What Just Happened Out There?

Proclaim Sermons
Homily: Good Friday
April 07, 2023
Reproduced with Permission
Proclaim Sermons

Summary: We know what happened on Good Friday. It's right there in the creed: Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. But what does it mean? The author of the Letter to the Hebrews wants us to remember Jesus refused the temptation in the wilderness to accept a shortcut to perfection. It is only through endurance while suffering that we truly grow beyond the cross to become resurrected disciples and a revitalized church.

A few years ago, there was a college admissions scandal that attracted attention because it involved some high-profile people. It was alleged that in order to get their children admitted to prestigious colleges, certain parents paid large sums of money to a company to falsify their children's test scores or inflate their kids' athletic achievements. It was also alleged that some admissions officials and athletic coaches accepted bribes. Some of the students knew about this and some didn't.

Although the charges are still pending in some cases, some of those accused have chosen to plead guilty. Fines, jail time and shame - in some cases ending careers - have been meted out.

Whatever motivated these parents to get involved in a criminal activity, most parents want great things for their children. We want their paths to be easier than ours. We want them to achieve greater accomplishments than we've had. We work with them to get into programs that help advance their dreams.

But good parents also know they dare not remove all obstacles and level the path so much that their child's achievement has no meaning. The value of a degree or victory would be meaningless if there is no hard work leading to the finish line.

There's nothing wrong with encouraging those children with a natural edge in athletics, academics or social skills to use those to their advantage. But when money or influence ensures that a child will be a starter on the team, or the darling of the teacher, something is wrong.

The hard way

Now if anyone should expect a royal road to privilege it should be the only begotten of God. But Jesus, the Son of God, was born at the edge of the Roman Empire, not at its bright center in Rome. He was not raised in the Emperor's household, but in the home of a working class family in a small village. Joseph, his human father, was described as a tecknon, a Jack of all trades, someone who took on all kinds of tasks, a problem solver who took on every job he was offered.1

Mary, in addition to being a mom, would have also taken part in the family economy by caring for animals and working on a craft, in concert with other family members. Jesus and his siblings would have worked with both Joseph and Mary as a matter of course!

And while Jesus probably went to Hebrew school in addition to all this, no one was going to help him get ahead in his studies, nor were Mary and Joseph going to pay someone their good, hard-earned money for him to study at a special school in Jerusalem. It might be okay for a Saul of Tarsus to study under Gamaliel in Jerusalem, but not Jesus.

Don't forget that Jesus was only around two, old enough to know he was being torn away from everything familiar when he became a political and religious refugee. Though the family probably lived in a Jewish community in Egypt, their accents and customs would have made them outsiders.

No shortcuts

Jesus became an outsider again when the family moved to Galilee instead of his hometown of Bethlehem.

Then, after a rigorous upbringing and a glorious baptism in which the heavens opened with a divine affirmation, Jesus was sent by God into the wilderness for a severe test, in which Satan offered freedom from hunger (turning stones into bread), freedom from pain and suffering (cast yourself down from the tower) as well as a pain-free path to power and domination (worship me and be given these kingdoms), if only he would turn away from the path that led to Calvary and the Cross.

From the beginning of his ministry Jesus faced opposition from religious and political leaders of all stripes who openly questioned his credentials and challenged his actions. He had to overcome prejudice of those who were surprised he could read and write.2 They assumed he was a hayseed because he came from Galilee. And even in that adopted hometown of Nazareth, he was eventually rejected.

It's clear that Jesus understood that the words of Isaiah the prophet, describing the one known as "the suffering servant," applied to him: "Surely he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases, ... wounded for our transgress, crushed for our iniquities ...."3

Jesus earned his degree the hard way.

Nobody knew or cared

One of the crosses Jesus bore - though remember, nothing could have been worse than the cross itself - is that when he died, for the most part nobody knew about his sufferings, or if they knew, few cared enough to find out the facts.

One of the dangers in living a biblical story is trying to force a square 21st-century experience into a first-century round hole. Jerusalem was not necessarily a large city, and though normally news traveled fast by word of mouth, during Passover none of the usual rules applied. Although estimates vary, most agree that normally Jerusalem had a population of perhaps 20,000 to 30,000 people. At the time of the festival, however, its numbers swelled with the addition of around 150,000 pilgrims.4 Though Jesus made a deep impression on those who heard him contending with the religious authorities in the temple, most never heard of him. No one had social media. There was no Twitter storm concerning the arrest, conviction, death and burial of Jesus, much less a TV broadcast. There wasn't even radio or - and this will take you aback - newspaper coverage.

Some may have found out that something was going on, though the details may have been vague, misinformed and misleading. It's likely that most people would not have cared if they had been told. They were in Jerusalem for religious reasons, and a Roman execution was distressingly common. Some probably said the equivalent of "Where there's smoke there's fire." So if someone was executed, he probably deserved it.

Nor were the facts kept particularly straight afterward. The Roman historian Tacitus, writing decades casually mentioned Jesus in passing when talking about how the Emperor Nero scapegoated Christians for the fire that destroyed great portions of Rome, brutally murdering many of them. Tacitus wrote:

Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spared, not merely through Judaea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth.5

This is hardly a ringing commemoration.

What it all means

For the author of Hebrews, and for us, all this is prelude to describing what the cross means. In the time of Jesus, the office of High Priest was a political position, one of power and authority. In contrast, Jesus, unlike many in power today who are "... unable to sympathize with our weaknesses ...," is "... one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin."6 He "... learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him ...."7

Which brings us to the "throne of grace," which according to Hebrews, we may "approach ... with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need."8 The divine throne in Isaiah 6 and Ezekiel 1 is a place of judgment, awe and majesty that inspires fear and dread among those to whom it is revealed. But for those of us who know Jesus, know he has endured suffering like us and intercedes for us. Thus, we will approach with confidence a throne of grace, and in the meantime, abide with hope and purpose until that day.9

This day we turn our hearts away from the Resurrection and look with horror, pity and sadness upon the cross. Yet we know that before this day, Jesus had already suffered, had faced and overcome life's obstacles and was prepared for this day by the days he endured before. What is true for Jesus is true for us.10 This is not our first rodeo. We have fallen hard, but with each other's help and the help of our Lord and our God, we can rise up and carry on. Our road to the throne of glory is not easy, but because God does not smooth our path, we are prepared by the hard knocks we endure to truly appreciate the reward that awaits us.


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