During Holy Week 2014, I am revisiting a series of podcasts first published at The Rabbit Room in 2009. I listened to these ten episodes during the days leading up to Easter a few years ago, and was impressed by contributor Russ Ramsey and his engaging insight into scripture.
The messages focus on the last week of Jesus’ earthly ministry—Palm Sunday through Easter Sunday—examining the validity of Jesus’ claim that no one would take His life from Him, but that He’d lay it down of His own accord, and take it up again on the third day (John 10:18, Mark 10:34).
I plan to journal my thoughts here as I study and pray my way through this week, preparing my heart for this year’s Easter celebration. I don’t intend for this to be a summary of the teaching, so my comments will make more sense if you have listened to the original podcast. Please feel free to join in and respond along with me.
Just as The Rabbit Room chose a selection of ten messages* for the sake of space and timing, I am combining several messages into one response both today and tomorrow. Today I am responding to these messages on Thursday’s events: “Betrayal,” which covers interactions during the Last Supper in the Upper Room (John 13:21-30); “Doxology,” exploring the time immediately following the Last Supper when the disciples accompanied Jesus to the garden. (Matthew 26:30-35); and “Reckoning,” which compares the denial by Peter and the demise of Judas (Matthew 26:69-27:10).
There are many nuggets to be gleaned from passage studied in “Betrayal,” but not much that I hadn’t considered before. I do enjoy Ramsey’s storytelling ability to set a scene and bind all the pieces together, and that framing is what I benefited most from in this message. Being able to connect dots and notice obscure details has really enhanced my reading.
Ramsey teaches about the events in the Upper Room from John’s Gospel for a specific reason–John offers information that is not available to the other disciples. (I really appreciate how Ramsey constantly helps us pull the thread together from all the Gospels.) John’s perspective is important because he was sitting right beside Jesus at the table. While the others were asking who the betrayer was that Jesus spoke of, John was close enough for Jesus to share that He would identify the traitor by offering the man a piece of bread.
And when Judas left, it seems that only Jesus and John and Judas understood what he was going to do. John saw the moment unfold, and writes about it with poetic flourish. As a writer, I love that Ramsey highlights how John paints a word picture with lots of texture.
“Judas went out and it was night.” I had always read this in a direct manner, thinking that it only referred to the time of day. But John is the one who writes with the metaphor of light and dark throughout his gospel, and he uses it again, here. His description portrays a man who was abandoning the Light of the World to step irreversibly out into Darkness.
Judas was under the influence of Satan, and the disturbing thing is that no one, not even those closest to him, suspected a thing. When Jesus told his disciples that one among them would betray Him, nobody pointed a finger at Judas. From every outward appearance, he was someone who had an intimate relationship with Jesus. An analysis of the why behind his actions would be complex (and Ramsey dips a toe in), but the simple truth is that none of us is above the worst transgressions against Christ.
The next message, “Doxology,” is my favorite in the series so far. Ramsey centers his teaching around just a few words at the beginning of this passage in Matthew, and the acuity he draws out of that phrase completely arrested my heart. “And when they had sung a hymn…” How had I never paused to notice these remarkable words before? This detail appears in Mark’s gospel as well, and had never once lingered long enough on the opening clause to even remember it as a part of the story.
What must that have been like? The room tense with echo of bickering disciples and predictions of betrayal, Jesus feeling the pressure of the conflict that has been building all week and the pain He knows He will have to endure, and then He leads them in singing. John tells us that Jesus was troubled when he sat down to the Last Supper and by the time He gets to the garden, Luke shares that he is sweating blood. Yet in the middle of His obvious distress, He does not let His mood determine His actions. Like I do. All the time. When life is hard, it’s tempting to give in and say, “I don’t feel like it.”
But Jesus is relentlessly faithful, unfaltering in His strength, and unflinching in His resolve to complete His mission. All week long, He never missteps or loses control of the situation. And when it comes time to sing a hymn at the end of the meal, He does not shy away because He is upset. He draws near to His loving Father and sings.
Apparently, historians and scholars think that this song was most likely Psalm 118. The refrain of this doxology is repeated throughout: “His steadfast love endures forever.”
Ramsey asks us to imagine Jesus singing these words just before heading out to be arrested.
22 The stone the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;
23 the Lord has done this,
and it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 The Lord has done it this very day;
let us rejoice today and be glad.
25 Lord, save us!
Lord, grant us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
29 Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
his love endures forever.
I just can’t even.
I feel like I could, and perhaps should, stop there and let that simmer for awhile. But the verses that follow are profound, as well. As the disciples walk with Jesus the couple of miles to the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives, they have a short conversation that demonstrates the heart of the Gospel.
A straightforward reading of the text appears to be a simple prediction: the disciples will all fall away from Jesus, He will die, and then when He is risen He will meet them again. And then we see their expected protests in loyalty. But Ramsey points out that Jesus is doing more than accusing them of stumbling. He caring for and preparing His followers for what will come. Instilling in them the promise that though they will fail, their failure will not be enough to overrule His call on their life. He will be waiting for them with loving open arms on the other side of their mistakes.
This is the Gospel message: our need for Him and His unconditional love.
Ramsey’s teaching includes a thought-provoking discussion on the heart behind the protests of the disciples, particularly Peter’s tacky response that reveals his conceit. The concept he introduces of “the sin of exceptionalism” is one that is too big for my thoughts to fit here, but it boils down to this: “When we imagine ourselves to be stronger than God’s Word says we are, we put ourselves in a position to reject the counsel of His Word because we expect from ourselves something that is different than what His Word says we should expect.” I may write a whole post on how that Truth has affected my approach to God, my life, and my walk with Him.
The comparison of Peter’s denial and Judas’s betrayal in “Reckoning” is an interesting discussion, and one that prompted a sincere reflection on the state of my own heart–but one that will probably remain in my handwritten journal. I think each of us might find some familiarity and conviction in the lessons found there.
Ramsey has done an excellent job, in my opinion, of connecting each message to his main thesis–that Jesus laid down His life of His own accord; it was not taken from Him–while also pulling out hard-hitting personal application that compels you to consider your own attitudes toward your relationship with Christ.
* If you’re listening along, then you might have noticed that some messages seem to be missing from this ten-podcast series. He often refers to previous passages that are not included in the Rabbit Room presentation, and from his comments about the timing and intentions for the series I deduced that the total count should be somewhere around 28 messages–meaning I was missing out on the majority of the teaching. There is so much gold in these ten episodes, and I really enjoy his storytelling and reverence for scripture, so I decided to do some sleuthing. I was able to locate the entire 26-week series on the Oak Hills Presbyterian Church’s website, and plan to listen to the remaining messages as I can. Maybe I will even fill in the gaps in these Holy Week response posts in another year.
*original image by bp.blogspot.com