I am not posting the entire passage for today, as it is very long. On Good Friday, we hear the Passion of the Lord according to John. There is much here, but there are a few things which always make me stop and think. Firstly is one which we have already seen, this past weekend. We know that Caiaphas devised the plot to kill Jesus because he was afraid of the fury the Romans would unleash if they suspected Jesus to be leading a rebellion. Here we see John reiterating what Mark told us about Pilate’s fear. Pilate is afraid of the crowd. He does not want a riot on his hands—perhaps he is not sure if he has enough men to subdue this crowd if he needed to. He tries to pawn Jesus off on the crowd and let them deal with him, but the crowd is adamant that Jesus be killed by Pilate. Because of his fear, Pilate agrees. We see here how fear seems to be the driving force behind opposition to God. More specifically, fear of other men, fear that if you do the right thing, you might be harmed. Pilate knows the right thing to do is to let Jesus live. Caiaphas knows this as well, as we saw how he justified his plan as a “for the greater good” scenario. But because they love themselves more than they love God, they also fear harm to themselves more than anything. It was love of self which we see in Pilate and Caiaphas, and that is what got Jesus killed.
The second thing which always brings me pause is the cry of the crowd, “We have no king but Caesar!” Jesus is their king. John makes sure to point out the irony of the inscription “Jesus the Nazorean, the King of the Jews” which was placed above Jesus’ head. The Jews wanted it altered to say “I am the King of the Jews,” to indicate this is just something Jesus claimed and not actually true. Pilate left it as is, and ended up being accidentally correct. Jesus is the king of all nations, the prince who unites the divided kingdoms and rules over all. The Jews insist that this is merely something Jesus claims, and why? Because they want nothing to do with God’s leadership. The Romans have given them power in the land of Israel. The Romans gave the priests near absolute control over Israel, so long as they served Rome. This is why the Jews cry out that their true king is Caesar. They love their power, and their power comes from Caesar. To accept the rule of God would be to lose that power.
The third thing, and the last I will comment on here, is Peter. Peter does not get glowing reviews for his upstanding behavior in this one. The passage begins with Peter immediately turning to violence, cutting off the ear of the high priest’s slave. Jesus rebukes him, and allows himself to be arrested. The next bit is particularly interesting, because of the imagery that John uses. Jesus is taken through the gate into the courtyard. One of the disciples follows him, while Peter does not. Peter remains outside. Remember that earlier in John’s Gospel, Jesus told us that he is the gate. (John 10:1-10) To follow Jesus, to enter that gate, is to be saved. Peter’s fear overcomes him, and he remains outside the gate. It is only after Peter refuses to enter the gate that he utters his first denial of Christ. After a quick cutover to Jesus, we’re back with Peter, huddled in front of a fire, terrified, and trying not to be noticed. This is when he denies Christ two more times, and the cock crows.
Notice Peter’s denial only comes after he has refused to enter the gate. The offer was made—he had the option to enter the gate and follow Christ. He refused because he was overcome by fear and doubt. It was his fear that caused him to deny Christ three times. Just like Caiaphas and Pilate, Peter here is driven by his fear. The good news for Peter is that he will receive forgiveness from the risen Christ. But that one is not in our reading yet, so I will leave that for another day.