Follow the Leader

The path of discipleship may lead to an unexpected destination.

When the disciples heard Jesus command them to pick up their crosses and follow Him, anxiety and dread must have gripped their hearts, for where else would that journey end but a graveyard? Although following Jesus does require death to self, it’s not the final destination for any disciple. Because God is not an undertaker—He’s a gardener.

 

Read

To get the most out of this study, read John 19-20. But first, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you into the truth available in this passage. Give yourself permission to ask questions that may not have answers. Wonder aloud, imagine the scene, and take note of anything that surprises, confuses, or even offends you. Above all, trust the Lord. He’s the best teacher.

Key Passage: John 19:1-42

 

Background

Various officials presided over the different stages of Jesus’ trial: Caiaphas, the Jewish high priest; the Roman governor named Pontius Pilate; and Herod Antipas, ruler of Galilee.

 

Reflect

The scene of Jesus before Pilate is an epic power struggle between the governor, the chief priests, and Jesus.

  • Consider how the priests attempt to coerce Pilate into executing Jesus for them (John 19:4-7), and then notice the governor’s interaction with the Lord in verses 8-10. Look for hints of Pilate’s growing fear affecting how he spoke. In what way did his approach mirror the bullying tactics of the priests? Why do you think he wants Jesus to recognize his power?

  • Read Jesus’ response (John 19:11). Remember that He is not only bound and detained, but He has also already suffered brutal assault and humiliation at the hands of the Roman soldiers (John 19:1-3). Describe how you imagine His tone and demeanor as He reminds Pilate of God’s sovereignty.

  • By the looks of it, Jesus is the least powerful person in this situation. Why do you think He’s able to deliver such a bold message?

  • In light of Jesus’ words, reconsider the whole scene. What does it reveal in terms of how someone’s outward appearance and circumstances don’t always correspond to his actual authority?

  • God is not an undertaker—He’s a gardener.

  • Reread John 19:19-22 and reflect on how the sign Pilate affixes to Jesus’ cross plays into his ongoing power struggle with the Jews. Why do you think the governor uses Jesus’ crucifixion as an opportunity to shame the chief priests? How do you see shame being used as a weapon of oppression in the world today?

 

Continuing the Story

After Jesus has died, two of His clandestine disciples—Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus—take custody of His body and bury it.

  • In the Jewish community, care and preparation of a body for burial have always been looked at as a mitzvah—that is, not simply a privilege and holy responsibility but, in fact, a commandment. Why do you think God allows these two relatively unknown disciples to handle such a significant task, especially when there must be others with better track records, who are more “worthy”?

  • Imagine preparing the Savior’s body for burial—touching His cold skin, feeling the extra heft that accompanies death. It must have been a soul-crushing reality check for Joseph and Nicodemus. But even their involvement reflects the triumph of the coming resurrection: The names Joseph and Nicodemus mean “God will increase” and “Victory of the people” respectively. How does that information shift the way you might trust God in difficult, dead-end situations?

 

Reflect

First consider what Jesus said mere days before His death: “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). How does Jesus’ crucifixion fulfill that analogy?

How do you see shame being used as a weapon of oppression in the world today?

  • Remember that Jesus admonished His disciples multiple times to take up their crosses and follow Him (Matt. 10:38-39; Matt. 16:24). In that culture, they would have associated crosses only with brutal execution, so where do you suppose they expected such a journey to end?

  • John 19:41 says, “In the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb ... ” (emphasis added). Thinking about the disciples’ likely expectation, how does the word garden subvert that idea and hint at the counterintuitive nature of losing one’s life to gain it? Note that where Jesus lost His life and where He regained it is the same place—how does that change your understanding of what it means to pick up your cross and follow Him?

  • Though we’re very familiar with the story and may understand the concept of resurrection better than the disciples did, it’s never easy to die to self. But God is a gardener, and He is faithful to tend each graveyard until it blooms with new life.

 

Revisit

Over the next several weeks, use this section to review the study and consider how its message applies to your life.

  • Imagine walking in the cool of the day with God, as Adam and Eve did. Whether we recognize it or not, every human being is homesick for Eden—that place of unhindered intimate, face-to-face fellowship with the divine. But there’s no undoing the fall; we can’t backtrack our way into right relationship with God. No, the only way is forward, through the grave.

  • Remember that the gospel says death precedes life.

  • Ultimately, Jesus woke up in a garden, but He didn’t get inside that tomb on His own. The physical preparation and transportation of His body is when He was most vulnerable—He wasn’t there to oversee, correct, or direct how Joseph and Nicodemus took care of Him. In your life, what do you think this means in terms of trusting God and others when you’re most helpless? What emotions does the idea of such complete surrender bring up in you?

  • Graves usually aren’t pleasant places for the living. They threaten us with not only their finality but also their unfamiliarity. To venture there is to head toward the unknown, and that is inherently anxiety-inducing because we can’t control what we don’t know. Consider areas in your life that stir up angst—could a “grave” be lurking there? If so, what would dying to self look like? Keep in mind this practice isn’t just about salvation. It’s the lifelong process of God making all things new in your life.

  • In what specific ways would entering your “graves” require you to relinquish control? If that possibility frightens you, what would you personally need to hear from God to summon up the courage?

  • Once you pick up your cross to follow Jesus, the destination is set and there is no going back. But as your Golgotha looms large on the horizon, remember that the gospel says death precedes life. And the only entrance to the garden is the grave.

 

Illustration by Adam Cruft

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What happens to my notes

1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him.

2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him;

3 and they began to come up to Him and say, Hail, King of the Jews!" and to give Him slaps in the face.

4 Pilate came out again and said to them, Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him."

5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, Behold, the Man!"

6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, Crucify, crucify!" Pilate said to them, Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him."

7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."

8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid;

9 and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, Where are You from?" But Jesus gave him no answer.

10 So Pilate said to Him, You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?"

11 Jesus answered, You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."

12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar."

13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha.

14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, Behold, your King!"

15 So they cried out, Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!" Pilate said to them, Shall I crucify your King?" The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar."

16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.

17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha.

18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between.

19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS."

20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.

21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, Do not write, `The King of the Jews'; but that He said, `I am King of the Jews.'"

22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written."

23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece.

24 So they said to one another, Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, to decide whose it shall be"; this was to fulfill the Scripture: THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS."

25 Therefore the soldiers did these things. But standing by the cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.

26 When Jesus then saw His mother, and the disciple whom He loved standing nearby, He said to His mother, Woman, behold, your son!"

27 Then He said to the disciple, Behold, your mother!" From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.

28 After this, Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished, to fulfill the Scripture, said, I am thirsty."

29 A jar full of sour wine was standing there; so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it up to His mouth.

30 Therefore when Jesus had received the sour wine, He said, It is finished!" And He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.

31 Then the Jews, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away.

32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him;

33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs.

34 But one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out.

35 And he who has seen has testified, and his testimony is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe.

36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN."

37 And again another Scripture says, THEY SHALL LOOK ON HIM WHOM THEY PIERCE."

38 After these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. So he came and took away His body.

39 Nicodemus, who had first come to Him by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight.

40 So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.

41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

42 Therefore because of the Jewish day of preparation, since the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.

4 Pilate came out again and said to them, Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him."

5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, Behold, the Man!"

6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, Crucify, crucify!" Pilate said to them, Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him."

7 The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out to be the Son of God."

11 Jesus answered, You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has the greater sin."

1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him.

2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him;

3 and they began to come up to Him and say, Hail, King of the Jews!" and to give Him slaps in the face.

19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS."

20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin and in Greek.

21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, Do not write, `The King of the Jews'; but that He said, `I am King of the Jews.'"

22 Pilate answered, What I have written I have written."

24 Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.

39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it.

24 Then Jesus said to His disciples, If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me.

41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid.

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