Category Archives: crucifixion

Jesus is Dangerous

This post (longer than most) is based on a sermon I gave last Sunday at Trinity Lutheran in Lindstrom, MN based on Luke and Mark’s Gospels.  I dressed in a “Biblical” costume and told the Palm Sunday story from the perspective of Levi, a priest in the temple of Jerusalem.  Inspired by C. S. Lewis’s Screwtape Letters, I seek to move the congregation beyond mere observation. 

Levi enters from side door, speaking to unseen persons behind him.

Just a minute.  I agree something must be done and I will help, but first I have to meet with the visitors.   Maybe I can get their support.

(Turning to the congregation to greet them) Good Morning.

My name is Levi and I am one of the priests who serves here in the Temple of Jerusalem.  On behalf of High Priest Caiaphas, I want to welcome you to the Passover festival here in Jerusalem.

I know that some of you have come a long way to be here in Jerusalem and this is your first time in this magnificent Temple.  I hope you are impressed with the huge stones and craftsmanship.

I must apologize for being a bit late. You see we have a problem.  A big problem and it is growing.  You might think it is just a problem for the priest and servants of the temple.  But it is a problem for each of you as well.

Model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem By Berthold Werner - Own work, Public Domain,

Model of the Second Temple in Jerusalem.  By Berthold Werner – Own work, Public Domain,

First just a bit of background.  This temple has been here for more than 50 years, built by the great King Herod.  It reminds us of the great temple built by King Solomon, a thousand years ago, but Solomon’s temple was destroyed centuries ago and the second was built over its foundation.

As you know temples are important.  They give us a sense of calm and peace in an age of great uncertainty.   I am guessing most of you came here today to find some peace and calm, some rest for your soul.  Here in the rituals and music of the temple we can feel safe; we are able to block out the terrible evils of the world.  Like the dread Roman army that occupies our land.  Or for you it might be the problems in your families or work or at school or with friends.  We can escape for a time.

We need places like this temple to find rest for our weary soul.  In a sense, to find oil to replenish our lamps.  The temple can be a safe haven, a safe harbor, in a dangerous world.

But that is our problem.  Danger has come here, into the temple itself.

The danger is a man named Jesus of Nazareth.   A troublemaker first class, that we need to take care of.

I heard of Jesus several months ago.  There were reports coming from Galilee, that province up north, about a man doing miracles and teaching.  A prophet like John the Baptist.  Stories and rumors of his deeds came to our attention, but we, the priests, ignored them.  We have sufficient problems keeping a great institution like the Temple running to worry about some crackpot prophet in distant Galilee.

Oh a few scribes were sent to observe him, to test him. And I am sure he is a crackpot.  For example, this Jesus claimed the power to forgive sins.   Just who does he think he is?  Only God can do that, and only when we have a sacrifice here in the temple.  Jesus seems to think he could speak for God.   How could he be a prophet, nothing good can come from Nazareth, that tiny insignificant town.

The stories kept growing.  5,000 people fed, a lake storm quieted.  But you know how people like to embellish the truth.   I am sure none of you would fall for such preposterous rumors.

I and the other priests tried to ignore these stories and Jesus.  To talk about him only seem to inflame the crowds.  But then last Sunday, our hands were forced.  We have to deal with him, because he came here to Jerusalem.

Jesus rides into Jerusalem

And in no quiet way either.   He came like a king, riding a donkey. I bet some of you saw it.  As you well know, there are always huge crowds coming to Jerusalem for the Passover festival.  And the crowd, like foolish children, cut down palm branches and took off their robes and laid them in the street.   They shout Hosanna, Hosanna, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.  Hosanna means “save us.”  How could Jesus possibly save us?

I certainly hope none of you were shouting his name or cutting down palm branches.  I hope none of you were drawn into his promises and claims.

Jesus is dangerous and to be avoided at all cost.

Then after the parade, Jesus came into our temple and cleaned out all the money changers and sellers of turtle-dove and lambs.  He threw over table and pushed people out of the courtyard.  He made some speech about how this is to be a house of prayer.  Well certainly we can pray here, but how are we to do our business without the money changers to take the filthy Roman coins and exchange them for proper Jewish coins?  Or how are people to make a sacrifice for Passover without sheep or turtle-dove.  I see that none you are carrying a turtle-dove with you.  There is a practical side to running a temple after all.

“Christ Driving the Money Changers from the Temple” by New Zealand artist Michael Smither, 1972 (Victoria University of Wellington Art Collection, New Zealand)

Jesus is dangerous and he has stirred up the crowds.  Some think he is the Messiah, the anointed one of God.  Last night I was a supper with Simon, my cousin.  Jesus was there as well.  I told Simon not to invite him, but Simon went ahead in spite of my advice.  I looked Jesus over carefully. He was a simple ordinary man.  He ate with two hands, he drank wine, he even laughed at Simon’s bad jokes. Nothing unusual there.

anointing_jesusNothing unusual until a woman from the street came into the room.  She is not the proper woman I would allow into my home.  She carried an alabaster jar of perfume. I could tell this was not some cheap perfume, but the very expensive kind. She walked right up to Jesus, broke open the bottle and poured the whole bottle on his head, just like he were a king.  I immediately object to this waste of money.  I said, “This ointment is a waste.  It could have sold for several thousands of dollars and the money given to the poor.”   I thought for sure Jesus would join in my rebuttal.  He would see the waste.

But no, He rebukes me and gives praise to the woman. That she has done a very good deed.

Good deed, my eye.

Jesus should not be anointed.  He should be locked away in prison.

You know what he said about the temple.  One of his disciples told me that he said, “This temple will be destroyed.”  This beautiful, magnificent temple destroyed.  God forbid.

How can we worship God without a temple, without the institution?

Where are you to go to offer sacrifice for God’s forgiveness if the temple is destroyed?  How will you know you are forgiven unless blood is shed?

For Jesus to talk about the temple being destroyed, he should die!

That is what we were discussing back there before I greeted you.

How to stop Jesus!  Stop him from making more trouble.

And most of us agreed, he must die.

Oh we could execute him by stoning him to death for blaspheme against God, as Jewish law permits.  But the crowd may interfere.

So someone had the idea, “Let’s take him to Pontius Pilate. (Pilate is the Roman Governor), “We can use Jesus’ claim as King as the reason to execute him.”  After all the Roman form of execution, crucifixion, is such a horrible way to die.  But it will show all his followers that Jesus is a fake King.

The Crucifixion by Matthias GrunewaldDon’t you think it would be fitting for King Jesus to have the cross as his throne?

And after he is dead, we can go after all his disciples.

All his disciples, except for one.  One who was smart enough to come to us and help us.  I met him at Simon’s dinner last night. The disciple agreed to find an opportune time to turn on Jesus, when the crowd is not around.  A smart man, that Judas Iscariot.  You can learn from him.

Which leads me back to you.  What role will you play in this unfolding story?

I am sure most of you see the danger in Jesus.

Do you really want a King who tears down temples and says that God is free to go anywhere, be anywhere?

Don’t you feel safe with God here in this box, where you can come for comfort and support?

Do you really want God out there in your everyday world, in every nook and cranny of your life, who can surprise and disrupt your lives? Won’t you prefer to run your own life?

One thing I will guarantee.

garden tombBy the end of this week, Jesus will be dead and buried in a cold dark tomb.

And that will be the end of his story and his mission.

And within a few months his name will be forgotten.

I see some skeptical looks on your faces.

Do some of you actually believe Jesus’ talk about rising from the dead?

Don’t be so foolish?  How many resurrected people have you met?

The resurrection of Jesus is as likely as this magnificent temple being destroyed.  It will not happen.  Trust me.

I must go.  I need to meet that very smart man Judas and pay him for his help.

Remember, I have warned you.  Jesus is dangerous.  He could turn your life upside down and inside out.

Are you sure you want him as your king?

Good Friday’s Promise

Jesus crucified outside the city walls of Jerusalem.

Roman did not conduct quiet executions. They wanted maximum public disgrace when they executed an outlaw. The marched the convicts out through the public crowds to demonstrate their power over the population. They stripped the criminals of all clothing and possession.

And they chose a public place where all who passed by could see their display of power. To show that Jesus was no one special, they crucified him with two other criminals.  And to mock Jesus they printed a sign over his head, “King of the Jews.” The sign reminded all that any rebellion against Roman was futile.

If you want to be king, this is the kind of throne you will have, a throne of nails with a crown of thorns. Here is the kind of royal court you deserve, two criminals who share in your crucifixion. It will be your total humiliation and the complete demonstration of Rome’s power.

But the Romans were not alone. The temple priest and others joined in scoffing Jesus. They threw back at him his words of healing and hope. “He saved others, let him save himself.” Three times the word “save” is thrown at Jesus. But no saving angels came to rescue him.

Here was the miracle worker, who at his most desperate hour, had no miracle. Here was the great teacher, who from his bloody pulpit had no word for the crowd. From all outward appearances, Jesus was defeated, destroyed and dead.

From the outside all was darkness and pain. Jesus was utterly abandoned by his disciples, his friends, his powerful deeds and words. As the crowd stared at the cross, they did not see a Godly messiah, only a miserable joke.

But something else was going on behind the scenes. And only those who come with the eyes of faith will see it.

As the soldiers, priests and others mock Jesus, one of the criminal, for reasons unknown, spoke up to defend Jesus. He reminded the other criminal that they are being executed for just reasons, but Jesus had done nothing wrong. “Have you no fear of God?” he asks.

He turns to Jesus and says “Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom” (Luke 23:42).

Whether this criminal fully understood the words he spoke or not, we do not know. But Jesus had once said, “If you have the faith of a mustard seed, God will hear and act”(Luke 17:6). In many ways, this criminal echoes our prayer as we watch this battle between the powers of darkness and destruction and the power of God’s love. We ask that Jesus will remember us.

Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.

Jesus responds, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

Lord Jesus, lock your promise in my heart today.

 

Forgiveness Can Be Tough

forgiveness log 2

Forgiveness can be tough. Even though we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us,” and know that Christ forgives us, we can often struggle to forgive those who wrong us.

I was in college, near the end of my freshman year. A friend and I applied to be resident assistants together in the freshman dorm. We were interviewed for the position by some upper classmates. My friend and I thought the interview had gone well. We both had good references as compassionate, helpful students and since there were only a few applicants, we thought we would both be chosen.

A few days later, I discovered that I had been rejected.

The reason given was that I was too vocal about my Christian faith. The student leaders thought I would be constantly “evangelizing” the freshman on my floor, even though this behavior had not been discussed in the interview. I felt that I had been unfairly rejected and was both disappointed and angry.

I wrestled with how to be forgiving towards the student leaders. I believed they had jumped to a conclusion without ever asking the question. I had helped start a Christian fellowship on the campus where none had existed before, but I was not some “outspoken” evangelist.  In fact, I was often too quiet about my faith in public settings. After the rejection, I wrestled with my resentment towards my fellow students and whether I could forgive them.

Fortunately this wrestling match ended quickly. The Dean of Students (who had written one of my recommendations) heard about this unfair decision and reversed it. I was thankful for his intervention and had a good year as a resident assistant. Still I wonder what I would have done if the Dean had not intervened. How long would I have carried resentments?

Jesus carried no such resentments.  Even as he was nailed to the cross, he said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

Have you ever struggled with forgiving someone?

Lord Jesus, forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Who Is In the Ditch? – Part 2

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows ...

The Good Samaritan by Aimé Morot (1880) shows the Good Samaritan taking the injured man to the inn. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In my last post, I suggested one way to read the Good Samaritan story in Luke 10 is to see ourselves as the one in the ditch, needing care. I contrasted this perspective with the standard view that we are to behave like the Samaritan and give care to those in need. I believe parables are open to a variety of interpretations; that is what makes them surprising and valuable as faith-building stories.

I hinted that there was third interpretation as well (and maybe more). The third view is to see where Jesus fits into the story.

The parable takes place on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho. This would be the very road that Jesus will take later in the Gospel narrative when he went from Jericho to Jerusalem (Luke 19:1,28). Just before he started up that road, Jesus reminded the disciples of what he would encounter in Jerusalem,

Then he took the twelve aside and said to them, “See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished. For he will be handed over to the Gentiles; and he will be mocked and insulted and spat upon. After they have flogged him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise again.” (Luke 18:31-33)

Thus, in a subtle way, the parable points also to Jesus’ coming suffering and death at the hands of the Gentiles. Thus the question comes even more poignant as to how we respond to the story. Will we turn aside and try to ignore Jesus’ suffering (like the Priest and Levite) or will we embrace him as the crucified one (like the Samaritan)?

Taking the story full-circle, as Cathy Seither commented on my last post, Jesus goes one step further. In Matthew 25:31-46, when the Son of Man comes in glory and judges the nations, he will state that the righteous are those who fed, welcomed, clothed and visited him when he was in need.

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’ (Matthew 25:37-40).

When we give love and support to other who are “in the ditch,” we are serving our Lord Jesus.

Where do you see yourself in the story of the Good Samaritan?

Lord Jesus, once again open my eyes and heart to see those who are in need and to respond in love.

Baptism ABC: D is for Dying

Our mortality is difficult to face. Even more difficult is to contmeplate the mortality of our children. Yet the ritual of baptism faces the reality of death head on.

When my daughter Suzanne was about two years old, she was diagnosed with mitral valve insufficiency, which means she had a small hole in her heart. The cardiologist told us that she would need open heart surgery to repair her heart. Such surgery required stopping Suzanne’s heart and placing her on a heart/lung machine while the surgeon closed the hole. Such surgery had become routine in the early 90’s, yet nothing is routine when it comes to one’s own child. The news rocked my world.

That night I stood over her bed as Suzanne slept. I prayed for Suzanne and her upcoming surgery. I prayed concerning my own fear and apprehension. Tears welled up.  Then I contemplated the promise God made to her in her baptism.

Baptism holds a bold declaration and even bolder promise. In his letter to Romans, Paul writes

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore, we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life (Romans 6:3-4).

Paul uses the act of baptism by immersion, where the baptized person is completely submerged under the water. This immersion is a symbolic burial, just as Jesus died and was buried. In baptism we die with Jesus. Paul goes on to write that in baptism, “our old self was crucified with him (Jesus) so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin (Romans 6:6).” Baptism recognizes our mortality comes from our sin, our rebellion with God, and overcomes the power of sin by burying our sinful self with Christ. In stark terms, baptism declares us dead.

Christina and Suzanne at Jacks Baptism

Daughters Christina and Suzanne enjoy their nephew Jack at his baptism

But it goes beyond that declaration to a more glorious promise. Not only are we buried with Jesus, but, like Jesus, we are raised to newness of life. The central belief of Christianity is that Jesus rose from the dead. In baptism we are joined to his resurrection. Symbolically this is expressed in an immersion baptism when the newly baptized is raised up out of the water, breathing the new life.

As I stood over my daughter’s bed, contemplating her pending surgery, I remembered this promise. She was alive in Christ and was already experiencing the newness of life. Even if she were to die in surgery, she was Christ’s child and held by the promise of eternal life.

Her surgery went well and she recovered quickly (though, as with any trauma, she did have some emotional residue that was challenging for her and her family at times). Today, twenty years later, she is a vivacious, creative young woman who I deeply love. I am glad that she remains on this earth.

Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and walk in newness of life with you today.

Soaring On Eagle’s Wings

This morning was our final day of Vacation Bible Adventure at Resurrection Lutheran Church. The Bible story was Jesus’ death and resurrection. The children carried the cross through the worship area to our story room so as to remember how Jesus carried the cross out to Golgotha. We heard again how he was nailed to the cross and died for our sins.

But God proved his love for us in that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us (Roman 5:8).

To help dramatize this concept each child placed a black strip of plastic on the cross, a symbol of our sin and brokenness.  Then we prayed our confession of sin and heard again the promise of our forgiveness.  Jesus’ death cleanses us from sin.

We then went outside to celebrate Jesus’ resurrection. We remembered that our church is called Resurrection and every Sunday we celebrate Jesus’ rising from the dead.  We are resurrection people and we demonstrate that Jesus’ lives by our lives of love and service.

The culmination of our celebration was the launching of model rockets, remembering one of our Biblical promise from the week, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall soar with wings like eagles” (Isaiah 40:31). What a joy to share this week with the children, youth and adult volunteers.

Lord Jesus, You are the resurrection and the life.  Launch me into your resurrected life, that I soar on wings like eagles.

“Good” Friday -Revisited

Last year I wrote my thoughts on Good Friday and Jesus’crucifixion.  You can read it at The Holy Week Story – Friday.

In the post I told the story about how I once wrestled with the “Good” of “Good Friday.”  I guess I am not the only one. You can watch an insightful two-minute video from Igniter Media called “Why I Call It Good Friday.”

Shalom to you as you take time to reflect on Jesus’ death.