I’ll be honest, this is really more about Matthew 26 than 25.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells parables regarding preparation for him coming again, which was the topic of my last post. The end of Matthew 25 I covered in this post from January.
Matthew 26, however, covers the start of the fulfilment of Jesus’ mission. He has spent his time teaching and preparing his followers for this time and beyond. Now, it’s here.
It’s characterised by the contrasting reactions of the protagonists and antagonists of the story.
The Pharisees are worried. They have been looking, for much of Jesus’ ministry, for a reason to kill him. They fear that he endangers their hold over the people and their religion by constantly questioning their interpretation of God’s law. They have tried, many times, to catch him out, but in vain. They have had opportunity after opportunity to do it, but their cowardice has prevented it. Until now.
Suddenly a chance for someone else to do the work has arisen, from an unexpected quarter. Judas Iscariot, of of the 12, is willing to sell his teacher out for 30 pieces of silver (the going rate for a slave at the time). We don’t hear in Matthew what his motivation may be, but to turn traitor is the ultimate coward’s act. To give up all you have believed in for a bit of money when the going may be about to get tough is weak and pathetic.
These are words Peter would probably have used to describe himself. A man big on words, but when the chips were down where was he?
By Jesus’ side? No.
Outside the temple, declaring Jesus’ innocence? No.
Planning some sort of rescue effort? No.
No. The man who said he would die alongside Jesus rather than disowning him is, as Jesus predicted, disowning him. Not once, but three times in increasingly forceful terms. Why? Because he is scared for his life. Because his faith has taken a hammer blow. Because he has forgotten all he has been taught.
Unlike Judas, Peter will live to fight another day. Many days and many fights. He will become the rock Jesus said he would be. But for now, he’s just a broken shell of a man. A coward.
The coward’s option is the easy option. One which we are all tempted by at times. Some will tell you that it’s an evolutionary mechanism designed to ensure self-preservation. This may well be true, I mean, what use are we if we’re dead? Of course, we may survive, through our own endeavours or through God’s, so the result may not be death. We may be persecuted, ostracized, ignored by loved ones, mocked, beaten or any number of horrible outcomes for standing up and being counted.
But what use are we if that happens. If we’re turned into a nobody. Or a dead nobody.
Well, a lot of use, it may turn out.
There is one man here who puts the right thing, the Father’s will, ahead of his own wellbeing.
“Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”” (Matthew 26:39 NIV)
Be under no illusions. Jesus didn’t want to die. He didn’t want to suffer the agonies ahead of him. But then, if he did want to there’d be no point in it. If it wasn’t horrific, violent, unbearable then it wouldn’t achieve its aims. To take on our punishment and give us a path to God.
However, despite his fear and terror, he recognises that it’s not his will, but the Father’s will which needs to be done. In the face of worse horrors than the Pharisees, Judas or Peter could even comprehend, he submits to what his Father wants.
We will probably not face a life or death decision over our faith, although some may. At some stage, though, we will all be asked to stand up and do the right thing. To do God’s will rather than ours or the will of those around us. The outcomes will be unpleasant, possibly unbearable, but they will be worth it.
So, what do we do?