Into JerusalemPosted: March 29, 2015
SLIDE 3: WHY GO TO JERUSALEM?
Why go to Jerusalem? Couldn’t Jesus see it was a bad idea leading to a tragic end? But then we need to appreciate that standing still may not have been an option for him either. Look at Luke 13: 31 Just then some of the Pharisees came up and said, “Run for your life! Herod is looking for you. He’s out to kill you!” 32 Jesus said, “Tell that fox that I’ve no time for him right now. Today and tomorrow I’m busy clearing out the demons and healing the sick. . . 33 Besides, it’s not proper for a prophet to come to a bad end outside of Jerusalem. 34 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, killer of prophets, abuser of the messengers of God! . . . 35 You won’t see me again until the day you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'”
SLIDE 4: HEROD EXECUTED JOHN THE BAPTIST
How much of this passage reflects twenty-twenty hindsight of the gospel writers we do not know. But surely this passage along with Jesus’ constantly staying on the move during his ministry reflected the reality that Herod was looking for him with murderous intent. Indeed, we must remember that Herod arrested John the Baptist and had him executed before Jesus began his ministry. If Jesus had stayed in the Galilee, rather than going to Jerusalem, he probably would have been killed anyway.
SLIDE 5: HE MIGHT HAVE HID OUT FROM HIS ENEMIES
Now we can speculate that Jesus might have stopped preaching, teaching and healing, and have gone off into the hills or the wilderness and hid out from all of his enemies. All he had to do was give up the ministry to which God had called him. But then Jesus would have had to give up his integrity, his prophetic authenticity. On some level he must have known that if he continued proclaiming the coming of the Commonwealth of God he was going to forfeit his life, and by going to Jerusalem, he might make his life count.
SLIDE 6: LIKE MARTIN LUTHER KING GOING TO MEMPHIS
So, maybe Jesus’ journey to Jerusalem did make sense within the larger frame work of his life and ministry. Like Martin Luther King insisting on going to Memphis, when his life had been threatened. He could have stayed in Atlanta, but then he would not have been Martin Luther King. He wasn’t crazy he was just faithful to God’s calling for him. And so Jesus knowing he faced danger either in Galilee or the Capital, set his face toward Jerusalem.
SLIDE 7: ENTRY INTO JERUSALEM
The entry into the City on Palm Sunday made perfect sense in the larger context of what Jesus was attempting to accomplish. He wanted to confront the Roman overlords and the collaborators in the Temple with his call to embrace the Commonwealth of God, rather than the Empire of Rome. At the same time Jesus was riding into Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives to the East, Pilate was leading a squadron of cavalry through the Jaffa Gate into the City from the West – two opposing parades. And the Temple authorities felt caught in the middle.
SLIDE 8: A MEETING OF THE CHIEF PRIESTS
The Gospel of John claims to record a meeting of the High Priests at which they decided to seek Jesus’ death. John 11:47 The high priests called a meeting. “What do we do now?” they asked. “This man keeps on performing miracles. 48 If we let him go on, pretty soon everyone will believe in him and his teachings and the Romans will come destroy our Temple and remove what little power and privilege we have left.” 49 Then one of them – it was Caiaphas, the designated Chief Priest that year – spoke up, “Don’t you know anything? 50 Can’t you see that it’s to our advantage that one man dies for the people rather than for the whole nation to be destroyed?” 53 And from that day on, they plotted to kill him.
It is hard to judge the authenticity of this passage in John. On the other hand we believe that the source behind the gospel of John may have been a member of one of the High Priestly families. He might have had access to such information. And while we might doubt the word for word accuracy of the story, it still has a ring of truth similar to the Watergate tapes.
SLIDE 9: FOLLOW THE MONEY
So Jesus was on an absolute collision course with the High Priests and the Romans, and he didn’t improve his odds of survival by turning over the tables of the money changers and challenging the Temple’s system of money lending and their seizures of the lands of peasants who were unable to pay their debts. In A.D. 66 when the Jewish rebels stormed and seized the Temple in Jerusalem one of their first acts was the burning of the debt records, to prevent further land seizures. You know the old admonition “follow the money,” that may be as good an explanation of the execution of Jesus as any other.
SLIDE 10: A BIT OF CLOAK AND DAGGER
So Jesus entered Jerusalem knowing full well the danger, but he wasn’t stupid either. Every day he entered the City went to the Temple to teach, but every night he left Jerusalem to spend the night in a different undisclosed location among supporters in the suburbs. He was probably aware that one of his own followers would betray him, and so when Jesus sent two disciples to prepare the Passover meal inside the City, he didn’t tell any of his followers where that would be. Jesus employed a bit of cloak and dagger: “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him, 14 and wherever he enters, say to the householder, ‘The Teacher says, where is my guest room, where I am to eat the Passover with my disciples?’”
SLIDE 11: LAST SUPPER WAS IMPORTANT
Jesus planned the Last Supper with his disciples, because it was important. As we said last week, the point of that Last Supper was for Jesus to once again imprint his meaning on the minds and hearts of his closest followers, and thereby insure the continuation of the message of love. In his offering of the bread and the wine Jesus gave them a ritual for remembering his message of love. And after the resurrection, when his followers gathered for the communal meal the sharing table, when they remembered Jesus with the bread and wine his living presence was among them.
SLIDE 12: THE ANGEL OF DEATH WILL PASSOVER
Jesus tied the ritual of the Last Supper to the Passover because he was proclaiming that when the disciples gathered at the Sharing Table of Jesus they were creating the Commonwealth of God, and in that sharing they were liberating themselves from the oppression of the Romans and the Temple authorities. He was saying that when the lives of his followers were marked by the blood of the new covenant the angel of death would Passover them. They did not need to fear the Romans or any other hierarchy of control because in Jesus they were free.
SLIDE 13: BE AUTHENTIC
OK that’s all well and good for the followers of Jesus two-thousand years ago, but what does the Jesus story mean for us? First, Jesus’ decision to go forward to Jerusalem was about authenticity. If he was to remain true to his calling, he had to challenge the powers that be, the priests and the Romans in the Capital. Like other prophets of the past he had to speak truth to power even though he was placing his life in danger. He could have walked away, hidden himself in the wilderness or the mountains, but then he would have betrayed his vocation. What I think we can learn is the importance of being authentic, being faithful to our calling as followers of Jesus.
SLIDE 14: LONE RANGERS DO NOT LEAVE BEHIND MOVEMENTS
Now it is true we have to pick and choose the conflicts we will pursue carefully. We should not throw our lives away meaninglessly. We should not pursue martyrdom out of ego. Lone Rangers do not leave behind communities of people or movements that carry on their vision. When John the Baptist was beheaded his followers were sad, but they were not prepared to take over the movement. When Jesus was crucified, after the initial shock, his followers picked up where he left off and spread the message of love throughout the Roman Empire.
SLIDE 15: NO LONGER AFRAID OF DEATH
A third message we can learn from Jesus is that once we are no longer afraid of death, the very power of God can flow through us to others. Because the followers of Jesus experienced his living presence among them after this crucifixion, they no longer feared what the Roman Empire could do to them. Indeed, the more the Empire persecuted the followers of Jesus, the more other people were attracted to the movement, because those people witnessed the authenticity of those believers. And if you think that courage was only 2,000 years ago, just remember the words of Dr. King the night before his death. “I’m not worried about anything. I’m no longer afraid of any man, for my eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
SLIDE 16: SOMETIMES WE THINK WE HAVE IT ROUGH
Emily Heath wrote a Still Speaking Devotion that speaks to the church’s need to follow Jesus taking risks and confronting power: “. . . as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way through great endurance in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, hunger. . .”
On my first day of preaching class the professor read this passage. And then he said, “That’s what the first Christians endured in order to preach the Gospel . . . you’ll probably survive this class.”
Sometimes we contemporary Christians make the mistake of thinking we have it rough. We have to compete with Sunday morning baseball games and yoga classes. Our pews aren’t full the way they were back in 1950.
SLIDE 17: AMERICAN CHRISTIANS PRETTY COMFORTABLE
Really we modern American Christians are pretty comfortable. And that’s too bad, because the Church actually doesn’t do very well, when its life is easy. Look back at nearly every time the church has been on the wrong side of history, the Crusades, the Inquisition, slavery. What do those times have in common? The church was in a position of great strength and influence in society.
SLIDE 18: TIMES THE CHURCH GOT IT RIGHT
On the other hand look at the times the church got it right. Black Christians in the Civil Rights movement, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church in Nazi Germany, Oscar Romero gunned down at the altar in El Salvador. They were hated, targeted, outnumbered, and sometimes they may as well have signed their own death warrants. But they were being the church in a way few of us ever will.
SLIDE 19: FATIH THRIVES WHEN WE ENGAGE IN THE WORK OF TRANSFORMING THE WORLD
Faith does not thrive in comfort. Faith thrives when it is being called to the messy and painful work of transforming the world. Why? Because that is when we are witnessing to the One who transcends all the injustice of the world and who gives us strength to teach a new way.
And allow me to point to Malala Yousafzai as an example. The content of our beliefs is less important than the intensity of our faith in a God of justice and love who gives us the courage to overcome our fear of death. Malala’s faith and courage will inspire millions of other young women and will transform their culture and defeat ISIS more surely than guns or drones or bombs.
Let us follow Jesus into Jerusalem and teach the world a new way.