BETRAYED BUT DESERVING
Written by Doug Ponder on March 24, 2013
Jesus in Jerusalem
Imagine standing there with the crowds as Jesus of Nazareth came riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. Do you recall how, a few years ago, we were just beginning to wonder if what he said could be true, just beginning to whisper about whether or not God’s promises would be fulfilled through him?
We are not wondering and whispering anymore. We have heard his teaching. We have seen his miracles. We have witnessed the change in the lives of those who meet him. Surely Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah, the one who comes to restore our fortunes and rescue us from our enemies.
But how will he do this?
He hasn’t come on a war house; he’s riding a donkey. Plus, he’s got no army with him, just a dozen uneducated peasants, mostly unarmed. And come to think of it, he hasn’t said anything about restoring the temple to its former glory. There are even rumors that he might tear it down and raise it up again in three days, whatever that means.
But he must be the Messiah. He’s got to be. He is so different from the others who have come before him. Well, I suppose we’ll find out soon enough.
And with those words, you and I leave the crowds, leave the celebration, and walk back to our homes, hopeful but hesitant, since the best chance we’ve got for deliverance seems so unlike the kind of Messiah we were expecting.
When What You Want Ain’t What You Need
How you think of your problem or your need directly impacts what kind of hope or deliverance you are expecting. If you think, for example, that your main problem with your misbehavior is your environment, you might think that merely changing the setting will solve your troubles. (It never does, by the way.) Or let’s say you think that your greatest problem, your biggest threat, are people who are trying to hurt you or oppose you in some way. You will think that “salvation” means being rescued or removed from the influence and power of such people.
Many of the Jewish people celebrating Jesus’ return to Jerusalem probably thought of their problems in this way. The Romans were their biggest threat—or so they thought—and what they needed was someone who could kick the bad guys out of the promised land.
This is why Jesus’ entry was celebrated with such enthusiasm. Most of the people probably never dreamed that the Messiah, the one who would rescue them from their troubles, would do so in the way that Jesus did. Perhaps they were expecting the wrong kind of deliverance, all because they had the wrong assumptions about their deepest need and biggest problem.
John makes it clear in our passage, however, exactly what Jesus came to do. He came to reverse the curse of sin and death, and, in so doing, he accomplished salvation for his people.
God with Us Means Jesus in Place of Us
The first man and woman were created by God to be his representatives in the world. (That’s what being made in the image of God means.) They were like kings who were given dominion over God’s world and priests who were entrusted with caring for God’s world through service. But instead of representing God as faithful kings and priests, they turned their backs on him in a disastrous act of betrayal. In that moment everything began to unravel, starting with humanity’s relationship with God, and spiraling out into our relationship with each other and our relationship with the world that God has made (Gen. 3:1-19).
If we are going to be “saved” in any meaningful sense of the word, we’ll need to be restored to what God originally intended for us. Sin, which ruins our relationship with God, and death, which brings an end to the life that God has given us, will need to be reversed. That was the mission of Jesus. He came to seek and save that which was lost: faithful image-bearing representatives of God.
So when John records that Jesus crossed the brook in the valley of Kidron on his way into Jerusalem, he wanted us to see something that is easy to miss if we’re not paying attention. Jesus was reversing what had happened in that place many centuries ago.
The valley of Kidron was were David fled from his son, fearing for his life. Instead of fulfilling his kingly duties, David temporarily abandoned the throne and fled from his enemies.
Yet Jesus is the true and better King. When he crossed the valley of Kidron, he went to Jerusalem to face his enemies, not to flee from them. He went to Jerusalem knowing that death awaited him, and he went there to rescue his people from far worse enemies than the Romans: sin and death.
The valley of Kidron was also were the priests in Israel had once been called to account for their sins of idolatry. They were stripped of their responsibilities, and the ashes of their burnt idols were dumped in the brook.
Yet Jesus is the true and better Priest. When he crossed the valley of Kidron, he went to Jerusalem as the faithful priest who spent his entire life serving God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus faithfully represented God in every way, and thus he fulfilled our sacred priestly duty on our behalf.
But he wasn’t finished yet. Jesus knew that justice is necessary for real forgiveness and reconciliation. If left to face the justice of God on our own, however, we would perish. So Jesus took that on himself, too.
Jesus knew those brief hours he spent in the garden of Gethsemane were going to be some of his last. Though he was the only person deserving of life, Jesus was betrayed and handed over to death. Like his Father before him, Jesus was betrayed by humanity in a garden. But while Adam and Eve were banished for their betrayal of God, Jesus himself chose to be cast out so that undeserving people could be brought in. In every way, Jesus reversed the curse, becoming the true and better king and priest that we were called to be (but haven’t been), and taking our punishment upon himself so that we might be freed from sin and death.
That’s what he meant by “drinking the cup” (John 18:11). He was talking about the cup of God’s righteous anger against the all the harm that sin and evil has done to his people and his world. Jesus volunteered to take that upon himself, drinking the cup of God’s wrath down to the dregs. There is no condemnation left for those who are in Christ (Rom. 8:1).
Maybe that’s why Jesus told Peter that he didn’t have to fight back at the soldiers. Jesus knew that one of two things would happen with the evil the soldiers were committing in taking away an innocent man: either those men would have to face God’s wrath for sins like the one they were committing, or else Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection would absolve their responsibility for the evil they were committing. There are no other options for us, either. Our sins are either dealt with completely by the work of Jesus, or else we are choosing (by rejecting his offer to be our representative) to face the wrath of God for all that we’ve done against him, against others, and against his world.
Jesus was betrayed, but deserving of better. Our lives don’t render us deserving of anything, but we stand to gain everything because of Jesus. That’s the glory of the gospel.
For Your Consideration
Do you see the beauty and significance of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection as your representative? What might that mean for your life today?
How goes the good news of what Jesus has done enable us to “die to self” (turn away from selfishness) and live for him?
If Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection are substituted for yours, how does this change your guilt before God or your urge to defend yourself before others?
How should we respond knowing that Jesus has drunk the cup of God’s wrath on our behalf? In what ways do you find yourself still trying to bear this cup on your own accord?
Doug Ponder is one of the founding pastors of Remnant Church in Richmond, VA, where he serves in many of the church’s teaching ministries. He has contributed to several published works and is the author of Rethink Marriage & Family. His interests include the intersection of theology, ethics, and the Christian life. Follow him on Twitter @dougponder.