Apostle Barbara Childress
The Son affirms the cross: from Gethsemane to Golgotha
It might seem as if the Lord Jesus finally ceased affirming the cross when he was at last arrested and taken away, and that he became entirely passive from that moment until he burst from the grave in glorious resurrection life.
There is, of course, a sense in which Jesus was passive during those hours. The prophecy of Isaiah said that he would be 'led as a lamb to the slaughter' and would be as 'a sheep before its shearers' (Isaiah 53:7). That is passivity. But we err if we understand Jesus' passivity to be that of a helpless victim. Jesus was passive because he chose to be, not because he had to be. He could at any time have brought the whole process to a speedy end. Each time he refused to do so he mightily affirmed his death on the cross.
Even when it appears as if the Jews were in charge, or Pilate was in charge, or the Romans were in charge, the truth is that Jesus was still in charge. He once said, 'I lay down my life that I may take it again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from my Father' (John 10:17-18).
What appears to be weakness in those last few hours before the cross was, then, actually power. It was Jesus exerting his power to lay down his life. We see him exerting the power of restraint so that in a marvelous way men could have their way with him and, at the same time, fulfil the plan of God. That power is manifested at each step of the way - during the arrest itself, during the trials and during the cruel mockery of the soldiers.
Jesus accepts Judas' kiss
The first example of Jesus' actively restraining himself occurs when the arresting mob, led by Judas Iscariot, put in an appearance at the garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus knew what was coming. A few hours earlier he had announced to his disciples that one of them would betray him. He had looked at Judas and said, 'What you do, do quickly' (John 13:27). When Judas came towards him, Jesus knew the kiss of betrayal was at hand, but he did not resist it. It was part of the road to the cross.
Jesus rebukes Simon Peter
There in the garden Jesus openly expressed his restraint. When the arresting mob, led by Judas, appeared to arrest Jesus, Simon Peter began to wield his sword and succeeded only in cutting off the ear of a poor servant (who was there, not by choice, but because his master required it). Jesus quickly reattached the ear and rebuked Simon: 'Put your sword in its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Or do you think that I cannot now pray to my Father, and he will provide me with more than twelve legions of angels?' (Matthew 26:52-53).
Imagine what short work twelve legions of angels would have made of the blood thirsty mob! But the angels did not come because their Lord and Master did not command them to come. Even though he was facing the unspeakable agony of drinking the cup of God's wrath against sin, he did not issue that command. What incredible restraint!
Jesus is bound
After Jesus healed the ear of the servant, the men who had come to arrest him stepped forward and bound him (John 18:12). And Jesus allowed himself to be bound. He did not have to be bound. When the mob had first arrived in the garden, Jesus had stepped forward to meet them and asked, 'Whom are you seeking?' They had answered, 'Jesus of Nazareth,' and Jesus had responded, 'I am he.' Those words had been enough to make them all draw back and fall to the ground (John 18:4-6). If the mere words of Jesus could flatten a snarling mob, we may rest assured Jesus did not have to be bound.
It is striking that Jesus, stepping forward and identifying himself, placed himself between his disciples and the mob and said, 'Let these go their way...' (John 18:8). What a glorious picture of the cross! There Jesus stood between his people and the penalty for their sins so they might go free.
The restraint Jesus exercised in his arrest is also on display in his trials before the Jewish and Roman authorities. At any point in the proceedings, Jesus could have completely confounded his judges and refuted the false charges brought against him, but he only responded when his Messiahship was challenged. Why? These trials were designed by men to issue in the crucifixion of Jesus and that was nothing less than the plan of God the Father. Jesus would not, therefore, do anything to frustrate the plans of the authorities.
Pilate, amazed that Jesus was so uncooperative, thundered, 'Do you not know that I have power to crucify you, and power to release you?' (John 19:10). Pilate knew full well the horrid sufferings involved in death by crucifixion and assumed Jesus would want to do everything possible to avoid it. Little did he know that Jesus was in fact deliberately and consciously cooperating with him and with the Jewish authorities in order to bring that crucifixion about, or that his cooperation with Pilate reflected an even higher level of cooperation - that is, with God the Father.
By the way, while Jesus remained silent in the face of much of what was said to him during these trials, he did not let Pilate's comment pass, but told him, 'You could have no power at all against me unless it had been given you from above' (John 19:11).
The mockery and beating
The restraint shown by Jesus during his arrest and trials is an astonishing thing. What provocation he endured! But the most amazing display of his restraint came when Jesus was handed over to the Roman soldiers.
First came the scourging. William Hendriksen describes this punishment in this way: 'The Roman scourge consisted of a short wooden handle to which several thongs were attached, the ends equipped with pieces of lead or brass and with sharply pointed bits of bone. The stripes were laid especially on the victim's back, bared and bent. Generally two men were employed to administer this punishment, one lashing the victim from one side, one from the other side, with the result that the flesh was at times lacerated to such an extent that deep-seated veins and arteries, sometimes even entrails and inner organs, were exposed.' Needless to say, this punishment was so severe that it often caused the victim to die before he could be crucified.
In addition to this, the soldiers repeatedly struck Jesus in the face with their fists. Isaiah predicted that this beating would be so severe that those who looked upon the Messiah would be 'astonished' and said that, as a result of his beating, 'His visage was marred more than any man' (Isaiah 52:14). This prophecy means that the face of Jesus was so marred and disfigured that he did not even appear to be a man.
Never did anyone face more extreme provocation. Never was there such cruelty. But Jesus endured it, not just as a passive victim, but as one actively pursuing the course assigned to him by God the Father. As he endured this horrible scourging and beating, Jesus fulfilled another of Isaiah's prophecies:
Our Lord could have called it to a halt. He could have destroyed his tormentors with one word. But he actually gave his back to those who scourged him and refused to hide his face from their fists.
The road from Gethsemane to Golgotha was the last leg of that journey that began in eternity past. All that Jesus could have done and refused to do on that last leg constitutes an additional affirmation of the cross.
JOURNEY TO THE CROSS, by Roger Ellsworth, Copyright 1997, EVANGELICAL PRESS.