“Will you come and follow me…”
We have borrowed the title for today’s Good Friday meditation from John Bell’s song ……….because it expresses the journey of our Christian lives……a journey of unforeseen challenges, and for most of us includes times of difficulty as well as great joy. We look at GETHSEMANE, THE TRIALS, THE CRUCIFIXION, and THE TOMB – each one with its own message. The text for each section is followed by some thoughts and questions to reflect.
1..Jesus Prays in Gethsemane Matthew 26:36-56 (The Passion Translation)
Then Jesus led his disciples to an orchard called “The Oil Press.” He told them, “Sit here while I go and pray over there.” He took Peter, Jacob, and John with him. However, an intense feeling of great sorrow plunged his soul into deep sorrow and agony. 38 And he said to them, “My heart is overwhelmed and crushed with grief. It feels as though I’m dying. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Then he walked a short distance away, & overcome with grief, he threw himself face down on the ground & prayed, “My Father, if there is any way you can deliver me from this suffering, please take it from me. Yet what I want is not important, for I only desire to fulfil your plan for me.” Then an angel from heaven appeared to strengthen him.
Later, he came back to his three disciples and found them all sound asleep. He awakened Peter and said to him, “Do you lack the strength to stay awake with me for even just an hour? Keep alert and pray that you’ll be spared from this time of testing. You should have learned by now that your spirit is eager enough, but your humanity is weak.”
Then he left them for a second time to pray in solitude. He said to God, “My Father, if there is not a way that you can deliver me from this suffering, then your will must be done.”
He came back to the disciples and found them sound asleep, for they couldn’t keep their eyes open. So he left them and went away to pray the same prayer for the third time. When he returned again to his disciples, he awoke them, saying, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Don’t you know the hour has come for the Son of Man to be handed over to the authority of sinful men? Get up and let’s go, for the betrayer has arrived.”
At that moment Judas, his once-trusted disciple, appeared, along with a large crowd of men armed with swords and clubs. They had been sent to arrest Jesus by order of the ruling priests and Jewish religious leaders. Now, Judas, the traitor, had arranged to give them a signal that would identify Jesus, for he had told them, “Jesus is the one whom I will kiss. So grab him!”
Judas quickly stepped up to Jesus and said, “Shalom, Rabbi,” and he kissed him on both cheeks.
“My beloved friend,” Jesus said, “is this why you’ve come?”
Then the armed men seized Jesus to arrest him. But one of the disciples pulled out a dagger and swung it at the servant of the high priest, slashing off his ear. Jesus said to him, “Put your dagger away. For all those who embrace violence will die by violence. Don’t you realize that I could ask my heavenly Father for angels to come at any time to deliver me? And instantly he would answer me by sending twelve armies of the angelic host to come and protect us. But that would thwart the prophetic plan of God. For it has been written that it would happen this way.”
Then Jesus turned to the mob and said, “Why would you arrest me with swords and clubs as though I were an outlaw? Day after day I sat in the temple courts with you, teaching the people, yet you didn’t arrest me. But all of this fulfils the prophecies of the Scriptures.”
At that point all of his disciples ran away and abandoned him.
GETHSEMANE REFLECTIONS Lord, your word says that you set your face steadfastly toward Jerusalem. You could have chosen long before, not to go to Jerusalem ……not then…..not ever. You could have stayed in Galilee where you were popular, and ministry to others brought joy and laughter. You could have remained in Heaven and left us human beings to get on with our mess, and not get involved.
And even though you did go to Jerusalem, you could have chosen to be careful…..
tactful…….politically correct……. not disruptive …… not upset the authorities.
And even though you did upset them…… you didn’t need to go to Gethsemane that night. Judas was bound to lead them there. Why didn’t pray somewhere else?
Why did you beg God to take away the bitter cup? You could have walked away.
Why did you wait for the raiding party to arrive? You had time to get away.
Why did you tell Simon Peter to put away his sword? He wanted to protect you!
Instead you walked ………
Toward conflict with those who hated you………
Toward abandonment by your disciples………
Toward arrest and brutal treatment……
Toward the crowd shouting for your death……
Toward the shame and the pain……..
Toward the spiritual anguish
How committed and steadfast am I in following God’s will? At what stage do I back off and look for an easier way? When faced with conflict and tough choices what do I do? Where are the “safe places” that I retreat to? What rationalising excuses do I make? What do I try to “hide behind” when I am afraid?
Jesus asks me today: “Will you follow me to Gethsemane? Will you really choose my will, not your own?”
2. Jesus Is Condemned by the Religious Leaders Matthew 26:57-66 (The Passion Translation)
Those who arrested Jesus led him away to Caiaphas, the chief priest, and to a meeting where the religious scholars and the supreme Jewish council were already assembled. Now, Peter had followed the mob from a distance all the way to the chief priest’s courtyard. And after entering, he sat with the servants of the chief priest who had gathered there, waiting to see how things would unfold. The chief priests and the entire supreme Jewish council of leaders were doing their best to find false charges that they could bring against Jesus, because they were looking for a reason to put him to death.
Many false witnesses came forward, but the evidence could not be corroborated. Finally two men came forward and declared, “This man said, ‘I can destroy God’s temple and build it again in three days!’”
Then the chief priest stood up and said to Jesus, “Have you nothing to say about these allegations? Is what they’re saying about you true?” But Jesus remained silent before them. So the chief priest said to him, “I charge you under oath—in the name of the living God, tell us once and for all if you are the anointed Messiah, the Son of God!”
Jesus answered him, “You just said it yourself. And more than that, you are about to see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of God, the Almighty. And one day you will also see the Son of Man coming in the heavenly clouds!”
This infuriated the chief priest, and as an act of outrage, he tore his robe and shouted, “What blasphemy! No more witnesses are needed, for you heard this grievous blasphemy.” Turning to the council he said, “Now, what is your verdict?”
“He’s guilty and deserves the death penalty!” they answered.
THE COURT ROOM REFLECTIONS “They began to accuse Him…..” Lord, how is it possible that “they”, the religious leaders, accused YOU – the Son of God? Why did they so dislike the accounts of your marvellous teaching about God, your amazing miracles, your truth, your grace, your love, your perfect demeanour?
But they had their own agenda, their favoured position, their power, their self-seeking rules. Their clever arguments twisted your words, they justified their conduct to sound as if THEY were right and YOU were wrong. And because they could not, in reality, find anything against you, they employed FALSE WITNESSES who didn’t even agree with one another!
Lord, why were you silent?
Why did you not speak up in your own defence?
Why did you not call Heaven to dismiss them?
BUT – YOU ALLOWED THE DARKNESS ITS ALLOTTED TIME
The distortion of their sacred trust –
The violation of their position of authority –
They became your judges.
When I am justly accused for doing wrong, do I respond with grace,…. accept correction and learn from my mistakes? Or do I defend myself and blame others………or circumstances…… or even You for asking too much of me?
And if I am unjustly accused for your sake……am I gracious, or grumbling?
Do I seek revenge or retribution? Do I beg you for vindication?
What am I prepared to endure in terms of accusation, anger, hostility and rejection for the sake of Your Name and of doing what is right?
Jesus asks me today: “Will you follow me and face the trials? Will you stand with me?
3. The Crucifixion. Matthew 27:33-55 (The Passion Translation)
They brought Jesus to Golgotha, which means “Skull Hill.” And there the soldiers offered him a mild painkiller, a drink of wine mixed with gall, but after tasting it, he refused to drink it.
Then they crucified Jesus, nailing his hands and feet to the cross. The soldiers divided his clothing among themselves by rolling dice to see who would win them. And the soldiers stood there to watch what would happen and to keep guard over him. Above his head they placed a sign that read, “This is Jesus of Nazareth, King of Israel.”
Two criminals were also crucified with Jesus, one on each side of him. And those who passed by shook their heads and spitefully ridiculed him, saying, “We heard you boast that you could destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days! Why don’t you save yourself now? If you’re really God’s Son, come down from the cross!”
Even the ruling priests, with the Jewish scholars and religious leaders, joined in the mockery and kept on saying, “He saved others, but he can’t even save himself! Israel’s king, is he? He should pull out the nails and come down from the cross right now; then we’ll believe in him! He says he puts all his trust in God, so let’s see if it’s true, and see if God really wants to rescue his ‘favourite son’!”
Even the two criminals who were crucified with Jesus began to taunt him, hurling their insults on him.
For three hours, beginning at noon, darkness came over the earth. And at three o’clock Jesus shouted with a mighty voice in Aramaic,“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have you deserted me?” Some who were standing near the cross misunderstood and said, “He’s calling for Elijah.” One bystander ran and got a sponge, soaked it with sour wine, then put it on a stick and held it up for Jesus to drink. But the rest said, “Leave him alone! Let’s see if Elijah comes to rescue him.”
Jesus passionately cried out, took his last breath, and gave up his spirit.
At that moment the veil in the Holy of Holies was torn in two from the top to the bottom. The earth shook violently, rocks were split apart, and graves were opened. Then many of the holy ones who had died were brought back to life and came out of their graves. And after Jesus’ resurrection,[ they were plainly seen by many people walking in Jerusalem.
Now, when the Roman military officer and his soldiers witnessed what was happening and felt the powerful earthquake, they were extremely terrified. They said, “There is no doubt, this man was the Son of God!”
Watching from a distance were many of the women who had followed him from Galilee and given him support. Among them were Mary Magdalene; Mary, the mother of Jacob and Joseph; and the mother of Jacob and John.
THE CROSS REFLECTIONS “Father forgive them, they know not what they do”. Did they really NOT know what they were doing? They didn’t WANT to know You, as the Incarnate Son of God. They did not like your power and said it was from the devil. They hated the claims you made about yourself. Your popularity made them fear for their position. Your miracles were embarrassing. Your teaching made them squirm. Your purity and beauty of character showed up too clearly against theirs………..AND OURS!
What depth of love is in your heart that you would allow them
to hate you and insult you and mock you and scourge you?
You, who are the Creator of the Universe, their Creator, my Creator
yet make yourself so vulnerable?
They taunted you to prove yourself and come down from the cross.
Was this your final temptation?
Lord, how could you endure so much……….and yet forgive?
How could you remain there……………and die………for them…
Can I forgive those who hurt and injure me? Will I forgive the angry words, the cruel jokes, the broken relationships, the cheated business deal, the broken promise, the unjust judgment? What does love look like in these situations? How far will I go?
Jesus asks me today: “Will you follow me to the cross? Will you lay down all you hold dear? Will you walk before me with integrity?”
4. The Burial of Jesus. Matthew 27:57-66 (The Passion Translation)
At the end of the day, a wealthy man named Joseph, a follower of Jesus from the village of Ramah, approached Pilate and asked to have custody of the body of Jesus. So Pilate consented and ordered that the body be given to him. Then Joseph wrapped the body in a shroud of fine linen and placed it in his own unused tomb, which had only recently been cut into the rock. They rolled a large stone to seal the entrance of the tomb and left.
Sitting across from the tomb were Mary Magdalene and the other Marys, watching all that took place.
The next day, the day after Preparation Day for Passover, the chief priests and the Pharisees went together to Pilate. They said to him, “Our master, we remember that this imposter claimed that he would rise from the dead after three days. So please, order the tomb to be sealed until after the third day. Seal it so that his disciples can’t come and steal the corpse and tell people he rose from the dead. Then the last deception would be worse than the first!”
“I will send soldiers to guard the tomb,” Pilate replied. “Go with them and make the tomb as secure as possible.” So they left and sealed the stone, and Pilate’s soldiers secured the tomb.
THE TOMB REFLECTIONS “…in the garden was a new tomb…….they laid Jesus there.”
This is where it all led ……..the Author of Life, the Healer, the One who raised the dead, Who spoke about His Kingdom, Who fed the hungry………laid hurriedly in another’s tomb because He hadn’t prepared One for Himself. Equal with us, the King of the Universe lies silent and moribund in a grave.
This is where life goes to…….no matter who we are, what we have been, or done or failed to do. No winners or losers, we are all the same. At the close of the game it all ends in the box.
Lord, this is what “Faithful unto Death” means……..obedience to God, no matter where it leads or the cost………….the end of hope, ambition, earthly joys, opportunities, the future……. All gone in sacrificial love and trust in God’s eternal plan.
Countless saints, past and present, have willingly gone this far because they seek the City that is to come. Thank God for them, and pray for all for whom this is an immediate choice.
Many more of us are called not to be dead saints, but living sacrifices – whatever that means, and wherever He may take us.
This tomb requires that I ask myself, what am I prepared to give, or to let go of, in following Him? The challenge is terrifying, yet glorious, or no-one would do it. Jesus did it “for the joy that was to be set before Him”. Can I do the same……by the power of the Holy Spirit?
He is the Way, the Truth and the Life – there is no other way, but the choice is still mine.
Jesus asks me today: “Will you still follow me to the tomb, where there is no hope…. but me?