Description – The fifth sermon in a 2005 Lenten Series
(Opening of the sermon is the dramatic reading script “Forsaken” by Elaine Aadland for the Lenten Series, “Watchers on the Hill,” produced by Creative Communications for the Parish © 2003)
“People fear what they can’t understand.” It’s true. Those who crucified Jesus, and I am not talking just about the military authority, were afraid of him.
What are you afraid of? We, you and I, are afraid of many things.
For example, we are afraid of not being accepted. We fear rejection with a passion. We fear having a displeasing glance thrown our way. We dread the experience of being “out” instead of being “in.” Repeatedly Jesus spoke of rejection during His earthly ministry. John, in the opening chapter of his gospel account, summarized this reality very simply in verse 11 “Even in his own land and among his own people, he was not accepted.”
We fear disqualification. We have a fear that we are going to be disqualified in some way like being fired or not being hired for a job or not making the team. In our nation’s history, we have disqualified various groups of people over the years because they thought different, looked different, or spoke different. Those who made the rules of what qualified for faith and what did not qualify for faith disqualified Jesus. “You lose Jesus! Crucify Him!”
One of the ways we can read the crucifixion story without taking out its real meaning is as a story of who’s in, who’s out, and the how fear of disqualification and rejection motivated people to do what they did.
Like people such as Pilate who, as Mark writes in chapter 15 and verse 15, was “anxious to please the crowd.” He did not want to crucify Jesus. “I find no fault in Him.” However, he feared the uproar and trouble that would take place if he did not give the order for Jesus to be crucified and feared a loss of power. Therefore, he gave into their demands out of fear.
The religious leaders acted out of fear as well. Mark also notes in chapter 15 and verse 10, “For he (that is Pilate) realized by now that the leading priests had arrested Jesus out of envy.” John echoes this statement in 12:19 of his gospel account when the Pharisees, after the raising of Lazarus from the dead say, We’ve lost. Look the whole world has gone after him!”
Envy drives us to anger because we fear someone who has something we don’t have, is able to doing some we don’t do or cannot do, or is a threat of us because we fear that we will not be liked or admire as before. Hollywood is great at giving us story lines with envy behind them. Think about Buzz and Woody in Toy Story or Prince Charming and Shrek in Shrek 2.
But, what about the guards? What did they have to fear from Jesus?
As I have re-read the gospel accounts of what we now call Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, I know that Luke tells us that Jesus was subject to mockery and beating by the guards soon after His arrest as we read in Luke 22:63 -65: “Now the guards in charge of Jesus began mocking and beating him. They blindfolded him; then they hit him and asked, “who hit you that time, you prophet?’ And they threw all sorts of terrible insults at him.”
We also know that following His death the Roman Captain who stood guard at the foot of the three crosses exclaimed, “Truly this was the Son of God!” What did the guards fear? No doubt, there were some soldiers who feared Him, found Him to be, as we heard, “A mysterious figure. A puzzle.” And there were those who saw Him as no threat at all.
Fear makes us do things and say things that we otherwise probably not say or do. Fear creates anger because as someone once wrote (and I cannot remember who) “we get angry about what we fear.”
There was plenty of fear to go around in those hours. We read of fear in Peter who denies Him. We hear it in Judas (“I have sinned…for I have betrayed an innocent man.”) and the deep remorse over betraying Him which drives him to give back the silver and then end his own life.
Even the repentant thief expresses fear as Luke records in chapter 23 and verse 40, “Don’t you fear God even when you are dying?” he asks the other thief.
What do you fear? Do you fear rejection? Do you fear disqualification? Do you fear death?
Did Jesus have fear during this time? Some would argue no because He is God and God is not afraid of anything. Others would ask, “Then what did He feel in the Garden of Gethsemane as He cried out, “Please take this cup of suffering from me. Yet I want your will, not mine?”
All of this happened at what we consider the end of this coming week. Today is the day we call Palm Sunday.
It is a day in which we remember the triumphal entry into Jerusalem and the moments of “Praise God! Bless the one who comes in the name of the Lord! Bless the coming kingdom of our ancestor David! Praise God in highest heaven!” (Mark 11:9 and 10)
Wouldn’t you have like to have been in the crowd? Let’s use our imaginations for the moment and go there.
It’s neither an overly warm day nor an overly cold one. Maybe it is partly cloudy.
The streets are crowded with people who seem to come in waves as the Passover celebrations draw closer. The smells, ah the smells of food, of people, of plants and things, of animals… on second thought let’s not dwell on the smells too long!
Colors of earth, of fabric, of people, of animals, of Jerusalem all coming together in a kaleidoscope of colors.
There is great pomp and circumstance. “Jesus is coming! Jesus is coming! It is almost Passover and we are about to be delivered from Roman oppression!”
Where were the soldiers? What did they see and observe that day when Jesus walked into Jerusalem, for the last time prior to His death and resurrection? What did they do?
Did they laugh aloud at this “Messiah?” “Look at him! A donkey? Hey, where’s your horse? Is that your guard? You’re no Caesar! You’re no king!”
Maybe they had to do crowd control to keep the rabble-rousers and the anarchists under control. Perhaps all “R and R” (Rest and Recreation) was cancelled. No 3-day passes to the seashore. No leave home to Rome or wherever home was for these soldiers.
It was the big holiday weekend and there was trouble brewing. Passover was to be celebrated and the words Egyptian and Roman were (perhaps) used almost interchangeably in the discussion about the Passover.
Can you smell the fear? Can you taste it?
The military veterans of this season know what to expect and they are telling the replacements what to look out for.
Scripture does not give us details of what the soldiers did on the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem but history has given us stories about what the life of a soldier is like in war, occupation, and peace. Perhaps a short example will help us understand.
This is a terrible place. The dust, the dirt, the chaos in this place they call Israel is awful.
Your desire to come is noble, (and I would like you to come) but stay home. No self-respecting Roman should be here.
Granted there are places of great beauty here. The sea and the shore are wonderful and we look forward to rest there.
This week is the big religious celebration called Passover. It’s my first one and I have been told to expect anything.
Some of the veterans, like my friend Marcus, said this weekend is really no big deal. However, there is this religious leader, a rabbi, named Jesus, who we have heard is coming this weekend and the Jewish leaders are outraged about it. So no one has leave for the next 9 days and that means we will have been on duty for five straight months without more than a day off here and there.
I’m not sure what to expect, but I see in the captain an anxiety about the situation that I have not seen in him before. Maybe he is ready to go home, too. He is a good commanding officer and has a family south of Rome.
I have seen this rabbi Jesus a couple of times and heard him speak. He has a way with words and there is something different about him from the other ones. He is kinder and has done a great deal more to help the people than the other teachers seem to have done.
I have a feeling this week is going to be… word has just come that we are going on duty right now. The celebration has started and this Jesus has shown up…on a donkey, of all things. I will write more later. Gregory
It is easy year after year to repeat the facts of this week. We know them already. We know that Jesus entered Jerusalem, had a few last words to say to his opponents, cleansed the temple a second time, held a final Passover meal with the twelve, was betrayed by one of them, wrestled with the reality of his imminent death, was mocked, beaten, and whipped, forced to carry a cross at least partially, then had his hands and feet pierced with nails and was publicly executed.
It is more important to ask “WHY?” Why did God go through all of this? Because of what fear has done to the human race and it’s relationship with God. “What on earth do you mean, Jim?”
Let’s go back to Genesis 3 for a moment. “Now the serpent was the shrewdest of all the creatures the LORD GOD had made. “Really?” he asked the woman. “Did God really say you must not eat any of the fruit in the garden?”
“Of course we may eat it,” the woman told him. “It’s only the fruit from the tree at the center of the garden that we are not allowed to eat. God says we must not eat it or even touch it, or will we die.”
“You won’t die!” the serpent hissed. “God knows that your eyes will be opened when you eat it. You will become just like God, knowing everything, both good and evil.”
The woman was convinced. The fruit looked so fresh and delicious, and it would make her so wise! So she ate some of the fruit. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her. Then he ate it, too! At that moment, their eyes were opened, and they suddenly felt shame at their nakedness.”
Pleasure seeking is a part of this story. Desire is a part of this story. The serpent appealed to the desires and to the pleasure center of Eve. She was convinced.
In I John 2:16 we read John’s important warning, “For the world offers only the lust for physical pleasures, the lust for everything we see, and pride in our possessions. These are not from the Father. They are from this evil world.”
Nevertheless, disobedience of God’s commands not to eat that particular fruit from that particular tree was also a part of that story. And I suggest this morning that fear was present in that act of disobedience and fear is a part of the pursuit of which John speaks.
It was (and still is) a fear of being left out, of not being included; fear of being left out or left behind by God that drove Eve, and Adam, to eat.
It could have gone like this: “What does the serpent mean, “Be like God?” Is God doing something that I don’t know about?
What’s God doing? Is He going to leave us? You know, I have’nt seen Him today? Where is He? I don’t want to miss something that God has for me! I don’t want to be left behind. What if Adam gets to be like God and I don’t?”
I think that I had better eat some of this fruit!”
This same fear that has made humanity decide to take that which God said no to and possess what was not it’s to take in the first place still possesses us in ways that take us away from, not toward God.
Now a fear-based faith is not a healthy faith either. I am very concerned these days about the manufactured fear used to scare us into the kingdom of God.
Now the Lord does use fear from time to time to remind us of what is real: we are alienated, by our own fearful and selfish choices, from God. If we would only trust God and let go of our fears, anxiety, and selfish desire then we would find true and real hope and peace.
Last month, Erin Taylor shared with some teens and adults at the WRECK a very important lesson she learned several years ago during her time as Miss Michigan. She shared how, after winning both the Miss Southwest Michigan and Miss Michigan pageants on her first try, she was convinced that it was God’s will for her to win Miss America.
She shared how as she stood on the stage in Atlantic City with the other women to hear who the 15 semi-finalists would be, she was confident she would be one of them. As they read the names off, she said, okay Lord, anytime now.
As more and more names were read, number 6, 7, 8, she began to sweat, okay Lord; you can make it happen now. Then she said everything went into slow motion as the last semi-finalist was read and she was not one of them.
She became depressed, as each of us would be after all that work and success, but as she went on with her life, she realized, and made this point to the audience very clear, that her validation in life would come only from the Lord not from success or position or power.
This morning I echo Erin’s words. The work of Jesus Christ on the cross is God’s validation of our worth and His love for us. Nothing else will ever match or exceed it because nothing else will ever help us deal with our fears of insignificance or ineligibility that drive us to do things that lead us away from not toward the Lord.
This morning, I invite you to find your worth and your life in Jesus who has validated you and your life by His sacrifice on our behalf. Lay your fears and your sins to rest today. Amen.