Easter. A holiday where the only consistent memory I have is putting on a pretty new dress, piling into the car with my family, and sitting in a crowded church ready to hear the story yet again. This story changed the world, one desperate heart at a time. This story made me cry for days after seeing it reenacted on stage. This story begs the question: If this happened during my lifetime, which character would describe my reaction?
What would we do if the Easter story took place today? What would we do if Jesus showed up, performed miracles, and spoke truth to a hurting world? What would you do if the crowd shouted to crucify him, and they asked you to join them?
We always try to identify with the people who were there, the people whose names are now just words on a page but whose stories are so…relatable. Women can identify with one of the Mary’s, who went to visit Jesus at the tomb or who sat at His feet. Men can identify with John, the beloved disciple, who took care of Jesus’ mother after His crucifixion.
We want to be the people in the story who didn’t mess up, who were triumphant to the end. We want to be the ones who pushed through the crowd and begged the officials not to crucify Jesus. We want to be the ones who believed in Jesus and understood what He was doing for us in that very moment.
There’s only one problem with this desire…No one in the story fits that description.
The truth is: we all fall short, just like every person in the story of Holy Week.
Two of the most famous failures of this story are Judas’s betrayal of Jesus, and Peter’s denial of Jesus. Judas was one of Jesus’s disciples, one of the people that Jesus let into His inner circle. Judas had a front-row seat to all of Jesus’s teachings, witnessing all of His miracles and hearing the testimonies of those Jesus had affected. Even after three years of this, Judas’s heart was still as cold as ice, and his love of money kept him from being transformed by the love of God. He sold Jesus out for a couple of pieces of silver. When he finally realized the stupidity of his decision, he threw the money on the ground of the temple, “went away,” and hanged himself (see Matthew 27).
Peter had a very special relationship with Jesus. Jesus blessed Peter to be the leader of the new Church. Jesus called Peter to walk on water with Him, in the middle of the sea. Jesus allowed Peter to see His healing power, as well as to understand the mysteries of His teachings. Peter made a vow to never deny Jesus. He even swore that he would be willing to die with Him. But even after three years of knowing Jesus, Peter rejected Him in front of a handful of strangers, only to avoid his opportunity to die with Him. One could feel the dagger thrust through Peter’s conscious as his Lord turned around and looked right at him, seconds after he denied knowing Him (see Luke 22).
Unfortunately, we are much more like Judas and Peter than we would like to admit. We want to be the ones to stay with Jesus until the very end, but we mess up before we even get close to the finish line. We wake up each morning, ready to live for Jesus completely, but we fail before we even leave the house.
We want to be the heroes in this story, but the true hero is and only can be Jesus.
Jesus was the only one in this story who didn’t fail. He was the only one who was beaten, mocked, and scorned, and still came out victorious through it all. Jesus was the one who offered opportunities of redemption to both Judas and Peter. If there was one thing that the disciples must have learned by spending so much time with Jesus, it was that He was in the business of forgiving those who least deserved His love.
Judas believed he was least deserving of the love of Jesus, and instead of running to the beautiful forgiveness of Jesus, the only option he saw in front of him was to end his own life. He missed out on the chance to be redeemed and transformed by Jesus because he was too busy looking at his own sin.
Peter also believed he was least deserving of the love of Jesus. However, his story differs from the story of Judas in that Peter did not run from Jesus. As a matter of fact, when Jesus’s tomb was rumored to be empty, Peter literally ran into the tomb to make sure that Jesus had actually risen from the dead (John 20:8). What a beautiful picture of repentance: running right toward the Savior, knowing that there is no better place to turn. Jesus encounters Peter and reaffirms His plan for his ministry. Jesus forgives him, as if he had never denied Him in the first place. Peter did not look at his own sin; rather, he looked at the miracle of Jesus’s life-giving power. As a result, Peter was able to receive the grace for which Jesus died and rose again.
So, how do you fit into Holy Week? The question isn’t “Will you mess up?” The question is: “When you mess up, will you allow your failure to define you, or will you trust Jesus to forgive you?” Let Jesus be the hero of this Easter story.