Good Friday – The Ultimate Scapegoat – The Crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth – John 19:16-27; Hebrews 4:14-16)

Andreas Pavias Icon of the Crucifixion, second half of 15th century egg tempera and gold on wood overall: 83.5 × 59 cm (32 7/8 × 23 1/4 in.) National Gallery, Alexandros Soutzos Museum, Athens

John 19:16–27

[16] So he delivered him over to them to be crucified.

The Crucifixion

So they took Jesus, [17] and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. [18] There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. [19] Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” [20] Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. [21] So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” [22] Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”

[23] When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic.(1) But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, [24] so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says,

“They divided my garments among them,

and for my clothing they cast lots.”

So the soldiers did these things, [25] 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 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!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.

Hebrews 4:14–16

Jesus the Great High Priest

[14] Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. [15] For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. [16] Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (ESV)

Today is Good Friday.  It is the day according to legend and history that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified for leading an insurrection against Rome claiming to be the true King of the Jews.  But for many of us who are Christians, his life and death is so much more than mere politics.  It is the story of forgiveness and mercy where Jesus became the “scapegoat” of all of humanity. He was killed by the unholy triumvirate of politics (Pilate), prosperity and wealth (Herod), and position and religion (the Sanhedrin) (Acts 3:15)  According to Richard Rohr:

For our purposes here, the image of scapegoat powerfully mirrors and reveals the universal, but largely unconscious, human need to transfer our guilt onto something (or someone) else by singling that other out for unmerited negative treatment.”  (Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ)

The chief priests had their scapegoat.  It was overheard and recorded about Jesus that the phrase “let one man die, and a nation survive”  is exactly what scapegoating looks like (John 18:14; Matt 27:25).  The cross becomes our symbol of scapegoating.  “The cross reveals every act of human barbarism, war, torture, starvation, disease, abuse, oppression, injustice, early death, and absurd lives ‘from the blood of Abel the Holy to the blood of Zechariah who you’ve killed (Matthew 23:35)”  (Richard Rohr, Wondrous Encounters: Scripture for Lent).

In a great reversal, the cross which is the symbol of human evil becomes a symbol of love and forgiveness when Jesus uttered those famous words, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing,” (Luke 23:34); these are the very same words that the high priest uttered and prayed to God on the Day of Atonement for the sins of wayward Israel.  In this way, Jesus became the high priest when he offered the ultimate sacrifice of himself for the sins of the world (John 1:29; Heb. 9:26).  As the Apostle Paul has eloquently stated, Jesus redeemed us from the curse by becoming a curse (Gal. 3:13), and became sin so that we can become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). 

When this occurred, the curtain in the temple that separated the people from God’s presence was torn symbolizing that the barrier between the unholy and the holy.  Jesus body became the doorway to God’s presence (Heb. 10:20) which is precisely what the writer of Hebrews means by which we can enter into the “throne of grace to find grace and mercy in our time of need.

The significance of Jesus death is not that he dies for us in a mere transactional sense, but dies with us and in solidarity with all of humanity with its pain and issues.  This is what Jesus means by “overcoming the world” (John 16:33).  The cross is both an external exposing (the ugliness and evil of humanity) and eternal holding of the great mystery of God’s love for us by becoming a propitiation of sin for the whole world (1 John 2:2; 1 John 4:10).  This is exactly what the Apostle Paul means when he wrote in his epistle to the Romans, “but God proves his own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Rom. 5:8)

Summary

According to Brian Zahnd:

“The cross is where we gain the clearest revelation of what God is like.  The cross is not what God inflicts upon Jesus in order to forgive, but what God in Christ endures as he forgives.  Hans Urs von Balthasar said, “Being disguised under the disfigurement of an ugly crucifixion and death, Christ upon the cross is paradoxically clearest revelation of what God is like.”

Collect of the Day

Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Prayer

God, thank you that Jesus died for our sins, and created a doorway into your presence.  Thank you that you bore our evil and ugliness on the cross and became our scapegoat.  As I gaze to the cross, help me see where you enter with my own pain and suffering.  Give me hope to find grace in my time of need as I look to your cross.

Amen

Advertisements

Holy Week – Passover and the New Exodus – John 13:1-15

John 13:1–15

Jesus Washes the Disciples’ Feet

[1] Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. [2] During supper, when the devil had already put it into the heart of Judas Iscariot, Simon’s son, to betray him, [3] Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, [4] rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it around his waist. [5] Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped around him. [6] He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” [7] Jesus answered him, “What I am doing you do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” [8] Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered him, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me.” [9] Simon Peter said to him, “Lord, not my feet only but also my hands and my head!” [10] Jesus said to him, “The one who has bathed does not need to wash, except for his feet,(1) but is completely clean. And you(2) are clean, but not every one of you.” [11] For he knew who was to betray him; that was why he said, “Not all of you are clean.”

[12] When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? [13] You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. [14] If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. [15] For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.

In Christian tradition, today would be called Maundy (mandate) Thursday.  This is the day that Jesus inaugurated the Lord’s Supper as a ritual of remembrance of what kind of sacrifice he was about to partake.  It was also part of Passover meal which all Jews do to celebrate the Exodus.  In inaugurating the Lord’s Supper, Jesus was embarking on a new Exodus.  Not just to remember what God did when he saved his people from Egypt, but now in this new Exodus, to save his people from sin and death.  According to NT Wright:

Jesus chose Passover for his final kingdom moment, because Passover always was a kingdom moment, and this was to be the ultimate one, the real victory over the powers of evil.  And Jesus, through his words with the cup, interpreted this new Passover, this intended new Exodus, as the covenant renewal that would bring about the real “return from exile,” the ultimate “forgiveness of sins.”  The two go together.  Releasing people from their sins and from the effects of those sins would be the means whereby the victory would be won.”  (NT Wright, The Day the Revolution Began: Reconsidering the Meaning of Jesus’s Crucifixion, pages 187-188).

Also this new commandment demonstrated through the Communion meal, was the ultimate display of Love.  According to Brian Zahnd:

On Maundy (mandate) Thursday Jesus gave his disciples a new and supreme mandate-that we love one another.  And Jesus stresses that his kingdom is not to be characterized by power-grabbing, but by co-suffering.  In the upper room, Jesus also gives his church the sacrament of Communion- the means by which we participate in the body and blood of Jesus.  The body of Christ is three things:  The physical body of Jesus that was crucified and raised, the ecclesial body of Christ  that is the church, and the Eucharistic body of Christ that is Communion – they are all connected- and mysteriously connected.  Through the sacrament of Communion we partake of the body and blood of Jesus that we as the church might be the flesh and blood presence of Jesus in the world.” (Brian Zahnd – Twitter @BrianZahnd, April 17, 2019)

I would agree with Brian and NT Wright that by participating in the ritual of Communion we remember the New Exodus that Jesus inaugurated over sin and death as part of the New Kingdom.  We become co-sufferers as we eat the sacred meal by realizing the new life always comes from a death of sorts.  Lastly, as we participate in Communion we have solidarity with other brothers and sisters around the world in Christ who do the same, and also become Christ’s ambassadors of love to the world around us.

Prayer:

God,

Help me remember how you demonstrated your love for us by dying on the cross.  As I eat your body and blood, I am reminded that you are present in the elements.  Following Jesus example by washing the disciples feet, help me love others as he does.

Amen

The Universal Christ – Universal Reconciliation – John 12:27-36

John 12:27–36

The Son of Man Must Be Lifted Up

[27] “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. [28] Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” [29] The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” [30] Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. [31] Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out. [32] And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” [33] He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die. [34] So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” [35] So Jesus said to them, “The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. [36] While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”

This week I was speaking to my wife, and we were speaking about an awakening that is coming.  A spiritual awakening coming from God to the world that will raise everyone’s vibrations where they will be in touch with their authentic self, and do what they will be created for.  This vibration will come from the center of the earth, the sky above us, the waters around us, and the Spirit within us.  It will reveal the Christ that is in everyone and everywhere.  People hunger for what is real.  They are not satisfied with organized religion of their ancestors and forefathers.  They want something that brings life. 

This is what Jesus was driving at in this passage.  The key verse in this passage is John 12:32 which says, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth will draw all people to myself.”  John when writing his gospel the word all literally means all.  According to William Paul Young, the word draw literally means to drag.  To me this implies that even those that resist being connected to the eternal Christ will still be connected to them even if it is against their will.  Whether this happens in this lifetime or the next, all people will be drawn to the Christ who is all in all (1 Cor. 15:28).  Now, some reformed theologians have noted that what John really means is that “I will draw to myself all of those whom I draw to myself. (Talbott, page 87)  To them this literally means that those that believe in the gospel are the only ones that will be drawn to Christ, not all men and women.  Other theologians believe when John wrote “all men”, he literally means all ethnicity and all nations of the world including those that are non-Jews, and doesn’t mean that all people will be drawn to Christ without distinction (Zondervan Study Bible).

Regarding Universal Reconciliation, William Paul Young (author of the Shack) writes:

“Here’s the truth: every person who has ever been conceived was included in the death, burial, resurrection and ascension of Jesus.  When Jesus was lifted up, God “dragged” all human beings to himself (John 12:32).  Jesus is the savior of all humankind, especially believers (1 Tim. 4:10.  Further, every single human being is in Christ (John 1:3), and Christ is in them, and Christ is in the Father (John 14:20).  When Christ-the Creator in whom the cosmos was created – died, we all died.  When Christ rose, we rose (2 Corinthians 5)…The Good News is that Jesus did this without your vote, and whether you believe it or not won’t make it any less or more true.  (William Paul Young, Lies we believe about God, page 117-119).”

Thus Jesus reveals that God that is within all of humanity, will raise vibrations as we get in touch with our true selves, and drags all of humanity to himself because of the Gospel. 

As Jesus is lifted up, the judgment will happen in the world and the ruler of this world will be cast out.  Through the gospel (Jesus birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection), evil and death are defeated (Col. 2:15).  This is good news.  Jesus is also referring to his conversation with Nicodemus about what happens when the son of man is lifted up. (John 3:14-15)

Some in the crowd anticipate that Jesus won’t be with them in the future, and may be a little fearful of what might happen.  Jesus reassures them to believe in the light, since he is the light so that they can become the sons of Light.  When the Christ is revealed within us, we become the Sons of light.  Salvation is just as much coming from within each and every person, than something that happens to us through the Gospel. 

Summary

In this passage as Jesus journeys towards Jerusalem, the space where his glorification will take place (Is. 53:12), where God will be glorified through his work.  Jesus alludes to the type of death that he will face.  In addition to himself alluding to his death, he will also draw all men to himself as he is raised.  Even those that are with him hear the Father’s voice affirming the time and place of Jesus glorification. 

As it relates to universalism, it is not a heresy and was the predominant view of the final judgment by those in the early church (Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Gregory of Nyssa).  It wasn’t until Augustine that eternal conscious torment became the predominant view of the afterlife in the church.  Anyway, I have hope that all people will be connected to God in this life or in the next and that all will be drawn to God because of his love for them.

Prayer,

God, help me be open-minded to a new way of thinking about salvation and the possibility that you will save everyone including those that do not believe in you.  I pray that all of us will be drawn to how much you love us, and we can share that love with others.

Amen

Death and Resurrection – Rhythms of Growth and Transformation – John 12:20-26

Wheat field and blue sky with clouds

John 12:20–36

Some Greeks Seek Jesus

[20] Now among those who went up to worship at the feast were some Greeks. [21] So these came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and asked him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” [22] Philip went and told Andrew; Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. [23] And Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. [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. [25] Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. [26] If anyone serves me, he must follow me; and where I am, there will my servant be also. If anyone serves me, the Father will honor him.

You must die before you die- and then you will know how to die and not be afraid of it. (Richard Rohr, Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self)

The Easter season is usually the beginning of Spring where most religions in the world practice new birth, regeneration, and newness after a long, cold, dead winter.  This is one of the themes of Easter (which really is a pagan holiday – that is a story for another blog).  One of the natural rhythms of life is what most Lutherans call “death and resurrection”, or what John Calvin coined the theme mortification to vivication (Rom. 6:3-4).  The way we grow and expand our consciousness is through dying and being regenerated.  We see this in this passage when Jesus gives the Greeks a short illustration of what it means to have eternal life.  Jesus said, “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.  Whoever loves his life will lose it, and whoever hates his life in this will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:24-25)

Richard Rohr writes, “Jesus is a map for the time-bound and personal level of life, and Christ is the blueprint for all time and space and life itself.  Both reveal the universal pattern of self-emptying and infilling (Christ) and death and resurrection (Jesus), which is the process we have called “holiness,” “salvation,” or just “growth,” at different times in our history.” (Richard Rohr, The Universal Christ, page 52).

I think Richard Rohr describes beautifully what it means to grow as a human.  He goes on to say that life seems to be a collision of opposites.  Growth happens when there is a death of sorts.  A loss of a marriage, job loss, a death of a loved one, and precisely at the same time the death occurs, new life emerges out of the death.  The image of a phoenix flying out of the ashes describes what a new life looks like.  The ebb and flow of life is always played out through death and resurrection.  Suffering is part of life.  We usually do not grow without experiencing some form of suffering in our life.  Now, I don’t mean we need to be masochists and look for it, but God promises to be with us in our suffering, and grow us through it (John 16:33; Heb. 13:4).

Also, as we enter into the rhythms of death and resurrection, our false self that is separate from God dies.  Christ who is our life appears and can bring vitality and life to our mortal bodies as our True selves (the part of us that is connected to God) manifests (Rom. 8:11).  The Apostle Paul describes what it means to die to self and find new life in his letter to Titus:

Titus 3:3–7

[3] For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another. [4] But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, [5] he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, [6] whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, [7] so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. (ESV)

In this passage Paul describes attributes of the false self (being foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, feelings of malice and envy, and hating ourselves and one another), and the True Self which is being regenerated through Jesus Christ.  Christ reveals our True Selves.  The True Self cannot be created, manufactured, branded apart from Jesus who through the Holy Spirit unveils and reveals the God self within.

Now, some of you may be thinking that I am speaking in New Age/Gnostic thought and being almost heretical, but this is not true.  Christian mystics have always thought in these terms.  Richard Rohr writes:

Suffering is the only thing strong enough to destabilize the imperial ego. The separate and sufficient self has to be led to the edge of its own resources, so it learns to call upon the Deeper Resource of who it truly is (but does not recognize yet): the God Self, the True Self, the Christ Self, the Buddha Self—use whatever words you want. It is who we fundamentally are in God and who God is dwelling in us. Once we are transplanted to this solid place, we are largely indestructible! But then we must learn to rest there, and not just make occasional forays into momentary union. That is the work of our whole lifetime. From <https://cac.org/gazing-upon-the-mystery-2018-10-21/>

Prayer

God, help me see that you are in me, and I in you.  Help me let go of that part of me that wants to be independent and separate from you.  Make me aware of that True Self connected to the Christ Consciousness that is the person that I truly am.  Show me how you use the natural rhythms of death and resurrection as a means of spiritual growth in a person’s life.

Amen