When you stand in front of the scripture we just heard as a preacher, you just want to walk away. There is nothing as difficult or as heart wrenching or is gut-wrenching as Good Friday.
it goes against everything we know and believe about a tender-hearted, compassionate , loving God.
The story is offensive in the world because it is an illustration of such cruelty, such heartlessness that it makes it difficult to incorporate it into any story of faith.
And if we turn what we just heard into nothing more than a pretty pagentry that we celebrate every year , we will divest it of its power.
I have as many times as I have heard the story of Jesus arrest in the garden I have never heard in my heart before the intentional forethought and villainy of Judas’ betrayal.
He knew where Jesus was going to hang out, and he took his money and he brought the soldiers to have Jesus arrested in the middle of the night, during Passover.
Judas to Betray Jesus
14 Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests 15 and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. 16 And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him.
Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on.[e] See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, “The one I will kiss is the man; seize him.” 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, “Friend, do what you came to do.”[f] Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples left him and fled.
When you read Matthew’s account of this story you can hear Matthew’s guilt.
John chooses to say ‘but Jesus said to the soldiers let these guys go in just take me’, which was true, but Matthew saw that at the moment where it looked like the story may not end the way they had anticipated, they were terrified and ran for their lives.
Because that’s what happens when we’re confronted with the cross, that’s what happens. We can talk about Jesus’ miracles and his teachings and raising Lazarus from the dead and all of that is really acceptable to us, but when we are confronted with the brutality and the seeming senselessness of the cross? It makes us want to run. Because what do we do with that?
Here’s what Judas did:
‘Then when Judas, his betrayer, saw that Jesus[a] was condemned, he changed his mind and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders, 4 saying, “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.” They said, “What is that to us? See to it yourself.” 5 And throwing down the pieces of silver into the temple, he departed, and he went and hanged himself. ‘
I don’t think ever in Judas’ imagination did he think they were going to execute Jesus.
I think in some way, Judas betrayal of Jesus was his last ditch attempt to get Jesus to DO something!
He wanted Jesus to do something, he wanted Jesus to BE the Messiah and he just figures if I put him in a corner he’s going to have to act.
And then he realises that Jesus has no intention of doing any such thing and the full consequence of his actions, the full weight of what he did and why he did it? Hit him like a tonne of bricks and he goes out and kills himself.
People act as though it was Judas’ betrayal that cost Jesus his life, and that is ridiculous. The story of Jesus and Judas is the story of one man’s confrontation with a non- violent god who insisted on being a servant and his reaction to it.
Judas hanged himself for many reasons, his overwhelming shame, the sense that all was lost, all of the ministry time and all of the years he spent with Jesus hoping for a new kingdom, were for nothing and the fact that he knew he could never go face anyone again after what he’d done…
Peter decided to face the crucifixion buy hanging around on the periphery in looking to see what was happening without identifying himself with it.
And a lot of us spend our lives embracing the ‘ministry’ of Christ, but becoming very silent when it comes to his death.
I’ve been very fortunate in my life to have people who question this story mercilessly. I have a lot of friends who are gentle atheists, meaning they love Jesus and his ‘teachings’, but this crucifixion business is where they stop, some of them are atheists because of this story, because it’s horror is so overwhelming. they just can’t imagine worshiping a God who would allow it, much less orchestrate it. I would often find myself, when speaking with these friends, talking about Jesus’s teachings and life, whenever they would bring up the crucifixion, I would say that he was murdered for what he said and believed. Because I didn’t want identify myself with this act of senseless, horrible violence. Those of you who were here the other Sunday may have heard me say that God did not kill Jesus, we did.
But that’s not the whole story either, because the community that is God , Father, Son and Holy Spirit decided together on this path to end- once and for all to END- the violence. A divine community so intricately bound together that they are one, one heart, one mind, one will,one power to achieve that will. And what is the will of God? The will of God is that human beings would be delivered from their self-imposed hell, their addiction to violence, and our enslavement to sin.
We forget that Jesus came, as the scripture says, ‘first to the Jews’..Jesus didn’t come to start a church. Jesus came to redeem Israel and through Isreal the world, that was the whole idea of this chosen people scenario. But earlier, when he tells the parable where a master owns a vineyard, he leaves it in the care of the tenants?
The Parable of the Tenants
33 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. 34 When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants[c] to the tenants to get his fruit. 35 And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. 36 Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. 37 Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ 38 But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ 39 And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40 When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” 41 They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.”
42 Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures:
“‘The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone;[d]
this was the Lord’s doing,
and it is marvelous in our eyes’?
43 Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. 44 And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.”[e]
45 When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. 46 And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet..’
Jesus knew how they would interpret the parable, because that’s how he intended them to interpret it.
It was at that moment that they decided that he would die and soon.
And so they decided to use the Roman priests to accomplish their purpose because it was first of all against Jewish law for them to put him to death and secondly it was the Passover.
So they bring him to Pilate. Matthew’s commentary on this deepens the story.
‘Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.
15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, “Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream.” 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood; see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.’
The first reading in Isaiah talks about Jesus standing silent before accusers.
Pilate had the sign ‘Jesus of Nazareth king of the Jews written in 4 different languages and nailed on top of the cross.
He wanted it to be made perfectly clear that it was the religious elite that killed Jesus and not him.
Boy, don’t we feel that way?
Because the other conversation around the cross is the conversation being ‘ we’re good people we’ve never done anything so terrible as to incur the death of Jesus on a cross. Those guys killed him, not me’
I have a sweet friend who I love very much she used to go to my church, who said ‘you know why I hate Good Friday and Easter services, because it’s like they have you there in the building and they’re going to make you feel bad, they are going to tell you that no matter how good you are you’re just not good enough and because you’re not good enough Jesus had to die.’
The Cross causes us to stumble.
I’m in the business of theology, that study of what humans say and think about God, and how humans wrestle with the giant massive confusion of collaborative writing that is the Scriptures.
I spent 6 years deconstructing both my faith and my theology, because the theology I was raised with was killing me. I
read everyone from Bonhoeffer to Sobrino, von Balthasar to Bultmann. I do not regret any of that difficult wrestling with the tenets of my faith.
At the end of the day, there’s really only one person whose interpretation of his death I care about and that’s Jesus himself.
Throughout history there have been thousands of good teachers who ran asunder of the status quo and were murdered for it.
There have been thousands of political activist challenging the unjust systems of their day who have been murdered for it.
And if Jesus was just a man, we could put that interpretation on his death and still find a reasonable path for living a good life. We could.
But Jesus wasn’t just a man.
Jesus was part of the community of God, that community of Father/Mother, Son and Holy Spirit, that infinite experience of love and wisdom.
The person of the Son who existed before his incsrnation agreed with the Father and the Spirit to come a human being and put to death an oppressive death-making,hopeless religious system that kept people in fear and legalistic obligation.
The original laws that God gave Moses had been expanded and expanded and expanded until there is a rule for how you drink your coffee and what clothes you could put on when you left for the shops.
And then fused in this legalistic system were strange superstitions, if someone was born blind it was because his parents sinned, if you were born poor, it was a judgement of God on your ancestors.
The religious hierarchy helped themselves above the rest of the population and they controlled everything. That was no Grace, there was no love, there was no compassion and there was no mercy.
Completely opposite to what God had in mind.
The beauty of Jesus’s humanity and divinity combined is that he was always aware of God the Father within him, he wasn’t standing outside speaking to God outside of himself, because he and the Father were one …if at any point the human Jesus had said to God the Father, I can’t do this? God the Father would have let him walk away because that’s free will.
But Jesus will was so inexplicably wrapped up in the Father’s will! And what is the will of God? That people would be delivered from a hopeless existence filled with distractions and pseudo-meaning, and embrace the depth of their creative humanity.
Free from, as Paul says, the sin that so easily besets us.
Are we really that bad? This isn’t about being good or bad. This is about the conquering of death, the freeing of mankind to respond to Divine love before responding to sin, the end of blood sacrifices. When Jesus died, Matthew says that the curtain of the temple the heavy curtain that stood between the Holy of Holies and the people? Was torn asunder from the top to the bottom , no more division between God and men, no more going through a priest to be forgiven, no more buying pigeons, no more lambs, no more doves, no more blood. It’s over. This is it.
There were earthquakes and the sky turned black as God shook up the order of how things had gotten so seriously off course, and he righted it in Jesus.
There was a common belief at the time out of the book of Maccabees that was very present prevalent in Jesus time that a good man’s death could atone for the sins of many’, this is not a new concept. This is why Paul said, it’s very hard to find someone who is willing to lay down their life even for a good man, but herein is love: that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Yes, the one person whose opinion about Jesus’s death is important to me and that is Jesus himself.
31 And he began to teach them that the Son of man must suffer many things, and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again.
32 And he said this plainly. And Peter took him, and began to rebuke him.
33 But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter, and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are not on the side of God, but of men.
And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul?.
At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what Paul says about Jesus’ crucifixion or John or Matthew or Boltman or Bonhoeffer or the Bishop or Fr. John or me.
At the end of the day the reason that we know that this was the only way is because Jesus did it, because he submitted himself to it and because he proclaimed that in living through the victory of both his death and his Resurrection we would find life like we never imagined.
There is no other commentator necessary. There is nothing more that can be said.
When we stand at the foot of the cross, and look on Jesus, He is His own answer