Friday, April 6, 2007

The Objects of Holy Week: Torches, Swords, and Nails

(A Good Friday devotion based on Isaiah 52:13-53:12 & John 18:1-19)

Now the hurtful objects come out.

There were the torches and lanterns that the Roman soldiers and the temple police and the chief priests and the Pharisees brought to help them find Jesus. It looks like a mob scene and the mob has come to find Jesus. They do so with the help of Judas, the traitor. Notice, though, that Jesus was not hard to find. He was not trying to hide. When the mob arrived, Jesus took control, stepping forward and identifying himself.

Let there be no mistake about what their torches revealed when their light flickered and shone upon Jesus. Perhaps the light was not clear and they could not see him well, but Jesus himself left no doubt as to who he was. When they said they were looking for Jesus of Nazareth, he said “I am he.” What he literally said was “I am,” which was a statement of divine revelation. When he said it, the mob had to step back and fall before him. He told them again who he was; it is almost as if he was ordering them to take him and to leave his disciples alone.

Did you bring your torch tonight? Are you looking for Jesus? If so, for what are you looking? The authorities were looking that night for a threat of which they wanted to rid themselves. Do you think that Jesus is a threat to you? He may be. He certainly can be a threat to our way of life, to our self-centeredness, to our illusions of control, and to our status of being “at ease in Zion.” Like those people who came to arrest Jesus, you may want to get Jesus out of your life. You can’t do that, though. They thought they could; they even briefly thought that they had succeeded. But they were wrong. As long as Jesus wants to be there as a challenge to you he will be there.

I hope you are not thinking of Jesus as a threat. I hope that you brought your torch because you are seeking him out of a deep sense of need. I hope that you brought your torch because you want to find him because of who he is and because of what he can do in your life. Regardless of why you are looking for him, you will find him. He is not hiding. He wants to be found. And once you find him he can and will do great things in your life.

There were the weapons that the members of the arresting mob brought with them. There is tremendous irony in this, because Jesus is consistently presented in the Gospels as being the Prince of Peace. He taught the way of peace both with his words and with his actions. When he was crucified, he would reveal just how literally and radically he meant it when he said that we should turn the other cheek and that we should love and forgive our enemies. So it was ironic that they would bring swords and other weapons. It was also unnecessary because Jesus, who was in control of the situation, would go with the mob because he wanted to, because it was part of the fulfillment of the journey on which had long ago embarked, not because he was forced to go.

Not all the weapons were in the hands of the mob. Simon Peter had a sword, too, and he used it. He drew it and cut off the ear of one Malchus, the high priest’s slave. Jesus, though, told him to put it away. “Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?” he asked. Peter’s desire to protect his beloved Teacher is understandable, but his zeal was misplaced and inappropriate. I probably don’t even need to remind you that later, Peter’s courage was not so evident. Besides, Jesus was determined to go the sacrificial way that he was called to go and violence was very much out of place in his disciples’ response.

Did you bring your sword tonight? Did you come, like the mob, thinking that you somehow had it in your power to exercise some kind of control over Jesus? Then put it away, because you don’t. Jesus isn’t afraid of it. Did you come, like Peter, thinking that you needed to protect Jesus and maybe yourself? You don’t. Sometimes we have a misguided zeal. We want to protect Jesus from the perceived slings and arrows that our culture fires at him. Or maybe we are at least as interested in protecting ourselves as we are in protecting Jesus. If that’s you, then put your sword away. Live the kind of life that Jesus lived. Show his love, his grace, his peace, and his mercy to all of those around you. Put away your sword. Jesus doesn’t need it and he doesn’t want it.

There were the nails that fastened Jesus to the cross. Jesus was tried and sentenced to be crucified. He was taken out to Golgotha where he was crucified between two thieves. The nails tore his body. He shed his blood. He gave up his spirit.

Real human beings, real flesh-and-blood Roman soldiers, nailed Jesus to the cross. The crucifixion crew took their implements of death, their hammers and their nails, with them.

Did you bring your nails with you tonight? Yes, you certainly did. You did because all of us had a hand in the crucifixion of Jesus. You did because it is our sin that put him on that cross. You did because it was our guilt that hung with him there. You did because it was our death that he died.

Still, even though we are responsible, he willingly died for us. He loves us that much. It wasn’t finally the nails that held him to the cross; it was his love and grace that held him to the cross. And it is that same love and grace that can take away our sin, our guilt, and our death.

What did you bring with you tonight? Whatever you brought, you can take Jesus away with you. Will you?

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