Reading: John 19.16-30
I loved the outdoor life. Living in the little village of Bethsaida on Lake Galilee was great for energetic, growing boys. That's why I got my brother Andrew to go into partnership with me. We bought our own boat and established a good fishing business - mostly good catches and a ready market in Capernaum. We got to know the lake well, knew the best fishing spots, were masters with the casting-nets and became experts at reading the weather.
All in all, we were settling down to a very satisfying life until that day - over three years ago now - when Jesus came along the shore. We didn't know him at all - just conscious that someone was watching us land a catch. Nothing remarkable about that. Children would often watch from the shore. An adult gazing out at us wasn't unusual, either. There must be a fascination in seeing a whole shoal of fish struggling - trapped in the net, hauled into the boat.
As we drew the boat to the shore, we realised that this man wasn't staring at the fish. He was looking at us! His eyes met ours and he said, "Come, follow me, and I will make you fishers of men!" (Mt. 4.19)
We didn't grasp all that he meant by that. There was no way we could! I'm still not sure I understand it! It may seem foolish to you - leaving a good catch of fish for someone else to deal with, leaving your boat and your nets! Yet that's just what we did. We left the lot and set off following Jesus!
Who was he? Apparently he had worked his father's carpentry business in Nazareth, some fifty kilometres or so from Bethsaida. But we'd never heard a word of him. We did hear about John who was calling people to turn away from their sins and then baptised them in the Jordan down near Jericho. Apparently Jesus went to the Baptiser. I'm quite certain Jesus never had any sins to confess! Then he came back up to Galilee, away from John. And that's when he came to us!
Who was he? He called twelve of us altogether. Following Jesus was amazing. His genuine caring love was reaching out to all people. From all accounts he was very different from the Baptiser, yet concerned about human sin - the need for forgiveness and a new life, the need for deliverance from oppressive spirits, the need for healing
We watched him and listened - yes, I became a listener! We listened as he taught about the Kingdom of God. He didn't mean the nation of Israel. He was talking about the Rule of God in people's hearts and lives, about a whole new relationship with God - something closer, deeper and more life-changing than could ever be achieved by all our God-given rules, rituals and sacrifices! And whenever he sensed that it was beyond people's grasp, he would tell a story instead.
Who was he? I remember well the time when we were all up at Caesarea Philippi. That's up near the headwaters of the Jordan and at the foot of the great snow-clad Mount Hermon. It was a time away from the crowds - he seemed to want to know what the crowds were thinking. Yet even more, I think he wanted to know what we thought of him. He said, "Who do you say I am?" It was obvious and, being as far away as possible from Jerusalem, it was easy to say, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!" (Mt. 16.16)
It was about then that he started to tell us he was going to Jerusalem and that our religious leaders would make him suffer many things. Yes, he told us all this would happen. We were horrified! Such a thing could not, should not, must not happen to Jesus! If he is truly the Messiah, he should be welcomed, not rejected. And if he is truly the Son of God, then surely he cannot die!
But now they have him! We have suspected for some time, but now we are seeing clearly who they are! False shepherds of God's flock! Broken cisterns that cannot hold water! It seemed a bit harsh to us when Jesus called them "whitewashed tombs" (Mt. 23.27), but today there is no more fitting description!
This is Golgotha, the Place of the Skull, and Pilate's sign above his cross reads, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews". The chief priests don't like that! How we wish that he might have lived to be that King! But he is just the King of the Skull! After doing this to him, that's about all we Jews are! So he's the King of the Skull!
When Jesus first called me to follow him, he gave me a new name - Cephas in our language or Peter - the "rock". I'm rather a misfit with that name too! When I said, "You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God," it really looked as if I was on the right track. "Good for you!" Jesus said. My Father in heaven has told you that one - "And I tell you, Peter: you are a rock, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will never overcome it" (Mt. 16.16-18). I really thought that - that's why I said it! I'm sure I was speaking for all the others too!
But now it has come to this The Messiah the Son of the living God is on the cross, dying - yes, it looks as if he's staying there. No sign of him answering their taunts and coming down!
And it has come to this - the rock crumbling under pressure! I couldn't stay awake to watch and pray with him in the garden. Then I denied him - three times denied that I knew who he was, denied that I was one of his disciples.
Shh! He's trying to speak! "Here is your son! Here is your mother!" Yes, great grief is piercing Mary's soul! And Jesus is reaching out in love to her. He can do no more and John will take good care of her! John won't fail him!
How cruel the Romans are! It's not enough to them that a man should die - every execution must be a public spectacle! The agony and shame must be drawn out as long as possible!
When I said I would die with Jesus, I wasn't exactly thinking of this! I thought I might stand alongside to protect him in a fight. If I got killed, so be it. But this? No man should have to go through this - least of all the sinless one!
And why? Why should he die? Why all this jealousy and bitterness and hatred against this one whose only fault was his love for the loveless? Why should he die, this one who has done all things well?
He's speaking again! "I am thirsty!" Body parched by the beating sun as his life is ebbing away! Thirsty! "If anyone is thirsty " Yes, he said that once, "if anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink" (Jn 7.37). Now he is the thirsty one! His mouth is dry. He can scarcely speak. Ah! They're moistening his lips! That's better! It doesn't take away the suffering, the horror of what is going on here. But it is something - the very least they could do!
He's very weak now. His body can't take much more! Yet he wants to say something. One last statement to this cruel world? He has every right to blame the Romans, the Jewish leaders, the crowd and me! I followed so closely and then denied him!
"IT IS FINISHED!"
He's gone! Oh no! So that's it! Finished! Amen! Full-stop!
Finished? We are the Skull! He came "to give life, life to the full" (Jn 10.10). After all this, I feel myself finished. I think our leaders are finished. I fear that our race might be finished. I wonder at the Romans and at a whole world where this sort of thing can happen
Finished? It's not the end I was expecting. And yet it was a kind of triumphant shout! It puzzles me. His body is quite still now - no heaving of the chest in his struggle to breathe. The life-giver has died! Yet even in death he is more real than all of us! We are the Skull! He is the King!
Finished? I'm puzzled. Somehow he's finished something!