I nearly gave in to it then. Just like anyone else I nearly gave into the temptation.
I’ve always known that I was special. The stories I’ve heard about my birth. That incident when I stopped behind in Jerusalem at the temple. The way my parents – particularly my mother – looked at me, spoke about me. I’ve always known that I was special.
But I didn’t want to admit it to myself, didn’t want to set myself apart as different. I just wanted to be like anyone else growing up in our small town. I just wanted to be a normal young man. But then I had to go and do it. I had to respond to the call. I listened to my cousin John.
I went to him at the river when he was washing people clean of their sin. I went because I knew I had to. John knew it too. He wanted me to wash him clean. But I knew that was not right – it was he who had to plunge me under the water. And he did. And that’s when it happened.
As I came up out of the waters it was like I was hearing a voice God – my father – saying he was pleased in me. Others say they saw a dove descend and alight on me as a sign of his favour. All that I knew was I didn’t mind being different anymore. I had been filled with power and there was nothing that was beyond me. I could do anything I liked.
But I didn’t know what to do. I was scared. I just wanted to get away from it all – the crowds, the responsibility, the pressure. So, like John had done before, I sought out the silence and emptiness of the wilderness. Here I could hear more clearly the voice that was speaking inside my head. Here I could think about the power that filled me.
And that’s when it started. The temptations. The idea of using this new found power for my ends, my selfish ends. If I could do whatever I wanted, I could please myself.
I could use the power to change my material position. My family and friends would never want for anything again. I could produce everything we needed out of thin air. Why, I could even turn the rocks and stones of the desert into loaves of bread if I wanted!
I thought about it I can tell you. I remembered coming up out the waters of the river. It was as if I’d been born again and made into a new creation. It was as if I was a new born baby and seeing everything for the first time. Looking around me, even in the depths of the wilderness where I had chosen to place myself, I could see the beauty of God’s Creation.
I realised that there’s more to life than material things. You have to appreciate that. So I set aside my desire for the purely physical.
But I knew I was special. I knew that Father God had named me beloved Son. I knew that he would take care of me. I was indestructible. I would always be protected.
I stood in a high place and looked down into the depths. Far beyond my feet there were rocks and boulders broken by the heat and wind of the desert. If I was to fall from that height I would be broken, as they were, when I landed there. But I had no need to fear that fate. Even if I threw myself towards that certain death I would survive. I would be bourn up as if on eagle’s wings and exalted for I am the chosen one, the special one, the anointed one.
I nearly did it. I nearly let my arrogance get the better of me. I nearly gave in to that temptation. Then I remembered the voice at the river. The voice that said He was pleased with me. Was this the way to repay a grateful Father by testing His love, abusing my status in His eyes? Even a father’s love for his first born knows a limit and it would be wrong to test that. So I set aside my desire for immortality.
Refreshed and renewed by this latest triumph, I lifted my eyes to look about me once more. From where I was standing I could see for miles. I could see many different lands and I was aware of the people struggling within each of them.
So I thought about assuming power – political power – over all the lands. I could use my gifts to make me the leader of all the nations in the world. I could have all the other leaders bow down before me and worship me. Maybe that was the way to use my power.
Then I remembered the dove that descended on me at the river. I realised what it represented – a greater power given to me by the Father. I realised that if I abused that power by assuming world domination I would become just like all the others who sought total power. The power that I would be wielding would corrupt me – probably totally. No longer would I be doing any good. It wouldn’t be long before I was just as hated as the other leaders were.
My personal ambition would undo all the good I wanted to do. I’d be serving the forces of darkness. And that was not the route I wanted to take. So I put aside my desire for absolute power.
Having put all these temptations behind me I felt better. Now I have come out of the desert – both physically and spiritually. I give thanks to the Father for the strength that he gave me to resist all the temptations I encountered in the wilderness. Now I am ready to begin the work that has always been appointed for me. Only one question remains.
Where do I go from here?
Well, that’s a turn up for the books! I wasn’t expecting him – or anyone like him – to come. I didn’t think the establishment would pay any attention to the message I had to bring.
When it all began – when I was walking by the lakeside – it was easy to see the people that had been chosen to carry my message. They were there, waiting, even if they didn’t know it. All I had to do was to seek them out. When I met them face to face and called their names they dropped everything and followed me.
There were the fishermen – the honest, hard working, common men. They lived in harmony with their world, depending on nature to meet their needs. They understood how their lives were intimately linked to all that was around them.
That prepared them for my revolutionary message. When I was able to paint pictures about the Kingdom of Heaven by drawing on the examples in the natural world about us all, their minds were open to that fresh way of thinking. And John had even prepared the way with one or two of them. His message about my coming had caught the imagination of those who wanted change – and change for the better.
That’s why I was able to reach those who didn’t quite fit in as well. Those like Matthew who knew that there were jobs to be done and, despite the stigma associated with the task, it was best that the job was done fairly and correctly – ethically if you like.
Once I had gathered those common people about me and they had begun to listen and understand the message I was bringing, it wasn’t long before others could see the difference in them. Oh sure, all the healing and other miraculous events that happened helped but it was really the change in those ordinary men that attracted most of the crowds. Every one of those who gathered at lakeside or on mountain top could identify with someone close to me.
Then, in the dark of the night, when we were resting at the end of a long day, who should come knocking at the door but Nicodemus. Now, here was no common man. He is a man of substance, a pillar of the community. He’s a member of the Council – the Sanhedrin. He sits at the heart of those who lead the Jewish religion. Some say they have their own direct communication link to God. This was the man who had to come to talk to me about what I had been saying.
At first, like all those gathered around me, I was cautious. We felt he had probably been sent to gather evidence against us. The questions he asked certainly wanted to get to the heart of the matter. He wanted to know all about my teaching that seemed to be making all things new. So I told him. I mean, every day I’d been out in the streets saying the same things in public so why should I say something different in private?
When I began to talk with him I expected to meet resistance. After all, he was a member of the establishment. He was part of the leadership charged with the preservation of the order within our faith. Like everyone of his age and background, I expected him to be set in his ways. I guess I didn’t expect to get any sort of reaction from this conservative church leader.
I was wrong. The more I talked, the more he listened. The more he listened, the more probing the questions. The more I answered them, the more that I could see that this encounter was changing him. When I talked to him about being reborn in faith I could see that he was struggling with the concept and yet was longing to embrace it for himself. For all his substance, for all his status, for all his position, for all his knowledge and understanding of the Law and the prophets, he was still willing to think about new and fresh expressions of faith.
By the time we had finished talking it was getting light, as dawn fast approached. He hadn’t fully accepted everything we had shared but he was, at least, thinking about it. He had seen that I was encouraging people to keep their faith fresh and vital – new every morning if you like. And he was open enough to embrace the idea of being born again into this fresh understanding. For one with his prestige at the heart of our faith that was a breakthrough.
In that grey light of dawn I knew that even if I hadn’t fully made a convert, at least I had a friend at the traditional centre. I wondered where that was going to lead. I wondered what would come of that dark of the night meeting. I wondered if we would meet again. I wondered if he was asking himself the same question as me.
Where do I go from here?
They told me not to do it. They told me that we were taking a risk coming this way, coming through Samaria. They told me that the people were outcasts. They were undesirables. We were to have nothing to do with them. Not that they understood what I had to do.
They told me not to stop. We had to get through the region as fast as possible. That way we’d minimize our contact with the people. That way we’d preserve our purity – keep ourselves to ourselves. That’s why we were travelling in the heat of the day. That’s why I got thirsty. That’s why I stopped to get a drink. They didn’t understand that either.
They told me not to talk to her. They said that we knew nothing about her. Not only was she one of ‘them’ – a Samaritan – she was at the well at totally the wrong time. No one fetches water in the heat of the day. She was obviously avoiding even her own people. Anyone could understand that, they said. They didn’t understand that I knew everything about her already. Neither did she.
When I asked her for water she was aghast. She was almost afraid to let me touch the drinking cup. She didn’t want me to pollute myself with any contact with her at all. She was aware of the situation and wanted to exercise compassion towards me. That’s why I was able to talk with her. That’s why I was able to offer her compassion of my own.
When I told her about the living water that I could offer her, she didn’t understand. I felt she thought the sun must have addled my mind. She put it all down to the ravings of a sun stroked idiot. That’s why she mentioned her husband. I think she did that to warn me off. To let me know there was someone looking after her.
But that opened the door. That let me tell her I wanted to look after her as well. That enabled me to tell her all that I knew about her and her situation. And that left her amazed. It blew her mind and she really wanted what I had to offer. More importantly she knew that she had to bring others to taste that same living water.
My companions didn’t understand that. They couldn’t grasp the idea that the message wasn’t just for them, the select few, or for our people, the chosen race. They want me to be exclusive. They wanted me to keep myself just for them. They told me not to do it – not to waste my time with the outcasts of this world. But that’s not going to happen.
What I bring is for all people, whatever their circumstance, whatever their race, whatever their position or standing in society. I hope that the meeting by the well in Samaria with that woman has started to show them that. After all, she understood even if they didn’t.
Now, where do I go from here?
He wouldn’t let anything get in his way. He knew what he needed and he used all his energies to get it. Nothing was going to stop him getting what I had to offer.
Not the crowd – that endless press of people who lined the roads wherever I went. Even though he was pushed to the back he still wanted to reach out to me. He was prepared to set himself apart. He was prepared to defy his friends who wanted him to suffer in silence. They didn’t want him to bring attention to his infirmity. While they sympathised with his suffering they didn’t believe there was anything that could be done to put things right.
He didn’t even let tradition get in his way. He had been blind since birth and everyone knew that this was a curse. This disability was caused by some great sin in the past history of his family. He had been chosen to bear the stigma, the burden of that long forgotten crime. His punishment was to atone for whatever it was that had displeased God.
But all he wanted to do was to be able to see. All he wanted, for the first time in his life, was to gaze upon the beauty of a flower, the pattern of light and shade as the sun shines through the canopy of a tree, the face of a child smiling when given a treat. Was that too much to ask for? Was that too much to expect? To have something that most people take for granted?
He knew that I could give that to him. He knew the opportunity to be healed was passing him by as he sat where his friends had left him. He knew the chance to be able to see was right there in front of him. And he was prepared to make his need heard by shouting out to me.
What would you have done? If you had what he had needed, would you have kept on walking? Would you, like his friends, have been embarrassed and told him to keep silence? Would you, like the crowd, have condemned him to a life in darkness because of no act or fault of his own? Or would you have reached out and given him what he wanted so passionately?
He knew what I would do. He knew what I could do. He knew that I had to stop and help him in his need. He knew that I am prepared to reach out to all who admit their infirmity and call upon my name for their healing. And now his friends know it too. And so does the crowd. And soon the whole world will know it through their witness.
So, where do I go from here?
(This added to the fervour of the journey to Jerusalem)
I was not in Bethany when the news came. I was expecting it, of course, but it still came as a bit of a shock. Lazarus was ill. My very dear friend was going to die. All my instincts were to set out immediately to help him but I knew that these events had to unfold in their own way. So I waited.
Those who were with me couldn’t understand what was happening. They had heard the message that had been brought and expected me to go rushing off to help. But I made no sign of leaving. Some of them thought that I was staying away because we had been threatened with being stoned to death when we were last there. But I was waiting for the time to be right. I was waiting to know that he had died.
I felt him die. I felt his spirit leave his body. And it hurt because I knew that I could have saved him that pain. But at least the time had come at last and I gathered my friends to return to Bethany. They wanted to know why I seemed to have changed my mind. I told them what I knew and they followed expecting that all of us would join Lazarus in death.
Martha came to meet me when we reached the house. She accused me of betraying my friend. She told me I had abandoned him in his hour of need. This was true, even though I did not tell her that. I knew every word she spoke was correct. And my pain grew. I gave her what reassurance I could and went to the place where they had laid my friend’s body some four days earlier.
I couldn’t believe how many people had gathered at that place. I knew we were only a short distance from Jerusalem and there were many people in the region that knew about the friendship between Lazarus and myself. It seemed that they had gathered expecting me to work some great miracle and I knew they were not going to be disappointed.
But would they understand what they were about to see? Could they comprehend the enormity of the action that I was going to take? Were they capable of grasping the significance of the next few moments? These questions were going through my mind. And then it struck me.
I could not do what I was about to do without having let my dear friend suffer in the way he had over the last few days. I looked around at his family and our friends gathered at his tomb. All were grieving, many were weeping. My pain was a mirror of theirs. Only there was a difference. I could have spared them all this pain. Now I could only share it. So, like them, I wept to ease my pain.
Then I acted. The time was right. The body had lain in the tomb long enough for everyone to know Lazarus was truly dead. When the stone at the entrance was rolled away there could be no doubt that all that lay within was a dead and lifeless body. So I did it. I challenged their certainty. I called my friend forth from his tomb.
And he came. Still wrapped in the bandages and grave clothes, still blinded by the cloth over his eyes, Lazarus came out of the darkness of death groping his way once more into the light of life. For those gathered there they could be no doubt. The Father had given me the power necessary to conquer even death itself.
With this very public act I knew that the inevitable end was approaching. Such a dramatic and total revelation of my power was bound to bring me into a final confrontation with those who opposed my Ministry. They would not accept me and would only plan for my destruction. This simple act of reaching out to a friend in need had brought me to the climax of my journey. All that was left for me to do was to show my majesty to as many people as possible before my friends once more found themselves gathered at the entrance of a tomb.
I stayed in Bethany for a while, resting and talking with those closest to me. All around me there was turmoil as people – friends and enemies – struggled to come to terms with what they had seen, with what I had done. That turmoil was nothing when compared to the turmoil that was going on in my mind. I was asking myself one question over and over again:
Where do I go from here?
At the last the banners have been raised and the voices cheered my name as their expected saviour. Cloaks have covered the streets and palm leaves cushion the cobbles. The crowds who used to come in curiosity have lined the streets in acclamation of a long expected victory. They had come to proclaim their conquering hero. They saw me exactly as they wanted to see me. And they cheered me to the echoes, shouting ‘Hosanna’ to their Messiah.
All the forms had been observed. All the prophecies fulfilled. Every detail had been taken care of – even down to the donkey. There could be no doubt that I was exactly who they wanted me to be. Any minute now they expected that I would lead them to their freedom from the oppression they lived under. I was going to guide them in throwing off the yoke of the Roman occupiers.
They had waited a long time for this day. The scholars and the students of the Prophets knew it was coming. The common people felt it in their hearts. It had been promised to them by their God. I had told them that many times in my teaching. Even the Romans and their collaborators feared that this day would come. All these emotions were there, gathered by that Jerusalem roadside.
What happened next must have been a big disappointment to everyone. The mantle had been thrust upon me and yet nothing had changed. The people still suffer. The revolution has not begun. The Romans still occupy the city. Their underlings still rule the roost. There has been no armed uprising and already my reputation is beginning to tarnish.
A Saviour is only a Saviour if he is able to bring instant salvation.
It won’t be long before the crowd that cheered me will turn against me. They won’t be able to help themselves. Once they don’t get what they expected, they’ll be disappointed. That disappointment will turn to anger. They will believe that I misled them and, no matter what I actually did, they will believe that I betrayed them.
I, too, will be betrayed and be handed over into the hands of my enemies. And then the end game of this affair will begin to be played out.
Where do I go from here?
It hurts. As I hang here with ropes biting into my forearms, nails tearing at my wrists and ankles and blood pouring from the welts on my back and the scratches torn by the thorns pushed into my head, it hurts.
The pain began last evening when I knew it was the time to say goodbye to my friends, my companions of the last three years. I tried to make it special. I tried to make it memorable. I tried to show them just how important that meal was for them. Somehow, even after everything I had said to them, they still didn’t understand what was about to happen. That’s when the pain began.
It grew over the passing hours, becoming more intense as each inevitable incident came to pass. It got stronger in the garden when I faced my final personal point of decision. It got bigger when even my closest and most attentive of companions – Peter, James, John - could not stay awake with me through that fateful night. It reached an agonising climax when they came to arrest me – as that angry mob emerged out of the darkness.
There – right out in front – stood Judas. He came towards me and kissed me – betraying me with that sign of greeting that we often exchanged as friends. That hurt – not just me but the rest of us all gathered there in that garden. I could bear that pain but they could not and suddenly that night was filled with shouts, swords and a servant’s blood.
Somehow the severed ear brought some sort of relief to the pain. This was familiar territory. I knew what to do in circumstances such as these. My simple act of caring and healing brought an end to the fighting. But not to my pain. For as the fighting ceased my friends fled into the night, leaving me in the hands of my enemies, hurting and alone. I didn’t think it could get any worse but I was wrong.
Over the next few hours events took their inevitable course that led me from Council to Governor to King, back to Governor and to this place of execution. Stage by stage, encounter by encounter, action and reaction, my pain started to grow again. Now, as I hang here, facing an excruciating death with my family and friends looking on helplessly and my executioners gambling for my possessions, that pain is ever more intense.
It is the pain of separation. It is the pain of isolation. It is the simply being alone, totally alone.
All this started in a river. As I came up out of the water I heard that voice saying that in me he had a son with whom he was well pleased. Since then I have tried to do what he wanted me to do. I’ve tried to take his message to his people. With his help I have overcome the temptations that come with power, I have shown that all things can be made new – no matter what barrier of tradition, race or infirmity might seem to exclude you, I have shown that by acting in his power even death can be conquered and I have revealed my true nature to his people in triumphant procession at the very centre of their faith. And he has been with me on that journey.
But now, as the final act of my ministry is played out – the climax I committed myself to last evening is reached – he has left me. I am left all alone hanging here to die. After everything I have done, after everything I have seen and felt, all that is left is this all consuming pain of total isolation. I can’t bear it any longer. My strength is gone.
Father! Father! Why have you forsaken me?!
Nothing. Only the silence, and the darkness and the pain. There is nothing I can do about any of them.
It is finished. Father! Into your hands I commit my spirit!
Where do I go from here?
I feel the sun on my face and the breeze that brushes my hair. I see the green of the leaves and the smell the scent of the flowers. I hear bird song and know that if I were to pluck a blade of grass from the ground and place it in my mouth, I would taste its sweetness on my tongue. The numbness, darkness and emptiness that replaced the pain and despair has gone. I know that I was dead and now I am alive again.
I have met Mary and spoken with her. She was so distressed that she did not recognise me. In her pain and anguish she had forgotten what she knew. She depended on only what she felt, believing that she had lost me forever. That meeting transformed her hurt to joy, her loss to triumph and she ran to tell Peter as I had asked her.
He came and I watched as he was transformed by simply finding the empty tomb. He was distraught over what he had done a few evenings ago but needed nothing more than some folded grave clothes to restore his faith in everything we had shared. I watched as he left the garden, rushing to carry the news to the rest of them. No need to meet me face to face – although the time would come for that. He knew from the simple things he had seen for himself.
That left me time to simply stand and savour the feeling of being alive again. I was in touch with the world and everything in it. I could feel my Father’s presence and know his loving approval for all that was coming to pass. There’s still some work to be done. There are those who still will want to see and feel for themselves. But many more will simply believe and know in faith what has come to pass because of their simple testimony.
It won’t be long now. My journey on this world is almost over. From stable to carpenter’s shop, from wilderness to a garden by an empty tomb, I have simply walked the path that had been prepared for me. Journey’s end is in sight and soon I will be able to truly say ‘It is finished’.
But I must still be about my Father’s business. Now, where do I go from here?