To have been with Jesus as He walked this earth would have been great: to listen to His teachings, observe Him heal, witness His resurrection. If around Him then, we would never doubt, never question, and never waver in our faith. And, certainly, we would not have been as indifferent and uninvolved as so many of today’s Christians often are.
Or would we?
The silent majority
Our church today faces the great challenge of uninvolved membership. We find it virtually a rule that the minority in a church serves the majority. The most we can get from uninvolved members seems to just be criticisms of what active and involved members are doing. Some members are near, but distant. They are not eager to be involved in church activities, and often are just observers who come to the church for their weekly package of spirituality and then go home.
The crucial question is, How do we get these people involved?
Gospel writers described a similar attitude of indifference among those gathered around Jesus (e.g., Luke 22:54–23:56). As Luke wrote about various situations of indifference, he also highlighted those who broke the pattern and became disciples of Christ.
The last days of Christ
As Luke described Christ on the way to Golgotha, he started with Peter. Peter was among Christ’s first disciples, following Jesus when his Master was still not well known. He listened to His teachings and saw many of His healings and the raising of the dead. Peter was a faithful follower who shared both the good and bad with Jesus.
But then, later on, Luke described Peter as the one who “followed [Jesus] at a distance” (Luke 22:54, NIV). What happened to Peter, who before had always been near, but now, from a distance, denied Jesus three times (v. 57)? In the hour of trial, he became distant and ignorant.
Luke presented others who were around Jesus in His last moments, people who were near but distant. Guards in the house of the high priest started mocking and beating Him (vv. 63, 64). The Sanhedrin, the highest Jewish council—those who were supposed to be the spiritual and moral leaders—were ignorant of Jesus and His ministry as well. They gathered together for the purpose of questioning and accusing Him (vv. 66–71). Herod, with his solders, ridiculed and mocked Him (Luke 23:8–12). And even though he liked Jesus (v. 4), Pilate did not want to get involved (vv. 24, 25). Though all were physically near, they were very distant in regards to what counted the most.
On Jesus’ way to Golgotha, Simon, a visiting pilgrim, was constrained to carry the cross. Did he do this because of sympathy for Jesus? Was he happy to be around Jesus? Roman soldiers could order any non-Romans into such service for Rome. In Simon’s view, Passover weekend could not have started in a worse way. In the end, however, his enforced nearness turned out to be a great blessing.
Some women were mourning and wailing while following Jesus to Golgotha. Were they true followers? It was a custom at executions to mourn the loss. Seeing women just fulfilling their duty in accordance with local customs, Jesus told them, “ ‘weep for yourselves and for your children’ ” (v. 28, NIV). These women were near, at least physically, but nevertheless distant. As they arrived at Golgotha, the leaders sneered. They, of their own choice, wanted to be near Jesus in order to show Him who was in charge. They ridiculed Him and His Messiahship. “ ‘Let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One’ ” (v. 35, NIV). They were near Jesus, but no doubt that proximity will, in judgment, come back to condemn them.
Where were all those who had eaten the bread and fish Jesus had provided for them miraculously? Where were all those who had been healed? Where were all those who welcomed Him to Jerusalem and sang His praises (Luke 19:38)? Many who previously were near Jesus became distant and far, while many of those who were now physically near became indifferent, even evil.
Roman soldiers were at Golgotha. They had to be there. They mocked Jesus on political grounds (Luke 23:36): “Look at the King of the Jews. If you are the King, can You escape our torture?” They were near Jesus but that wasn’t enough. One criminal, from his cross, insulted Jesus: “ ‘Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ ” (v. 39, NIV). He did not see the nearness of Jesus as a blessing to him.
Luke finally describes a person at Golgotha who was ready to accept Jesus. Who was the man ready to accept Jesus into his heart? It was the second criminal. He actually rebuked the first criminal and testified that Jesus “ ‘has done nothing wrong’ ” (v. 41, NIV).
How did he know that Jesus did nothing wrong? Obviously, he had heard about Jesus. Perhaps he felt that Jesus could help him. Now, here, at the cross, he had his chance, the opportunity of a lifetime. He said to Jesus, “Please, remember me; I want to be Yours; I want to always be near You!” (see v. 42). How is it that, of all the people around Jesus, this criminal was one of just a few that used his nearness for eternal gain? Among all the candidates for God’s kingdom at Golgotha, he was a most unlikely candidate.
Luke continues, adding two more unlikely candidates. As a centurion saw how Jesus died, he praised God saying, “ ‘Surely this was a righteous man’ ” (v. 47, NIV). In the words of Mark, this centurion testified that Jesus was the “ ‘Son of God!’ ” (Mark 15:39, NIV). He was another unlikely candidate to testify on Jesus’ behalf. Here was a Roman, and he was saying what the religious leaders in their ignorance did not want to admit.
Finally, Luke describes the actions of a noble man, a member of the Sanhedrin, Joseph from Arimathea. No one would expect him to show public affection for Jesus. There was a lot at stake for him, for he could lose his position and influence. But, when those who were near Jesus during His lifetime were distant, Joseph boldly did the unexpected: he took care of Jesus’ burial. Though at first, distant and uninvolved, he now became near and involved.
Among those who followed Jesus, ate His fish and bread, experienced His miracles, and were healed—even resurrected—only three testified for Jesus: a criminal, a centurion, and Joseph, the most unlikely of candidates.
Where do we stand? All of us are like criminals sentenced to death. All of us await the same destiny. Being in the church is not enough. Being observant Christians only does not constitute all that is required. Serving as pastors—preaching and teaching weekly—is also insufficient. Indifference can cost us eternity. Jesus calls us to be involved. He wants us to take our stand and do our part in service to Him.
What is our part? Where do we see ourselves fitting in? The centurion testified in front of everyone; the second criminal testified and embraced Jesus with all of his heart; Joseph stepped out and did what was right, testifying about his faith in Jesus.
Where is our heart? Are we ready to embrace Jesus fully and totally, or are we holding on to things of this life that cannot save us in the end? God calls us to involvement. As the two criminals had their day and encounter with Jesus, so today we have our day and encounter as well.
After Jesus’ resurrection, Peter had his encounter with Jesus (John 21:15–19). He embraced his second chance and faithfully followed his Lord and Savior until death. Do we want to remain uninvolved and distant from Jesus—although we minister in His presence regularly? Or are we ready to come near to Jesus and become involved?
Yes, it would be great to have been with Jesus when He walked on the earth. But, as we have seen, just being physically near was not enough. What truly matters is where our hearts are in relationship to Him.