[Update: this series has been completed. Part 1: the forsaking of God; Part 2: the Grace of Jesus; Part 3: the limits of Grace?; Part 4: the restoration of disciples; Part 5: conclusion & benediction]
Last week, we saw how Holy Week, kicked off by Jesus’ “Triumphal Entry” into Jerusalem, was merely the beginning of a series of events that led to everything around Jesus forsaking him. We went on to ask how disciples of Christ might avoid their own version of “Thursday”–the night the disciples betrayed and forsook Jesus. The reality is, though, that every disciple of Christ has, does, and will forsake Jesus many times over. And so, the proper question to bring to Holy Week is not “how might I keep myself from forsaking Jesus”, but rather “how does Jesus respond to those–including myself–that will end up forsaking him?” I went on to say
“The answer I want to fight for? Jesus responds to all of our forsaking him with pure, unadulterated, offensive, and scandalous Grace. My main point in this message is this: A disciple is not someone who never forsakes Jesus; it’s someone who, after forsaking him, comes back.“
Today we will look back at Holy Week to see the ways that Jesus demonstrates this scandalous Grace to those that have and will turn their backs and abandon him.
First, look at the Galileans that followed Jesus to the gates of Jerusalem crying out praises and songs to him, declaring them their Messiah and King. Notice what they sing: “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David! Hosanna in the highest heaven!” These people express their hope and belief in a common messianic misconception of the day: they believed the Messiah would come, overthrow the Romans, and reestablish Jerusalem as a sovereign powerful kingdom in the world, led by a King in the line of David. In short: their theology was bad.
Now, there are other times in the Gospels where others express this same misconception about Jesus, expecting him to rule and reign from an earthly throne in Jerusalem. Nearly all of these other times, Jesus severely rebukes those misunderstanding his mission and his means. But not here.
It seems that in our moments when we are closest to forsaking Jesus, he is less concerned with how “right” our theology is, and more concerned with getting into Jerusalem to die the death that will save us all.
Next, let’s look at the fig tree that turned itself away from its Creator by not bearing fruit in the time set aside for it to do so, and the temple that had turned its back on the purpose for which it was originally established.
Jesus answers the rebellion of creation by dying a creaturely death and in his resurrection establishing himself as the first of a New Creation where all things will bear fruit in their appointed time.
For the temple, Jesus, by becoming the place of sacrifice for sins, becomes himself the new, better, and eternal temple through which we find freedom and forgiveness.
He does for the fig tree and the temple what they could not accomplish on their own by the work of human hands.
On Good Friday, he is rejected by the systems of justice he established, the Gentiles for which he was dying, and the Jewish people for and among whom he had acted and spoken for millennia. He is nailed to a cross in shame and torment.
But on that Friday, he is forgiving towards those that have forsaken him–both Gentiles and Jews–for they knew not what they did.
Now let’s look at Thursday specifically. The crowning moment of this day was the institution of the Lord’ Supper. But look at the scene:
While they were eating, Jesus took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to his disciples, saying, “Take it; this is my body.” Then he took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave it to them, and they all drank from it. “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many,” he said to them. “Truly I tell you, I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.”
When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’’ –Mark 14:22-27
Jesus prepares those disciples that would forsake him by nourishing and strengthening them by giving of himself in Communion with them. But not only that; it seems that the Jesus we love and serve is a God that when we are but two verses away from forsaking him, he is still singing and sharing a meal with us.
And most ultimately, the way that God graciously answers our guaranteed forsaking of Him is by experiencing what it is like to forsake Jesus Himself. At the cross, we see God forsake God.
Therefore, in His Grace, God has now made forsaking Him part of the Divine experience. And so, even in their sin and forsaking of Christ, the true disciple is not gone from the presence of God, but he is in fact participating in the very experience of God Himself.
God knows what it is like to forsake God. He has undergone it, but the good news is this: after Friday, Sunday came. God forsook God and came out the other side having both tasted it and conquered it on our behalf. The forsakenness of God is not the end of the story! God himself experiences and purchases for us what the true disciples of God then live out
Just like God Himself, A disciple is not someone who never forsakes Jesus; it’s someone who, after forsaking him, comes back.
I pray this encourages and helps strengthen us in those moments and seasons we find ourselves having turned our backs on Christ. For in the story of Holy Week, we see that Jesus relates to those that forsake him not in condemnation, not in fear, and not requiring more from them, but in graciously loving them, forgiving them, singing with them, eating with them, communing with them, accomplishing salvation for them, and tasting and conquering this forsakenness for them.
So far we’ve seen that we all forsake Jesus and we’ve seen how Jesus is gracious to those in the story that have and will forsake him. On Monday, we’ll look at what this forsaking and restoration looks like in our lives, how we often respond to this grace, and how God sees our weakness. In the last post, we’ll talk about practical things God has given us to prepare his disciples for when Thursday comes.