Thursday, April 5, 2012

a reflection for holy week: a Savior for betrayers

The long-awaited day had arrived.  Since Jesus had begun His ministry, whisperings about Him had been heard all through the land of Israel.  There were people who guessed He might be the Messiah, the coming Deliverer who was prophesied about in the Old Testament.  So when He got on a colt and rode into the city of Jerusalem the week of the Passover celebration, when the town was bustling with celebration and out of town visitors were everywhere, it seemed like perfect timing.  Everyone around, a big crowd of people, were caught up in the excitement.  They spread their cloaks and palms beneath Him…treating Him with honor, like a King.

The long oppression of the Romans…was it finally over?  Everyone in Jerusalem saw the Messiah, the promised Deliverer, to be a military hero…they thought that Jesus would clobber the Romans and set them free from their oppression.  So they wave palm branches, which were political and nationalistic symbols, like waving an American flag would be today…and they cry out, “Hosanna!” which means, “Please save us!”…but they are blind to their need for spiritual deliverance.  All they want is their homeland back again.  All they want is a Jesus on their own terms.

Jesus for His part is deliberately fulfilling an Old Testament promise about the Messiah in order to push the envelope with the Jewish leaders, so they would push things toward the crucifixion.  He knew that the Jewish religious leaders would see His actions as directly related to Old Testament prophecy, the prophecy that we read this morning in Zechariah 9, “Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion! Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!  See, your king comes to you, righteous and having salvation, gentle and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.” 

That’s why Jesus deliberately sent His disciples out to find a colt.  He wanted to exactly fulfill Old Testament prophecy in order to get the religious leaders’ attention.  He knew that they would do anything to preserve the little bit of power they had by cooperating with the Romans.  He knew they would see Him as a challenge to their power, and He knew that they would try to kill him, that He would be crucified and rise again.  Acts 2:23 says, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross” (NIV).  In other words, God knew exactly what was going to happen…Jesus knew exactly what was going to happen…the Holy Spirit knew exactly what was going to happen when Jesus rode into Jerusalem in fulfillment of Old Testament Scripture.  Jesus was going to get Himself killed…at the hands of the religious people.

And so we are pulled in and implicated in the crucifixion.  It wasn’t the secular Romans, the world, that was out to get Jesus…it was the religious people.  The Romans were just the means of execution.  So when you think about it, that means it was us.  All too often, just like the people of Israel, we think that the problem is all the people who are outside, those worldly people who don’t value old-time values and old-time religion…all the while, we miss the fact that the real problem is us. And that truth hurts.

What is it that we do wrong?  We have a tendency to try to make Jesus do and be what we want Him to do and be.  We try to make Jesus into the God we want Him to be, instead of the God that He is.  We want a leader who does everything for us without requiring anything of us. 

We do this in several ways.  First of all, when we—like the crowd in Jerusalem that welcomed Jesus with palms—confuse our nation with God’s Kingdom.  The people of Israel just wanted their nation back again.  This is not so very unlike those in the Church who spend all their time and energy trying to make the United States into a Christian nation, as if God’s Kingdom could be found in an earthly government. 

Obviously, God cares about the government and can use it to do good in the world, and we ought to do all we can to see that that happens.  But…there has snuck into the Church an angry, fists-in-the-air, defensive attitude towards the world…as if non-believers out there are trying to steal "our" country from us. 

What if, instead of expecting the world to act like the Church, we acted like the Church should?  What if we taught and served and loved in such a way that people sat up, took note, and began to ask us (as Peter suggests), “What is the reason for the hope that is within you?”  Yes, we are just like the people in Jerusalem when we demand that Jesus give us political power and a Christian nation instead of realizing that the Church often functions best as a loving minority, serving and reaching out to a broken world.  That’s how the Early Church worked!

We also act like the people in Jerusalem when we praise God at Church but deny Him by our actions the rest of the week.  I think most of us would have to admit to this.  It is super easy to come to church and sing songs of praise and act religious but when we return to our homes and work places, all too often we treat our family and co-workers badly.  We act selfishly.  We break each of the Ten Commandments.  We do not spend the time in the Bible and in prayer that we should.  We don’t care for the needy as we should.  We don’t forgive.  We don’t share our faith in a loving way with those around us.  We are quick with the Hosannas but slow to follow through.

The people of Jerusalem were all excited to praise Jesus when it was convenient for them…when they thought He would be a military leader who would set them free from Rome.  But when He didn’t move fast  enough for them, when He began to lead in a more spiritual manner and didn’t take out the Romans, they quickly became a part of the fickle crowd shouting, “Crucify Him!”

I see myself in that fickle crowd too. For example, there was a time in my life when I was going to school and even though I had always gone to church every Sunday before that time, I found myself getting up on Sunday mornings and saying, “I’m too tired to go to church.”  And so all too frequently, I wouldn’t go.  I see my own times of faithlessness, my own following Jesus just when it is convenient for me, my own confusing the Kingdom of God with my country…and the many other ways that I try to make Jesus the leader I want Him to be, instead of the God that He is.  I try to make Him bow to my desires instead of bowing to His will. 

The bottom line is, we are all implicated.  There is no escape for all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  We turn away from Jesus.  We are not faithful.  We are His betrayers.  We are the ones who will shout in a few days’ time, “Crucify Him!”  We are the ones who drive the nails into His hands and feet.

But here’s the good news: when we face our naked selves and see the depth of our sin, when we see how far we have wandered from God, our creative and surprising God takes even our failure and sin and turns it around and uses it as a tool in His hand to save and redeem us.  Again, Acts 2:23-24 says, “This man [Jesus] was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge, and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (NIV).

God knew what we would do. God knew we were going to kill Jesus.  So He took that very thing, that most evil of things that we did, and turned it around.  Jesus humbly emptied Himself, as Philippians told us, took on our sin and the punishment for it, and then rose again, showing that He had conquered sin, death, and the devil. 

Christ came for you.  He rode into Jerusalem for you, even though He knew you were only offering convenient words of praise, even though He knew you would desert Him when the going got tough, even though He knew you would turn away, even though He knew that you would kill Him and not just with any old death but with an excruciatingly painful death. 

But He still rode into Jerusalem for you.  He did it because His love is an insanely powerful kind of love.  It’s a love that embraces the unlovely.  It’s a love that pulls in the unfaithful.  It’s a love that chases down the rebellious.  Romans 5:6-8 says, “You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 

He died for you before you were a believer, when you were at your ugliest and worst.  And He still loves you when you wander from Him.  He will keep chasing you down.  He will keep pursuing you.  He will never give up on you.  Because you, you who are His betrayer (and I who am His betrayer), are precious to Him.  And He came to set you free from sin, death and the power of the devil.  To make you His own.  To bring you out of the kingdom of darkness and into the kingdom of light.  To adopt you as His child.  And this giving of Christ for you and for me, though we do not deserve it, is the very Gospel, the very good news.  Amen.


  1. Written so nicely, as usual. Thank you ever so much for your perspective. I always appreciate and value it.

  2. I can identify with this post completely, and it's a theme I have written about before today. I've never been to a church, for one reason and several, as a Christian, partially because of all the sometimes awful testimonies from church-goers about all the backbiting and bad blood between people in some of the churches! I find this strange considering that Christians are supposed to be decent people and forgiving people and people who are supposed to reach out to the lost, the hopeless, the confused and those struggling someway in life.

    You wrote: "And so we are pulled in and implicated in the crucifixion. It wasn't the secular Romans, the world, that was out to get Jesus…it was the religious people. The Romans were just the means of execution. So when you think about it, that means it was us." Yes, that makes everything personal doesn't it, and means we can't pass the buck, and blame those irreligious people over there, those bad unpleasant people somewhere else; we only need to look in the mirror to see the killers of Jesus, and it should make us humble and not quick to judge others, whoever they are and whatever they do; we are ALL sinners after all.

    1. Tim, you have mentioned before that although you are a Christian, you have never been a part of the local church. I totally identify with the issues you have with the local church. There is so much sin and darkness and sadness there, because it is filled with real sinners. But on the other hand, it is filled with redeemed children of God. Proverbs says, "As iron sharpens iron, so a man sharpens his friend." While you are missing out on the church fights, you are also missing out on the benefit that Christian community could provide. And the Christian community is missing out on what you have to offer as well. Think of Paul's metaphor of the Church as the Body of Christ. The Church is walking around without an arm right now with you not in it!:-) One thing that was really helpful to me as I read "Healing Your Church Hurt" (which I reviewed on my blog) was the the author's statement that because the Church is Jesus' bride and Jesus loves her, we are called to love His bride too. What man would like it if we talk nasty about his wife? I would really recommend that you read that book. I totally get what you're saying about the Church and sometimes I just want to leave it too (not now, but in the past). But I know that I am called to be a part of it, though I struggle mightily. I am reminded that I too am the sinner who crucified Jesus. Just as we might say the crucifiers of Jesus are just the irreligious people (and be wrong), we could also say that they are just the religious people (and also be wrong). It was ALL of us. "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God."

      I hope that is an encouragement!

    2. I just read a great blog post that might minister to you, Tim:


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