“God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.” (Matthew 26:31 NLT)
Though I’ve read the above verse dozens of times, I “saw” it for the first time this morning. Jesus is quoting this verse from Zechariah 13:7 in the context of telling His disciples that they will all desert Him when He’s arrested. They all swear their allegiance, but when push came to shove, they all tucked tail and ran. But what jumped off the page today was the first word – “GOD!”
It’s just so unexpected, so unlike the character of God to strike His own Son. Yet, the word used here has more than one meaning. In the context of the above verse “strike” means to “strike gently: as a part or a member of the body.” Almost like shooing a fly away that lands on your arm.
Throughout Jesus’ ministry God’s desire was to draw people to Jesus, not chase them away. But in that circumstance, it was necessary to push them away. But why?
First, for their own safety. The crowd that arrested Jesus had “swords and clubs.” Who would have spread the “Good News” if the 11 had been killed? Jesus had just invested three years of His life training them, what a waste to have them eliminated even before Jesus’ sacrificial death. But the more obvious reason is – they had to see for themselves (a) what cowards they were, and (b) how utterly dependent upon Jesus they were and must remain if they were to ever accomplish His mission.
Another factor to consider is that Zechariah is estimated to have been written nearly 600 years before Jesus was born. This was another Messianic prophecy verifying Jesus’ identity as the Christ. But “strike” can also be translated “to smite down, cut down, to kill, slay.” It’s as if this is God’s way of releasing Jesus into His inevitable path to death on the Cross.
To me, the unavoidable conclusion is that God the Father is clearly identifying with every step His beloved Son must take to pay the penalty for our sin. He’s involved and invested, regardless of the pain He suffers in the process. Why would He do that?
Only those selflessly and unconditionally drawn by their love for Jesus are willing to agonize with Him in His final act of suffering. Because only they held strongly to their hope that His death wasn’t leading to defeat, but final victory. He wasn’t dying for His sin, He had none. He was the vicarious sacrifice for our sin; the only suitable sacrifice to free us from the bondage of sin, death, and the grave.
Of all the thousands who followed Him in His life, there were only a handful at the Cross. They were there, as tortuous as it was, for Him.
Amid the mocking of those passing by, and even by those with whom He was crucified, God the Father once again showed up in power. After life was drained from His Holy Son’s body, the Father struck terror in the hearts and minds of the soldiers by the massive earthquake. And the Pharisees and religious leaders were dumbfounded by the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple being torn in two, thus opening access for anyone to come freely into God’s Holy presence.
But God the Father isn’t finished “striking!” Soon Jesus will return in a majestic and terrifying display of power and authority. So much so that God has said: “every knee will bend to Me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.” (Romans 14:11)
Each of us will one day stand in God’s awesome presence to give account of our lives. It will be too late to beg for forgiveness, though I’m quite sure there will be massive and heartfelt sorrow. We’ll finally see as we’ve been seen. We’ll finally understand why God struck His Son and what horrific implications that has for those who across the centuries have ignored Him.
Please don’t ignore Him today. Come to Jesus while there’s still time.