To prepare for worship, these suggestions were given a few days in advance:
Song #103 - "He Has Made Me Glad"
Song #113 - "His Grace Reaches Me"
Song #961 - "There is a Balm in Gilead"
In The Passion of the Christ movie, Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, interviews Jesus who has been arrested and charged with treason. If Jesus claims to be the ruler of Judea, then he represents a political threat to Rome. So Pilate, who more than anything wants to remain uninvolved but also wants to avoid a riot, asks Jesus the all important question: Are You a King, then?
Reading of Luke 23:1-38
Kingdoms in Conflict
Romans like Tiberius and Pilate maintained the peace of the empire through fear, coercion, and advanced technology. If you sided with Rome, life could be very, very good. But if you challenged Rome in any way, life could be very, very bad. Hail Rome for giving us fresh water through the aqueducts but lets not mention the fact that it is built by slaves!
Jewish leader like Herod and Philip ruled through privilege. They had Roman connections and alliances on their side. But since they were lesser powers in service of Rome, their privilege and security was easily threatened and they didnt want to lose their lifestyle so Herod the Great made sure to eliminate all threats even if it meant slaughter.
Religious leaders like Annas and Caiaphas earned a measure of respect in avoiding the corruptions of Herod and the political rulers of Judea. Their good lifestyle took work but it paid off. Maintaining the truth and the stability of their heritage occupied their time and passion and if that meant they had to be exclusive and cautious then that was a small price to pay for truth.
These power-players all had their own agendas. And sometimes they were compatible but sometimes they were conflicting.
Our experience of conflicting powers: Is it really that hard to imagine the world Luke describes? Is it really that hard to imagine the world of conflicting powers that Jesus lived in? Isnt this still our experience today?
We are entertained by shows that place people in situations in which they must cheat, lie, and takes sides against one another. How revealing that we call these reality shows. Is this how we perceive reality?
It is reflected in our catch-phrases:
These clichéd statements confess to the conflict woven into the fabric of our world. We accept as fact that there must be winners and losers. We will even compartmentalize our rules for life so that we think that compassion and the golden rule are high principles to live up to, but when it comes to business, politics, and security a different set of rules applies.
The powers of business in this world are ordered upon conflict between management and labor. Communism is really just oppression. It doesnt work, so consumer capitalism is the only thing that does work its not perfect, but its all we got.
The powers of politics in this world are based on conflict between special interests. Monarchies are always corrupt. That doesnt work, so a two-party system that encourages bickering and debate is the only that seems to work. [How many sigh saying is it election year already?] Its not perfect, but its all we got.
The powers that involve our security seem to thrive on conflict. All of us have secret codes and passwords and ID numbers and our security depends on who knows and who doesnt. Our security may depend on being first in line, getting on the right side of the fence, killing the killer before he kills us. Our security in our social world may depend on what we tell others (or dont tell others) who we befriend and who we dont befriend. Hey, its not perfect but its all we got. Thats just the way it is. Conflict is part of life.
We may feel that way when were on the up-side of the contest, but how do we feel when were on the down side? How do we feel when greedy CEOs embezzled our money and ruined our fortunes for the future? How do we feel when our political system alienates us and favors injustice? How do we feel when we are excluded and uninformed because we are no longer as valuable as we once were?
Maybe its not always easy to swallow the bitter reality of this world in conflict? And does God really have anything to do with this? Wheres God in this conflict? Is he indifferent? Is he so spiritual that the earthly powers dont really concern him?
But what if God has stepped into the fray? (The in-breaking rule of God)
We often think that Jesus and Pilate are just "following the script" that God wrote for this moment. Jesus is a victim of the corrupt sinful system of this world. He gets chewed up and spit out by the forces of darkness because God abandons Jesus to evil. But is that really how it was? Lets take a different perspective and consider what powers and forces hostile to God and Christ are at work leading up to this moment. What evil explains the fact that an innocent man who came to save the world is being condemned to death? What explains Jesus seeming reluctance to fight back?
Jesus is not on trial for what he did, but for who he is. Pilate doesnt think that Jesus has done anything "against the law." But law-breaking isnt the issue. Jesus ushers in the Kingdom of God. Its not a geographical, institutional, or political kingdom. Kingdom means "rule" or "reign" and it refers not merely to the visible evidence of that rule, but the authority of the ruler and the extent of the rulers power. But just because this "rule of God" isnt limited to geography, politics, or institutions doesnt mean it has no impact on those. In fact the rule of God extends over everything. It is a higher authority that tests and challenges everything in creation.
So even though the kingdom that Jesus proclaims is spiritual and not of this world, it threatens the powers and dominions that have something invested in the world order as it is even if it isnt perfect. [They are so threatened that they would prefer a terrorist set loose than see Jesus alive. Even Pilate goes along with this madness!]
Jesus has stepped into the ring in this case history (the world as we have known it and do know it.) He has crossed a line in the sand and doing so makes enemies It threatens those powers and kings and authorities that try to rule instead of Christ or even those that try to rule alongside of Christ.
Jesus is a threat because he is aligned with the rule of God. His very being puts him into conflict with that which is against God. Jesus is standing at Ground Zero of the conflict between God and the forces that have conspired against God. Yet, he chooses to offer few words in his defense.
"Yes it is as you say" is his answer to Pilates question. Why?
With a word, Christ can end the whole sorry affair. But theres no victory in that. The weapon of Christ is not force or coercion. Christ fights with weapons that the enemy cannot manage confidence, truth, love. Confidence in God to preserve his life, the truth about the rule of God, and love enough to invite others - even enemies - into that kingdom.
Jesus is no victim. He goes to the cross a warrior-king. He lays down his life freely to conquer the true enemy of evil ... The real enemy is not Pilate, Caiaphas, or Herod. Its not Rome or the Sanhedrin. Its not Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals; it is not Adolph Hitler, Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden. Its not the slanderer who tells lies about you or the hacker who put a virus on your computer. They are the victims! They have aligned themselves with false powers - pretend authorities!
Heres the good news: Our King went to battle to overthrow the lesser powers and he won!
At the cross:
What Does it Mean? In Revelation, persecuted Christians are encouraged with the good news of Christs ultimate victory (Revelation 19), the defeat of Gods enemies (Revelation 20) and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). Those are visions and promises of a triumphant future that served as good news for the followers of Christ, but they were a far cry from the difficult fight that these believers lived with daily. So between their present reality and the bright future, Christians were called upon do their part for the war effort. What that involved can be read in the Letters to the Seven Churches (Revelation 2-3), but in general it meant staying faithful and being willing to die for Christ (Revelation 13:8-10). To do that was to be like Christ, the Lamb that was slain, who understood that love meant doing his part to be loyal to God and defeat the foe.
The earliest confession of the Christian church was "Christ is Lord (King)!" These were more than words, this was a expression of an allegiance that sometimes alienated Christians and threw them into conflict with the powers and victims of the enemy. But those who made that confession were no victims. They had already died with Christ and they had already inherited the Kingdom of God. The received it as a generous gift.
Invitation Song #972 - "Lord, I Want to Be a Christian"
Link to next sermon
Link to other sermons of Chris Benjamin