What Does It All Mean?
Grace United Methodist Church
April 22, 2011
Matthew 27: 1-23, 26-30 (NIV)
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor.
3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.”
5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself…
… 27 Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again.
Could you show God’s love to those whom you have rejected? What about sharing God’s love with those who have rejected you? The thought seems terribly difficult, doesn’t it? It’s hard to wrap our heads around the idea that we could be loving to someone who is terrible to us.
Yet, that is what Jesus did for us. Did you ever consider his crucifixion in that way? Jesus’ crucifixion shows the worst of humanity and the best of God. It is a study of contrasts. Jesus came to save humanity, and humanity’s response is to “destroy” him.
A colleague of mine tells a Good Friday story that is something of a parable. He and his family were on their way to worship one Good Friday many years ago. As they approached the lane that led to the church parking lot, they noticed a huge party in the parking lot of a local night spot across from the church. The draw was a sandless beach party, 1,600 miles from the ocean. In front was the icon for the assembly, a large, inflatable can of beer, the sacramental beverage of the assembly. The band was blaring and the congregates were getting into the spirits. As my colleague and his family walked to the church, the noise of the revelry pelted their ears.
My pastor friend couldn’t help but notice the incongruity of these two assemblies — the one in the parking lot and the one in the church. The revelry of the parking lot seemed so out of place in this holiest of Christian holidays. Christ died for all, but this group of revelers couldn’t care less. Of course, from their perspective it might seem like the church is a bunch of crepe hangers who have lost the ability to celebrate life. In their way of thinking, the church is out of sync with the world, not the other way around. If they had left the beach party to join the throng who was paying homage to the crucified Christ, it would have struck them as terribly macabre. All this talk of sin, suffering, and death would seem the antithesis of life. Those dancing to the drumbeat of the moment wouldn’t understand that Christians are also celebrating life, but in a very different way. Because the door to the celebration of life is only through death, and we cannot diminish that fact.
For many Christians today, the crucifixion is described in nice, clean language: God sent Jesus to die for our sins that we could have everlasting life. Whew! Thank God for that! Yet, while this is true, we must examine the full depth of that statement so that we might understand the great transformation it signifies. Think of it now: God becoming human, living and loving, persevering beyond the greatest temptations. And then, God allowing humanity to hurt God — Jesus was berated and tortured, mocked and made fun of; Jesus died an excruciating death — the breath that first breathed life into humanity stopped.
We have heard this story many times. But as we hear it tonight, let us remember that this is not a story for the faint. All too often we move unthinking and unemotionally through the telling of Christ’s self-giving for us. This is not to say that God requires us to conjure up guilt and tears to show that this matters to us. It is to say that we should receive the retelling of this story in all reverence and honor.
Why did Jesus die? Jesus died because he loves us. And God’s love cannot be overcome by anything, not even humanity’s rejection. The challenge for us this evening as we wade again through the telling of Christ’s crucifixion is to think about what Jesus’ death means for us. Christ died so that we might see God’s love. Christ died so that we might live. And because Christ died so that we might have life, we should be living life so others can see God’s love through us!
As we listen to this story tonight with fresh ears, let’s remember the vast love that God showed us in the sacrifice of his own Son. And let us leave this place with hearts full of Easter hope, ready to share God’s love with others!