It never struck me, quite the way it did this week, how very alone Jesus was as he went to the cross.
A couple friends and I are doing a Bible study through the Gospel of Mark. This week, we met to discuss chapter 14, verses 26–31. Jesus and his disciples had just finished the Passover meal, they sang the Passover hymn, and then they headed to the Mount of Olives. On the way, Jesus quoted to the disciples from the Prophet Zechariah, telling them, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’…” I’ve read that many times before, but it struck me with greater force this week as I noticed something in the sequence of events leading up to that statement.
The disciples had just finished eating the Passover meal for the last time as a ritual of expectation. The ritual which had been observed by God’s people for thousands of years, was on that night about to give way to reality. Anyone who knows me knows that I am quite passionate about the beauty of the Old Testament Law. The Law, in all its rituals and holiness, gives a profound theological blueprint of the king and kingdom God promised his people. And what struck me so forcefully in my study this week is the tragedy of what Mark is describing. Despite all the immense detail in the Law, and the centuries of preparation and instruction of God’s people—even having all the riches of the Hebrew Scriptures for all those ages leading up to that moment—when the night came for the actual atonement to occur, no one—not one single person—stood with Jesus. Despite all that preparation, even Peter utterly denied him. How very tragic.
But there is also a word of amazing comfort in that same passage. For after quoting Zechariah to his disciples, Jesus went on to promise them, “But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.” Here, in the hour of his great anguish when all the weight of eternity will fall upon his shoulders, Jesus is concerned about his disciples. And he tells them ahead of time that they will fall away, only to give them the further promise that he will nevertheless regather them to himself. Jesus is going to the cross alone, but he is not going to pay this great price for nothing. He takes full responsibility to go after his scattered disciples and gather them back to himself, even when they fail.
What a powerful word of assurance this is for us! And what a picture of the inability of any of us to believe, even having all the wisdom of the Scriptures, without Christ’s taking the initiative to draw us. Even with all the preparation and instruction of the whole Old Testament, not a single one of his disciples believed during that hour of atonement. But Jesus will nonetheless chase them down with his Word, adding his blessing to the Word in order to infallibly draw every one of his own to himself.
Faith truly is a gift from him. How grateful I am that Jesus is so patient and merciful in giving it.