Who is this Man? Good Friday

March 31, 2013

Who is this Man:  Good Friday
Who is this man?  As
the crowd roared, the question was asked by many; who is he? What has he
done?  What will he do?  To some it was important to others it was
secondary, after all the religious leaders had spoken and now this man stood
before them. 
Would he be a history changer, or simply a historical foot
note?  Nobody knew the answer to those
questions but many wanted to know: Who is this man?
That was the question being asked just a little over two
weeks ago as the Catholic church elected their new Pope.    Who is Jorge Bergoglio? Or as he is known
now: Who is Pope Francis?
And we ask the question a lot in life; Who is this?  And it is a pretty good question.  We ask it all the time, when we are looking
for a doctor, a mechanic or a dentist. Who is this?  When election time rolls around and we are
electing a MLA, a MP or a Counsellor. 
Who is this?  When a friend is
setting you up with a blind date you want to know: Who is this?  When you daughter brings a boy home: Who is
this?
And it was a question that was asked over and over again on
that Friday Afternoon almost two thousand years ago: Who is this Man?  Who was this man they arrested?  Who was this man they tried?  Who was this man they sentenced and who was
this man they killed?
The question was asked by many and I think if you asked them
at the end of the day on Friday, when the sky had gone black and Jesus had been
laid in the tomb that most, if not all of them, would have an answer for
you. 
The end story had been put into play by the religious
leaders of the day.  There are those who
would blame the Jews and others who would say that we shouldn’t even hint that
the Jews were responsible.  But like most
truth’s the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  Were the Jews responsible?  No. 
Jesus was a Jew, his parents were Jews, his followers were Jews.  Very clearly Jesus had said that he had come
to the Jewish people that they had to hear the good news before it could be
given to any others. 
To blame the Jews of today is absurd, they weren’t there and
many of their ancestors were those who heard and listened to Jesus.  I don’t believe in the inherited guilt that
people seem so anxious to wallow in today. 
However we can’t deny the fact that those who were
responsible for the eventual death of Jesus were the Jewish Religious leaders
of his day.  Not the Roman religious
leaders, not the Greek Religious leaders but the Jewish religious leaders. 
Why?  Because the
Jewish religious leaders saw Jesus and his teaching as a threat to all that
they held near and dear.  And so if we
were to ask them:  Who is this Man?  The
Religious leaders
of the day knew who Jesus was; he was a heretic, a false
teacher and a false messiah. 
They had a firm grasp on the Jewish religious establishment
of the time, they made the rules and they controlled the temple and they
collected the money.  And this young
upstart was threatening that. 
He talked about prayer as if anybody could just talk to
God.  And then why would the people need
priests?  He said that all of the
religious laws and regulations could be boiled down to two, just two!  Love God and love others.    And if that was the case why would the
people need the Sadducees to make sense of the volumes laws that governed the
lives of the people?   
And he claimed the authority of God himself, the authority
to forgive sins, the authority to heal the sick the authority to cast out
demons.  And that was not his authority
it was theirs and they weren’t going to simply let this Jesus take what they
had inherited from their fathers, and grandfathers and great-grandfathers.   
And he challenged them, he called them hypocrites and
fools.  Accused them of being more
concerned with the law than with the souls of people.   But he
didn’t understand, that it wasn’t just about God, the Romans expected the
religious leaders to keep the people compliant and complacent.  And if religion couldn’t or wouldn’t do it
then the force of Rome would have to.
And so they called him a demon
and a false teacher, they tried to expose him for the trouble they knew he was,
and when he wouldn’t incriminate himself we read in Matthew 26:65-66 Then the high priest tore his clothing to show
his horror and said, “Blasphemy! Why do we need other witnesses? You have all
heard his blasphemy. What is your verdict?” “Guilty!” they shouted. “He
deserves to die!”
And so they arranged for one of his followers to betray him
and they arranged for Pilate to try him and they arranged for Rome to kill
him. 
And if you asked the religious leaders: Who is this
man?  They would reply “He is Trouble”.
If you asked the Roman
Soldiers
who Jesus was they would tell you they didn’t know and they didn’t
care.  They were just doing their
job.  They didn’t have an opinion, maybe
he was innocent and maybe he was guilty, it didn’t matter to them.  He might be the Jewish Messiah but what would
that matter to them, we aren’t Jewish. 
He might be the king of the Jews but they were Romans and Romans have no
king but Caesar. 
And so in order to deal with what they would do to this man
Jesus they depersonalized him, and so when they beat him they were beating
nobody, when they mocked him they were mocking nobody, they shoved the crown of
thorns on nobody’s  head and they gambled
for nobody’s clothing and finally they nailed nobody to a cross.
Because if Jesus was a somebody, an anybody then there would
be the guilt over what they had done. 
And so to them he was a problem to be dealt with and orders to be
followed.  Who is this man?  What man?
And then there was The
Crowd,
When I think the crowd that had gathered that day I picture a huge
gathering of people, almost a mob.  A
group of angry villagers armed with torches and pitchforks and then I realize
that was from Frankenstein.  But still I
see the mob as a mass of humanity, gathered to condemn Jesus with their jeers
and demands to release the criminal Barabbas.  
And that may be more connected with the movies of Jesus life rather than
the reality of the gospels.  Granted the
Bible does refer to a crowd but how do you define a crowd? 
Was it a dozen people or a hundred people?  We don’t know but what we do know is that
they were hostile to the claims of Christ. 
Often preachers, including myself, have talked about the fickleness of
the crowd, how these may have been some of the same people who only a week
before had greeted Jesus with Palm branches and shouts of Hosanna, but we don’t
know that. 
We don’t know how many of them there were and we don’t know
who they were, all we know is that over and over again they are defined as “The
Crowd”  and the dictionary simply defines
crowd as a
large number of persons gathered closely together; throng: 
There have been suggestions that they may have been gathered
together by the religious leaders to lend credence to the leader’s demands, but
also that they may have simply been people who gathered whenever there was a
“Something” going on. 
We are told that For a time, during the French Revolution,
that executions by guillotine were a popular entertainment that attracted great
crowds of spectators.  Perhaps
crucifixions attracted the same type of people. 
We don’t know, what we do know is that the crowd, whatever
the size and make up, could probably have swayed the opinion of Pilate that
day, but they didn’t.  Instead they
demanded the release of Barabbas, a man identified as a criminal and a
murderer. 
If you had of asked the crowd:  Who is this man?  They would have told you that he whoever he
was that he was a less viable option than Barabbas.  That if they had to cast their allegiance at
the feet of one man that day that it would be the man who was attempting to
change the world through violence, not through love.
The man who will go down through history as the man who
killed Jesus was Pontius Pilate, the
Roman’s man in Palestine.  And it was to
Pilate that the religious leaders brought Jesus for judgment.  They may have had the will to kill Jesus but
they didn’t have the authority.
And Pilate didn’t want to. 
He could find nothing in Jesus’ words or actions to justify capital
punishment.  And so he shifted the
responsibility to Herod and that didn’t work, Herod just   handed Jesus back to Pilate.  He tried to placate the crowd by having Jesus
scourged but they didn’t want a beating they wanted a crucifixion.
If you were to ask Pilate: Who is this man?  He may very well of used words like
misguided, or misdirected, but he never thought that he was guilty.  As a matter of fact time and time again he
told the crowd that he could find no reason to crucify Jesus.
But ultimately it was politics.  Pilate had made a number of decisions which
had created friction between the religious leaders and himself and he needed to
mend some bridges.  I’m sure that Pilate
would have been familiar with the Latin phrase “Quid Pro Quo”  which roughly translated means “I’ll scratch
your back if you scratch mine”.  And so
he relented and sentenced Jesus to death on the cross.
But ultimately his answer to the question: Who is this man?
was best summed up by the inscription that he had nailed to the cross on which
Jesus would die.   The sign read “Jesus
the Nazarene, King of the Jews.”  And
while he may be remembered by history as the man who crucified Jesus he was the
only one that day who acknowledged Jesus for who he was.
If Pilate was known as the man who killed Jesus he is still
slightly less reviled than Judas the
man who betrayed Jesus.  What would have
caused Judas, one of the twelve, one of Jesus’ closest friends to have turned
Jesus over to the authorities to be killed? 
Well, there have been several theories as to what caused Judas to do
what he did.  Some of have suggested that
he was a thief and Jesus was about to reveal that.  Others feel that perhaps he was frustrated
because Jesus didn’t seem to be interested in being the Messiah who wold
overthrow the Romans.
For many, they believe that Judas did what he did out of
greed.  He did it for the money.  He probably would have denied that, but you
know what they say, when anyone says it’s not about the money, it’s about the
money.  One commentator estimated that
the thirty pieces of silver would have been worth close to $1,600.00 today.  Not a bad piece of change for an evening’s
work.  Sometimes money talks so loud that
it can’t be ignored.
More likely than not though, Judas never intended for Jesus
to die that day, instead he hoped to force his hand, so that when he was
betrayed he would use his power to liberate Israel.  If that was the case then what a tragedy
Judas witnessed when he saw he plan fly all to pieces.
And if you asked Judas “Who is
this man?”  I think before he betrayed
Jesus he would have said “He is the hope of Israel” or  “He is the Messiah and he will deliver
us.”  I think that Judas had high hopes
for Jesus and for what he could do.  But
after the betrayal, when he saw what had happened to his friend and teacher we
read that he went back to the priests and throwing the money he had been paid
on the ground declared Matthew
27:4
“I have
sinned,” he declared, “for I have betrayed an innocent man.”
And then at the foot of the cross you would find a group of
women weeping, but the heart break on the face of one was the sorrow that can
only come when a parent loses a child. 
There was only one person who was there for the birth of Jesus and his
death and that was his mother Mary.    And if you were to ask Jesus’ mother: Who is
this man?  She might shake her head and
talk about the confusion that she had in her heart. 
We don’t know at what point Mary showed up in this final chapter
of her son’s life, we don’t know if she witnessed the mockery of the trial, we
don’t know if she watched in horror as the skin was stripped away from his back
in the flogging.  We don’t know if she
cringed as the crown of thorns was jammed on his head but we do know that she
was at the foot of the cross and that she watched her son die. 
She watched what had happened but it didn’t make sense.  Like the Apostles she had seen the miracles,
she had watched him feed the thousands with a few rolls and a couple of small
fish.  But it was more than that; she had
been there at the beginning. 
He was not just “This Man” he was her son.  And she knew how her son had been conceived,
she knew how her son had been born and she knew the promise that she had been
given concerning her son. 
He would save the world. 
His father was not Joseph the Carpenter his father was God
the creator of all things. 
And as the tears ran down her cheeks I’m sure she was crying
out to the Father:  “This wasn’t how it
was supposed to end.  He was supposed to
save the world not die on a cross.  How
could you allow this to happen?” 
(We closed the service with Brad Paisley and Sarah Evans
singing “New Again”)