Good Friday is when we remember the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ at Calvary, when he offered his life in order that we might be reconciled to God. You’ve seen it depicted in movies, television, theater; heard it on the radio, in the pews, and across the World Wide Web. The Passion of the Christ glamorized Jesus’ suffering, Life of Brian satirized Jesus’ motivation, and Jesus Christ Superstar managed to somehow miss the point of Jesus’ life entirely.


Good for us, bad for God.


But I’d like to suggest that the physical pain was matched by the psychological pain of the crucifixion—the humiliation, the shame, and the relational separation. I’d like to explore four of Jesus’ relationships in these final moments of his suffering.


Lazarus isolated Jesus.


Mary worried Jesus.


Peter renounced Jesus.


The Magdalene disheartened Jesus.


There was a place in Bethany where Jesus often retreated. It was the home of three siblings—Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. By all accounts, this is where Jesus went to refresh and reinvigorate himself (several books have been written to this effect, most notably Frank Viola’s God’s Favorite Place on Earth). This family was obviously funding Jesus’ ministry and assisting him with a place to stay whenever he frequented Jerusalem. We know he spent at least one significant Jewish holiday with Lazarus and his two sisters (Sukkot), and he dined with him often. Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, learning as a rabbinical student, and Lazarus was the person with whom Jesus processed life’s most significant events. He was there to talk with Jesus, to reflect with Jesus, to give Jesus a safe space.


But where was he at the crucifixion? Why wasn’t he there? Knowing the pain of death, why didn’t Lazarus demonstrate any solidarity with Christ—which he had so often done—when Christ needed him most?


Six days before the Passover, Jesus came to Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. Here, a dinner was given in Jesus’ honor. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. That was when Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume, and poured it on Jesus’ feet, wiping his feet with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.


That was also when a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him, but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. And that was when the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well, for on account of him many of the Jews were going over to Jesus and believing in him.


Perhaps because he was running for his life. Again. Perhaps because Christ warned him Lazarus had another role to play. What would have been the point in dying twice in such quick succession?


We spend most of our time with this scriptural story talking about the amazing raising of Lazarus, but little time talking about Lazarus himself, the plot to kill him and why, and the apparent power of his evangelism.


The “contract” on Lazarus’ head was never fulfilled. Legends from the earliest days of Christianity claim that Jesus’ mother moved with Lazarus’ family to Cypress. According to Epiphanios of Cyprus (367-403), Lazarus was 30 when he was called out from the tomb by Jesus. He notes that Lazarus then lived another 30 years after that. After Jesus was convicted and crucified, Lazarus took refuge in Cypress and was ordained by the apostle Paul as first Bishop of Kition.


During the reign of Leo VI, his bones were then transferred to Constantinople in 890 CE. On his tomb were the words inscribed, “Lazarus the Friend of Christ.”


Nevertheless, when Jesus needed his friend the most, Christ was alone.


Have you ever felt like that? Abandoned? Even if you knew why, even if you were the one who sent them away, have you ever felt so alone?


And regretted it?


Jesus’ mother, Mary, was the person who always made him feel safe and loved. But, remember that Mary had little in the way of protection once Jesus was taken from her. Her husband was dead, and though she had other children (see Matthew 13 and Mark 6 for Jesus’ four brothers and two sisters), there was a rift between her sons. According to Mark 3.21, they said that Jesus was “out of his mind,” and some of them attempted to “take charge of him” and bring him home. Matthew 12.46-50 indicates that Jesus refused to talk to his brothers when they tracked him down and tried to see him. And John 7.5 says “even his own brothers did not believe in him.”


Consequently, one of the foremost concerns on Jesus’ mind while he was dying must have been what would happen to his mother. That’s why John 19 tells us one of the last things Jesus did, while hanging on the cross, was ensure his mother would go to live with the disciple Jesus loved.


Do you have anyone like this? An aging relative? A wayward son? Someone who’s welfare so consumes you, you cannot even deal with your own pain because all you want to do is take care of theirs?


Peter was the boldest of Jesus’ followers—first out of the boat, first to acknowledge his messianic claims, first to become a fisher of men. But, when the time came, Peter denied Christ.


We know this story well. Peter follows Christ at a distance, but three times refuses to identify himself as a follower. He skulks. He lurks, without any of his typical bravado. And when Peter realized what he’d done, he didn’t change his behavior—he didn’t run to the cross or beg for Jesus’ forgiveness; he went and wept bitterly. He hid.


Who is the person that should be there to encourage you, but has instead abandoned you, betrayed you, and refused to even acknowledge they’re your friend?


Mary Magdalene, sometimes called The Magdalene, was the person Jesus did everything to protect. Far from our common misconception, Mary wasn’t a prostitute. She is mentioned 12 times in the New Testament—making her the second most mentioned woman, after the Virgin Mary. Most references are found in the Crucifixion and empty tomb narratives, where she is portrayed as a loyal disciple at the foot of the cross and as one of the first witnesses to the Resurrection.


Unlike other women in the Bible, Mary of Magdala is not identified in relation to another person; she is not anyone’s mother, wife, or sister. Instead, she is called Mary of Magdala, a title that implies some prominence in the city, a center of commercial fishing on the northwest bank of the Sea of Galilee. She left her home to follow Jesus, and it is believed she was among several well-off, independent women who financially supported Jesus’ ministry.


To properly understand The Magdalene, it may help to know that her name, literally translated, means Strength from God—that’s what Jesus gave her in Luke 8 when he healed her (from demonic possession). He restored her strength and dignity and wholeness.


But Mary’s reputation was soon tarnished. There were rumors about Jesus’ relationship with her, and even more rumors about her occupation and how she made her way. On the cross, Christ could see it all happening. Imagine his grief, when his noble work was thus perverted by the corrupt imagination of the crowd.


Have you ever had someone misinterpret your goodness? Have you ever had someone misconstrue your virtue as villainy?


So, again …


Lazarus isolated Jesus.


Mary worried Jesus.


Peter renounced Jesus.


The Magdalene disheartened Jesus.


How can we possibly imagine Christ has born our sin, without first understanding what it means for him to have been sinned against? He forgave them, then, for that … “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” He wasn’t ignorant of their crimes, nor unaffected. He was despised and rejected, and yet he forgave.