Tuesday, April 26, 2011

My Good Friday Message

Several people asked me for copies of my Good Friday message, which I delivered on, yes, Good Friday. It was a 10-minute reflection on Matthew 27:32-44. It's a bit long for a blog, but here it is if you are interested. It would help to read the passage first.

Humiliation is the worst of human emotions. Most of us have experienced at one time or another. Perhaps it was a childhood humiliation born of our awkwardness, our red-faced moment before the whole class as they laughed at our misfortune. Perhaps it was during the teen years, as we were unceremoniously dumped by the boy or girl we thought cared about us. Perhaps it was later in life, the firing at work, the broken relationship, the appearance before the court. Humiliation is almost worse than physical suffering.

As Matthew records the crucifixion, he focuses more on the humiliation of Christ than on the physical suffering he experienced. In fact, notice how Matthew barely mentions the crucifixion – “and when they had crucified him…”

He doesn’t go into detail about the nails pounded through Jesus’ wrists. He does not mention the nails in his feet, the splinters in his shredded back, or the excruciating pain of being hung vertically, his full weight bearing only on spikes through bones and skin.

Matthew speaks mostly of the incredible emotional humiliation Christ underwent. He has already been stripped naked and adorned with a scarlet robe, a mockery of his claim to be a king. Likewise with the crown of thorns on his head, and the mocking jeers, “Hail, king of the Jews.”

The soldiers began marching the prisoner towards the site of his execution. Jesus is weak from the beating he has been given, so weak that he cannot bear the cross himself. And so a man from the crowd, Simon of Cyrene, is enlisted to carry his cross for him. Jesus is offered something to drink. A rare act of kindness, perhaps? No, gall’s bitter taste served mostly to deaden the pain, a foul-tasting narcotic serving only to numb the body and the mind, and Jesus refused it.

Jesus had few possessions, but what he had was bartered over by soldiers casting lots, like pathetic gamblers in the back room of a washed out bar.

He is flanked in suffering by two ordinary robbers, two low-lifes who are here by their own doing. Even they cast insults at him.

It is a public spectacle, and for some hideous reason, some evil that rises out of people at moments like this, the people watching insist on screaming at Jesus from the ground. It’s not enough that he hangs naked on a cross. It is not enough that he has been up all night, beaten, bruised, whipped, kicked, spit upon. He must be insulted some more.

“Save yourself! Come down! Didn’t you say you were the son of God?” Didn’t you say you were going to destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days?”

Perhaps it is less surprising that the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law mock him. At least we can know what to expect from them; they are the ones who set this whole thing in motion. These are the men who plotted to kill him, who paid off Judas, who sat in the corners of the rooms and the outskirts of the crowds where Jesus performed miracles and healed diseases. They stroked their beards and shook their heads and wrung their hands in anger and anticipation of this moment--these conniving mutilators of the law, these guardians of small and powerless kingdoms, these spineless collaborators of injustice. Do we really expect any less from them?

“He saved others, but he can’t save himself. He’s the King of Israel. Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. So let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said he was the son of God.”

Sneering, contemptuous, disdainful words spoken from mouths overflowing with hideous hatred and unbridled jealousy. All the venom of the world and its unimaginable evil flowing upwards in torrents of verbal spittle to the solitary man on the cross who has done nothing wrong.

Humiliation of the perfect one, by the ones whom he came to save. And there, above his head, is a sign explaining it all. It was placed their in mockery as well. It says, simply,

“This is Jesus, King of the Jews.”

A mockery that is really a truth. Just like the other mockeries, which are in actuality, truths as well.

“He saved others.”
“He is the king of Israel”
“He trusts in God”
“He is the Son of God”

All of it…true. How ironic. How painful. How paintful it must have been for Jesus to be mocked by the truth. How humiliating is that?

So here’s a thought to ponder tonight. What if the tables had been turned, and instead of Jesus receiving the mocking and the spitting and the humiliation, it had been his accusers? What if Jesus had dragged them through the streets, had them arrested for their crimes and sentenced to die? What if they had been mocked, spat upon, beaten, and publicly humiliated for complicity in a plot to kill the Son of God? Can you imagine the signs placed over their heads?

“These are the soldiers, mere minions of a puppet king, without the backbone to stand up for justice.”

“This is the crowd, stiff-necked and bitter, easily manipulated, stupid at best, evil at worst.”

“These are the teachers and chief priests, power-hungry, jealous, enemies of the God they claim to represent, hypocrites, small-minded men guarding their miniscule authority with bribery and secrets. So pathetically cowardly they can’t even do it themselves, but have to hire a bunch of Roman soldiers to clean up their mess.”

Those are the words that should have been on that sign, a sign that should have been hanging over everyone else but Jesus.

But before we move on, let us consider that those involved in the crucifixion of Jesus are themselves guilty, but they are also representatives. They are representatives of all of us who have sinned against God. We are all deserving of the suffering Jesus underwent, and all deserving of the humiliation he received. We are no better than they were, we would only have different signs placed above our heads…

“This is Tom; he lives for himself and thinks little of anyone else.”
“This is Sheila; all she cares about is keeping up with appearances.”
“This is Gregory; he manipulates people for his own purposes.”
“This is Cynthia; she is unfaithful to her husband.”
“This is Albert; he is filled with bitterness and unforgiveness.”
“This is Mary; she is a thief and a liar.”
“This is Brandon; he is full of lust and hideous secrets.”
“This is Martha; she is a full of pride.”
“This is Jack; he is a judgmental racist.”
“This is Michael; he has rejected the Lord over and over again.”

This is me; I've treated the grace of God like a cheap date at a crummy restaurant.

Do we see what was really going on that morning at Golgotha? Do we see how the world was turned upside down, how the guilty were on the ground and the innocent was on the cross, how the evil were free and the good was captive, how the mocking was the truth, and the truth was mocked?

It was humiliating for Jesus. And it is humiliating for us.