As we’ve been considering the theme of Living in the Story, there’s three main things I’ve been hoping for:
- That we’ll be shaped by the biblical story rather than the stories of our western culture.
- That we’ll have a better understanding of how everything ties in, and how all parts of the story are important in order to grasp it’s full significance.
- That we’ll have an even greater appreciation of how much bigger the story is than it just being about what Jesus has done for me. That’s part of it, but only a small part.
The Sunday before Easter our topic was the Cross and Resurrection, but you might have noticed something quite glaring: I didn’t talk about resurrection at all! So that’s what I’m going to pick up today. Having said that, I want to start our look at a point prior to the crucifixion.
(Much of the following adapted from Brian Zahnd, Beauty Will Save the World: Rediscovering the Allure and Mystery of the Gospel)
Jesus Before Pilate
Let’s start with Jesus before Pilate.
John 18:33, 36 (NRSV) 33 Then Pilate entered the headquarters again, summoned Jesus, and asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 36 Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not from this world. If my kingdom were from this world, my followers would be fighting to keep me from being handed over to the Jews. But as it is, my kingdom is not from here.”
I can imagine Pilate getting a bit frustrated when he questioned Jesus—Will you just give me a straight answer instead of speaking in riddles!! I really doubt that Pilate had much idea of what Jesus was talking about, mainly because he was referring to something right outside Pilate’s comprehension, something of which he could never conceive.
We get a window into Pilate’s view of how things were in the next chapter of John:
John 19:10 (NRSV) 10 Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?”
The normal way for kingdoms to be established, and for kings to maintain their rule, was through power enforced by violence. That had been the way things were all the way from Cain and Abel, through to the Roman era and right down to today. And that’s certainly how Pilate saw it. His thinking quite possibly went something like this: ‘A while ago I asked what truth is. Here’s the real truth: I have power to crucify you. The real truth is that in this world, power enforced by violence is what wins, and you’d better believe it because that’s the bottom line. That’s what makes this world go round, and if you don’t shape up pretty quick and get with the program, that’s exactly what you’re going to experience.’ This was the paradigm to which Pilate was working as he ruled his kingdom. His truth was the axis formed around power enforced through violence—the way of kings and kingdoms, the way of the principalities and powers.
On the other hand, Jesus in both his words and actions was making it clear that his kingdom was going to be quite different to how things normally worked. His kingdom was definitely for this world—after all, that’s the reason he’d come and what his whole earthly ministry had been about—but its nature and character was such that it wasn’t like any kingdom that existed (or would exist) in the world. His kingdom was not formed and did not come in the way kingdoms were normally formed, but it came, and would be a kingdom in this world.
The Chief Priests
The Chief priests, part of the religious hierarchy of the day, also knew how things really worked.
John 19:15 (NRSV) 15 They cried out, “Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!” Pilate asked them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but the emperor.”
Boom!!! There it is. That’s their true colours are on show for everyone to see. They could be as religious and observant as they liked, but in their statement ‘We have no king but Caesar’ their religious masks were off, and their bare naked grab for power stood out like a beacon. They would carry on doing their high priestly work in the temple, but their true nature was exposed for all to see: they were no different to Pilate himself, confessing that the real king was the one with the greatest power, the power to kill. And they were very willing to make use of that power in serving their own ends.
A New Organising Principle
The Irony of the Cross
Pilate could easily have answered his own question: The Cross is truth, because in his setting that’s how it was. The Roman cross was the ultimate truth that power wins and the ultimate power is that over life and death. The irony is that the cross is truth, not in its power to kill, but in its choice to love.
Ultimate truth is not power enforced through violence, but love expressed through forgiveness. (Zahnd, 68)
Time was up for the way things usually happened. Christ’s presence and cross inaugurated a whole new way of doing and being, a whole new organising principle.
Christ came to bring the world a new government that would be organised around love and forgiveness. (Zahnd, 68)
This wasn’t anything theoretical for Jesus.
- He loved Israel who had rejected him.
- He loved his disciples who abandoned him at the end.
- He loved Peter who vehemently denied him.
- He didn’t yell and scream at the ones who were driving the nails into his body.
He forgave them all, and in his death included the whole world in his forgiveness.
But here’s where the resurrection comes in. Jesus’ coming back to life was far more than a good and surprising end to the story. His resurrection was the Father’s vindication of everything that he’d said and done. It confirmed him as Christ and Lord, and confirmed that love and forgiveness are the new organising principle in the world because that is greater than the organising principle of the principalities and powers.
For 2 days Pilate, the Chief Priests and their mates, could sit around over a cold beer, congratulating themselves on again being winners through the power of violence. All was well in their arena because nothing had changed in how things really were. Little did they realise that things were about to dramatically change. Through raising Christ from the dead, God gave the world a new organising principle, a new way of being centred around suffering love and forgiveness. That was the new power.
How do we know that this is now the way things really are? In a world where violence so often seems to win, where we are bombarded with heinous acts of violence reported on practically every news bulletin, where everything we see seems to say otherwise, how do we know that the way of Jesus is the right way and not that of the principalities and powers? We know because God raised Jesus from the dead.
Seen through the lens of the resurrection, the cross is no longer the shameful humiliation of Christ, but the shameful public humiliation of the principalities and powers. (Zahnd, 86)
Initial appearances to the contrary, suffering love and forgiveness win!
This morning we’ve heard read Paul’s brief summary of the gospel story in 1 Cor 15. The resurrection is prominent because that was the game changer. When Jesus rose from the dead on Sunday morning, he did so as the first person to be part of the whole new world it was always God’s intention to make. It announced to the world that the old creation and the old way of doing and being was ultimately overthrown; its days are numbered. It announced that God’s kingdom was well and truly launched, a kingdom where his will is done on earth as in heaven. A new power is let loose in the world, one to heal, restore and forgive; a kingdom centred around the power of suffering love and forgiveness. The principalities and powers claim they are right, have right on their side and that they know how to run the world for the world’s own good (which, being interpreted, is their own good). But they don’t know how to run the world for everyone’s benefit; all they know is how to run it through power expressed through violence, which is aimed at serving their own ends. In this world they are shown up for what they are as the people of God, enabled by the power that raised Jesus from the dead, create unified communities of peace, and show a whole new way to live. As the church lives that way it demonstrates the wisdom of God to the principalities and powers.
The resurrection is not just about a happy ending or hope for the future. It is that, but it is more. Neither is it just about pie in the sky when we die. It is about a whole new way of living and being, here and now, about a whole new axis around which to centre our lives.
Here’s a contemporary example of that love and forgiveness in action within the most extreme of circumstances. Amr Adeeb is a prominent talk show host in Egypt. The clip is of one of the show’s reporters interviewing the widow of Naseem Faheem. Naseem was the guard at St Mark’s Cathedral in Alexandria and was most likely adjacent to the terrorist when he detonated the bomb on Palm Sunday.