On a Thursday night, they gathered to eat the Passover, the annual celebration of God’s rescuing the Jewish people from slavery in Egypt. During that eventful evening, Jesus washes the feet of his disciples (providing the great example of love and service), Judas commits to betraying the Lord (and leaves to carry out the act), the remaining eleven express their anxiety and fears, and Jesus comforts his friends with the promise of the Holy Spirit. Soon they will leave him to suffer alone, but Jesus tells them in advance what will happen, so that when the hour comes, they will remember and their faith will not be restored.
In our study of John’s biography of the Messiah, we are at chapter 18. The Passover table now holds only cold scraps; the teaching is complete; the voice of the High Priest is silent; the last Psalm has been sung. After a season of sequestered safety and security, Jesus steps back into the flow of space and time, which immediately sweeps him toward the cross. I will read the first 11 verses of John 18.
[Read John 18.1-11. Pray.]
William Ernest Henley’s poem, Invictus, expresses the hope many people have for control over their lives:
Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody, but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the Horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds, and shall find, me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate:
I am the captain of my soul.
Young people often believe themselves masters of their own fate, able to manipulate situations to obtain the results they desire, regardless of the “fell clutch of circumstance.” Most of us, however, eventually realize that we have less control than we wish. The educational opportunities we have, the place and parents to whom we are born, the way we were raised, even the color of our skin – these affect greatly the choices we are presented with and the outcomes which are possible.
Now because we are so constrained by conditions beyond our control, some suggest that the same was true for Jesus. He was, after all (so the reasoning goes), merely a man. He had high hopes, but the government in Rome and the religious authorities in Jerusalem conspired against him, sweeping away his dreams in an early and unfortunate death.
Albert Schweitzer was one who thought Jesus was overcome by circumstances beyond his control. In his 1906 book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus, Schweitzer said: “There is silence all around. The Baptist appears, and cries: ‘Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.’ Soon after that comes Jesus, who lays hold of the wheel of the world to set it moving on that last revolution which is to bring all ordinary history to a close. It refuses to turn, and he throws himself upon it. Then it does turn; and crushes him. Instead of bringing in the eschatological conditions, he has destroyed them. The wheel rolls onward, and the mangled body of the one immeasurably great Man, who was strong enough to think of himself as the spiritual rule of mankind and to bend history to his purpose, is hanging upon it still.”