April 18, 2014
As a member’s 8 year old niece asked, “Why did Jesus have to die?”
This is an ancient as well as a modern question. Why didn’t Jesus just lay low in Galilee, far from Pilate and the religious authorities, and spend quiet days telling sweet parables and encouraging people to be nice to each other?
+Why did he go to Jerusalem at the Passover, which is the story of God liberating his enslaved people?
+Why did he ride a donkey imitating King David and fulfilling the prophecy of Zechariah?
+Why did he drive the moneychangers out of the Temple?
It shocks us today because we were raised with Jesus, meek and mild, who loves the little children and carries lambs on his shoulders.
We have this shallow picture of Jesus because we have become confused about Jesus’s purpose and mission.
Have you noticed that the central creeds of the faith—The Apostles and the Nicene–say nothing about the ministry of Jesus. They tell of his birth from the Virgin Mary and they tell of his death under Pontius Pilate, but there is nothing about his teachings, healings, exorcisms, and confrontations with the religious leaders.
So maybe we can be excused for being confused about the purpose of his ministry.
We’ve grown up with the idea that what matters is the cross and Easter, which tell us that when we die our souls will float off to heaven, leaving behind the suffering and lost.
If Jesus’ ministry doesn’t matter why should ours?
But when we look at the four gospels we find the answer to the question, why Jesus had to die: the story Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell is that from day one, the day of his baptism, Jesus announces and inaugurates God’s Kingdom on earth as it is in heaven. The best book on seeing Jesus in a holistic way is anything my N. T. Wright, bishop and Biblical scholar–in this context see especially Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church. I’ve used his ideas throughout.
Every parable is intended to awaken us out of sleep so we might see what God is doing through Jesus. God is drawing the prodigal sons and daughters back into the Kingdom, a kingdom that starts small as a mustard seed but grows into a huge tree in which even the birds have a home. The Kingdom of God is like the pearl of great price and the treasure buried in a field, which means it too is here and now and worth all our money and effort in this life!
And Jesus’ numerous healings proclaim God’s kingdom is breaking into the world precisely to heal the sick, forgive sins, and drive out evil spirits.
This is what Jesus does and then he trains his disciples to do the same thing: to take on the evil in this world, not through violence, but through healing and sacrificial love.
God through Jesus is invading the kingdoms of this world and the Principalities and Powers of this present darkness are not happy to see afflictions healed and sins forgiven. How do you control people if they are well and at peace with their neighbors?
The Powers that be push back but Jesus does not react in fear and violence, but takes his mission all the way to Jerusalem, where sits the temple, the House of God, and Pontius Pilate, the representative of Caesar, to establish God’s sovereignty over both—and everything in between.
Jesus’ death is not something different from his teaching and healings—but the deepest expression of them. The Crucified God dies to save us all.
Jesus heals lepers by laying his hands on them and he defeats the evil of the world by giving his body to it. He goes the extra mile and turns the other cheek, embodying the mercy of his Father in Heaven.
He has come to set us free—not just from this life but for this life.
He comes to set us free from sin and death, not so when we die our souls can float up to heaven and leave the suffering on earth.
He dies and rises again to break the power of evil so that the New Creation may fully come on earth as it is in heaven.
Evil does its worst yet the Crucified God takes in that evil and transmutes it into medicine to heal creation.
So Jesus healing the woman with the issue of blood, Jesus forgiving the woman taken in adultery is the same work he does on the cross—freeing creation from sin and death.
As an individual I look on the cross and by faith know that Jesus has also died for me and forgiven my sins… so I can now forgive and serve others.
As a members of our nation we look on the cross and by faith know that we are set free from the worship of military and economic might and are now empowered to colonize earth, not with our high tech violence, but with the Suffering Love of Christ.
This is Jesus’ work. Jesus is God’s gift for us. We are all prodigal sons and daughters and Jesus enters our poverty and humiliation to bring us back to our true selves, our true home in God’s Kingdom. And he bids us to follow him forgiving our enemies and serving all who suffer.
Jesus lives and dies to heal the whole creation and every person in it, body, mind, soul, and spirit.
Jesus casts our demons and descends to death and into hell on Holy Saturday to exhaust evil everywhere including in my heart and yours.
Why does Jesus have to die?
Jesus lives and dies and is raised to reveal the heart of God and to bring us into that heart now and forever!
“We adore you, O Christ, and we bless you, because by your holy cross you have redeemed the world.”