Stephen R. Bradd
Have you ever stopped to think about the sad irony of Jesus’ apostles being with Him virtually all the time for over three years and yet being absent for His trial, crucifixion, and burial? The disciples (except John) missed everything from Gethsemane onward because of fear and shame. Shortly after Judas planted the betrayal kiss, “all the disciples forsook Him and fled” (Matt. 26:56). What a depressing thought!
There is much that can be said about the terrible treatment Jesus suffered from His enemies. Certainly they uttered every insult that occurred to them as they inflicted excruciating pain over many hours. After He rose from the dead, they compounded their sins further by lying about His resurrection. Even now in the 21st century, there are many enemies of the Christ who still treat Him badly.
But, besides His enemies and the pain they inflicted, what about the hurt caused our Lord by the cowardly desertion of His disciples? It might be expected that the religious leaders–His perpetual enemies–would hate and crucify Him. One would not be surprised to find a covetous man, like Judas Iscariot, betraying someone he was angry with. Yet, due to their continued following and strong words of commitment (cf. Mark 14:31), it would be natural to expect the apostles to be faithful no matter what. Jesus knew they would run away, but His foreknowledge of that fact (cf. Matt. 26:31) surely did not make it easier to cope with.
Although it is impossible for us to know, we can suggest (from our own perspective and experiences) that the abandoning by His close friends would have hurt a lot more than the torture inflicted on His body by His enemies. After witnessing Jesus’ arrest, they could stand no more. They fled in terror and were afraid of receiving a similar fate because of their close association with Him. Peter stayed around long enough to deny Him with curses, which was even worse than forsaking Him outright!
Jesus’ friends were no better than His apostles when His hour had come. Those who ate His loaves and fishes, all the cripples He healed, the lepers, Lazarus, and on and on–they were not there to support Him! Even the women who did stand by Him at Calvary thought this was the end of Him. They did not expect an empty tomb when they later came to anoint a dead body. As He died on the cross, none of His followers really understood the bigger picture–which is why they were afraid and ashamed.
I wonder if the reason why many today are afraid or ashamed to sacrificially follow the Lord is because they still don’t understand the bigger picture. Could it be that many, though they should know better, have been blinded by the world and its lusts? When it comes time to sacrifice and suffer for the Lord, they run away and hide. They refuse to bear a cross for the One who gave everything for them. They don’t want to be rebuked but encouraged in their wickedness or spiritual laziness. They don’t want an ugly cross of commitment, but a fun life of leisure and pleasure. Friends, our sins helped nail Jesus to the cross and He has told us what we must do – “If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me” (Matt. 16:24). Do you desire to genuinely follow Jesus? Such is impossible if you aren’t willing to deny yourself, suffer and sacrifice for His sake, and follow Him wherever His word leads you! Don’t be ashamed of the cross! It hurts the Lord and destroys your only possible hope of salvation (cf. Rom. 1:16,17).