Pascha and Easter: the dawn of our Exodus
By Raje Ballagan
Pascha and Easter: The Passion of Yeshua
How would we bear reflecting upon the unjust, lonely, cruel and slow trial of Yeshua if we were unable to look forward to reaching that mighty scripture, ‘He is not here, He is Risen!’ (Luke 24:6)?
The bible is a succinct narrative, focused on the truth not scene setting, drama and entertaining detail, so sometimes we can lose empathy in our reading, of the continual stresses and suffering that Yeshua endured under the persecution of the religious leaders, arrogance of society and ignorance of His own community.
However, even in our contemporary detachment, the reality of Yeshua’s life reaches out to touch the hardness of our hearts, when we approach the gospel accounts of His final days in Jerusalem; the overwhelming darkness of Gethsemane, the horror of the Sanhedrin’s imprisonment and mockery, and the cruelty and terror of colonial trial and crucifixion.
Standing inside the Praetorium in Jerusalem on a Chosen People Ministries UK tour in 2019, our tour leader explained that one of the few certainties about exact locations of gospel events, is the Praetorium; there is clear evidence to prove that this was indeed the Roman Court for trial before Pontius Pilate.
Looking at the stone walls inside the huge Roman complex, looking at the narrow streets of the Old town outside, I sensed the awe and horror of this reality that Yeshua faced 2000 years ago and overwhelmed, I asked Him, “Why!? Why did you go through all of this for us? We don’t deserve this sacrifice”.
I sensed an answer, it came with profound clarity and was immediate: “It was My passion”.
I was overwhelmed again with awe, but this time, not with horror but joy that we are loved like this. Love this passionate must be assured and that brings confidence and freedom; this love is secure and we are safe in it! (Ephesians 3:12)
To bring us into the safety of God’s salvation with freedom and confidence as the verse above describes, Yeshua suffered greatly; He suffered humiliation and pain before a mercilessly multitude and he did not retaliate, escape, or give up. The love of Yeshua for God and man caused Him to set His face like flint and drove Him to victory:
“I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting. Because the Sovereign Lord helps me, I will not be disgraced. Therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know I will not be put to shame” (Isaiah 50:6-7).
We can gain understanding from the insight of Yeshua, that love cannot be separated from obedience even when that entails sacrifice, because agape love is true love: it puts the needs and desires of the object of its affection, first.
Further to this, Yeshua states clearly that all of the law and prophets hang on these two commandments: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:38-39).
Fulfilling the law as Yeshua did, was done in this manner and hence, He also states that He remains in His Father’s love in this manner; by obeying His commandments. (John 15:10) Love and obedience are inextricably joined.
This challenges our postmodern understanding of love, because we love to be served, in our contemporary society. We love conditionally, because we wish to be loved back in return, by the object of our desire, expecting them to return our affections and meet our needs to be loved in our “love language”.
It is wonderful and important to be able to share with our friends, family and partners that due to our God given personalities and unique childhood environments, we identify certain expressions and behaviours as communicative of love, in giving and receiving.
For example, many eastern cultures identify hospitality as honourable and loving, so serving food and drink to others is a normal expression of love for us. This is why we see in the gospel accounts, that in first century Israel, gateway to the Middle East, Yeshua was often invited to dinner at people’s homes and served with a meal, and as in the Zacheus’ encounter, invited Himself to his home!
However, we have to ask ourselves, what happens when I am not loved or served in the way in which I desire? Does my love for the one who appears to have denied me, then diminish? Do I become bitter, cold or even retaliatory? Because that is not love, as love in fact; “…is not easily angered and it keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Corinthians 13:5).
In case we are tempted to undermine the gravity of our personal decisions to choose a selective style of love, that rejects those who deny us our own desires, let us look at Judas. It is traditional on Wednesday of Holy week according to Christian traditions, to reflect upon the clarity of the New Testament writers presenting Yeshua as fulfilling Passover, but also to reflect upon the betrayal of Yeshua by Judas.
That Yeshua was hated by enemies is of no surprise, but that Judas, His own disciple and close companion of the most pivotal years of His life, betrayed Yeshua? That is astounding and indeed beggar’s belief, until, we compare our own hearts with that of Judas!
Let us think back to the moments of greatest hurt in our own lives, when we thought we had loved, served and supported someone. Though we sacrificed our own interests for them, they chose their own interests over ours, and did not repay the sacrifice for our sake. Do we not see this as a betrayal of our loyalty, and view our own retaliation, as only a natural response to their action?
Well, that is the same as Judas! Judas would only have viewed his actions against Yeshua as reasonable and natural, in light of the fact that his sacrifice for Yeshua was great. Judas left family, career and home to follow Yeshua as leader, the proclaimed Messiah and King of Israel.
Having arrived in Jerusalem after three years of living on the road, being harassed and harangued by the high and low of society for allying with the controversial figure that Yeshua was, Judas thought that at long last, Yeshua would assume sovereignty.
But Yeshua went to His death silent, as a sheep before its shearers (Isaiah 53:7). Despite all of the times that He had challenged, withstood and denied the naysayers who had sought to put Him to death for years and years, Yeshua relinquished His power. Judas saw only that the object own his love, had ignored his hopes and dreams for the promise and reward of his loyalty.
Of course, it is easy for us to see that Judas’ view was nothing short of ridiculous in light of Yeshua’s clear and repeated teaching that His was a heavenly Kingdom, that He was the promised Messiah fulfilling that which was clearly written by the prophets for the preceding several thousand years, that He had come for the sake of our very souls and to redeem our eternal destiny, not just to exalt this already decaying human body, present at best, for about 80 years as Moses bemoans! (Psalm 80:10)
Judas did not have the benefit of hindsight, much like we do not have the benefit of many years of hindsight when we perceive in the immediate timeframe in which we find ourselves, that our feelings are based on extremely limited perception about the reasoning behind the actions of our loved ones or indeed strangers, in choosing an action which did not meet our desire for the situation.
The key understanding which we need to develop in our reflection this Holy Week, is that Judas believed that he was only reacting to what he perceived to be injustice and perhaps betrayal, but Yeshua was truly betrayed, abandoned and even forsaken by His very own disciples and yet He went to the cross for their sakes, and even for the sake of us who had not even been born at that time!
When we perceive that we have been hurt, betrayed and rejected, let us learn from Judas’ horrifying misjudgment of the Lord of the Universe, that we have only a limited understanding, and that the pride of our hearts can lead us to become betrayers, all the whilst believing that we are the betrayed.
Turning from our hard hearts, let us instead be like Yeshua; Let us also count up the cost of obedience, and determine to pay it, for a great reward awaits us! (Colossians 3:24)