Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Notes For Sunday Message; Sixth Sunday In Lent; Passion Sunday – The Crucifixion of Jesus

This Sunday is the Passion / Palm Sunday and at Christ Church we will talk about the Crucifixion of Jesus.

Hebrew Scriptures Reading for This Sunday: Isaiah 53:4-6  (NIV2010)

Gospel Reading for This Sunday: Mark 15:25-27; Luke 23:39-43; Mark 15:29-31; Luke 23:44-46

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV2010 // CEB

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For centuries, countless generations of Christians have asked the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” We think we know the answer and I’ve heard and read many explanations, and I still continue to struggle with that question, “Why? Why was Jesus REALLY crucified?”

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There are many sincere Christian sisters and brothers who look at this question from a purely legal point of view. In my Life Application study Bible, there is a chart that explains why Jesus’ trial was illegal. That chart indicates that Jewish and Roman leaders were at fault in Jesus’ death. What puzzles me about this argument is that it totally overlooks the reason God took human form and came to live among us. This argument treats Jesus in his entirety as a human being and robs Jesus of his divinity.

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On the other hand, when we say that Jesus had to die because of our sinful nature and because Jesus was completely innocent, we treat Jesus as entirely divine and rob Jesus of his humanity.

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I believe that the answer is much more complicated and nuanced. I believe that the answer to this question lies both in Jesus’ divinity AND humanity. It also lies in our humanity.

So let’s unpack all that. In the last few weeks, we looked at the last week in Jesus’ life.

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We saw Jesus enter Jerusalem and we saw people waving palms and laying their overcoats on the pavement as he rode by on a donkey. I always thought that the crowds came to see Jesus because he was a great teacher and because he made a real difference in their lives. However, the Gospel of John makes it clear that “many people” (John 12:18) came only because they had heard of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead. Think about it: God came to live among us and to offer each of us “abundant life,” and all that the people were interested in was, “he knows how to do some really cool tricks.” The true reason for Jesus coming to this earth was “hidden from their eyes” (Luke 19:42). They even shouted, “Hosanna Jesus! Save Us!” Today “hosanna” is a call of celebration; in the first century Palestine, it meant, “save us!”

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NIV2010 Luke 19:41-42

41 As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it 42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.”

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All of us can relate to that. Who among us has not celebrated someone or something as having the potential to save us and solve our problems? Who among us was not disappointed with someone in their lives?

To echo that, today we heard that while Jesus was on the Cross people cursed him.

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NIV2010 Mark 15:29-31

Mark 15: 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!

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Can’t you just hear their frustrations and their disappointment? Someone who was going to solve all the world’s problems was nailed to the cross. From their perspective, their hopes were lost and they were angry. From their perspective Jesus did not deliver on what they thought he promised.

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We also saw an angry Jesus clearing out the Temple. The simplistic answer is that Jesus cleared the Temple because animal merchants overcharged for the animals and because money changers’ fees were too high. I want to reiterate that this is a simplistic answer.

Passover was wrought with meaning, tradition and tension; to prepare Jerusalem and Temple for Passover was a feat of logistics and procurement. It took a lot of preparation to make sure that there were enough coins without graven images on them to pay the Temple tax and that there were enough sacrificial animals to satisfy the demand.

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Jesus was angry because Passover became about animals and coins; Passover became about proprieties and traditions; Passover became about the politics of the day; Passover became a lot about logistics and much less about God. Passover became much more about form and much less about substance. Passover became “BIG BUSINESS!” In the hubbub of life God was replaced with spiritual clutter.

Jesus clearing of the Temple was about removing the spiritual clutter and restoring God to God’s rightful place in our souls. If you read about Jesus’ trial (which, by the way, would be an awesome reading for a personal devotion on Friday) clearing of the Temple is not mentioned. I think that it is not mentioned because worshipers, merchants and money changers recognized Jesus’ frustration and his point of view and they agreed with Jesus – their lives needed overturning.

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On Tuesday of his last week of life Jesus taught the multitudes, and he also gave us a famous saying, “Give Caesar what Caesar’s and give God what is God’s.” While we can argue that there is nothing in this world that is Caesar’s and not God’s, the reality is that we live in a world that is organized around certain values and rules, and when we do not respect those values and rules, when we do not hold each other accountable we get into trouble.

“We give Caesar what is Caesar’s” when we recognize that it is possible to be a good Christian and also be a peasant or a teacher or mechanic or engineer or banker or lawyer or a policemen… Paul said it as “… whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31).

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And who among us did not do something in the hopes of getting personal glory and recognition instead of for the glory of God?

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On Wednesday of the last week of Jesus’ life we saw Jesus being anointed with expensive perfume and we recognized that we are in fact the “aroma” of Jesus’ presence in the world.

Some disciples complained that the woman wasted the perfume; they thought that it would make much more sense to sell it and use the money to feed the poor. That challenges us to think about the times when we think that we are pragmatic and practical, but in reality we close the windows and doors preventing the “aroma” of Jesus from drifting out over our neighborhoods.

“…wherever the gospel is preached [and lived] throughout the world” (Mark 14:9) we bring the aroma of Jesus to our surroundings.

We will talk about the Thursday in the last week of Jesus’ life during our Maundy Thursday service.

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That brings us to what is known as “Jesus’ passion.” In case you are wondering, “Jesus’ passion” is a euphemism for His agonizing painful death.

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From a historical point of view, Jesus had to die because his presence and preaching incited unrest among the pilgrims during the politically charged time of Passover in the city of Jerusalem. The Romans needed to make an example of someone; the Romans needed to make it clear that when you stand up to Roman order there are consequences. The Temple leaders did not want to sacrifice one of their own, and Jesus was a convenient target. That is why Jesus had to die from a historical point of view. That answer treats Jesus as fully human and robs Jesus of his divinity.

We see examples of the theological reasons Jesus had to die in the events of the last week of his life.

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{1st Reason} People cheered and waved palms when Jesus entered Jerusalem. Who among us has not pinned their hopes on an elected official or a celebrity at one time or another? Every four years during presidential elections there is a hope that the incoming administration will make everything right (at least in some circles.) Instead of palms we wave flags, instead of “Hosanna” we sing patriotic songs. Just like the people who greeted Jesus, we absolve ourselves or limit our personal involvement and responsibility for what is happening in our country and in the world.

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{2nd Reason} Most of us resist Jesus overturning our tables; I for one find it painful EVERY SINGLE TIME. I have learned to accept it and I have learned how to grow from it, but I still do not like the process. Just because God is stretching me, molding and shaping me, does NOT mean it is easy or pleasant, and the results are worth it.

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{3rd Reason} We fail to live our lives to the glory of God. Who among us does not want mercy for ourselves but justice for others? Who among us has not been angry with a pastor or a Christian sister or brother because we were not treated according to what we think our “status” should be? (Has anyone said these words – “Who does he think he is?”)

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{4th Reason} And who among us has not become “pragmatic” and “practical,” and intentionally or unintentionally prevented the “aroma” of Jesus from drifting out of our windows and into our neighborhoods.

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God sent his Son to live among us because God understands you and me; God understands our humanity and our limitations. These limitations are the theological reasons why Jesus had to die. However, when we look only at the theological answers to the question, “Why did Jesus have to die?” we treat him as fully divine and rob him of his humanity.

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The complete answer lies at the intersection of the two. Jesus died on the Cross so that we could face our lives through the mist of our inadequacies and shortcomings  {{{  AND SO THAT WE COULD DEDUCE/EXEGETE/FIND MEANING IN OUR LIVES }}}.

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Jesus died on the Cross so that God could live not only in Heaven but also in us. That is why the curtain of the Temple was torn in two (Luke 23:45); God did not need that curtain any more.

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Jesus died on the Cross so that we know that God understands and loves us.

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Jesus died on the Cross so that we know that we are created in God’s image and that means that we are capable of loving, thinking, feeling and serving each other and offering our friendship, affection, help and understanding to our friends and neighbors.

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Jesus died on the Cross so that we have the chance to make this world a better place; one life at a time, one soul at a time, one family at a time and one town at a time.

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Will you answer Jesus’ call?

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