Sunday, March 25, 2018
TEXT: Mark 11, 14 & 15
FOCUS: The Passion of Christ
Today is traditionally celebrated as Palm Sunday. In years past we have had palm branches and have sang songs like Hosanna, Blessed is He Who Comes in the Name of the Lord, You reign. We celebrate the fact that Jesus was the Messiah who came to save us. We like to celebrate. We like to celebrate the victory we have in Christ.
Major chords and melody. Minor chords and melody. We like the happy parts of life. We tend to prefer the major chords of life and the celebrations.
But today also marks the beginning of Holy Week. This is the week during which Jesus was betrayed, arrested, scourged, beaten, spit upon, humiliated, tried, convicted, and crucified.
The topic of failure and success has been something I have recently spent a lot of time thinking about. David Libby, pastor at St Johns Christian Church, are starting a podcast. For those who are unfamiliar with what a podcast is, it is essentially like a radio show on the internet. The title of our podcast is “Unsucess.” We have started recording and interviewing guests and are planning to release them beginning with the first week in April. Our conversations and interviews have been around this idea of failure and losing. Through these conversations, one of the things that has become more and more evident is that we, as humans, like to win. I love winning. If I can’t win, I don’t want to play. And when I win, I want to celebrate. But I have been increasingly drawn to this idea of failing. This idea of losing. One of our guests on our podcast shared about a time in her life where she experienced failure. She called it a “Wonderful Failure.” In our culture, we are taught and conditioned to learn how to rise above our failures and overcome our shortcomings. The thing about this particular guest that still has me in bewilderment was that instead of rising above her failure she learned how to be content and have peace in spite of her failure. And it has caused me to think more deeply on this idea of failing. Maybe there is something here I could learn.
THE KINGDOM OF GOD – The Thesis of All Jesus Teaching
Throughout this season of Lent our sermon series has been “Walking with Jesus.” Over and over again we see Jesus teaching about God’s kingdom. Through his miracles, his parables, and his exhortations we see Christ trying to teach his disciples, and those who gathered to hear him, how to live in God’s kingdom.
What do we know about God’s kingdom? We know that this kingdom is seemingly backwards from what we would expect. Jesus tells us that in God’s kingdom the last shall be first. It is the meek and humble who are blessed and honored. If we want to find our life, we must lose it. It is hard for those with wealth to enter in. It is full of vulnerable and oppressed people. God’s kingdom is full of people who have failed.
God’s kingdom is a reality that is seemingly upside down and backwards from what our culture and our world tells us it should be. It is one of failure rather than success. Of contentment, rather than achieving or accumulation. This is what Christ tried to communicate over and over and over again to his disciples and his followers.
THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY – What we Expected
Picture yourself welcoming the Messiah, your new king, into Jerusalem. Much of Jesus ministry happened in Galilee, a much smaller region up north. Much of what Jesus did was in small towns in this region. He spent some time in Jerusalem, the capital and the big city of Israel, but not a lot. And it seemed evident to all that this visit was going to be different. His success and popularity had gotten to a point where he was becoming an actual threat to the political and religious powers of the time. His followers were expecting him to come into town and kick butt. He said things like “The temple will be destroyed and in 3 days-time I will rebuild it.”
Jesus tried “to make his intentions known by coming, not on a great stallion, but on a lowly donkey, meek and humble” (Piper, J. (2013). Love to the uttermost: devotional readings for holy week. Minneapolis, MN: Desiring God.) but it seems as if the people would not have it. His disciples and followers wanted to win. And we can’t blame them. They were tired of being persecuted. The crowds were expecting Jesus to come in victory. The triumphal entry – Palm Sunday – was an opportunity the people saw to parade and celebrate their new king and messiah. In their mind, paying no attention to what Jesus had been and is continuing to try to teach them, even in this moment, God’s kingdom was Jesus taking out the Roman tyranny and the oppression of the Pharisees and the Jewish leaders and rulers.
But Jesus was about to show us that God’s kingdom was much bigger than “winning.”
THE PASSOVER MEAL – Big Transition
Things begin to change and transition.
This meal was special. It was an annual feast the Israelites observed. And Jesus was sharing this feast with his closest friends. The disciples weren’t merely a group of students. The disciples were Jesus’ best friends. They were family.
As they sat down to share in the meal, we can assume, like any good host or leader, that Jesus told the story of how God rescued the Israelites from Egypt. This was what the Passover feast was all about. However, the story began to change. When Jesus got to the bread and the wine, the narrative shifted
pretty dramatically from what the disciples had grown up hearing. Instead of connecting the meal to the past, Jesus begins to connect it to what is about to happen through his suffering and his death.
(Jesus knew exactly what was about to transpire. The disciples were still in the dark.)
He says, “This is how the kingdom of heaven will come about.” Jesus then takes the bread, blesses it and breaks it, and then he gives it. Then he takes the wine, he blesses it, and the he gives it. And then he says, “Now, continue to do this, and as you do, remember all I have taught you about my kingdom.
The disciples are not ready. They are not ready for Christ to leave. They are not ready for Christ to die. When Jesus tells them they will betray, deny, and abandon him they push back and refuse to acknowledge this truth. I think, in their mind Jesus is still going to be the victor and take over rule and power. But things begin to shift. I think this new reality is beginning to take root and sink in for the disciples. They continue to deny it, but as Jesus humbles himself further and washes their feet I think they begin to realize that something is off. Things are about to change.
THE GARDEN – Loss of Control
Jesus seemingly lost control of the situation. For the first time in his ministry Jesus was at the mercy of the ruling authority of Jerusalem.
Who is somebody strong in your life? How do you, or would you, respond if this person suddenly becomes weak? For me this person is hands down my dad. He has always been somebody who is constant. He has been faithful. He has always (well mostly always) been there when I needed somebody. The idea of him in weakness sits really uncomfortably in my stomach. Crashing on the ski slope. Slamming his hammer on his thumb. Struggling on a 40-mile backpacking trip. Watching him fail at something is excruciating for me.
This is wat is happening for the disciples. They did not know how to respond. Jesus was not supposed to be arrested. This was a huge setback. At this time, they hadn’t given up all hope, but the situation was looking pretty bleak. Especially since it was one of their own who handed Jesus over to the authorities.
Jesus’ response I think really baffled the disciples too. He didn’t fight it. He went willingly. As if an ignorant sheep to the slaughter. Jesus allowed himself to be arrested without any fight.
THE TRIAL – Oh Shoot… We Lost
As the disciples watched from a distance, the hope they were holding on to dwindled. It was a sickening feeling. The last three years of their life flashed before them and they wondered “What purpose does our life now have?” Everything we were hoping Jesus would do is gone. The victory they hoped would come was inevitably not going to come.
And Jesus was silent. He was innocent and yet still remained silent. “Dude! Say something! Do something!”
Today the cross is universally acknowledged and recognized as a religious symbol. There are many of us who wear it around our neck as a reminder and symbol Christ’s great love for us. However, at this time, in the Roman world, the cross was a political symbol. Rome used the cross to show the world where the power really lied. “We are in charge here and this is what happens to people who get in our way.” The Romans had crucified thousands of people, and after Christ they crucified thousands more. The cross was the way the Romans tried to bring justice and peace to the world.
I find it interesting however, that Pilate did not seem terribly interested in serving actual justice by giving Jesus a fair trial. Even though the cross was a sign of justice in the Roman world, in this case it seemed more about keeping the peace. It seems evident that what Pilate was most interested in was preventing riots and keeping the peace. (Too much extra paper work. Not worth it.) “So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.” Mark 15:15, ESV.
Imagine if you were there. If you had been a follower of Christ during that time. Imagine if you would how Nicodemus was feeling at this point. Conversation with Joe Watkins about getting my doctorate.
We live to celebrate victory and success. This week, I watched the Blazers, who up until this point were on a 13-game winning streak, lose. I watched them lose, not once, but twice. It felt horrible. I hate it when I am watching sports and my team loses. I do not like to lose! I want to win. Losing gives me a knot in my stomach. (5k with Lauren)
Christianity was founded on victory. We celebrate the hope of the resurrection. We win! We of course acknowledge the crucifixion but we often see this more as a necessary step in order to get to the resurrection. It was really through the resurrection that Jesus defeated death and sin, not the crucifixion. If Jesus did not raise from the dead, we would not be here right now. He would have merely been just another good teacher. The apostle Paul tells us, “And if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). But I wonder, and for me it has been especially this in recent weeks, what we are missing by skipping over the death, brokenness, humiliation, and failure of Christ through his crucifixion.
The resurrection equals Power. The crucifixion equals love.
God is both power and love. They of course are not excusive. While we await the hope of the resurrection, let us not fail to see and experience God’s love. May the passion of Christ challenge the way we live. At the resurrection, we win. However, we cannot truly experience victory unless we learn how to lose and fail. Unless we are able to also experience in Christ’s suffering and death.
It is for this reason that I want to leave us this week in a somber spirit. A minor note if you would. Don’t merely rise above the failures, sufferings, and brokenness or life, but allow them to TRANSFORM YOUR LIFE!