“The Successful Completion of the Mission…”

Luke 22:14-23:56

“The successful completion of the mission was never seriously in doubt.”

His grown children were quoting their dad as we sat and planned his memorial service.  Apparently this was his signature line, one they heard so often that when they spoke of him they also spoke this in unison. Without a doubt, as they were quick to share, these words and all they represented had been gift and challenge and sometimes burden to them their whole lives long.

“The successful completion of the mission was never seriously in doubt.”

This was the mantra of one highly successful businessman who apparently kept other values close as well as evidence by his family gathering when as his health faltered and failed and he breathed his last.  To be sure, they all spoke of him with gladness and genuine affection when we sat down to consider the details of the day when we would commend him into God’s eternal care.

“The successful completion of the mission was never seriously in doubt.”

I can’t get the line out of my mind perhaps because they don’t generally reflect my own outlook on life.  Doubt is something I am very familiar with…  but yes, I will use it in his memorial service sermon on Sunday for even as one who sometimes wonders along the way still, it does so fittingly points to how our journeys with Jesus are.  Because of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Because of our having been baptized into Jesus’ death and resurrection,  no matter where life takes us, we do believe that the end is assured, that its ‘success,’ if you will, is never seriously in doubt.  Still, as we approach Holy Week once more, it is certain that the first time through, one surely had cause to wonder.  There may, in fact, have been room for doubt.  Indeed, I would guess those who lived through that first Holy Week doubted plenty.

For in fact, failure was strewn all over those fateful days.  In Peter’s denial: his unexpected willingness to simply lie. In Judas’s betrayal — in his handing over his mentor and friend, whether it was for financial gain or following some kind of other ideal, we’ll never know.  In the quickness of the other disciples to abandon Jesus, no doubt running for their own lives.  In Pilate’s capitulation to the crowd.  Over and over again, there is failure all over those fateful days.  Just as there is failure all over our own lives…

A couple of weeks ago as we considered the role of Pilate in the events that led to Jesus’ death, someone stopped me after midweek worship and asked, “What if Pilate had manned up?”   I was brought up short with him for a moment, wondering as well …. what IF Pilate hadn’t caved?   What if he had done the right thing? What if…  then would Jesus not have suffered and died?   And what would that have meant for all of us?

Only Pilate didn’t ‘man up,’ of course.   And other than a handful of women, the disciples headed for home as quickly as they could. And Peter for all of his bravado, in the end couldn’t admit to even knowing Jesus.   And Judas bent to demands other than the ones he had learned in the presence of Jesus and handed him over.    Even in the garden of Gethsemane as Jesus struggles mightily with the fate that is before him, one might argue that “the successful completion of the mission” was seriously in doubt.

Only that is where it turns of course.  That is where we first realize that for all of our human tendency to abandon those to whom we have pledged our loyalty, to betray those we love, to deny even knowing the One who has changed our lives, Jesus would not, did not fail.  Oh, as we stand with him in the Garden of Gethsemane now we hear as he struggles and questions and grieves, but still he does not fail.  It could have been otherwise, of course.  For without a doubt even then it was not too late. Jesus could have slipped into the night, gone back to Nazareth and picked up another life.  One that didn’t include betrayal by one friend, and denial and abandonment by others.  One that did not include taking on the burden of sin of the whole world and suffering a shameful death.  It could have been otherwise.  It was not not because of anything the disciples did or didn’t do or anything you and I would do or would not do.  It is only because of who God is and how God is and what God does, not only once, but over and over again that it did not fail.

And this is what now allows us to say, “The successful completion of the mission was and is never seriously in doubt.” Even in my acknowledging and comprehending these two thousand years later how profoundly those close to Jesus failed him then, still I know I do the same as they.  Denying if not in my words, then in my actions.  Betraying what I hold most dear for a whole lot less, much of the time, than thirty pieces of silver. Running for my life, my reputation, my future over and over again.  I am all of them, each of them.  And so as I witness Jesus’ suffering and death once more this season, I can rejoice in the ‘successful completion of the mission’ only because of what he did. And for this, again this year, and every day of the year, I can only be grateful.

  1. Where do you see yourself among those who first ‘failed’ Jesus so long ago?  Are you Peter, Judas, Pontius Pilate, or the disciples who fled as quickly as they could?  What about their failure do you identify with?
  2. Consider Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane.  Surely, that was a turning point in the events of that week. What must it have been for him to finally trust God and move forward?
  3. Do you think the ‘successful completion of the mission was ever seriously in doubt?’  Why or why not?

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