The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 4)

After being sealed in the tomb, along with all of our questions and concerns for our world, Jesus rose again, and the stone was rolled away from His grave.

Our God Lives.

Everything that he had said before about His Father in heaven, the Kingdom of God, the temple being rebuilt, and all of his teachings were completely confirmed in his Resurrection.  He is who he said he was.

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So where does that leave our largest looming question from Part 3 – How did the Crucifixion and the Resurrection change our world for the better?

The crucifixion was God, The Son, going to the logical end of our suffering, which is death.  This was the day that the “Revolution Began” as N.T. Wright says. Christ’s initial followers were in mourning over the great loss of losing a God that was also a friend.

The Resurrection was God overcoming all of the suffering, evil, sin, and death in the world in order to breathe life into His people.  The initial followers of Jesus, who were mourning his death, rejoice to see that Christ, their King, is Alive!

The crippling bondage of our suffering is gone through the listening and guiding of a friend who’s been there, and through the decree of a King that there WILL BE a resurrection from our earthly calamity. 

In these things, we realize that we are not alone in our suffering and that there is hope for the future, even in the moments when we can only see darkness.

a9567b09e071dba7053c224794ce804b.jpgWhen we go through trials:

  • It is liberating to have someone to talk to who has experienced something similar to you. That is Jesus.
  • It is empowering to hear the words of an authoritative figure saying, “this too shall pass; this is not the end”, when we can’t see the end of our affliction. That is Jesus.

When others go through trials:

  • The bondage of Humanity’s suffering loosens when followers of Jesus live in this world as citizens in a Kingdom that washes the feet of those that the world rejects.
    • The Church has a real message of understanding, empowerment, and hope to provide, and that message is made tangible through the love, care, service that we show others, and in the words we teach.

But Christians are not always perfect. In fact, we never are perfect.

Terrible things have been done in the name of Christ on a grand scale.

Shameful things have been done by Christ followers when they believe the doors are shut.

Hypocrisy is an unavoidable side-effect of a religion that calls flawed people to follow a flawless God. And more than that, human sins have a way of replacing our devotion to God by convincing us that what we are doing is okay – greed, pride, anger, and other things can all be justified in some way.

 

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“God [is] with us”

That is why when we look back in human history, (which is cataloged by war, victory, and loss more than achievement, art, and compassionate acts) we find hypocrisy…

Hypocrisy makes it hard to see the good, and harder to see the Holy.


But Jesus Christ, through his life, teachings, death, and resurrection, shows us a consistency of character that is unparalleled; a character that is so completely devoted to the “other” that hypocrisy could have never been a charge made against Him.

We can’t be Jesus…but we can try to be more like Him each day, and part of this is through viewing the overlooked positive things about the past; it’s seeing the Christians fighting against Hitler and deciding, THEY are following the ways of Christ…the Nazis are just using the name. 

And we can also become more like Jesus when we begin to realize that a speck in another person’s eye doesn’t matter when we have a plank in our own…It’s harder to accuse others of sin when we realize our own sinfulness.

But when we view ourselves and others as equally in need of a God who redeems and restores, we are more willing to take part in that restoration by washing the feet of another.

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Theological Rabbit-Trail – Christians do not all agree as to what Christ dying actually accomplished:
  1. Some believe that Christ was the perfect sacrifice to the righteous Father for humanity’s sin (Penal Substitutionary Theory)
  2. Some believe that a payment had to be made to the powers of evil in order to free humanity from its grip which started after the Fall of Adam and Eve (Ransom Theory)
  3. Some believe his death and resurrection defeated the bondage of evil [sin, death, earthly governments, satan, demons] on the people of God (Christus Victor Theory)
  4. Some believe that Christ lived and died on this earth in order to restore humanity, and his death and resurrection are meant to be an inspiration for others to follow the ways of God (Moral Influence Theory)
The above popular theories of WHY Christ had to die, and WHAT that accomplished are called “Atonement Theories”, and not all of the atonement theories are present here.
I do not believe that ONE atonement theory, by itself, is completely satisfactory – I believe there is more nuance in the Bible than that in regards to these thoughts. Instead, I think that we should view the death and resurrection of Jesus with multiple theories in mind.
What do you think?

 

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The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 3)

Betrayal is something that many can never get over.

As Jesus prayed in the garden for his suffering to be over, his friend Judas was orchestrating for his suffering to increase.

After Christ was arrested, the same people who shouted Hosanna before, we’re now shouting “Crucify him!”.

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His own disciples, when asked if they were a friend or follower of Jesus, denied their connection to him out of fear.

Jesus was alone in captivity, alone is his torment, and the only ones calling him a King now were Roman soldiers as they portrayed him as a lunatic with a ragtag sceptre, and a painful crown…


He carried his cross to the place where he would die. He watched as nails were driven into his hands.

87674682.jpgAs he was lifted up, not on a throne, but on an execution device for criminals, he saw soldiers gambling over his clothes…he heard the mocking of the crowds…he heard the taunts of one of the other criminals on one side, and the confessions of another on the his other side.

Some saw him as a King of the World…some saw him as the scum of the earth.

On that day, the Jesus that rules over the Passionate Kingdom, died.


Before he died, he proclaimed, “IT IS FINISHED!”.

His life, ministry, and death ALL meant something for this world – every Christian will agree to this.

But what did it do that made the world quantitatively different?

Why do we still experience evil, torment, betrayal, and blood-thirsty crowds?


Jesus knew our pain, our sorrow…our hopeless and endless longing for something to change.

He knew the hurt from betrayal.

But He became a King at a Table amongst friends and a King on a cross amongst enemies.

And he died for both audiences.


But what was finished?


In this time of reflection upon the death of Christ, our questions linger inside of a sealed off tomb.jesus-sealed-tomb.jpg



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The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 2)

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Imagine if Jesus did not go to the cross, but instead overruled the Roman Empire in Judea in the 1st Century.

His rule would last for as long as his earthly body would live, but then the world would resume its chaos just as it had before.  Jesus would be replaced with a lesser king, and then a lesser king – until finally the people of God were left with filthy rulers who claimed a special connection with God.

Wait..doesn’t that sound familiar?  World history is FULL of leaders of nations who claimed to follow Christ and yet were famous for their bloodshed, odd practices, and injustice.

If Jesus had followed the desires of the people of Judea in the first century, nothing about his mission then would make a difference of substance now.

So what does this Passionate Kingdom of Jesus look like?


Freedom To Serve

The ways in which Jesus lets down and exceeds expectations is dramatic.  We know he wasn’t some military leader, but the “Last Supper” scene that is told each year on Maundy Thursday (The Thursday before Easter) is breathtakingly absurd.

The Gospel of Mark tells us that the Last Supper took place on the first day of the season of Passover; on the day in which a lamb was sacrificed for the meal. (Mark 14:12)

This is important because it means that Jesus and his followers, being observant Jews, were meeting together to observe the Passover meal together; a meal with many elements that represented different parts and themes of the Exodus story.

christ-washing-the-feet.jpgChrist began the meal with an act of service.  He washed the feet of his disciples (something usually done by those in lower classes, or servants).  He even washed the feet of Judas Iscariot – the one whom he knew would go off to betray him.

His disciples were taken aback by this odd act of service carried out by their leader – they even protested it! But still, Christ cleaned the feet of his disciples as a way of leading them by example to wash the feet of others – to be a servant to others.

Christ did this to show how the members of his Passionate Kingdom should act towards others in this world; to not remain still, or to just judge from afar, but to bend your knees before your fellow human being in need.

Christ was purposeful in his use of symbolism during this Passover meal with his disciples. When Christ says that the wine is his blood, the bread is his body – The symbolism was incredibly powerful.

The bread of Passover was meant to symbolize the Hebrew people’s time in slavery.

The four glasses of wine used at a Passover meal was used to symbolize God’s four expressions of deliverance in Exodus 6:6-7 – “I will bring out, I will Deliver, I will Redeem, I will Take you as my people” (Summary).

And so, here is a possible way of viewing Christ attributing the bread as his body, and the wine as his blood.

Capture-3.jpgWhen we break the bread, we are to remember that: His crushed body frees us from the slavery and bondage of our sin, the world, and the powers of evil.

When we drink the fruit of the vine, we are to remember that: His blood that was poured out redeems us from our past and marks us as the people of God.

Christ is the continuation and fulfillment of the Exodus account.

He was telling his disciples that He came to free us in a way that Moses couldn’t.  It wasn’t political freedom. It was freedom from the nastiest parts of ourselves, freedom from the most abhorrent wrongs committed by those in our world, and freedom from any true power that the powers of evil could have over us.

Instead of a Throne, A Table

When Christ conveys the rich symbolism of the bread and wine in the Last Supper, he does so as a King who is sitting at a table with those who did not meet the standards of the religious leaders of his day.  He was sitting with a tax collector, some fishermen, and he even sat with someone who he knew would betray him.

At a time when the Roman Empire was expanding by force and oppression of the “different”, Christ’s Passionate Kingdom was foreshadowed as expanding through the display of love and service to the “least of these”.

Instead of a throne overlooking peasants, Christ chose a table amongst friends to communicate the kind of relationship he seeks to have with his people. 

 

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Header & footer image used with permission from Kevin Odette Photography – Check out his other photos at kevinodettephotography.com

 


 

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The Passionate Kingdom – Reflections for Holy Week (Part 1)

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Palm Sunday just happened.

Churches throughout the world preached on Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a Donkey, and on the people laying down Palm branches and coats on his path as they honored him as a King.

 

In our church, the Pastor speaking mentioned that as Jesus was marching into the city from one direction, Pontius Pilate was marching into the city from another direction (Click Here for an Article on that).

I’d like to walk through that story here, and maybe reflect on what happened the day after Jesus walked into the city.


A Tale of Two Kings

The religious season was Passover.

Jewish people flocked to Jerusalem in droves to celebrate the release of Hebrew slaves from the land of Egypt through the power of God.

lambThey remembered the plagues that Moses called down from heaven.  They remembered the blood of a lamb that had to be put on doorposts in order to save them from the justice of God that was coming for the people in power who kept refusing to release the people of God.

And as they prepared themselves for these reflections, and in the midst of this Passover season, they saw something odd…

 

A man named Jesus was marching into the city of Jerusalem on a donkey.  Rumors of Jesus got around – he healed the sick, cast out demons, knew the Torah well, and opinions on who he was were varied – was he a prophet, lunatic, agent of evil…or could he be their Messiah?

 

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Icon from Afon

 

Their attention focused in on the Donkey that he was riding – this was prophesied to be something that the Messiah would do!  And so, the Jewish crowds gathered in suspicious anticipation that this MAY be the King they had been praying for; the King who would free them from Oppression! They laid palm branches and their own cloaks before his feet as they thought…

“Maybe this is the Justice of God coming…Maybe we will be freed from our oppression…”


centurion.jpgOn the other end of the city, the most immediate source of that oppression marched in.  Swords, spears, helmets, and shields were glistening in the sun as this ruler made his grand entry in a show of force and power to meet the possible threats of crime and uprising as these rebellious Hebrew people flocked to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.

This ruler was feared, and some of the Hebrew people were seeking to overthrow his power.  And yet, he marched into a city that was under his domain like a conquering war machine – demanding the people’s respect and allegiance.


The people gave Jesus the pomp and circumstance that Pilate desired.

The people chose to lay down their cloaks – their symbol of status, and protection from the elements – for a rebellious young teacher riding a farm animal.

The people wanted Jesus to overrule Pilate.

Their laying down of palm branches was an act of rebellion against the Empire of Rome!

So why did this crowd of people who shouted “Hosanna!” in an act of desire for deliverance…join the crowds of taunters to shout out “Crucify Him!” a few days later?


One King Knows Best

Jesus did not come to earth to overthrow earthly powers. He was not the great military leader that others expected him to be.  He did not satiate their blood-thirsty palates in carrying out God’s justice on Pontius Pilate and Rome itself.

He was a leader of a movement who did not resist arrest.

He turned the other cheek, and some viewed him as weak because of it.

He was a leader on a donkey with no army behind him.

They rejected Jesus because he wasn’t the King that they wanted.

Jesus was surely a Rebel, but he rebelled against Empire by demanding total allegiance to himself DESPITE earthly rulers; He didn’t need to overthrow an earthly ruler to demand complete allegiance, and have complete power.  And Mark’s Gospel makes it clear that he came to not only turn earthly powers on their heads but to bind the source of the powers of evil themselves – demons and Satan (Mark 3:22-27).

 

And so, Jesus really was the Messiah riding in on a Donkey – declaring that he was there to overthrow power…But his plans were longer lasting than what others expected.

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Questions for Reflections:

  1. Would we consider Jesus to be a weak leader to face today’s problems?
  2. When there is an injustice, how do we normally expect justice to be carried out?
    • How is this similar and different from the ways of Jesus?
  3. Did my line about Jesus demanding COMPLETE allegiance rub you the wrong way?
    • What would this mean politically?  What would this mean personally?

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