By Timothy Kretzmann
The disciple was running for his life through the darkness of night. He ducked and swerved to miss the limbs of trees and crashed through the smaller branches. Terrified, he ran farther and farther up the Mount of Olives as fast as his legs could carry him. Suddenly he tripped and sprawled headlong to the ground. Desperately he scrambled on all fours behind a large old olive tree and lay there on his belly with his head up, straining to hear the footsteps of someone chasing him. But all he could hear was the sound of his heart pounding against his ribs and his breath rushing in and out of his lungs.
After a time he sat up and leaned back against the tree, still listening. He drew his knees up, put his elbows on them and held his head in his hands. He thought back to what had just happened, his mind racing. “Why did he let them take him away like that; what is going on here?”
He thought back to what had just happened. Against his closed eyes he saw himself walking with the other disciples and Jesus out of Jerusalem and down to the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus told the disciples to watch while he went off a short distance to pray.
The disciple, tired, and eyes heavy after the Passover meal that night, had fallen asleep on the cool grass under the full moon, in the Garden of Gethsemane. He wakened abruptly to the sound of voices and clanking armor, and soldiers with torches, coming towards him in the night. He leapt up and ran with his fellow disciples to the place where Jesus had gone to be alone, and there came Jesus walking toward them, looking calmly past them at the soldiers and torches coming into the garden. He walked through the midst of the disciples and stood, facing the soldiers. The group of soldiers walked up to Jesus and the disciples and stopped a few feet away. For a moment all was quiet except the hissing of the torches; their flickering light causing eerie shadows to dance among the trees in the garden.
“Whom seek ye?” said Jesus, and Judas had come out from among the soldiers and torches, walked up to Jesus saying, “Hail Master!” and kissed him.
“Judas!” said the disciple out loud, opening his eyes, “Judas!” he said again, “Oh, no, no….”
He closed his eyes again and saw Judas step back from the Master. He was sweating and was clearly nervous, but moved with clear, purposeful strides. The soldiers started forward, but Jesus drew himself up, and an unseen force pushed the soldiers back. They stared at Him bewildered and silent.
“Whom seek ye?” Jesus asked again.
“Jesus of Nazareth,” said a voice from the back of the group.
“I am he. Take me and let these then go on their way,” He said motioning to the disciples.
The soldiers started forward again and suddenly Peter wielded knife and swinging it wildly at one of the soldiers, nearly cut off his ear. The man cried out in pain and fell to the ground clutching the side of his head. Jesus grabbed Peter’s arm and looking at him sternly said, “The cup which my Father has given me, shall I not drink it?”
The soldiers then swarmed forward. Peter threw down the knife and ran. The other disciples ran too. As he ran, the disciple looked back and saw Jesus, surrounded by several soldiers, bending down over the soldier on the ground. And he was certain that Jesus was healing the soldier’s ear. He turned his head and ran as fast as he could, out of the garden, away from the soldiers and up the Mount of Olives into the night.
He opened his eyes again, pushed himself off the tree, and stood up. Slowly he stepped out from behind the tree. All was quiet. No one was coming up the hill. He took a deep breath and lifted his eyes and saw the city of Jerusalem bathed in moonlight before him, so beautiful and peaceful. Then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a light moving and soon another and another. He realized it was the group of soldiers returning to the city. He watched numbly as the group made their way up the road toward the gate of the city. Now the sound of their armor clanking as they walked drifted up the mountain. Even at this distance by the light of the moon and the torches he could clearly see that Jesus was in their midst. The raucous laughter of a Roman soldier drifted up the mountain when he saw two dark shapes move quickly up the same road and silently slip into the city.
The disciple hurried down the mountain back to the garden of Gethsemane. There, a few disciples had already gathered and every few minutes another came. They spoke in low voices of the evening’s events. Finally the only ones not there were Judas, John and Peter.
“Perhaps John and Peter were the two dark shapes I saw following the soldiers,” said the disciple.
“That’s closer than I’d care to be to that bunch,” said another, “Jesus will outwit them and be back with us tomorrow.”
“I just don’t understand why he let them take him like that,.” said the disciple.
“Don’t worry. He’ll be fine. God is with him. Come on, let’s get some sleep.”
And the small, exhausted band of men left the garden, walked up the Mount of Olives, found a safe hiding place and went to sleep.
Meanwhile, back in Jerusalem the soldiers and torches made their way to the house of Annas, a very powerful man. Many years ago he had been the High Priest himself and since then five of his sons and now his son-in law Caiaphas had been High Priest, and he had wielded his power through them. To him went the profits of the moneychangers in the temple, who Jesus only a couple of days before had driven out of the temple, scandalizing the powerful family. It was with no small satisfaction that Annas gazed upon the Nazarene called Jesus, bound in chains standing before him. He knew what was in store for this man. The die was cast. Their meeting was brief. Jesus was then taken to the house of Caiaphas, the High Priest. There were gathered a select group of the Sanhedrin, the group of priests and scholars who were the religious leaders of the Jews, who had previously agreed to put Jesus to death. There Jesus’ trial began.
Meanwhile, out in the street, two shadowy figures moved slowly toward the gate into the courtyard of the house of Caiaphas. They paused. One slipped into the shadows. The other walked in the gate, made his way to a dark corner, and there waited and watched. He was the disciple John. A few minutes later, the other figure, Peter, moved toward the gate and walked into the courtyard. He hesitated and was startled when a woman’s voice spoke from the shadows.
“Hey, aren’t you one of the followers of the Nazarene?” she asked loudly.
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” said Peter.
“I thought I saw you with him at the temple.”
“I know not the man!” said Peter.
Shaken, he headed for a fire that a small group of people was gathered around, for the night was very cool. The fire felt good, but Peter saw another woman eyeing him suspiciously. He turned to leave but she spoke out.
“Aren’t you one of the disciples?”
“I know not the man,” he said again.
At the sound of his voice a man standing nearby who was with the soldiers in Gethsemane turned and said, “Surely you were with him just a short while ago in the garden!”
At this, Peter’s nerve left him completely, and he cursed and swore vehemently that he did not know this man Jesus. Suddenly a disturbance on the other side of the courtyard adverted everyone’s attention. A door had opened and the temple guards were leading Jesus, still bound in chains, out of the room. They came toward the group on a covered porch a couple of steps above them. In the distance a rooster crowed. As He passed the fire, Jesus turned His head and looked straight into the eyes of Peter. Immediately the horror of what he had done cut through him like a knife. He remembered what Jesus had told him just a few hours before. “Before the rooster crows you will deny me three times.”
In anguish, Peter broke away from the group around the fire, staggered to the moonlit street and wept bitterly.
The trial was not going well for Jesus. Caiaphas had planned it all well, and he was determined that Jesus would not slip through his hands. Between false accusations and distorted testimony the trial was rapidly coming to an end.
Between sessions the temple guards blindfolded Jesus and hit Him saying, “Tell us thou Christ, which one of us hit you?”
And they beat Him and spit on Him and mocked Him in this way. And so shortly after dawn the verdict was in; Jesus was guilty of blasphemy. He would not deny that he was the Christ, and He was condemned to die.
There was only one obstacle left. The Jews were not permitted to put anyone to death without the permission of the Roman Governor. The Governor at this time was a man named Pontius Pilate and when Jesus was brought before him, Pilate was struck by his calm demeanor, and after hearing the charges against him motioned his guards to bring him inside. After talking to Jesus alone he went back before the crowd saying, “I find no fault in this man.”
A voice called out from the crowd, “But he stirs up the people in Judea, and even in Galilee.”
Pilate heard the word Galilee and saw a way to get rid of this load of responsibility. If this Jesus were from Galilee he would come under the jurisdiction of Herod, the king of that region under Rome. So Pilate ordered Jesus sent to Herod, who was greatly flattered by this action. He had been looking forward to seeing this wonder worker that everyone was talking about. He was even hoping to see a miracle or two, but was to be greatly disappointed. Jesus would not even open His mouth to speak to Herod and at last Herod resorted to mocking Him. He had his servants bring one of his kingly robes and they put it on Him and laughed at Him and bowed to him saying, “Hail, thou king of the Jews!”
Finally tiring of this game, Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate, in the meantime, had a most disturbing experience. His wife, Claudia, had sent a message that she had had a dream, which warned that he, Pilate, should have nothing to do with what she called “that righteous man.” Romans took dreams very seriously, so by now Pilate was deeply convinced of Jesus’ innocence. He was greatly dismayed when he heard the crowd, much larger than before, returning to his courtyard. He went out onto his balcony and addressed the crowd.
“I find no fault with this man, but I will chastise him and let him go.”
An angry roar went up from the crowd, but Pilate signaled to his soldiers, who took Jesus inside. Pilate also went inside and through the floor he could hear the soldiers whipping Jesus. After a few minutes they were silent and Pilate heard the dragging of feet and sounds of laughter from below. He went back out to the balcony and Jesus was again brought before the crowd. Pilate, though used to this sort of thing, was aghast at what he saw. Jesus’ face was gray and twisted in agony and the soldiers had made a circlet of thorns and pounded it onto his head as a crown.
“Behold the man!” Pilate choked.
The crowd roared, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Pilate saw that the crowd was on the verge of becoming a mob, and did the only he felt he could do. He ordered a slave to bring him a basin of water. Ceremoniously, he washed his hands saying, “I am innocent of the blood of this righteous man.”
“Let His blood be upon us and upon our children.”
“So be it.” Said Pilate, and thereby turned Jesus over to them to be crucified.
Through the streets of Jerusalem at this hour walked a certain man named Simon of Cyrene. He was from Northern Africa and was in Jerusalem for the Passover. He was walking down a street when a procession turned the corner and came toward him. He stopped and watched it approach. Led by a Roman centurion and a dozen or so of his soldiers it moved slowly up the street. Behind the centurion came three prisoners, each carrying the cross on which they obviously going to be crucified. Simon was familiar with the hideous Roman execution known as crucifixion; his country too was ruled by Rome. It was a form of execution they used for runaway slaves and rebels against Roman authority.
But what caught the attention of Simon was the face of the first of the three prisoners. The other two were common criminals it was easy to see, but this first had deep calm eyes and almost the look of nobility about him. Though he had obviously suffered greatly at the hand of his tormentors and wore a hideous crown of thorns on his head, he handled himself with calm determination. Simon fell in with the crowd and was pushed along by it near the front of the procession. He watched the man transfixed. The man staggered under the weight of the cross and weaved from one side of the road to the other, the end of the cross dragging over the cobblestone street. Suddenly the man fell with a cry. He was flat in the street with the cross on top of him. Two of the soldiers lifted the cross, and a third roughly dragged the man to his feet. The centurion came back nervously scanning the agitated crowd. His eyes fell upon Simon, for he was a big and strong man.
“You!” he said, “Carry this!” pointing to the cross.
As Simon stepped forward he saw a sign on the top of the cross that said ‘Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews’. He was amazed by the weight of the cross. As the procession started to move he heard Jesus speak to a group of women who were weeping, “Daughters of Jerusalem,” he said, “Weep not for me but for yourselves and for your children.”
He then prophesied that the city of Jerusalem would be destroyed. They were words that Simon would always remember, and just a few years later they were proven true. And so the procession proceeded. Once a woman broke through the line of soldiers and gently wiped the blood and sweat from His face. They went through the walls of the city and up a small hill called Golgotha, or a place of the skull, and Simon was ordered to drop the cross. He did so and took a few steps back. The other prisoners dropped their crosses and the soldiers worked quickly, roughly throwing the prisoners down and nailing the prisoners to their crosses through their hands and feet and lifting the crosses into place.
Jesus spoke saying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”
“Forgive them!” thought Simon, “Forgive them? Incredible! Who is this man?”
One of the Pharisees turned to the crowd and said, “He saved others; himself he cannot save!”
They all laughed and he said, “If you really are the Christ come down from the cross and save yourself, then we will believe.”
One of the thieves on the other cross said, “Yes, if you are the Christ, save yourself and us!”
But the thief on the other cross responded, “Be quiet! You and I deserve to die for what we have done, but can’t you see that this man is innocent?” and turning to Jesus he said, “Lord, remember me when you go into your kingdom.”
And Jesus said to him, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
Simon noticed the sky had turned black with clouds, and the air had grown cool, and the wind picked up little eddies of dust and blew it in the faces of the onlookers. The crowd whispered to each other, grew silent, and slowly started to disperse and go back into the walls of the city now eerily outlined against the black sky.
Simon saw a group of women move to the foot of the cross. The oldest woman, clearly the mother of Jesus, had the arm of a young man, who was the disciple John, around her. When Jesus saw them he said, “Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.”
He was quiet for a long time. The sky grew even darker, lightning danced in the clouds in the clouds and thunder rumbled in the heavens. Finally Jesus lifted up His head and cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”
Shortly after this he said, “I thirst.”
A soldier stuck a sponge on the end of his spear, dipped it in vinegar and raised it to His mouth. Thus revived, Jesus said, “Father into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”
And shortly after said, “It is finished”, bowed His head and died.
With this the earth trembled, Lightning flashed to the earth and thunder crashed all around. In the temple the large curtain separating the Holy of Holies that was three stories high and very thick, tore from top to bottom.
The Roman centurion, standing at the foot of the cross gazing up at Jesus said quietly, “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
So ended the first Good Friday almost 2,000 years ago. But the story doesn’t end on Good Friday. It is not complete without the story of Easter. Likewise the story of Easter is not complete without the story of Good Friday. For only in the darkness and sorrow of Good Friday could the light that burst forth on Easter morning, be so bright that it could open people’s hearts and transform their lives across the centuries even to today. May that light of Christ be resurrected in us all this Easter.