“Jesus again said to them, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep…I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture…I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep…I lay down my life that I may take it up again…Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends…By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.” (John 10:7-11, 17; 15:13; 1 John 3:16)
Tonight, Christians all over the world will celebrate Maundy Thursday, the night Jesus ate his last supper with his disciples. It was the Passover, so they were celebrating the traditional service as Jesus shared the bread and wine, instructing his disciples to practice the custom, to remember him until he returns (Luke 22:19-20). Jesus went to the garden to pray, knowing that he was about to be arrested and then crucified. He prayed, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Who among us can imagine the agony of his soul and the joy of his Spirit? The greatest act of love was about to transpire with the greatest pain any human being would ever endure.
You and I could probably rehearse all his painful physical, emotional, and spiritual trials that night and the next day. We know that our Good Shepherd was abandoned by friends and disciples before his crucifixion, and then by the Father, during it. What we don’t know how to describe, though, is the mixture of pain and joy he had in light of the magnitude of the gift he was giving us; “…for the joy that was set before him endured the cross” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus did everything with divine dignity. In “Joy Beyond Agony,” Jane Roach writes: “He faced his betrayer and the armed crowd with sovereign dignity. His actions showed that he was giving them permission to arrest him. He allowed Judas to kiss him, graciously calling him ‘friend.’ He approached them, asking whom they sought. When they answered, ‘Jesus of Nazareth,’ he responded, ‘I am he (literally ‘I am’). His words were so powerful that they drew back and fell to the ground. They were unable to stand in the face of his power and majesty.”*
“God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) How do we show our love for Christ? Today, perhaps it will be in part by meditating on his humble, painful, sacrificial, dignified, joyful, generous gift of suffering for our eternal freedom from sin’s condemnation. No matter how much we know about our Lord’s passion night, we can be united to him more deeply to prize him more highly.
“The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads 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.” (Psalm 23:1-4)
* Roach, Jane, “Joy Beyond Agony, Embracing the Cross of Christ,” P&R Publishing 2015, page 106.