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Stories of the Cross and Empty Tomb (Part 1)



Over the next several days we're going to take a look at the events of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday through the eyes of some of those who were there. Listen in...


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John Mark's Story


I will forever be remembered as the nameless young man who ran away.


Fled – in sheer terror. Never has such fear-filled necessity of escape gripped my mind and legs.


I wasn’t the only one who ran – in fact his disciples ran quicker, faster, farther

– maybe they saw it coming … maybe they had more at stake. The night air crackled with fear.


All of us fled. All but one. He stood at the centre. Around him the whole storm

broke loose. But he was quietly still, as if clothed in peaceful calm, fully clad in strength of will, cloaked with compassion against that raging wind of hate, bold in the glare of hostile eyes and hands.


But me, I was completely unclothed - disrobed. That night I ran in such powerful dread that – really – I left all clothing behind. Hung up on a soldier’s grip – I escaped, but my garment didn’t.


Joseph, long ago, servant in Potiphar’s household, fled naked as Potiphar’s wife clutched his garment, trying to seduce him. He fled naked, but with integrity intact.


I fled with all integrity flapping in the night air – I fled out of base fear. Stripped of clothes. Stripped of name. Fully exposed, I ran.


Thankfully, I remain nameless to history, yet it is in fact my name that gives me comfort. In Hebrew, my name is John – Yohanan – Yahweh is gracious – the Lord, Yahweh, is gracious – what a name to live under – thank God for that! Oh, I’ve got a Roman name, too … sounds much more powerful – Marcus – big hammer – sure. Ironically, most now call me Mark. But, my only hope is Yahweh’s grace. Yohanan is the only name for this nameless, exposed young man.


I will never forget that night and the events that stormed around me. My mother and father had long been aware of the Rabbi, Jesus from Nazareth. They heard him teach – they saw him heal – they believed him to be sent by God. They‘d arranged that whenever he visited Jerusalem he could freely use our olive orchard, just outside the city, as a meeting place. And so, he was there often with his disciples, sitting beneath the trees, sheltered by day or night, catching breath, passing food, chuckling over shared memories, explaining his heart, unveiling mystery. I was in my teens back then and I’d see them there, from time to time, as I carried out my chores, or sat guard at night. I lingered long enough to eavesdrop on the wonder of the man – I never did meet him face to face, but his presence always filled that orchard with some kind of eventful expectancy, as if revolution was in his very words. Certainly his voice was charged with an authority like no Rabbi I’d ever met. Even those half-heard conversations had power to transfix my teenage mind.


There was a big press at one side of the grove, used for crushing the olives and extracting their smooth oil. Sometimes he’d sit with his back against that press, all eyes fixed on him, life seeming to pour out from him, as rich and golden as oil itself. We called that press by its Aramaic name: Gethsemane – the name stuck for the whole of the orchard itself.


Earlier on that day, two of Jesus’ disciples had come to my parents’ home, directed by the Rabbi, in search of a location to celebrate the Passover meal. My father had prospered and we lived in a spacious, comfortable home right in the heart of Jerusalem. My mother and father were eager to help, glad to do anything for the Rabbi, Jesus. Arrangements were quickly made to use the large room built on the flat roof of our house. Some of the household servants set the room in order, food was prepared, all was made ready.


In the twilight of early evening, the guests arrived – Jesus and his twelve disciples. All was made ready … all was prepared. Up they went, and their meal began. Our own Passover meal was held as a family in the main part of the house, yet I couldn’t help but be aware of the Master’s presence above us. If there was one thing I had gleaned from eavesdropping on Jesus, it was a sense of life that permeated his very being, his every word. Somehow, just his presence intensified the reality of our Passover celebration.


A celebration of remembrance. Of God’s people enslaved in Egypt. Of Yahweh, the Lord, sending a deliverer to set them free. Of lamb’s blood spilt, marking lives for freedom, turning aside death and renewing life, ending slavery and providing release. Yahweh is gracious. Jesus’ presence spoke of it.


With dinner ended and the hour late, it was my task to go out to our olive grove to serve as watchman through the night. There was a watchtower near the oil press and there I made myself comfortable, present if something should happen, but fully expecting nothing – nothing ever did happen … nothing at all. The tower’s provisions bespoke the expectation, for there was a simple cot and bedding, enough to be comfortable, enough to produce sleep. Stripping off my clothing, I lay down for the night.


But sleep was interrupted. It seemed no time at all that I heard voices, a party of late-night celebrants coming into the orchard. I could hear them in the lower part of the garden, and I stirred to look and watch and fulfill my duty. A muffled voice gave a gentle command, then silence. After a few minutes I heard footsteps drawing near and saw four shaded figures approaching through the trees. As they came close, the light of Passover’s full moon broke on their faces and I recognized them – Jesus, and three of his disciples. What were they doing here so late? The Rabbi stopped. The three came alongside, looking to him for direction.


“My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said – what dark words for a voice that held such life. “Stay here and keep watch,” he said, and then left the three behind as he pressed on, further up the slope of the orchard.


I could see the disciples settle in, slumping against olive trunks, stretching out for comfort – they were taking their duty as casually as I. Weariness made them still. I couldn’t help but watch, now that the Master was near.


Hurriedly I threw on my linen garment. Coming down from the watchtower I followed in Jesus’ direction, keeping off to the side, not wanting to intrude. Still a distance away, I heard the agony of his voice: “Abba, Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”


Such pain-filled words. After some fifteen minutes he passed through the trees, back to his disciples. I could see them still – motionless. With pain he said, “Simon, are you asleep?” Simon and the other two stirred, rising to their feet, heads hung. “Could you not keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak.”


He turned and left. The disciples sat. Slumped. Grew still. Another ten or fifteen minutes – further prayers of agony – Jesus returned. Again, the disciples rallied. Again, Jesus returned to his place of prayer. Again, the disciples slumped against olive trees.


Some fifteen minutes and Jesus returned a third time. His failing followers didn’t stir. “Are you still sleeping and resting?” he said. “Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”


It was only then I noticed a sound that had been growing at the lower end of the garden. There came a rush of men, scampering to the protective shelter of their Master’s presence – the other disciples. Following immediately behind them, with torches and lanterns throwing flashes of light, came an ominous crowd – members of the Temple guard in front, followed by the stern presence of Roman soldiers in orderly progression, all with sword in hand, the whole crowd flanked by rank civilians brandishing clubs, robes flapping, surging forward. In front was a man I recognized from our home that very evening, one of the Master’s disciples, who rushed forward, straight to Jesus. Addressing him as “Rabbi!”, he kissed him.


The wave crested – several of the Temple guard and civilian rabble swelled forward to seize Jesus. A storm of shouts and swords and cries of pain, swirling lights, disciples pushing to the outer edges of the squall. I was drawn forward to the brink, with chest pounding in fear.


It was then I saw the Master clothed with quiet calm. His voice rose above the din. By strength of will he made his presence known. It was as if wind and waves grew still. “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I was with you, teaching in the temple courts, and you did not arrest me. But the Scriptures must be fulfilled.”


The storm’s lull ended. The mob’s fury blew strong. Jesus was arrested. And all his disciples ran for their lives.


And me? I hesitated long enough for one of the Temple guard to grab my shoulder. Terror made me urgent. I twisted and pulled and ran … naked into the night.

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Early the next day, Jesus was crucified. By mid-afternoon he was dead.

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I heard later he had spoken all of this to his disciples weeks in advance. Moving forward, down the road together, he’d said: “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise.”


I ran in fear, stripped of all dignity. He walked purposely forward, seeing the end, clothed in quiet determination. He entered Jerusalem, knowing full well. He stood still in the garden. He endured the storm. He embraced the cross. Why?


So that I, like you, might be clothed in the wonder of my name, made new.

Yohanan – Yahweh is gracious.


Simon has since told me what Jesus said to them just shortly before entering Jerusalem.


He said: “The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”


My nakedness clothed. My slavery liberated. The Lamb’s blood spilt for me. The Master, serving, giving, graciously, to ransom me for freedom.


Yahweh is gracious. The Lord Christ is gracious indeed.

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(Give thanks for his gift of ransom paid.)

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Photo by Gianna B on Unsplash

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