But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. So Pilate decided to grant their demand. He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will. Luke 23:23-25
I am no fan of politics. As far as I can see, it represents much of human behavior at its very worst. At least in our culture, politics seem to have devolved into the extremists and their screaming voices holding the larger percentage of us in the middle hostage. The more we try to shut those voices out, the louder they become, and the wider the chasm dividing our country becomes. And, in the meantime, every important issue politics touches gets hijacked into the feeding frenzy of labels and manipulation. In short, politics poisons everything it touches.
This week, I am reading the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. It is so filled with ugliness and power struggles and politics and manipulation, it is an amazingly frustrating story to me. A few religious leaders who feel threatened by Jesus incite a virtual riot and use their influence to create an angry mob to ensure Jesus’ crucifixion…it is a portrait of how truly ugly humanity can be when politics take over.
It saddens me that this kind of ugliness has invaded the church today in the same way it did 2,000 years ago. In fact, some of the nastiest, ugliest pictures I have ever seen of an angry mob have been church business meetings or staff retreats or deacons meetings or committee meetings. Crucifixions, as it turns out, have become a dangerously common phenomenon in the contemporary church culture.
Sad, isn’t it?
But if you have been in a leadership role in the church …
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them. Acts 2:1-4
To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. Colossians 1:27
Of all the miracles referenced in the Bible, the Pentecost miracle in Acts 2 may be at the top of my list of moments I would love to have seen. The tongues of fire ushering down God’s Spirit to indwell God’s people…wow!
In terms of their impact on this world and the ushering in of a completely new chapter in God’s story, I tend to think of the crucifixion, the resurrection and Pentecost as three aspects of a single, “this changes everything” moment in history. All are significant in themselves, but all are necessary to bring about the age of the church. It is a little like a three-legged stool in that regard. Take any one of the legs away and you have an entirely different situation.
These three events (which all happened within just a few weeks of each other), taken together, changed forever the way God would relate to his creation…AND the way we, His children, would relate to each other.
Follow the history with me through the Bible…
In the garden, God related to Adam and Eve through an interpersonal relationship (yes, I am quite the literalist in my interpretation of scripture). …
Now his daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant, about to give birth. And when she heard the news that the ark of God was captured, and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she bowed and gave birth, for her pains came upon her.And about the time of her death the women attending her said to her, “Do not be afraid, for you have borne a son.” But she did not answer or pay attention.And she named the child Ichabod, saying,“The glory has departed from Israel!” because the ark of God had been captured and because of her father-in-law and her husband.And she said, “The glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.” 1 Samuel 4:19-22
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:46
It was actually more years ago than I can remember…I was sitting with a church leader while her church was in the midst of turmoil and conflict and she was sharing the litany of painful circumstances that had befallen her church. It was just one horrible thing after another after another after another. It was startling. And then she said this: “It feels like God has written ‘Ichabod’ over our door. We are a God-forsaken church.” I had a vague recollection of the biblical reference but will admit to you now I had to go back and read the story again out of 1 Samuel.
Eli (the priest) had sent his two ungodly sons into war with all their Israeli brothers in arms to fight the Philistines. It did not go well. Both sons were killed. Israel was horribly defeated. and the Arc of …
Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God. Psalm 31:5
It occurs to me, there are two prayers which every church leader (and most especially every pastor) really must learn if he/she is to survive the daunting and often painful responsibility of shepherding God’s people. The first one is, “Lord, not my will but thine.” The second is, “Into thy hands I commit my spirit.” Jesus demonstrated the very different circumstances for each.
Jesus prayed, “Not my will but thine” in Gethsemane. There was still much for him to do. There were still “discussable” options available to him. His own choices were still in play and there was still plenty of discernment and judgment to be exercised on his part. He made it clear what he wanted and he was exploring options, because there were options. But he also made it clear that he wanted the option his Father wanted. This is what we pray when there are critical leadership decisions to be made and we want guidance. We may be in pain, we may feel in the dark, we may be frightened of the path we are on and of the direction it is headed. We are stressed, to be sure, but we can legitimately see more than one option and we do not necessarily trust our own judgment in the matter. We know what we want (we think), but we suspect God may have something else in mind. We can say to God, “Seems to me it would be a good thing for this certain thing to happen…do this for me, unless you’ve got something else in mind.”
But do you see, my leader friend, that the second prayer (“Into thy hands I commit my spirit”) may be along the same …
When day came, the assembly of the elders of the people gathered together, both chief priests and scribes. And they led him away to their council, and they said, “If you are the Christ, tell us.” But he said to them, “If I tell you, you will not believe, and if I ask you, you will not answer. But from now on the Son of Man shall be seated at the right hand of the power of God.” So they all said, “Are you the Son of God, then?” And he said to them, “You say that I am.” Luke 22:66-70
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. Romans 1:16
Watching Jesus verbally spar with the teachers of the law all through the gospels just makes it harder for us to understand how he could be essentially silent during those last two days before Pilate and Herod and the chief priests. There were so many things he could have said…so many ways he could have embarrassed them!
Doesn’t it seem to you that he had some moral and spiritual obligation to have said more to them? Do you wonder whether any of his followers accused him of being ashamed of the gospel, because he wouldn’t speak up when he could have…when he should have? I mean, he KNEW the truth! Is it ever wrong to just speak the truth? Isn’t this the truth that sets men free? These are the questions rattling around in my head as I read the accounts of Jesus in Court before his crucifixion. And, of course, I ask them satirically, because these are all the same arguments I think we, the church, …
For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins. Matthew 6:14-15
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. Ephesians 4:32
This is the time of year when we, as Christ followers, remember the three events which all happened within a few weeks of each other and which changed our world forever: the crucifixion, the resurrection, and Pentecost. Within the Christian world, different groups have tended to focus more on one of these events or another. In my particular flavor of Christianity, we tend to focus more on the resurrection than on the other two; so much so, in fact, that I sometimes lose the practical significance of either the crucifixion or of Pentecost. This week, as an exercise to help me balance this, I have been thinking a lot about the crucifixion.
In The Gathering this past Sunday, I challenged everyone to consider their daily routine, their life and their world without the crucifixion. What would it look like? What would it be like? It made for some interesting discussion, as we each began to come to grips with what the crucifixion means to us individually.
So, I have also been asking the same question with regard to the entire church. What does the crucifixion mean for us corporately? What would “church” look like without it? For me (so far) the picture is both simple and scary: there would be little forgiveness and there would be little grace. I believe that because, over and over again, scripture draws a clear and convincing connection between God’s forgiveness of us and our forgiveness of each other. Don’t …