Monday, April 9, 2012

Good Friday Sermon (John 19:5)

Behold the man!

Pontius Pilate said these words as he presented Jesus to the Jewish people. The soldiers had flogged and beaten Jesus. They had put a robe on him, a crown of thorns on his head. Pilate said he found no basis for the charges against him. Yet here stands Jesus, dressed up in a robe and crown, looking like a king. If the Jews saw him like that, they would go nuts! And then Pilate has the nerve to say that he finds no fault. Such contempt for both Jesus and the Jewish people. What a clever, clever Roman you are, Pilate. Because he doesn't believe Jesus is God.

The world did not know him, as John chapter one tells us. Jesus came into the world and it didn't know him. Friday is all about the world. Sunday is all about the truth. Friday is all about lies, the lies that the world tells itself, to avoid believing.

Behold the man!

Remember the Mel Gibson movie, “The Passion of the Christ?” It's all about “beholding the man.” Sure we see Jesus rise at the end, for a brief second. But the movie is all about beholding the crucified man and about all the horrible things the world can do to a man when it thinks that he is just a man. I asked a friend of mine if she had seen Mel Gibson's movie. She said: I don't want to see a man get tortured for two hours. She didn't believe in Jesus' divinity. She didn't know him. Jesus could be standing in front of her now, and all she would see is a man.

Behold the man!

This is Good Friday. Tonight we see what the world did to the man, Jesus. Tonight we celebrate his humanity. Tonight in our passion reading, the Jews tell Pilate that Jesus claimed to be the son of God. And Pilate got very afraid. Why are you superstitious now, Pilate? He's just a man, right? Behold the man, you said. Do you regret dressing Jesus up like that? Pilate even tries to free Jesus and the Jewish leaders blackmail him. And the whole time, he keeps insulting everybody: continually mocking the Jews and Jesus by calling Jesus a king. He even puts it in writing on a sign above Jesus' head on the cross. All this infuriates the crowd. But still Pilate does not believe. Behold the man, not the God. Beat him, torture him, taunt him. Crucify him. He's just a man, so why not do these things?

So, the world didn't know him as a king. They thought he was just a man. There's another way the world doesn't know him: thinking that he's just a God. I have a friend who says that Jesus played a trick. He pretended to die. He was God, he says, so he didn't really die. He was God. God cannot die. He pretended to die. It was a trick.


If he was only God, he wouldn't get thirsty. Jesus was a man. Fully human. He did not pretend to die. He died. He was killed. Dead. His body was flogged. He was beaten. He was hung on a cross. He suffocated to death. He died. No trick. He died.

That's all we have tonight. That's all we have until Sunday. Luckily we know what happens. We know that Jesus died. No trick. He died because there had to be a sacrifice. We were doomed. Eternal death for all of us. That was the only option. But God does not want that. God wants us to live. So there has to be a sacrifice. All of humanity must be sacrificed. All of sinful humanity. Or! Or one perfect man. Jesus was that man.

Behold the man.

Crucified. Died. Buried. He is dead tonight. No trick. Not a game on us foolish mortals. Not a sly wink, and when our backs are turned, Jesus runs and hides. They pierced his side and he didn't flinch. He is dead. No life is in him. He breathes not. They carry his lifeless body to a tomb, put him in the darkness, and roll a stone in front of the door. Jesus is dead. He has been sacrificed. We can now live, because he has died. Justice is satisfied. The scales that justice holds are balanced. They are even. All is now right that was once wrong.

And Sunday, “dead Jesus” comes back to life. No trick. He was dead. As dead as the nails that pierced his hands. But Sunday we'll see that Jesus lives. He does not bring himself back. He's not hibernating. He's not a butterfly coming out of a cocoon. He was dead. And we know that the Father is the one who will raise him. Is that a parlor trick? If it is, then we should consider ourselves lucky. Because the Father does it again and again. And the Father will do it again and again. Jesus was the first, and we are all the rest.

This was the way to beat death. This was the only way to satisfy God's sense of justice. And yet he loves us so much that he wanted us to live. Forever. With him. That's why Jesus had to die. That's why that perfect, sinless man had to die. My friend who refused to watch the Passion is right. He had to be a man. Only a man could be tortured for hours in the place of all men. So Pilate is right. He had to be a man. Only a man could die in the place of all men. Jesus was fully man.

Behold the man.

But this is just Friday, and we'll find out on Sunday that he wasn't just a man. He was God. In three days we'll say “Behold God.” Behold the one who was and is and is to come. Behold the first and the last. Behold the Alpha and the Omega. Behold the one who holds the keys of death. But it's Friday, so all we can say right now is:

Behold the man.