to be and represent. What pain to be mocked for your beliefs, for how God has made you, for what you know to be true. Standing before Herod and his men partying, intoxicated, they mocked the very miracles that he did, the miracles that stopped a lifetime of bleeding and blindness. That which Jesus did out of love and compassion became the brunt of their jokes – he said he was a King, he thinks he is a King let’s make him a King. What pain, what heartbreak Jesus must have experienced. A heart torn apart broken to the core. That tongue, with words from Hell, piercing his soul.
Have you ever been mocked, picked on and made fun of? Have you ever had what he meant for good be turned against you and thrown back in your face? Have you been ridiculed and put down in front of your peers, your bosses, your employees, your family, your kids?
Jesus has walked in that valley and he understands. He has been there.
Abandoned by the Authorities
Government is supposed to protect us, to strain out the bad from the good. Justice is blind isn’t it? What an outrage when we discover the man released from jail after spending the better part of his life behind bars for a crime he did not commit. No money and no apologies can return that which has been taken. We hear of people saying they are innocent, but Jesus was truly the only totally, completely innocent person that has walked the earth. He was without sin or stain. He was perfect. If anyone deserved protection from the authorities, from the ruling powers, from governors, kings and emperors it was Jesus Christ.
Pilate was a vicious ruler who beat people and disregarded Jewish law, but he desired to uphold Roman law, and feared this man Jesus, but not as much as he feared the crowd. God was on trial standing before the representative of the most powerful government on the planet and three times Pilate declares him innocent. Hoping to deflect some of the opposition, he sends Jesus to the puppet King Herod, but Herod’s heart has been hard for some time to the things of Jesus and that becomes just a big waste of time. Back to Pilate. The one who could crush the crowds’ rebellion and set Jesus free. But Pilate had a greater fear of the crowd than of Jesus. Pilate followed the Roman code of law, but this day after trying to dodge a bullet, after declaring Jesus Christ not guilty three times, turned him over to be crucified. Jesus Christ received the most bogus trial in history, he was not protected by those who were supposed to protect, who were supposed to be just. No Jesus was abandoned by all authority, both sacred and secular.
Have you been abandoned? Have you been falsely accused? Jesus understands, he has walked in that valley.
We follow a God who understands because he is the God that walked and walks in the valleys of life. He is Jesus, fully God and yet fully human. He is Jesus, our Shepherd who is always with us:
The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.