Sentence of Scripture:
“He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity; and as one from whom others hide their faces he was despised, and we held him of no account. 4Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases; yet we accounted him stricken, struck down by God, and afflicted.” (Isa 53:3-4 NRSV)
Song: Beneath the Cross of Jesus
Prayer: Heavenly Father, we pray, as we come to worship you and to meditate on the saving work of your beloved son, Jesus Christ, that our minds might be lifted above the worries of this world to focus on you; our hearts filled with wonder at your saving grace and forgiveness; and our spirits joined with your Holy Spirit in full commitment to your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Song: At The Cross
Judas John 18:1-9
"Who are you looking for?" (John 18:4, 7)
Have you ever said to yourself (as I have), if only I could talk with Jesus and walk with Jesus, I would really commit my life to him? If I could just see Jesus face-to-face and hear his teaching in person I would have no doubts about him. If only it was that simple. Judas walked with Jesus. Judas talked with Jesus. And Judas listened to his teaching. Probably for about three years. But still, the Gospels tell us, in the end it was Judas "who betrayed him" (John 18:2, 5). How could someone who had been so close to Jesus – one of his disciples, one of his own followers (6:71; 12:4) – deny him? You really can count on one hand the people who were closer to Jesus than Judas was. And yet from the very first time he is mentioned in John's Gospel he is called Judas "the betrayer" (6:64). Even Hollywood hasn't made that into a movie! For the rest of history he has been the face of treason.
Over the centuries there have been a lot of theories about why Judas did what he did. In the end we just don't know. The Gospels, especially, John's Gospel, are not interested in what Judas's psychological or political motivations might have been. There is no Judas kiss in John's Gospel. The thirty silver coins he was paid for his treason are not mentioned. There is nothing about Judas showing remorse for his actions, as Matthew's Gospel (27:3-10) tells us he did. John was only concerned with the terrible choice Judas made. Judas walked with Jesus and talked with Jesus and in the end, for whatever reason, Judas denied him and betrayed him. All the way through John's Gospel there are hints that two worlds are in conflict – the world of God, represented by Jesus, and the world of Satan, represented, on this night, by Judas. Judas’ choice for or against Jesus, was, therefore, a choice for or against God. Judas’ remorse after the event probably shows that he then realised very well what he had done.
Twice in this passage Jesus asks: "Who are you looking for?" (18:4, 7). And both times he tells those who have come to arrest him: "I am he" (18:6, 8). You're looking for me! There is clearly a deeper message here isn't there? In John's Gospel many people come to Jesus looking for something. Some of them find what they were looking for. Others decide that this is not the Jesus they expected to find. We don't know what Judas was looking for but it seems clear that Jesus did not meet his expectations. Perhaps he wanted a political and military leader who would destroy the Romans with miracles, complete with Hollywood-style special FX? Many people did. Many people come to Jesus looking for something. But, as one perceptive writer has said: Jesus "does not set out to meet their expectations but rather to meet their need" (Ben Witherington). And so he surrendered himself knowing very well that he was going to his death. "Who are we looking for?"
Gal 6:14: “May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.”
Song: How Deep the Father’s Love
Peter Jn 18:10-27
We think we understand Judas. He was a traitor, a money hungry materialist who was willing to give up his master for a stack of silver coins. But we can’t understand Peter, can we? How could the leader of the disciples, the one who’d come up with the outstanding conclusion that Jesus must be the Messiah, the Son of God, the one who had just a few hours earlier promised to stand by Jesus even if it meant prison, even if it meant death with him; how could he betray Jesus? Hadn’t he just taken out his sword and stood in the way of a band of soldiers to defend Jesus?
To make it worse, look at who he’s talking to when he denies knowing Jesus. It’s just a young woman. The one who’s put at the gate to make sure that only those that are known to the High Priest are let in. She poses no danger; certainly not compared to the soldiers and temple police. Yet to her he denies knowing Jesus. In Mark’s account, probably derived from Peter himself, his denials become more and more vehement until the third time he even curses and swears an oath that he doesn’t know Jesus.
We can’t understand it can we? How can someone so strong suddenly become so weak.
Yet, perhaps we can understand it. Perhaps when we think about our own response to questions about our faith we can sympathise with Peter. How often have we been embarrassed to admit that we’re Christians, followers of Jesus? How often have we been afraid of what others might think of us if they knew that we pray, that we read our Bibles, that we believe all this spiritual stuff? How often have we, like Peter, taken our eyes off Jesus and concentrated on the possibilities of opposition rather than Jesus’ victory over all of his enemies.
You see, there’s a little bit of Peter in all of us. We all promise great things for God, but sometimes fail to deliver. We all, at times, weaken in the face of opposition.
How do you feel when that happens? Embarrassed that you were embarrassed? Ashamed that you were ashamed? Guilty that you’ve let Jesus down?
I guess we can all imagine how Peter felt when he heard that cock crow. We can almost feel the cold feeling in the pit of his stomach, the heaviness in his limbs as he walked away into the night, with tears streaming down his face.
Where do you go after a failure like that? Do you do what Judas did and give up on life itself? Or do you hope that maybe, somehow, God could forgive you the unforgivable.
Peter goes away, but he doesn’t stay away.
It’s interesting that Jesus had asked him whether he wanted to leave him, back in Chapter 6. And do you remember Peter’s, again, insightful answer: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. 69We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” Perhaps Peter remembers that day, as he sits alone thinking about what he’s done. Where else could he go?
We know that by Sunday morning he’s back with the other disciples, who, by the way, have also deserted Jesus, even if not with words. A week or so later he’s by the sea shore, back at his trade of fishing, when Jesus reappears and calls him aside for few words. Again you can imagine the sinking feeling deep in his stomach as he waits for the expected rebuke.
But it doesn’t come does it? Jesus doesn’t mention the denial. He doesn’t remind Peter of his bravado before the event. No. What does he do? He says “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?” Three times he asks him the same question. Three times Peter replies “Yes Lord.” And three times Jesus sets him a task, not as an act of penance, not as a means of wiping away his sin. No, Jesus has done that on the cross. No, he gives him a task to do as a sign of restoration. It’s a sign that he’s fully restored to his place as one of Jesus’ apostles. What’s the task he’s given? "Feed my lambs; Tend my sheep; Feed my sheep.” Not only is he forgiven, but he’s set in place once again as one of the shepherds of the flock. He’s to act as one of Jesus’ deputies, caring for the new members of God’s people as they come to faith in him.
You see, no-one’s failure is final. Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient for the worst crimes you can imagine. Our failures are nothing when compared to the love and mercy of God in Jesus Christ. Jesus asks only one question of us: “Do you love me more than these?” You know in your own heart what “these” are. Is Jesus more important to you than anything else? If that’s the case then be reassured that he holds out to you forgiveness for anything you might have done or said.
because we are all
silver and eating
body and blood and asking
(guilty) is it I and hearing
him say yes
it would be simple for us all
to rush out
and hang ourselves
but if we find grace
to cry and wait
after the voice of morning
has crowed in our ears
to break our hearts
he will be there
to ask us each again
do you love me
from A Widening Light, Luci Shaw, Editor, (p105)
Eph 6:10-12: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. 11Put on the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. 12For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."
Song: Rock of Ages
Pilate Jn 18:28-19:4; 19:7-13
"Are you the king of the Jews?" (John 18:33)
How many of us here this morning has heard a politician say that they don't listen to opinion polls? How many of us believed them when they said it? If the consequences weren't so serious it would have been almost comical watching Pilate trying desperately to please the public while at the same time trying to listen to his conscience which told him that Jesus was innocent. Twice he tried to get the Jews to judge Jesus themselves so that he wouldn't be personally responsible (John 18:31; 19:6). Twice he tried to release Jesus (18:39; 19:12). And three times he publicly declared: "I find no case against him" (18:38; 19:4; 19:6). And still he crucified him. Unfortunately for Pilate the crowd knew his weakness. Jesus claimed to be a king from another world (18:36). But it was the king from this world that Pilate was afraid of: the Roman emperor. And so the crowd hit Pilate where they knew it would hurt. "If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor" (19:12). The emperor had appointed Pilate to keep law and order in Israel and a riot at the biggest public event of the year – the Passover festival – wouldn't look good on his CV. And so after trying everything he could think of to avoid making a decision Pilate finally denied what he sensed to be the truth and condemned to death a man he knew to be innocent.
In condemning Jesus Pilate failed to recognise that in the process he was denying the person who was not just the "the king of the Jews" (18:33, 39; 19:3) but also "the Son of God" (19:7). In the end a decision in Jesus' favour was just too costly for Pilate's career. But perhaps the question we need to ask ourselves is this: "if we had been in Pilate's place, in danger of losing a job we desperately wanted to keep, would we have acted any differently? Identifying with Pilate in the story may not make us comfortable, but it may be closer to the mark, considering how often we all act in selfish and self-seeking ways" (Witherington).
Someone once said that Pilate was the person who asked the question: "What is truth?" (18:38), but didn't wait for an answer. In John's Gospel we encounter "a variety of people who may in some sense be called truth seekers. The problem with truth seeking is that we may find out things about ourselves and others that make us uneasy or that may even require of us significant change. So often when people ask the question, What is truth?, they’re not serious about the question, or they’re looking for a truth that they can swallow easily that won’t require them to change their life or lifestyle." Many people also ask the other question Pilate asked Jesus: "Are you the King of the Jews?", but don't wait for the answer.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, you willingly gave up your kingly power for us, enduring the cross, scorning its shame, in order to bring us back to God; give us a clear awareness of your majesty as we meditate on the response of those who denied you and help us to renew our faith in you. Amen.
Song: “O Sacred Head Sore Wounded”
"All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying, He trusted in the Lord that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.'
'Show us a miracle,' we said.
The double pair of nail-holes bled.
The rose of thorn-pricks ringed his head.
'Show us a miracle,' we pleaded,
And almost feared. Suppose God heeded
Our giggling plea, and interceded?
The ninth hour came. No God appeared.
He hung there limp and neatly speared.
Why should a helpless God be feared?
from A Widening Light, Luci Shaw, Editor, (p105)
The Crowd: Jn 19:5-6; 14-25a
They say a week is a long time in politics. Well, it can also be a long time in the history of a people. For his entire ministry the crowds have been following Jesus, flocking to hear his teaching and see his mighty acts. Even in the last week, just 5 days earlier, the people of Jerusalem were crying out ‘Hosanna to the son of David’, tearing down palm trees to lay in his path, throwing their coats on the ground in homage. And now they’re a blood crazed mob crying out for his death. Was it because they’d lost confidence in his power now that he’d been arrested so easily? It’s hard to maintain your commitment to God when he doesn’t seem to be acting the way you expected, isn’t it?
These are people who hated the Romans, yet they say they’d rather have the Emperor as king than God’s anointed one, the true Son of David. In fact, they’d rather have a known gangster, a terrorist probably, certainly a murderer and a thief, given a reprieve rather than this man who only ever taught godliness, forgiveness and love. How does a crowd change like that in such a short time? How could they be swayed by a few of their leaders to change their opinion so fast?
We’d never be swayed by the raised voices of opinion makers, would we?
In our modern day, of course, it isn’t the shouts of the chief priests and religious leaders that sway people; it’s the constant drip feed of advertisers and PR people. It’s the subtle and not so subtle inclusion of ideas and world views in the content of TV shows and movies. It’s the careful product placement and cross promotion that takes place in almost every situation these days. But we’re not fooled by that are we? We wouldn’t have our opinions shaped by those sorts of devious methods. Or would we? Think how much we accept in the way of community standards of behaviour or speech now, in 2009, that we would never have accepted in 1970 (if you’re old enough to remember back that far).
And if that’s the case, then how susceptible are we to the constant putting down of orthodox Christianity that happens at all sorts of levels in the media today, even in the religious media. Are we able to resist the loud voices that are crying out in our world proclaiming religious tolerance, universal salvation, religious syncretism, telling us that all religions are equal and any path is OK as long as you’re sincere in your devotion to whichever God it is you worship?
Does it matter that Jesus died on the cross? Or would we be just as happy with the Emperor as long as he gives us what we’re looking for, usually in terms of short term happiness and security? Well, the trouble is, in that sense the Emperor has no clothes. Only Jesus has the substance we need to give us security in the long term. Only Jesus’ death on the cross is sufficient to enable us to come to God without fear. Only Jesus can give us true meaning, as he did for Peter, by giving us a role to play in his kingdom.
So as we go away from this Good Friday service, let’s remember that any one of us is capable of denying Jesus in the same way that Judas, and Peter, and Pilate, and the crowd denied him. Lets keep our eyes and minds fixed on Jesus himself, remembering who he is and what’s he’s done for us. He’s the one who died and rose again so we could be reconciled with the Father. He’s there now, seated at the right hand of God in heaven, interceding for us until the day when he’ll return to take us to be with him forever.
Lord, what would we have done?
Would we have fallen asleep and then run away terrified,
like the disciples in Gethsemane?
Thank you that you forgive us for our weakness,
when we opt out and run away from conflict and cost.
Lord, what would we have done?
Would we have shouted 'Hosanna' on one day, and 'Crucify' on another?
Forgive us when we fail you because it is easier to follow the crowd.
Lord, what would we have done?
Would we have been harsh and judgemental like the Pharisees?
Forgive us when we are quick to condemn, or hide behind legalism.
Lord, what would we have done?
Would we have been like the soldiers, hard and callous, just doing their job?
Forgive us when we act blindly and unthinkingly, without
considering the effect our behaviour has on others.
Lord, what would we have done?
Would we have slunk away ashamed from the horror of Calvary?
We thank you that you forgive us when we let you down,
and that your love is stronger than all the evil we could throw at you;
Lord, accept these prayers, offered in your name.
No 810, The Book of a Thousand Prayers, Angela Ashwin. p343
Song: When I Survey.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, who on that first Good Friday stretched out your hands on the hard wood of a cross so that all people might be brought within their saving embrace, draw us to yourself, that we, being bound to you as faithful servants, may take up our cross daily and follow you. Amen.