Like a ski jumper heading for the great leap into the unknown, Jesus was now accelerating towards his crucifixion and resurrection, and his disciples were struggling to ‘keep up’. In Matthew 26:2, he states, almost matter-of-factly, that in two days he will be arrested and crucified. But first the scene shifts to the peaceful home of Simon the Leper, at Bethany, the same village where Lazarus, Martha and Mary lived. Simon MUST have been healed by Jesus since Jewish medical regulations simply would NOT have permitted him to mix in healthy society otherwise. What a great conversation-starter of a name to have! “Why are you called Simon the Leper when you are clearly healthy?” “Jesus healed me, of course!”.
John 12 tells us that they were invited too, in honour of Lazarus’ resurrection from death. A woman (Mary in John 12) opens a jar of very expensive perfume and pours it on Jesus as an act of worship. The disciples have clearly swallowed a ‘political correctness’ pill and start to gently rebuke Jesus (Judas being the ringleader) for being indulged at the expense of the poor. (If you want to know if a politician REALLY cares for the poor, then find out what he/she does with his/her OWN money first – before they get to decide how OUR money is spent!)
Jesus rebukes them in turn and explains that the poor will be around AFTER his death, resurrection, and ascension, and that Mary was correct in her priorities. Note that no-one else was pouring the perfume nor blessing the poor at that point, so what right did they have to criticise anyway! And Mary did what no-one else ever managed to do: she anointed the body of the Son of God for burial – whereas all the other women were too late by the time Easter Sunday had arrived. The take-home message from Jesus was that devotion to him is the more important action.
Judas showed his true mercenary ‘colours’ afterwards when he went to the chief priests and offered to betray Jesus in exchange for about £8,000 in today’s money. People (even Christians) who are obsessed with money will rarely make much spiritual progress and will often derail the progress made by others too. Love of money, or fear of its lack, are corrosive of our faith and begin to make our thought-life completely materialistic. The remedy is to force yourself to become a generous giver, relinquishing control over a substantial proportion of your income in favour of your spiritual home. ‘Giving’ is the antidote to greed and financial fear, in the same way that fasting is the antidote to gluttony.
Talking of food, after supper (THAT supper!), Jesus redefined the Jewish Passover Meal as a new covenant ritual. Participating in this – from that time onwards – ratifies your membership of the universal Body of Christ, worldwide and timeless. The covenant he refers to was spoken of by Jeremiah in 31:31-34; unconditional and irrevocable, we are the objects of the Father’s love and the recipients of his unlimited grace. Partaking of the bread and wine will pull tomorrow’s blessings into today and will revive for each of us the full benefits of the great covenant to which we are counterparties. Now THAT’s a good reason to take bread and wine!
Later, in the garden, Jesus began to experience the massive sorrow that comes with the awareness of impending death. He was as fully human and he was fully God, and so his emotions were at least as developed as ours. Crucifixion was something that every citizen ran a mile to avoid – for very good reason – since it was the most prolonged and painful death devised by any totalitarian regime on the planet. But Jesus also knew that, for him, the physical agony was the tip of the iceberg; separation from his infinitely loving Father, whose presence and love had always been there for him for all eternity, would be much more painful to his soul. Not surprisingly, that sorrow almost brought death itself to Jesus, as he anticipated its effects on him. “Father, if there is ANY other way…” he pleaded. But, of course, there wasn’t.
Yielding to the will of an evil superpower was part of the deal – even when you could have summoned up 72,000 angels as an impregnable defence! The scriptures had to be fulfilled, and the Servant had therefore to suffer. After a ridiculously incompetent trial, Jesus even had to incriminate himself in order to get the job done: “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One (Psalm 110:1) and coming on the clouds of heaven (Daniel 7:13)”. Good enough for the courts to convict of blasphemy – although there didn’t appear to be any provision in their regulations for the true Messiah to appear!
Peter, meanwhile, was scared. It is simple enough for us to condemn him for denying his Master, but fear makes you irrational and the truth expendable. Most of us would probably have succumbed to the same temptations levelled at our weak flesh, and most of us would have lied our way out of the situation. Peter had not yet received the Holy Spirit as we have now, so let’s not be judgmental until we have faced the same kind of persecutions ourselves.
EXODUS 4, 5, and 6
Sometimes you just need proof. You are a wanted so-called criminal, a known nationalist and a representative of a slave people, and God has requested that you seek an audience with the world ruler and ask him to put Egypt’s economy on hold for a few days while the slaves get a spot of R & R. Perhaps Moses had just dreamt about the burning bush or the call of God? Would even his own people believe him? So the Lord provided proof in the form of some rather cool tricks involving snakes, staves, hands, cloaks and river water; sometimes we need the miraculous to buttress our faith, particularly when things seem impossible or very scary. Do you ever ask the Lord for some miraculous signs? Perhaps you should!
Moses then became trapped in some false humility, claiming that he was a poor and incoherent public speaker, who was bound to mess up his errand. God points out that empowering his servants to do their jobs is not QUITE beyond him yet… and that it is not really down to Moses’ eloquence in any case. Moses refuses to bend and so God furiously appoints Aaron, his well-spoken yet wimpish brother to speak on Moses’ behalf, with Moses supplying the words and the miraculous deeds. Aaron will be just like Moses’ prophet. God then warns Moses (4:21) that all this speech and all those miracles will not change a thing, since He intends to harden Pharaoh’s heart to resist the command of God! Have a look at Romans 9:16-18 as a commentary upon this. (For future discussion!)
An extraordinary event occurs next, when God is within seconds of killing Moses for disobeying him by failing to circumcise his son, Gershom. His wife is, fortunately, pretty handy with a kitchen knife and before you could say ‘Methuselah’, she had severed the offending foreskin and offered it up to Moses as evidence! (By the way, if your bible says ‘feet’, that is just a polite euphemism for genitals!)
The Israelite elders were convinced by the miracles and agreed for Moses to pop the question to Pharaoh. Later, they wished he hadn’t! God wasn’t joking when he spoke about hardening Pharaoh’s heart and he clearly did a cracking good job of it. Pharaoh denounced the slaves as lazy, refused to sign their leave requests and started to demand that they search for their own straw to make the bricks, but without reducing their daily quotas. The elders complained to Moses and Moses complained to God. And God said that now he had Pharaoh exactly where he wanted him, so just be patient a little longer!
Verses 6 and 7 of chapter 6 are the basis for the Jewish Passover; four cups represent the four promises: Sanctification, Plagues, Redemption, and Completion. We are nearing the fulfilment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and Joseph. The Israelites were still unconvinced, because they were suffering so much – and suffering can certainly erode faith to some degree.
Chapter 6 ends with a short genealogy. It is significant that Levi, his son Kohath, and his son Amram all lived to a very old age of 130+ years. A long life was often indicative of the blessing of God, who later gave the Kohathites the honour of looking after the tabernacle furniture and altars. “With long life will I satisfy him and show him my salvation” (Ps 91).