In human justice systems, the innocent are sometimes wrongly punished, while the wicked sometimes escape, or even prosper. The greatest example of justice gone awry would have to be the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus – the only truly innocent man who ever lived.
But Jesus’ death was only a great injustice in one sense. In another, it was a perfect execution of justice against sin by a righteous and holy God. In Jesus’ death, we see both justice and injustice, love and wrath, righteous judgment and abounding mercy.
Chapter One: The Plot to Kill Jesus
The Jewish people have often been blamed for the murder of Jesus. While the Jews cannot escape their partial culpability, there were many different people and factions that conspired together to bring about Jesus’ death. The cross was a Roman invention and method of execution, a sentence handed down by a Roman Governor. Judas, full of jealousy and greed, had decided to betray his rabbi. But the human factions and personalities were not the primary forces at work. The sovereign plan of God was to make Jesus the sacrificial payment for sin.
The timing of the crucifixion was also of great significance. Other attempts on Jesus’ life had been unsuccessful, because it was not yet Jesus’ time to die. His death ultimately occurred at Passover, when the sacrificial lambs were slain as atonement for sin. John 1:29 describes Christ as “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” Through the responsible factions and the timing involved, every detail of the plot to kill Jesus demonstrates the sovereignty of God.
Chapter Two: The Last Passover
At Passover, each Jewish family would have prepared one unblemished lamb for sacrifice. MacArthur says that Jesus and his disciples would have done this as well. But this final Passover meal that Jesus shared with His disciples was of great significance, because it was the last one sanctioned by God. This Passover would be the institution of a New Covenant.
When Jesus took the bread, saying, “this is my body,” he was not indicating that the bread and wine would literally become his body and blood. Rather, He was reminding his disciples that He was the “bread of life.” His sacrifice would be the provision for their eternal life. When Jesus took the cup, saying, “this is My blood,” he was teaching His disciples that His blood signified a New Covenant.
At the conclusion of the supper, Jesus prayed a beautiful prayer, recorded in John 17. In it, He prayed not only for his disciples who were present, but for the entire future church. He asked the Father for protection, sanctification, unity, and future glorification for all believers.
Chapter Three: A Warning Against Over-Confidence
When the disciples heard Jesus say that they would deny him, they couldn’t bear the news. They all pledged their loyalty, stating they would go to prison and even death with Jesus. MacArthur points out that they were trusting in their own strength and determination. Jesus prayed that their faith wouldn’t fail.
During the events of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion, the disciples’ faith did falter, but they did not fall away. They went on to lead the early church successfully, as bold and fearless leaders. They didn’t shrink back from their own call to suffer – eventually facing persecution and even death. We see a great example of this change in the disciples at Pentecost, where their trust was fully in the Lord.
Chapter Four: The Agony in the Garden
We sometimes forget that while Jesus was fully divine, he was also fully human. MacArthur reminds us that this perfect arrangement of one person and two natures is critical for the One who is our Savior. He took on human form, was tempted as we are, suffered as we suffer, and yet remained sinless. He also had to be fully human in order to be a substitute for our atonement.
Jesus prayed that the Father would let “this cup” pass by. “The cup” was the wrath of God poured out against sin. Jesus knew that the pain of crucifixion would not be the only agony he would experience. Rather, the greatest pain in all of history would be the tearing apart of the perfect relationship of the Father and Son. Jesus ended his prayer with “Your will be done,” a beautiful reflection of his submission to the Father’s will.
In this determined obedience, Jesus would perfectly fulfill his part in God’s plan to bring eternal life to those who trust Him.