Christian – until death
There was something about him that fascinated me. Every day I’d get up, determined to go about my own business, but I could not resist the charisma of this man.
There were many others who felt the same way, and there were a few – men and women – who seemed to be very close to him. I was not one of them, yet I was always there, day after day.
The small group went into the home of John Mark’s mother on this particular evening. The door was closed to those who were not part of the inner circle, but I, for some reason, decided to wait. I sat in the dust in the street. I was a patient man, accustomed to waiting. There was something in the air – a tingling sense of anticipation and I just knew I could not go home.
So I waited. Even though it was Passover, this year I was not with my own family. No. I can’t tell you why – it was just so.
After a while the door opened and slammed shut. One of the man’s friends ran down the steps and away towards the Temple. I watched him go. I watched him go …
My wait was rewarded. Out he came, this man, with his friends, and they started down the hill towards the Valley of Kidron. I hung back, and then followed. They made their way to Gethsemane – a place I knew they used often. Most of them sat or lay down as they reached the Garden, but he called three of them to go with him. I crept passed the tired group and followed. I did not want to intrude but I felt that I needed to be as close to him this night as I could.
He stopped and spoke to his friends. They too sat down, their weariness evident in the way their bodies slumped to the ground. It was strange for I have never felt so full of energy and life.
He went on alone, and I followed. I tried hard not to make any noise so that my presence would go unnoticed. As he knelt by a rock I too sank to the ground, my eyes fixed on his face. And I saw there a gut-wrenching anguish so deep I could not bear to look, and yet I could not tear my eyes away. He buried His face in his hands and began to pray.
It was as if the world stopped. Not a sound anywhere. Even the wind stilled – as if the world held its breath. There was no light – the full moon was completely dimmed. I have never been in such utter silence or darkness – except for a short period of time that happened on the next day – but that was still in the future.
Twice he rose to his feet as if to go back to join his friends. Twice, when finding them sleeping he spoke to them and returned to his place of prayer.
I watched him in silence, my body motionless, scarcely breathing – as if even my life was suspended in time. He hunched over, rocking slightly, praying in a way I have never seen a man pray before.
Agony is the only word I can think of to describe it.
I have no idea how long we spent in that garden. After what seemed like hours of struggle in prayer, he suddenly relaxed and it seemed as if strength and life flowed through him. Still on his knees, he looked up to Heaven a changed man! Now the agony was spent – finished. It was as if a tiny spark had been set to dry kindling and taken hold and blazed. Fire! Fire!
The light was not normal – neither moon nor starlight – but it seemed as if there was a glowing radiance emanating from him. With a strong voice, he cried out:
‘Abba, Father, everything is possible for You. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what You will.’
He rose to his feet and started to walk back towards His disciples.
I shrank back into the bushes, but as he passed he glanced towards my hiding place – and smiled.
Could he have known?
As I followed, he woke his friends and told them they were leaving. When we reached the other group, I was startled to see a crowd of temple leaders and soldiers with swords and torches coming down the hill towards us. I recognized one of them as the man who had run down the steps and away into the night whilst I waited outside the room where the group had eaten. Now he came forward and kissed the man I had found so fascinating
What happened next was a blur of horror and confused memories. Without hesitation the soldiers leapt forward and seized him. There was noise and light and fear. There were far too many men to arrest one man. And his friends? They ran away. All at once they were gone. I was horrified. What was happening? How could this be?
I melted into the crowd and followed. As I did he turned and looked towards me again – and smiled. Suddenly my heart caught fire with love for him, this man, this Jesus.
Although awful things happened the next day, I have followed him all my life since that moment.
His prayer has been mine:
‘Abba, Father, … not what I will, but what You will…’
Today, as I face my own death for my faith, I see him again and again in my mind as he turns and smiles at me.
I, Christian, am coming, Lord Jesus, coming home to you.
Into your hands I commend my spirit.