Often as we think about the sacrifice of Jesus, we tend to focus on the unbearable physical pain He endured. We're told that He was hit, flogged nearly to the point of death, and had a crown of thorns driven into His scalp. He was made to carry His own cross. Nails were punched through His hands and feet before He was hoisted into the air to suffocate in one of the most inhumane and cruel forms of capital punishment ever devised.
My friends, it's hard to not focus on the pain He endured for us. But, as we look at this Easter, I want you to consider another way Jesus was made to suffer in the moments before His crucifixion. Consider the emotional pain Christ endured as those who were closest to Him turned their backs.
Jesus personally chose 12 disciples whom He poured himself into. These men were almost His earthly family, surrounding Him, learning from Him, and serving in His ministry. They were what we may refer to as Jesus' "inner circle."
Jesus loved them, and yet He knew – long before they did, in fact – that a couple of these men would publicly betray Him.
Judas, of course, is the one that comes instantly to mind. After all, it was his betrayal of Jesus that ultimately led to the crucifixion. We're told in Luke 22 that "Satan entered into Judas…" (ESV). John 13:2 says "the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon's son, to betray him" (ESV). Judas went to the chief priests and officers, accepted a payment from them and then actively plotted how to betray Jesus into their hands when there wouldn't be a crowd around Him.
Judas' treachery was the ultimate betrayal, directly resulting in a sham trial and the agony of the cross. But I wonder if the second betrayal might not have hurt just as much as the first.
Along with James and John, Peter was one of Jesus' closest friends whom He chose to be a witness to key moments in Jesus' earthly ministry. For instance, Peter was there for Jesus' transfiguration on the mountain and at Gethsemane on the eve of Christ's sacrifice.
Peter's denial of Jesus – which, according to Mark, Jesus foretold prior to leaving for Gethsemane – must have stung deeply. As Jesus was being beaten and ridiculed (Mark 14:65), Peter was busy distancing himself from Christ (Mark 14:66-72). Three times people approached Peter to ask him if he was associated with Jesus, and three times Peter denied Him, even going so far as to "…invoke a curse on himself and to swear, 'I do not know this man of whom you speak.'" (Mark 14:71, ESV).
At a time when Jesus was being accused and beaten, His friends turned their backs on Him. What emotional pain this must have caused, even as Jesus knew it was coming and understood that it had to be!
Maybe you're reading this, and it sounds a little too familiar. Maybe you have friends or family members who have turned their backs on you, or perhaps – like Judas – they were instrumental in causing the suffering you are now enduring. Maybe you're struggling through pain and despair, and the people you thought you could depend on have disappeared. Maybe you've been hurt by others in the church. Bodily pain hurts physically, but emotional pain slices directly to your soul.
My friends, I'm here to tell you that people will let you down. People will turn their backs on you and cause you pain. But here's the key – Jesus was forsaken, betrayed and crucified, but He conquered all of that! People are imperfect, but Christ is risen and will not let you down!
The Bible tells us not to put our faith into men or princes. Instead, this Easter place your eternity in the One Who endured scorn, pain, and – yes – betrayal from His friends, so that you may have a hope that extends far beyond the pitfalls and pains of this world.