During His three years of public life, we find Our Lord preaching His gospel to the Jews, confirming it by miracles, and recruiting and forming a number of chosen followers among whom twelve take a prominent place. His fame spread throughout the whole country, He spoke as one having power and authority and His influence became so great, that the Pharisees and Scribes, fearing for their own position, began to plot against Him. But the Jews began to hope that He was the deliverer for whom they had waited so long. To understand their attitude we should remember that the tradition of a Redeemer to come had been confirmed and developed by a long line of prophets sent by God – but in the minds of an oppressed people, suffering under the foreign yoke of the Romans, it had taken on a more political colour. Among the Jews in the time of our Lord, there was a widely spread hope of a redeemer who would come as a king to free Israel from its subjection and restore the ancient kingdom of the Jews. The religious and political aspects of this redemption could be found mingled in varying proportions in many minds. Despite our Lord’s insistence upon the true nature of His kingdom, even His own chosen twelve apostles, who were so closely associated with Him, did not escape from the popular error. When Our Lord began to speak of His own death as a criminal on the cross, consternation took hold of them, so much so, that Peter, who was to be the head of His followers, remonstrated with His Master and earned a sharp rebuke from the lips of Christ.
The triumphal entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday seemed to lend colour to the Jewish hopes of national deliverance – the people acclaimed Him as their king and gave Him a public reception of such enthusiasm that it only needed a definite sign from Him to start a general movement for national deliverance.
To us, it might seem that this was the opportune occasion to seize temporal power as a means to building up a spiritual empire. Such was not our Lord’s plan, nor were these developments anything but an accidental result of His policy. All His work was directed quite differently. The kingdom of God, He preached, is within you (Luke 17:21). In fact, when one remembers who our Lord really was, and what infinite power was at His disposal, the whole wonder of His public life is not the marvelous works He actually did, but the many and more wonderful works which He could have done and did not do. And one gets the impression that, throughout all this period, His chief desire was to press on to the final stage of His life – that the works of His public ministry formed but a small part of His plan, a part perfectly performed, but still something that He seemed to have far less at heart than the final stage – the baptism wherewith He was to be baptized (Luke 12:50) – and to which He hurries on, if one may say so, with the impatience of a lover.
Our standards cannot be adopted to measure this period, of which certain things are noteworthy. He wrote nothing with His pen – He shared the work of preaching with His disciples and eventually left the whole of that ministry to them – great as were the works which He performed, His disciples were to do still greater – the one pre-eminence He seemed determined to reserve for Himself was that of suffering. Looking at His work as it appeared on the day of His death, it seemed to have been a complete failure. The crowds who had acclaimed Him on the previous Sunday, are replaced on Friday by a mob who clamor for His death. The thousands who heard Him and saw His wonderful miracles, and who were helped by Him and healed by Him, seem to have disappeared. At His death on the cross we find only His Mother, one of the apostles, a few faithful women – and in a crowd, a few of His followers, whose eminence, perhaps, gave them courage to be present. He Himself is branded as an impostor, disgraced as a criminal, and put to a death that carries with it the stigma of the deepest degradation.
All this is part of a plan, but the plan is one which shatters our standards of value. On that very end of our Lord’s life, which material standards condemn as a complete failure, the whole history of the human race hangs in eternal dependence. Since our Lord was God, since the Person who acted and suffered in the human nature of Christ, was divine, all His acts were of infinite value. Had God so willed, any single one of them, however small, would have been more than sufficient to satisfy for the sins of the world and to redeem all men. Yet God’s love had decided otherwise. For His own wise reasons, to help men to understand the enormity of sin, to win their confidence and their love, and to show them His own immense love and desire for their happiness, God had decreed that the salvation of the world would be purchased by the Passion and Death of His Son.
(I will not be at the computer throughout Holy Week. God bless you all).