Monthly Archives: March 2021

Truly This Man Was The Son of God

 

 

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to Mark


As soon as it was morning, the chief priests held a consultation with the elders and scribes and the whole council. They bound Jesus, led him away, and handed him over to Pilate. Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” He answered him, “You say so.”  Then the chief priests accused him of many things.

Pilate asked him again, “Have you no answer? See how many charges they bring against you.” But Jesus made no further reply, so that Pilate was amazed.

Now at the festival he used to release a prisoner for them, anyone for whom they asked. Now a man called Barabbas was in prison with the rebels who had committed murder during the insurrection. So the crowd came and began to ask Pilate to do for them according to his custom.

Then he answered them, “Do you want me to release for you the King of the Jews?” For he realized that it was out of jealousy that the chief priests had handed him over. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have him release Barabbas for them instead.

Pilate spoke to them again, “Then what do you wish me to do with the man you call the King of the Jews?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!”

Pilate asked them, “Why, what evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Crucify him!”  So Pilate, wishing to satisfy the crowd, released Barabbas for them; and after flogging Jesus, he handed him over to be crucified.

Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters); and they called together the whole cohort.
And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. And they began saluting him, “Hail, King of the Jews!”
They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

They compelled a passer-by, who was coming in from the country, to carry his cross; it was Simon of Cyrene, the father of Alexander and Rufus.

Then they brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means the place of a skull). And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh; but he did not take it. And they crucified him, and divided his clothes among them, casting lots to decide what each should take.

It was nine o’clock in the morning when they crucified him.

The inscription of the charge against him read, “The King of the Jews.”
And with him they crucified two bandits, one on his right and one on his left.


Those who passed by derided him, shaking their heads and saying, “Aha! You who would destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself, and come down from the cross!”  In the same way the chief priests, along with the scribes, were also mocking him among themselves and saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.” Those who were crucified with him also taunted him.


When it was noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “Listen, he is calling for Elijah.” And someone ran, filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.”

Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last.

And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.
Now when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was God’s Son!”

(Mark 15:1-39, )

Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion. Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem.

 Lo your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, riding on an ass, and upon the colt, the foal  of an ass.

The whole impact of that joyful statement, that prophecy of Zechariah was that the king was coming in peace. In Palestine, the ass was not a despised animal, but a noble one. When a king went to war he rode on a horse. When he came in peace, he rode on an ass.

The last verse of a G.K.Chesterton poem, about the animal that carried Jesus, says,

Fools, for I also had my hour,

One far fierce hour and sweet;

There was a shout about my ears,

And palms before my feet.

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day, he came as king, but as the king of peace.

And in doing so, he contradicted all that people had hoped for and expected.

People wanted to give a conqueror’s welcome to Jesus. It was reminiscent of the welcome given to  Simon Maccabaeus, a hundred and fifty years before.

They shouted, ‘ Hosanna!’ then, as now.   This is a  word that is quoted and used as if it simply means ‘Praise,’ but it is a cry to God to break in and save his people now that Messiah has come.

They thought they had a military leader here, in Jesus, someone like Simon Maccabaeus.

They are wrong of course.

When a king came in peace, he would ride a donkey.

Later, we read, that Jesus went into the Temple and  looked around.

You see, Jesus is deliberately summing up what he has to do, and assessing the strength of the opposition.  He is not an impetuous man. He prepares carefully.

He then returns to Bethany with the Twelve. Bethany is where Jesus can find a  few moments of peace.  It is a time when he can commune with his Father, before he continues his fateful journey.  

Note that the twelve are still with him. Even though they know he is going to die – willingly – and they probably think he is  suicidal – they are still with him. It says something for them, that as little as they understood what was happening, they still stood by him.

They haven’t yet been tested.

It’s fine to stand with a winner and bask in his glory. Sharing in his struggle, is a different matter.

They will desert him, but later, much later, some of them will give up their own lives to tell others about him.

Then we move to the trial of Jesus.  The Jewish leaders have already tried him, of course. They did this during the night, against their own rules against secret trials.

And they have condemned the Son of Man. 

They won’t tell Pilate that he is a blasphemer, which is what they have accused him of, because the Romans wouldn’t care. They tell Pilate that he counseled people against paying taxes to Rome, which is, as we know,  a direct lie.   

Even religious people, even people who obey the law scrupulously, even they, will lie when they feel the very structure of their lives threatened, as it was by the coming of the man Jesus.

He was against the hypocrisy of the religious leaders at the time. But more than that,  he has come to show a clear way to God. He has come to make things right between mankind and God. He has come to strip away the mystery of worship. And condemnation for sin. 

They don’t want that. Do they?  They are going to be out of work. And out of power. And out of the money

Pilate sent Jesus to be flogged. Men would die after such a flogging. It was said that such a flogging, a scourging, would lay bare the very bone.

We have read about such punishment, of course. But the reading of it goes by without a real idea of what it does to a person.

When I saw Mel Gibson’s  The Passion of Christ, and that awful scene of the flogging, it brought it home to me what Jesus really suffered.

After that ordeal, Jesus was too weak to carry the cross on his own, so the soldiers pressed a passer-by into service, they  compelled a man called Simon, to help him carry the cross. 

Palestine was an occupied country. Anyone could be impressed into Roman service for any task.  A tap on the shoulder with the flat of a Roman sword was all that was required.

When that happened, you did what was asked without question.

Simon was from Cyrene in Africa. He may have come from that far-off land for the Passover.  He may have saved for a long time to make the trip of a lifetime, and then this happens to him.

He had to do it. He may have taken the cross, resentfully, fully intending to get rid of it as soon as he could. Get to Golgotha and then fling down the thing and get away.

Has it ever happened to you that you were in the wrong place at the wrong time, and got lumbered with a job you didn’t want? And you did it resentfully?

And how did it turn out?

Let’s see how it may have turned out for  Simon.

Simon is described as the father of Alexander and Rufus. Now it is highly possible that Mark wrote his Gospel first for the church in Rome. In Paul’s letter to Rome, 16.13, he mentions: Rufus, eminent in the Lord,  Rufus – son of Simon –  was such a Christian that Paul called him ‘eminent in the Lord.’

Rufus’s mother was so dear to Paul that he called her his own mother.

Something must have happened to Simon,  Rufus’s father, as he carried that cross with Jesus, to Golgotha. 

Could it be that Simon’s enforced service to Jesus, carrying his cross to Golgotha, bound him for ever to Jesus?  Did seeing the man Jesus, his suffering, and his death on that cross, open his heart, to the love of God, as it was shown so explicitly, that day in Jesus?

And also led his family to Christ’s service?

I have been asked to do something, and accepted it with little grace, and then found after doing it that I had actually enjoyed the experience, and received much more than I put in to it.

Do you know what I mean?

Now Jesus is hanging on the cross.  

There was a company of loving women in Jerusalem who came to every crucifixion and gave the criminals drugged wine, to ease the terrible pain. Jesus refused it –  resolved to taste death at its bitterest, and go to His Father with open eyes.

Then the Son of God was taunted and mocked by none other than the chief priests and scribes.

The idiots. They can’t see that the end is in sight for them and their fellow hypocrites.

I don’t know if you remember anything from the US invasion of Iraq. We all want to forget it, really.

But as the battle raged and American soldiers were in the suburbs of  Baghdad, and everyone in the world knew the end was imminent, the Iraqi Information Minister was still on television saying that Sadham’s army was beating back the invaders.  It was ludicrous.

I half expected a US Marine to look over his shoulder and wave home to his mother, while this minister was talking.

These people standing by the cross have seen and understood nothing. Like that Information minister, they want to go on doing what they have been doing for so long, and ignore the reality of a new era dawning on the world.

Temple worship is finished.

Priests controlling access to God is finished.

Temple bureaucrats telling people how to worship, and what to sacrifice, and what price to pay for the sacrifice, and punishing people for petty infractions of the law, are history.

God is now available to all.

Forgiveness of sins is now available to all.

But there they are. “Come down off the cross, they  said, and we will believe you.”

What sort of half hearted sacrifice would that be?  If he had come down from the cross?

It would have shown that there was a limit to God’s love – that he didn’t love us enough to suffer and to die, for us.

Jesus went the whole way, because there is no limit to God’s love for us,.

He even sacrificed his own Son for us.  

Jesus’ actions tell us  “God loves you with a love that is limitless. There is nothing which He is not prepared to suffer to have his children turn back to him.

Not even death on a cross.

How can we gaze upon that awful, yet lovely sight, and not want to love him in  return?

How can we?

How do we?

Truly this man was the Son of God.

Amen.

People will notice the change.

The Gospel of Our Lord Jesus Christ According to John.

(John 12:20-33)

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.”

Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

“Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. “Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.

“Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say–‘ Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour.

“Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.”

The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.”

Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine.

“Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

The Fifth Sunday of Lent.

There is an account in Matthew, Mark and Luke’s gospels, of a  young man who had seen Jesus and was taken by what he said.

He saw the goodliness and the godliness in Jesus, and he was drawn to him. He thought he wanted to follow Jesus. To be with him daily, and learn more about how to serve God.

He was a young man who had been given all the benefits and privileges of wealth and position. He was educated, and sure of himself. 

He was of the ruling class.

So he approached Jesus, and told him of his desire: “ I have been moved by your words. I have realized that there is much more to life that just enjoying oneself; that one cannot continue to live only for self.  I would like to be one of your followers.”

Jesus looked at the young man, and his heart went out to him. He was certainly in earnest. He seemed to know what he wanted to do, and had come directly to Jesus to talk about it.

Jesus told him how he and his disciples lived. Sometimes they were offered shelter in someone’s home. Sometimes they ate well. But mostly, they lived outside, gathered around a campfire. They often didn’t know where the next meal would come from. Jesus’ disciples had left family and loved ones behind to follow him.

Are you prepared to do this? Jesus asked. “ Are you prepared to give up what you have?  Can you live as we do?   Do you realise what you will be giving up?”

The young man was eager at first. ‘Of course, I can. Of course, I will.’ But as he thought more about it, his eagerness began to flag. Maybe, he thought he could live at home, and come out mornings, and join the group. Maybe he thought that he could be in the new life, and still have a foot in the old life too.  He hadn’t realized the depth of commitment required.

Jesus looked at him with love, and with tenderness.

“Give away all that you have, and come and follow me,” he challenged, gently.

The young man slowly stood up, looked at the men lying around the fire, some in conversation, some already asleep, and he knew he couldn’t do it. He couldn’t give up the fine life he had, and live as an itinerant.

Reluctantly, he turned, and began to walk away.

“Who was that?” Peter asked Jesus. “What did he want?”

“Oh, a young man with high ideals, but without  the determination to grasp them fully.”

“Never mind.” Peter said, “You have us.”

“Yes Peter, “Jesus replied.. “But……”

And the next night, as the group gathered around the fire, Jesus drew away from his friends and stood outside of the firelight, looking into the darkness –  looking for the one who had wanted new life, but couldn’t let go of the old.

“I tell you for certain that a grain of wheat that falls on the ground will never be more than one grain unless it dies. But if it dies, it will produce lots of wheat.”

I don’t know if we really believe that. I think a lot of us, and I am no exception some of the time, have the idea that we can get by, following Jesus part-time.

It may be that we have never been asked to make a solid commitment.

Sometimes, I regret that in the Anglican church, we are mostly baptised as infants.  Our parents make a commitment for us.

Committing to baptism is an important moment in a person’s life  Especially if it happens in adulthood. It denotes a real commitment to change.

Sometimes I regret that in the Anglican Church we don’t baptize by full immersion. I once attended a full immersion baptism of two young adults and it was incredibly moving. 

Imagine coming to the minister and asking to be baptised – knowing the importance of that act in one’s life, and witnessing to one’s commitment, and embracing a new life – being submerged under water, and then bursting forth into the light.

They used to say, those who were baptised this way, that it was like dying and coming back to life again.

And you can see that can’t you?  The washing away of the old life, and the putting on of the new.

The care that one would take before making the commitment, and the great start to one’s new life that such a ritual would be.

We have confirmation of our baptism, of course, and I would hope that Confirmation is an experience that makes our baptism more meaningful, a moment when we make our own commitment to add to the commitment our parents made when they brought us to be baptised.

We are talking about the depth of commitment here, aren’t we?

As Jesus points out in today’s Gospel, being one of his followers, isn’t a part-time thing.

It isn’t something that you can do Monday mornings, Tuesday afternoons, and Sunday evenings.  It isn’t a hobby. 

You can’t follow Jesus just when he happens to be going through your neighborhood, and then leave off when he leads you too far from home.

It requires commitment, and it always means change.

And it means that we have God’s love and strength and his Spirit inside of us  to help us make that change.   

It may mean getting new friends. It may mean changing the way you do your job. It may mean giving up some things you like to  do – things you know are bad for you, but which you do anyway.

A neighbour of mine, had a heart attack.  He was relatively young, early fifties. But he had always lived a  sedentary life.  The heart attack was a wake-up call. He came through it well, but his doctor warned him that he would have to change the way he lived. And he did.

I would see him walking up my street, each morning.

He ate better.

He quit smoking.

He cut down on his drinking.

In just a few weeks he began to look much fitter. He  began to look like a new man.

But then, after a while, I didn’t see him walking by as often.

He started smoking again, to try and control his weight –  he had gone off his diet – and he had resumed drinking.  

See, the new man had checked out.

And the old man was back.

He didn’t have the commitment.

I doubt he is still alive today.

Jesus could see in the young man, a real need for a new life. A life that would be hard, but rewarding. A life of giving, rather than a life of taking.  But he couldn’t let go, could he?  

Taking on the new life is a bit like being a trapeze artist. You have to let go of the bar you are hanging on to, to be able to grasp the bar you want to go to.

It’s not easy, is it? To let go.    

But it wasn’t easy for Jesus either.  Nobody wants to die. Do they?

Hardened murderers, vicious rapists, gangsters.  They all shrink from the gallows, or the chair, or the lethal injection, when it is time for them to pay the ultimate price.

How much harder must it be for an innocent man?  For someone who has loved and cared for, and healed people?

How much harder for someone who has tried to bring freedom to those enslaved by sin?

No, Jesus didn’t want to die!

But he would not go against the Father.

“ I will go ahead, and will glorify the Father.”

“ I have already been glorified,” God says, “ And will be so again.”

That’s kind of like a parent  telling their son or daughter, “You have already made me proud, and I know you will make me proud again.”

Jesus was glorifying not himself, but his Father in Heaven.

So, willingly, yet fearfully, for he is, after all a human being, Jesus continues his journey to the cross.

He will die a shameful death in this world and find glorious acclamation in the next.

He will be the wheat which bears its fruit in dying.

And the truth of that saying is a historical fact, isn’t it?

Christians baptised into Christ as children, still have to make the choice, when they are old enough to do so:  Will I die to my old life and live to the new?

It’s the only way, isn’t it? 

It takes resolve to follow Christ at home, and at work, and at play, and any time, and any place.

Stop fibbing… swearing…., telling smutty stories…., manipulating, ….gossiping,… grasping, ….damaging your body by eating too much, drinking too much, smoking too much,…. exercising too little,  stop putting people down and start building them up……. turn your whole life around – if you haven’t already done so.  Completely.  One hundred per cent.

Because if it’s not one hundred per cent, then all you have is  the old life with new bits stuck on.

Like a wall that has been painted over, but the old paint still shows through.

There is a saying, isn’t there, that a leopard  cannot change its spots,  or is it a tiger can’t change it’s stripes? 

It means of course that people can’t change who they are.

Maybe we can’t, change ourselves, but God can.

And maybe the outside doesn’t change, but the inside sure does. 

And that will begin to show through on the outside.

People will notice the change.

For the better.

Trust me.

Amen

The story of the young man is taken from John Shea’s Experience of Spirit.