During a grad school class in Neuropsychology, my classmates and I received an unusual invitation from the professor who asked if any of us wanted to observe a brain surgery procedure at the local hospital. He was obviously proud to be offering this unique opportunity, and it was pretty clear that those who joined in would be viewed favorably when it was time to evaluate our performance. It was just as obvious that some in the class were struggling with it and didn’t quite know how to respond. I wasn’t one of them. My decision was just as effortless as if somebody had found a dead possum on the road and asked me if I’d like to see what it tasted like. No struggle for me at all. There are some things most of us would prefer not to look at directly if we can avoid it.
Not a Good Idea ~
Among those things that most of us would prefer not to observe, or in some cases even imagine, are the things Jesus had to endure prior to Easter morning . . . but avoiding them is not a good idea. The truth is, yielding to my self-indulgent preferences to decline the professor’s invitation back then turned out not to be a good idea either. I turned away from an experience that might have equipped me with better understanding about how our brains work. Beyond that, I would almost certainly have left the hospital with a more profound appreciation for the incredible genius of the God who designed our brains in the first place. The experience might also have produced a greater sense of empathy for some of those I’d be trying to serve later.
When we honestly attempt to envision the abuse Jesus suffered, the images of what He endured even before the nails were driven through His flesh, make us want to turn our heads and shrink away in shock. A sense of horror creeps in along with the frightening reminder that the human capacity for inflicting unspeakable cruelty on one another is virtually limitless. Jesus’ physical suffering is an indispensable part of the vicarious sacrifice for sin that He became on our behalf. We will address that more directly in a later article in this series, but for now, we want to focus on a different kind of torture.
Unseen Devastation ~
Before Jesus ever felt the thorns pierce His brow or the scourge whips rip through his back, He had to endure the most painful and destructive thing that can happen to a love relationship . . . the awful internal torture of rejection and betrayal. Betrayal may not pierce our physical heart, but it can rip through our spiritual heart like a double-edged sword. Betrayal doesn’t bruise our body, but it can pummel our emotions and reduce us to a quivering mass of shock and grief. Betrayal doesn’t break our bones, but it can break us down inside until we’re too weak to stand. Betrayal may not crush our skull, but it can burn through our mind like a searing flame. Betrayal doesn’t leave physical scars, but its impact can leave indelible marks on our life. The wounds of betrayal are made even more agonizing when we discover that the hand holding the dagger that stabbed us doesn’t belong to an enemy. Instead, it’s in the hand of someone we’ve loved and trusted.
The devil wanted to destroy Jesus’ body . . . That is undeniable. After all, Jesus’ untainted, undefiled body was more than a living affront to Satan’s claims. It was an existential threat to his dominant role in the world. Jesus’ physical presence in the world put Satan’s kingdom and everything he claimed as his own in dire jeopardy. But what the devil wanted even more than destroying Jesus’ body was to destroy His relationships and the power they represented. He wanted to discredit the love and destroy the trust upon which they were built. Betrayal was his weapon of choice with which to attack both.
A Cascading Effect ~
Betrayal is a behavioral lie. When it’s inserted into a relationship, trust, which is based on truth, is dealt a debilitating blow. When trust dies, love, its integral partner, will wither and die along with it. Love and trust form the foundation upon which those primary relationships that God designed are built and through which all those things that contribute to our peace, our welfare, and our sense of fulfillment flow. After betrayal, unless love and trust are somehow restored, the relationship in which they flourished will be reduced to a lifeless empty shell, or discontinued altogether.
As Jesus prepared for the prelude to Easter, He was certainly aware that He would face horrendous physical abuse. It’s interesting, though, that the evidence offered by the Gospel writers seems to indicate that He rarely talked about it — and when He did, it was only in general terms. Matthew, Mark, and Luke, for instance, report that Jesus told his disciples that He would have to suffer many things (Matthew 16:21; Mark 8:31; Luke 9:22 NKJV), but offered no details other than that it would end in Jesus’ death. But the betrayal that preceded it all got a lot more attention. Matthew alone reports that Jesus talked with His disciples about it on at least 10 different occasions. Clearly, betrayal is not a minor issue with God.
The Devil Gets Personal ~
The direct activity of Satan highlights that assertion. Satan may have influenced the soldiers who brutally beat and abused Jesus, but he didn’t personally enter and possess any of them. The devil was doubtlessly guiding the priests, the crowd, Pontius Pilate, and others who conspired to have Jesus killed, but he didn’t directly invade and occupy any of their bodies. It was a different matter altogether, though, when he wanted to pierce the Savior’s spiritual and emotional heart. He got personally involved in order to ensure that Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve, one of the chosen ones, would be his means of launching his trusted and treasured tactic . . . betrayal.
Jesus’ preparation for Easter morning involved being rejected and betrayed. Our preparation involves recognizing that we are the guilty parties He suffered for. The joy of resurrection finds its basis in the knowledge that it was our sins that caused His pain and demanded His death. The more clearly we see our complicity in His suffering, the more honestly we can rejoice in His resurrection. While we may not see ourselves as guilty of doing physical violence to anyone, the issue of betrayal is a different matter. Every one of us has ruthlessly attacked Jesus’ heart, yet we tend not to think it’s a major transgression. But our behavioral lies and our many self-serving acts of betrayal have assaulted, wounded, and sometimes destroyed the things God treasures most. Wounded bodies can be healed, but the impact of betrayal is not so easily remedied.
Only One Means of Restoration ~
Forgiveness is the only means God ever designed for restoring relationships devastated by betrayal, and forgiveness demands more than physical sacrifices. Forgiveness is not just a word God speaks. It takes everything that love can produce. On both divine and human levels, forgiveness demands that the forgiver absorb all the external cost and internal pain inflicted by the offender. It’s the forgiver who must inhabit the empty void where intimacy and unity once lived. It’s the forgiver who must endure the sense of isolation and loneliness left in betrayal’s wake. It’s the forgiver who stands amid the wreckage of shattered hopes and dreams.
It’s the betrayed one who must pay the purchase price of forgiveness. The wounded one must suffer the loss, endure the death, and bury the relationship’s lifeless remains. That is the awful and unjust legacy that betrayal bestows, but Jesus proved there’s a force that refuses to stay buried . . . and therein lies our hope. Love may be wounded by betrayal, but it can rise again. When love unleashes its awesome, overcoming power, forgiveness comes to life, and with it comes the promise of beginning again. That’s what the One we betrayed did for us. Forgiveness came to life along with Him that Easter morning, and an eternal “beginning again” is available to all who trust Him as Savior.
Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life. (John 5:24 NKJV)
“TWEETABLES” ~ Click to tweet and share from the pull quotes below. Each one links directly back to this article through Twitter . . .
- “The wounds of betrayal are made even more agonizing when we discover that the hand holding the dagger that stabbed us doesn’t belong to an enemy. Instead, it’s in the hand of someone we’ve loved and trusted.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “What the devil wanted even more than destroying Jesus’ body was to destroy His relationships and the power they represented. He wanted to discredit the love and destroy the trust upon which they were built. Betrayal was his weapon of choice with which to attack both.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “Love and trust form the foundation upon which those primary relationships that God designed are built and through which all those things that contribute to our peace, our welfare, and our sense of fulfillment flow.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “The joy of resurrection is based in the knowledge that it was our sins that caused His pain and demanded Jesus’ death. The more clearly we see our complicity in His suffering, the more honestly we can rejoice in His resurrection.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
- “When love unleashes its awesome, overcoming power, forgiveness comes to life . . . and the promise of beginning again. That’s what the One we betrayed did for us. An eternal “beginning again” is available to all who trust Him as Savior.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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