When we reached Gethsemane, a place known for its olive press, Jesus spoke again, “Sit here while I pray.” Then He took James, John, and me with Him and went a little further. He turned to us, and, even in the darkness, I sensed His distress. I heard the anguish in His voice. “My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death. Stay here, watch, and pray.” With that He went a short distance and fell to the ground…
The next thing I remember, I was being tapped on the shoulder. I looked through sleepy eyes into the face of Jesus. “Simon, are you sleeping? Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray, lest you enter temptation. The spirit is indeed willing, but the flesh is weak.”
I wanted to pray. I needed to pray. I tried to pray, but I was exhausted. My eyelids grew heavy…
I felt myself being roused from sleep again. “Are you still sleeping and resting?” Jesus asked. “It is enough! The hour is come: behold, the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners! Rise, let us go! Look! My betrayer is here!”
Betrayer? Who? What was He talking about?
Suddenly, we were surrounded by soldiers and the temple guard, who were armed with swords and clubs. The quiet of the night was shattered by the sound of metal and marching feet. The torches cast eerie shafts of light around us. I was trying to understand what was happening. It was then that Judas emerged from the crowd and came toward Jesus. “Master,” he said as he drew near enough to kiss Him. “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” As if pricked by his conscience, Judas quickly disappeared into the darkness.
Then Jesus addressed the crowd before Him. “Whom do you seek?”
“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.
“I AM He. Let these others go,” as he pointed to us.
As soon as He said this, the entire detachment fell to the ground.
I was so caught up in the moment that I drew my sword and struck the person closest to me, not knowing it was only the high priest’s slave. I wanted to remove his head from his body, but only succeeded in cutting off his ear. (I suppose that’s what happens when a fisherman tries to be a soldier.)
“Peter, put your sword away!” Jesus commanded. “All who live by the sword will die by the sword. Don’t you think that I could pray to My Father to provide Me with twelve legions of angels? It must happen this way so that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” He said this while restoring the man’s ear.
Then the armed mob took Jesus and led Him away. When the other disciples saw this, they fled, but I followed the soldiers from behind. I kept a safe distance, because I knew that I had drawn enough attention to myself for one night.
It wasn’t long before we reached the compound of the High Priest. John, who knew the High Priest, was kind enough to have someone let me in the gate. I should have followed Jesus up to the house, but the fire in the courtyard looked like a safer place to be. I joined the others around the fire and began warming my hands. Shortly after this, I looked up to find a servant girl watching me. We held each other’s gaze for a moment before she spoke, “You were with Jesus of Galilee.”
I shot back, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Off in the distance a rooster crowed.
I retreated into the shadows, and crept back to the gate. Surprised, embarrassed, and irritated, I wanted to be left alone. But it wasn’t to be. The servant girl in charge of the gate loudly announced to those around her, “This fellow was also with Jesus.”
I denied it vehemently. This time with an oath. “I don’t know the Man!”
After all this, I still couldn’t leave. I had to know what was happening with my Lord. As imperfect as I was, I still loved Him. About an hour had passed and there was still no word. I was cold, tired and anxious as I made my way back to the fire. I wasn’t there very long when I was confronted again. This time it was by a slave of the High Priest. “I saw you in the garden with Jesus. Your accent gives you away.”
I erupted in anger, and I began to curse and swear. “I don’t know the man!” The echo of my words still hung in the air when I heard the unmistakable crow of a rooster. Jesus turned and looked at me. It was a look that I will never forget. It was as intense as the one at our first meeting. Only this time it was a look of pity, sorrow, and compassion. His gaze even more poignant because of the physical blows His face had already taken. I doubt any of them were as painful as the blow of betrayal I had given Him. It was in that moment that I remembered every single word of warning that my Lord had given me. I had to get away…
Once I was outside the compound, I ran and ran, desperate to escape the awful scene. But I couldn’t escape the words that replayed themselves in my mind. “Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny Me three times.” All my oaths of loyalty were just words. The confidence that I had displayed hours before was gone. I began t o weep. The tears came in a torrent. My body shook with sobs. “O God, O God, what have I done? What have I done? Forgive me! Forgive me! The weight of grief was crushing my chest. Is this what King David felt so many years ago? I prayed his words, “Create in me a clean heart O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Yet it didn’t relieve me of the burden I felt. I was a broken man.
Those hours I spent wandering the dark streets of Jerusalem still remain in a fog. The tears subsided, but the shame did not. With all His hateful enemies, how could I, whom He loved, have been so treacherous?
Later that morning, I kept to the edges of the crowd as I followed it outside the city. I stared unbelievingly at what was happening. The same people who had been waving palm branches and shouting “Hosanna!” just days before were screaming “Crucify Him!” And now He was being marched out to be executed. I was amazed and repulsed with the fickleness of these followers, but I thought again of my own failure. I, who had followed Him for three years. I who had been chosen to be the leader of the twelve. I, who had promised to be on the cross next to Him. I not only had deserted Him, I had denied Him. How could I pass judgment on these people?
It didn’t take long to reach the place where it happened. The Romans wanted crucifixions to be public events to discourage any thought of rebellion against the empire. But Jesus hadn’t lead a rebellion. Wasn’t it He who had said, “Render to Ceasar that which is Ceasar’s”? Wasn’t He being crucified because the chief priests and Jewish leaders couldn’t stand the threat to their authority? I stood alone as I watched His hands being nailed to wood; hands that could make disease disappear. His feet had already been pierced through, the feet that I had followed over the dusty roads of Galilee.
Now He was suspended between earth and heaven, struggling for every breath, writhing in excruciating pain. His body had been so battered and beaten He no longer looked like a man. The only way He could be identified was the signpost above His head that read, “This is Jesus. The King of the Jews.” There He hung, insults being hurled in His face, cursed by man and abandoned by God. Yet, He said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. Instead I stood silently, riveted to the spot.
Eventually, the curses and insults died down, and the only ones around the cross were several women including Jesus’ mother and Roman soldiers. Occasionally the stillness was broken by the cries of the Lord.
At one point, Jesus shouted in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” It seemed that the earth itself couldn’t watch the injustice any longer, and the whole land was covered in darkness. If men, made in the image of God, did not have the sense to grieve for their Creator, nature itself would lament His loss.
It was the middle of the afternoon. The air hung close and heavy. Every minute seemed like an hour. Finally, Jesus cried out for the last time. “Father, into Your hands I commit My Spirit.” With that, He breathed His last. It was over. He was dead. Instantly, the ground began to shake beneath my feet. It was as if the earth was caught in the spasms of grief. In the reactions around me there was fear and wonder. It was the culmination of a day full of significance, most of which we were yet to grasp.
John offered to let me stay at his house until the Feast days were over, and I accepted. I was grateful that I wouldn’t have to bear the burden of grief alone. The waves of sorrow and regret continually washed over me. The pain was overwhelming at times– the pain of loss, the pain of my own broken promises, and the pain of unrealized expectations. The deliverance we hoped for would not come.
If Jesus were the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of the living God– and I believed with my whole heart that He was-what purpose did His death serve? The Romans, the very people from whom He was to deliver us, had crucified Him. It just didn’t make any sense. I knew the unanswerable question, “why?” would probably haunt me for the rest of my life. . ..