Defined by Fear or Trust?

A sermon for Good Friday: Isaiah 52:13-53:12, Psalm 22, Hebrews 10:16-25, John 18:1-19:42

There is so much fear in this Gospel story. Judas is afraid Jesus won’t act and everything they have done everything they have risked in the last three years will all be for nothing. So, he will force Jesus’ hand to call his followers to decisive action by betraying him. The police and soldiers in the garden are afraid. They know how popular Jesus is, just days ago, the whole city welcomed him with shouts of Hosanna as the King of Israel (John 12:13)! They also know what their leads think about Jesus; that he is a rebel rouser a trouble maker. Peter is afraid. In the garden, he is afraid Jesus is going to be arrested perhaps afraid he is going be arrested, so, he attacks the high priest’s servant. Actually –  come to think of it Peter was afraid enough to bring a sword to the Passover feast! They left the Passover and headed to the garden in the Kidron Valley. After Jesus’ arrest, he makes his way into the High Priest’s courtyard; still, he is so afraid of what may happen to him that he famously denies Jesus three times.

You know, I wonder what happened to that sword? Was it confiscated in the garden? Did Peter drop it in some secluded place? Did he keep it with him, carefully concealed? What tales could that sword tell? Where was I, oh yes.

Annas is afraid, like so many other Jewish leaders who have been chasing Jesus has caught him. Now what! He had been High Priest, and now his son in law is High Priest, so, he has some religious authority but little civil authority beyond persuasion. He does ask Jesus about his teachings. Jesus says he has spoken openly and challenges Annas to ask the people, which earns him a slap in the face. Annas apparently doesn’t know what to do so, he has Jesus tied up and sends him to Caiaphas, the High Priest.

Caiaphas, at a meeting of the council, following the raising of Lazarus, said it was better for one man to die than the whole nation, after which the council planned to put Jesus to death. However, this time Caiaphas is silent. To suggest is one thing, to act is another. So, Jesus is sent off to Pilate, the real civil authority.

Pilate is not at all pleased to see Jesus. As Jesus was entering Jerusalem from one end of the city Pilate was entering from the other side of the city, for his annual stay to make sure celebrations do not turn to insurrection. Jesus’ presence raises the possibility of insurrection, which, beyond collecting taxes, is the only thing Rome cares about. So, Pilate is cautious about Jesus. and He is also afraid of the crowd, that joyfully welcomed Jesus not long ago. He is also concerned about the Jewish leadership knowing full well how manipulative they can be. Pilate’s conversation with Jesus does not make things any easier for him. There is enough innuendo of kingship and kingdom to be of concern; the Emperor does not take implied threats to the throne any less lightly than real threats. When he tells the crowd now clamoring for Jesus crucifixion to crucify him themselves, they reply he claims to be the Son of God which frightens Pilate because “son of god” is one of the Emperor’s titles. Jesus is now in direct confrontation with the Emperor.

At Golgotha, the chief priest expresses some concern about Pilate’s sign naming Jesus king of the Jews, and asks for it to be changed, just a little, still, a change, that reveals some deep fear.

The disciples, the people, the chief priests, High Priest, the Pharisees, the police and soldiers, even Pilate want Jesus to behave as they think he should. He hasn’t; he did not, he will not. Everyone wants Jesus to take their fear, and turn it into some sort of justifying stance or action. If Jesus does not act as they want him to everyone will have to rethink who they are, who God is, and their connection (Thompson).

Not much has changed in 2000 years. There is lots of fear, and everyone is angry. Some people are angry at liberals; others are angry at conservatives. Many people are angry at Russian election interference. Gun safety advocates are angry at guns toting believers, and guns toting believers are angry at gun safety advocates. Urban folks are angry at rural folks, and rural folks are angry at urban folks. It seems as if everyone is angry with someone else; that everyone is afraid of someone maybe everyone else. That means everyone one wants Jesus or God to act as they think God/Jesus should act. And when we take the time and make the effort to calm down, we see very clearly that divine action does not align to our wishes, nor to the wishes of those whom we are so angry with, of whom we are so afraid. The divine ~ is not behaving according to our wills.

So, we are facing the daunting reality of having to rethink who we are, who God is, and what our relationship is, or more correctly ought to be.

Naw, let’s go dye Easter eggs, that is a lot easier.

It is. But, the cross still cast its long dark shadow. And even with Jesus freshly buried the morrow is a dreadful unknown. There is still lots to fear. All of chapters 18 and 19 of John’s gospel leave us in our fear and anger. Our concerns are not unfounded. However, the preacher of Hebrews wrote:

 we have a great priest over the house of God, let us approach with a true heart in full assurance of faith, … Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful (Hebrews 10:21-23).

The preacher challenges us will we allow the fear and anger, that arises from ebbs and flows life, define who we are; or; will we trust God/Jesus? as we live, in the shadow of the cross? in the darkness of the tomb?


References

Gaventa, Beverly Roberts, and David Petersen. New Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary. Nashville, n.d.

Harrelson, Walter J. The New Interpreters’ Study Bible. Abingdon Press, 2003. E-book.

O’Day, Dail R. New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary The Gospel of John. Vol. VIII. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2015. XII vols. App Olivetree.

Sakenfeld, Katharine Doob. New Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Nashville: Abingdon, 2009.

Thompson, Barkley. “If you really are the Son of God….” God in the Midst of the City. Houston, 9 4 2017. WordPress.