"He spent His days in the Temple teaching but His nights out on the mountain called Olives. All the people were up at the crack of dawn to come to the Temple and listen to Him.
"The Feast of Unleavened Bread, also called Passover, drew near. The high priests and religion scholars were looking for a way to do away with Jesus but, fearful of the people, they were also looking for a way of covering their tracks.
"That's when Satan entered Judas, the one called Iscariot. He was one of the Twelve. Leaving the others, he conferred with the high priests and temple guards about how he might betray Jesus to them. They couldn't believe their good luck and agreed to pay him well. He gave them his word and started looking for a way to betray Jesus, but out of sight of the crowd." Luke 21:37-38; 22:1-6 (The Message).
The plot thickens, as they say!
How amazing that, in all of history, never had God and the devil worked so closely together to accomplish so daring a plan! Two opposing agendas meet and synchronise in the greatest drama the world has ever witnessed. God turns Satan's hand to be His unwitting accomplice in signing his own doom.
None of this would make sense had it not been for Isaiah's prophetic insight in predicting this event hundreds of years before it happened. "Yet it was the Lord's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand." Isaiah 53:10 (NIV).
Judas, one of Jesus' closest associates, conspired with His enemies to sell Him out. Why? We will never really know. His greed for money was in the plot, but there had to be something more sinister than that. Was Judas disillusioned with Jesus because He had not met his expectations?
In this mix of ordinary men there were different ambitions and aspirations. They had agreed that Jesus was the Messiah but what did that mean to them? Their many squabbles over their pecking order suggest that their concept of Messiah was political. They were hoping for the overthrow of Roman occupation and the re-establishment of David's glorious reign in a land that was their own and free. They were looking to Jesus to do something miraculous. Hadn't He proved His power over nature, demons, sickness and even the people who were trying to destroy Him? Surely Rome would be a pushover for someone as powerful as He had proved to be!
But, to Judas' frustration, Jesus gave no sign of making a move. He would have to orchestrate a showdown with Rome, and Pentecost was the most opportune time to do it because Jerusalem would be full of Jews from all over Israel, enough people to join Jesus in a successful uprising. If Jesus was cornered, would He strike out against His captors?
For the Jewish leaders, it was the perfect opportunity to get rid of Him. For God it was the perfect opportunity to set Jesus up as the sacrificial Passover Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. For Satan it was the perfect opportunity to bring his arch enemy down and hold him in his power forever through death.
Peter, on the day of Pentecost, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, masterfully brings these agendas together and lays the responsibility for Jesus' death on the shoulders of the Jews, but under the direction of God Himself. No novelist could have imagined a plot like that for a good story! It had to be God.
"'This man was handed over by God's set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised Him from the dead, freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on Him...Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." Acts 2:23-24; 36 (NIV).
On December 11th,1845, James Lowell published these words as the last verse of an anti-slavery hymn.
"Though the cause of evil prosper, yet 'tis truth alone is strong;
Though her portion be the scaffold and upon the throne be wrong;
Yet that scaffold sways the future, and behind the dim unknown
Standeth God within the shadow, keeping watch above His own."
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