Friday, April 6, 2012

The Sign

Last year I posted my Good Friday message here on my blog. Here is the message I am giving tonight (one of three being given). It is based on John 19:19-24

Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: Jesus of Nazareth: the King of the Jews. (John 19:19)

Sometimes a sign is just a sign. It is what is says--straight forward with no complications.
• Open or closed
• Eggs 1.99 a dozen
• Please use side entrance
• Frederick 4 miles
• No loitering, no smoking, no shirt, no shoes, no service

Sometimes a sign is more than a sign. Sometimes it holds potential meaning, proposes a series of potential events, not only informs, but strongly suggests, or even demands action.
• Caution: bridge becomes icy before road
• Slow down: falling rocks
• Warning: high voltage
• If you are caught shoplifting, you will be prosecuted

What kind of sign was this one, placed upon the cross above Jesus’ head? This sign was commissioned by Pilate, the Roman governor. He was the power broker in the story with Christ, at least from a human perspective. He is one weighing the options as the crowd and the religious leaders demand the blood of Jesus. Clearly, he is uncomfortable with this whole situation. He does not want to make a ruling in this case; he just wants it to go away. He sees no reason for Jesus to be crucified. His wife has frightened him with talk of dreams. He does not comprehend this claim that Jesus is a king, and seems surprised that this simple, humble man does not deny it in order to be set free.

So now, stuck between a rock and a hard place, he washes his hands of the matter and reluctantly sends Jesus to be crucified. Yet before he does so, he feels it is necessary to commission a sign.

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.

The words themselves are filled with irony. Jesus of Nazareth? This is the Roman Empire we are talking about. It is the greatest civilization in history. The Roman Emperor is not only the most powerful man in the world, he is god-like. How could a man from the remotest portion of that empire in any way rival the rule of Caesar? King of nothing, Pilate should have written.

Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews

King of the Jews? Isn’t Jesus himself a Jew? Isn’t it the Jewish leaders who are begging to have him killed? Aren’t they the ones shouting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”? Something about this man has them so angry that these people who hate the Romans and their Emperor, shout at the top of their lungs, “We have no king but Caesar!”

Why are they so mad? Pilate must be wondering. What has them so outraged that they scream blasphemy against their own God by claiming allegiance to the Caesar they abhor? Pilate is confused. He is troubled. He is frustrated. He is disgusted. For all these reasons – and probably to take one last jab at the crowd – Pilate orders this sign to be written and placed above the head of this man on the cross. It is there in three languages for all to see; Aramaic, for the commoners from Palestine, Latin, for the occupying army, Greek, for the visitors and foreigners.
Jesus of Nazareth – the King of the Jews.

He knew what they’d say.

“No, no, no! You can’t write that! He’s not our king. He claimed to be king. Change the sign. Change the sign!”

“What I have written, I have written.”

Pilate may not have understood much of what was happening, but he knew there was more to this story then a simple trial. He knew this man Jesus had aroused something deep inside of the religious establishment – fear, hatred, or both. He had heard the stories of miracles and healings. He knew that many loved this man and thought he had come from God himself. He knew that somehow, this man represented something bigger than just another day at the office of the governor– a sign that something else, or someone else, was controlling the events coming down in Jerusalem that day. Yes, even Pilate knew that Jesus was a sign of something else.

This will be a sign to you; you will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. (Luke 2:12)

This child is destined to cause the rising and falling of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. (Luke 2:34)

You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times. (Matthew 16:3)

Tell us, when will these things happen? And what will be a sign that they are about to be fulfilled? (Mark 13:4)

Pilate knew something was happening over which he had little say, and so he let the sign stand, despite the pleas of the angry mob. “What I have written, I have written.”

So it was no accident that what happened next served to confirm the sign.

“When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. 'Let’s not tear it,' they said to one another. Let’s decide by lot who will get it. This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled among them:

'They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.' ”

The Scripture being fulfilled is Psalm 22, the great poem predicting the means of the death of Israel’s Messiah. It is the same poem that spoke of crucifixion before crucifixion had been invented, that spoke of abandonment by God, of thirst like torture on the tongue, of the piercing of hands and feet, of a side pierced by a spear, of blood and water poured out, of mocking and insults, and yes, of clothing being bartered over like a pathetic flea market on the backstreets of a middle-eastern ghetto.

As the soldiers affirm the prophecy with their actions, the sign hangs over them, speaking louder and louder.

Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.

Sometimes a sign is just a sign. And sometimes a sign is more than a sign. Sometimes it holds potential meaning, proposes a series of events, not only informs, but strongly suggests, or even demands action.

What I have written, I have written, says Pilate.

And says God.