Were you there—when they crucified my Lord?
12. Disciples distant
Luke 23:45-49 (NIV)
Luke 23:44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” 48 When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.49 But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.
Also refer to —Matthew 26:31-35,55-56; Mark 15:40; John 19:25-27
Also—Matthew 26:31-35,55; Mark 15:40; John 19:25-27
I remember being stirred at the funeral of a very faithful older Christian man whose life was devoted to sharing the gospel and helping other people. That included me at a particularly trying time in my life when I had been falsely accused and needed someone to talk to openly but confidentially. Jim was always a close Christian brother. He also became my very dear friend. I still miss him today, many years later. What moved my heart at his funeral was to see that all the four coffin bearers were his sons. They had loyally prayed for him, cared for him when he was alive, supported him when he was dying, and honoured him after his death. I found that extremely moving, especially as he had supported so many others.
Jesus alone as He dies
Let us think again about that cruel cross where Jesus bore our sins and their punishment—which it would take anyone an eternity to pay in Hell, if they fail to repent and ask Jesus into their lives to save them. Jesus suffered the penalty of eternal punishment in His body in three hours on Calvary’s cross, as the sun ceased to shine at midday (Luke 23:44–45). Because He rose from the dead, God’s word, in Hebrews 7:16, says Jesus now lives in the ‘power of an indestructible life’ (NIV)—or ‘endless life’ (NKJV). If you turn from your sins to trust Jesus personally, our indestructible and ever-living Saviour, you receive eternal life now and will never lose it (John 10:27–30).
Sadly, unlike my friend’s faithful sons, not many of Jesus’ disciples supported Him at His death. Although surrounded by a crowd, He is alone as He dies and bears men’s insults and blasphemy and God the Father’s holy wrath on our sins.
‘from a distance’—‘at a distance’
Now ‘many women’ watch ‘from a distance’ at the cross. Only one male disciple, the Apostle John, is reported as being near enough to hear Jesus speak to him as he stood supporting Jesus’ mother, as her Son died on the cross (John 19:25–27). Earlier, in the Garden of Gethsemane, provoked by the religious leaders, the mob came with swords and clubs to take Jesus for mock trials, flogging and then crucifixion. Matthew tells us that Peter, a leading disciple, followed ‘at a distance’ to see what happened but then denied all knowledge of Jesus three times (see also, Luke 22:54–62). He had boasted to Jesus, ‘Even if all fall away on your account, I never will’ and ‘Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.’ But he did not boast alone: ‘And all the other disciples said the same.’ (Matthew 26:31–35).
Weak made strong—but only as we live close to Jesus
It is not enough to make bold claims about our Christianity or think we have the strength in ourselves to follow Christ. We are weak, sinful, and prone to fail—which makes our conversion to Christ even more amazing. But we must keep close to Jesus, not follow Him ‘at a distance.’ We are weak but, by His strength and if we abide in Him, He enables us to live differently and live for Him, despite our weaknesses and failures. But we must live close to Him in prayer, trust and obedience. Though still weak sinners, we are no longer mastered by sin. That is entirely through God’s saving grace by which we trust in our strong Saviour, enjoy the Holy Spirit indwelling us, and are helped by daily reading, and having confidence in the Bible. We are fed and helped as we listen to good Bible teaching and enjoy meeting together with Christians on the Lord’s Day and having open fellowship with them during the week. We have so much in common with others who trust and follow Jesus. But without Christ, we can do nothing. Yet we rejoice that, as we keep turning from sin and yielding our lives to Jesus, we learn that ‘sin shall not be your master, because you are not under law, but under grace’ (Romans 6:14).
We cannot get right with God by keeping His law or trying to keep it—we fail time and time again. His law shows us our sins so that we humbly ask for God’s help and forgiveness for those sins and remember Christ is in us and with us. It is true that we are not mastered by sin, but we certainly are assailed by it and we do sin. The Bible says, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, [God] is faithful and just and will forgive our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:8–9). We need His cleansing every single day and always during the day too. We receive that cleansing each time, in sincere repentance, we come to Jesus and ask Him to forgive us and help us live for Him.
Always a few who follow
But there are always bound to be a few disciples at the cross who are less ‘distant’ and more faithful than those well-known disciples who fled and did not even follow Jesus ‘at a distance’ as Peter did before his triple denial. They simply were not even anywhere near the One they promised to follow to the end. Are you willing to be one of those few?
For Christians today, how important it is to live close to the Lord and His word each day, and to ask Him to keep us constantly close to Him. Do you ever ‘fail to show up’ when you should be there for Christ—not only in Sunday services and Bible studies, but if a fellow Christian suffers unfairness or abuse from others? I am not suggesting violent intervention—God does not want that—but rather, to ask God for His grace to help your fellow Christian explain what it means to know Jesus and to follow Him. Are you willing to be counted when the majority is against you and clearly non-Christian? For that you need to live near your living Lord day by day.
Four faithful women and one loyal man near the cross
Some Christian women were as near the cross as they could get—watching crucifixion close up was mainly a male thing to do. Those women’s loyal and loving faithfulness puts many men to shame. Strength to follow Christ is less to do with muscles than to do with a heart that loves Jesus. Matthew 27:55–56 says that, among the ‘Many women’ coming to care for Jesus, are Mary Magdalene and Mary, the mother of some disciples. Salome is also identified in Mark 15:40. These three later go to the tomb (Mark 16:1). John adds another ‘Mary’ to this list, the wife of Clopas (John 19:25). A fourth very faithful ‘Mary’ is there too—Jesus’ mother. Imagine how she feels to see her much loved son so wrongly treated—though she always knew He had a special task to do on earth, and that He is the Son of God, born through the Holy Spirit miraculously coming on her. But close to Jesus and His cross, with Jesus’ brave mother, is just one male disciple, John. The women are on the edge of the crowd, but John takes Mary (or vice-versa?) nearer to crucified Jesus. As three other women join them, (John 19:25), Jesus speaks to His mother and to John. He cares for His mother by asking John to treat her like his own mother. He cares for His loving and close disciple, John, by asking Mary to act as a mother to him. What amazing love from a dying, bleeding, sin-bearing Saviour, Himself in a time of real need! John takes grieving Mary into his home (John 19:26–27).
Are you a disciple who stays close to Jesus?
Are you Jesus’ disciple? Do you follow Him closely each day? Or do you just look on from afar? Perhaps you are a Christian who has let things slip, and you need to re-commit your life to Jesus?
Or maybe your greatest need is to trust Jesus as your Lord and Saviour, by asking Him into your life? You cannot be His disciple unless you know Him. And coming to know Jesus opens up a life of discipleship to the new convert. Remember that He died for you, loves you, and will bless and keep you if you trust Him. Remember, too, to keep close to Him.