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Early on Good Friday
The events of the Easter weekend belong together. The events of Good Friday would be depressing indeed if not followed by what took place on Easter Sunday. Similarly Easter Sunday would be largely incomprehensible were it not for an understanding of what preceded it on Good Friday.
Today we are focusing upon some of the events that took place on Good Friday and we’ll think more about what happened next on Sunday.
Yet we need to remember that when we break up the details like this and consider them independently the reason is merely a practical one – there is simply so much for us to take in that we can’t do it all in one go.
This morning we are not even going to attempt to consider all of what took place that first Good Friday, nor even the climactic events that dominated that day and with which it closed. We are instead going to restrict our meditation to the very early hours of that Friday.
Come with me through those events and let us ponder them together for a while.
Jesus is Betrayed and Arrested in Gethsemane
Jesus had taken his disciples to the Garden of Gethsemane after celebrating the Last Supper with them. There he gave himself to prayer and there his disciples failed to do so. But the time for prayer had come to an end and as Jesus was warning his disciples about what was to happen next there comes an:
How often in Jesus’ life were there interruptions! And how well he handled them! He had time for people and was never thrown off by them. He was at peace with God and he knew that things did not occur by chance – his Father was in charge, so what need was there of becoming agitated or stressed? We admire him and long to be able to imitate his calm composure which was expressed in even the most trying of circumstances. And this was just such an occasion.
One of the twelve
Judas arrives on the scene. Of course he had been to the garden many times before -
Yes, it is Judas – one of the twelve who arrives. Seven times over in the gospels Judas is referred to with the words "one of the twelve" and on each occasion his betrayal of his Master is in view. It is as though the gospel writers can’t get over the magnitude of the fact that Jesus wasn’t betrayed by just anybody but he was betrayed by one of his own, one of his closest followers, one of the twelve. This was a betrayal of the worst possible kind. Does it matter? Yes, it matters for the closer someone is to you the greater their capacity to hurt you. A hateful word addressed to you by someone you hardly know will not be pleasant to hear but that same word in the mouth of one of your closest confidants would be a very different kettle of fish.
A Great Crowd
And, of course, Judas doesn’t arrive on his own. He is at the head of a crowd, a great crowd – Judas’ act of betrayal is no private falling out but a very public act.
As you read through the gospels if you are an attentive reader you’ll have noticed that frequent mention is made of crowds. Again and again and again crowds flock to Jesus. Multitudes of people, large crowds of people wanted to be with him: they went to inhospitable places in order to be with him, they went to listen to his teaching, they went to be healed of their sicknesses – and Jesus had compassion on these folk seeing them as sheep without a shepherd. How thoughtful and kind he was as he went about doing good and healing all who came to him in their need!
But now it was a very different sort of crowd. This was a hostile crowd that was made up of a variety of different elements and they were armed to the teeth with swords and clubs. This crowd that came to Jesus in the garden had come to arrest the man from Nazareth. They had come apparently expecting a violent showdown even though just a few days before Jesus had ridden into Jerusalem not on a warhorse but humbly upon a donkey! They had come this way to arrest the man who invited all those who were burdened and heavy laden to come to him and he promised to give them rest. This was how they came to arrest the man we know courtesy of the prophet Isaiah as "the Prince of Peace".
Judas of course knows so well what Jesus looks like and has no trouble identifying Jesus by the light of the lanterns and torches his crowd have brought with them. And Jesus certainly made no attempt to withdraw into the shadows but rather stepped forward to meet those come to arrest him.
So Judas goes directly to Jesus and greets him with a kiss!
A kiss, in normal circumstances, is a sign of warmth and appreciation; it is a demonstration of friendship and affection.
Do you remember how on one occasion Jesus was in the home of a Pharisee named Simon? They were having a meal together when a woman arrived uninvited. She had a reputation and it wasn’t good. Standing by Jesus she wept profusely and her tears wet his feet, she dried them with her hair and anointed them with the perfume she had brought with her. But more than that, we read that she kissed his feet again and again. Simon was horrified but Jesus recognised her gestures as those of repentance, faith and love!
But now very early on Good Friday morning these were not normal circumstances. Judas had no intention of expressing loving appreciation for the one he had followed for three years – he had now turned against him. The kiss from his lips was for outward show – it was a sign but not of affection, it was a sign of betrayal pure and simple. It was an outstanding act of hypocrisy. A "Judas kiss" has entered our vocabulary as a synonym for a stab in the back of the lowest kind.
With that dreadful sign Jesus was taken. The men with Judas laid their hands on Jesus. They thought that they had taken him into their power but this was only because he refused to resist and not because of any inherent weakness.
Simon Peter did react. He tried to intervene on behalf of his Master and drawing his sword he sliced off the ear of the hapless Malchus who was a servant of the high priest. But Jesus had not sanctioned such action and quickly rectified it. He straightaway insisted that Peter put up his weapon and he stretched out his hand to heal the wounded ear. I wonder what effect that act of loving compassion had upon Malchus. I wonder whether it brought him to faith and trust in Jesus as the events unfolded and as he later reflected on all that had happened. I wonder: Will we meet him in glory? Will we be in glory to find out?
Peter had tried to defend Jesus not realising that Jesus was by no means short of power -
You may have heard how in recent years some foolish folk, who do not like the orthodox understanding of Jesus’ dying as a substitutionary sacrifice for his people, have described that understanding as the equivalent of some form of "cosmic child abuse". The idea is utter nonsense and shown to be so by what Jesus declares here.
He had only to call to the Father who would immediately dispatch 12 legions of angels to defend him. Should Jesus decided not to go through with it all this makes it very plain that the Father would not force him.
Two angels were all that were needed to keep Lot and his family safe. One angel was sufficient to humble Joshua and to bring him to his knees before the walls of Jericho even though Joshua was at the head of all the armies of Israel.
A legion numbered in the region of 6.000. So Jesus was declaring the Father’s readiness to send 72.000 angels to care for his Son should his son desire. Jesus had thus no need of the support of his disciples but he knew too that were he thus to call out to his Father the purposes of his coming would never be achieved, the promises of Scripture left unfulfilled and his people left forever unsaved. Jesus did not resist but we mustn’t get it wrong – this was an act of tremendous strength and resolve it was no evidence of the weakness of a helpless victim.
As a Robber
Although he had been teaching openly and regularly in the Temple every morning during that week.
The company had come out to arrest him just as if he were a violent criminal. And yet when he had had contact with dishonest folk in the past the effect was life-
It is the hour for darkness to triumph – but don’t worry, the triumph will be shortlived, it won’t be long before another triumphant note will be sounded "It is finished" and that will quickly be followed by another: "Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen."
And so down through the centuries Christians have greeted each other with those glorious words: The Lord is risen. He is risen indeed!
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves – it was the moment when the powers of darkness reigned; Jesus was arrested and his disciples left him and fled.
The Trials Begin
Jesus was taken away under armed guard from the Garden of Gethsemane and brought into the city where a succession of trial hearings take place.
The apostle John records the first informal hearing as Jesus is taken off to Annas. Annas had been the High Priest until he was deposed by the Romans in AD 15 but he continued to exercise a good deal of influence. His son-
Annas was not concerned about fundamental matters of truth – he had already made up his mind concerning what had to be done with Jesus – he was however disappointed not to be able to get Jesus to answer his questions and so provide an excuse or a pretext for having him condemned. Consequently Annas sent Jesus off to be examined by his son-
The Jewish leaders were intent on having Jesus put to death but they had a problem – the Romans did not permit the Jews to take life. So the Jewish leaders had to come up with an accusation that would force Rome’s hand.
Earlier in the week these leaders had thought it would be best to wait until the Passover week was over before moving against Jesus. By that time the pilgrim population would have dispersed and there would be less risk of disturbance. With such a time-
False witness follows false witness and nothing seems to be hanging together until two finally give a garbled report of a saying Jesus made.
Caiaphas has had enough and intervenes – they don’t want the proceedings to drag on too long and word get about that Jesus is under arrest. He puts a direct question to Jesus concerning who he considers himself to be and puts him under divine obligation to respond.
This time Jesus does speak – having ignored so many earlier questions this one he will answer. His answer is complete and comprehensive: he declares himself to be the Christ, the Son of the Living God and he adds that as Christ he is coming to reign in power.
Caiaphas has got the confession he wanted but pretends shock and horror at such blasphemy. With such little regard for truth and justice it is hard to take his professed concerns for God’s glory seriously all the more so as he dishonours the very word of this God which forbids a high priest from the symbolic act of tearing his garments which Caiaphas does not hesitate to do!
But Jesus’ confession is enough. Caiaphas has what he wants – the Romans can be pressured now into executing this troublesome man.
This trial hearing ends with a first taster of mockery and abuse. As the day wears on such abuse will only grow in severity and in cruelty.
See what you Saviour willingly accepted that your salvation might be secured. How do you respond to this Saviour?