The Crucified King of the Jews
John 12: 20-36 John 19: 16b-22.
Imagine that you wanted the Messiah to arrive.
Imagine that you wanted the Messiah to come and talk to you and guide you and be with you and help you.
And then the Messiah came and he wasn't the Messiah that you wanted?
Pilate wrote a notice and had it put on the cross, ’Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.’
Pilate was making a very political point here. Pilate wasn’t acknowledging that Jesus was who he claimed to be. Pilate didn’t care who Jesus was. Pilate wanted everyone to know what happened to anyone, ANYONE, who tried to defy the Roman Empire, any upstart that thought he could raise an army, any political leader who thought they could turn the people.
Anyone who was against Rome would face the same end.
I don't even think Pilate cared whether Jesus was innocent or guilty. It didn't really matter, what mattered was that he was an example.
His body was exposed for all to see, and everyone would know what had happened as they passed by on the road, because there it was ’Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews.’ Not only for the locals to read in Hebrew, but for the Romans and the Greeks to read. If you could read you knew one of those languages.
And as people passed they would read the sign and they would make up their own story.
Here was some upstart who thought he was someone. He thought he could change the world, thought he could create a nation for himself, thought he was greater than Rome. And when you think that way this is what happens to you.
Now there were Jews who were happy that this had happened to Jesus. As far as they were concerned Jesus deserved what he got.
And some of these Jews would believe in the Messiah, they just didn't believe that Jesus was THE Messiah. He didn’t act the way they thought a Messiah should, didn't talk to the right people, have the right customs, didn’t wear the right clothes and didn't have the right background.
They wanted a Messiah to come and when the right Messiah came then they wanted him to be well received and treated. And here was Pilate telling everyone that their Messiah HAD COME and was being killed.
That wasn’t right. Get the sign changed, let the people know that this Jesus only claimed to be the king of the Jews, he wasn't really the king of the Jews. That way they could tell the people to wait for the right Messiah to come, not that they had had the Messiah killed.
They had had the Messiah with them, they could talk to the Messiah, they could touch the Messiah, they could argue with the Messiah, they could eat with the Messiah. And they didn't want him...not that one.
On this day I think it would do us good to reflect on that.
What do we do when the Messiah comes to us and he is not the Messiah we want?
We have cancer, or our spouse has cancer, or our child has cancer, or our friend has cancer.
And it doesn't go away.
And along comes the Messiah and he promises to be with us through-out the illness.
But that’s not the Messiah we want.
We want the Messiah, that when we were sitting in front of the doctor, the doctor tells us that there was no cancer, that the shadow was completely innocent.
We want the Messiah who cured the cancer and that made sure the treatment was so successful that it shrunk it down and destroyed it.
Our good friends are arguing all the time. They are such a nice couple. They used to come in and tell you how they met and how happy they made each other. But now all they do is scream and shout at each other. They are even talking about divorce. And the children are going to be devastated.
We pray about it and we want the Messiah to be there, we want the Messiah to get involved. We want the Messiah to come and bring reconciliation, to bring caring and love into that situation.
But what if that Messiah doesn't come?
What if the Messiah that comes is the one who is willing to sit with each of them in their pain. The one that spends years with each of them as they heal slowly from the wounds until they find new partners, or are comfortable just being on their own. Or is willing to be with them and their bitterness till the day they die.
We look at the news and we see the horror of Syria. And we pray for peace.
We want the Messiah who moves great leaders to get involved and change the situation, those that will help the country build itself up and create cities again, will create gardens and parks where children play and schools and hospitals are safe places instead of targets.
We do not want the Messiah that weeps over the city as it is destroyed. We do not want the Messiah who holds the child in his arms at it dies.
Palm Sunday is a weird day.
Too often we make the mistake of looking at it through Resurrection Glasses.
We know there is a happy ending.
We know next Sunday we will be celebrating Easter.
And because of that I think we miss the message.
We think the message is, ‘Hold on, just hold on because there is a happy ending. Everything will be all right. The Messiah will come and save the day.’
I think that’s a good message. And I think that is the long term message of the Bible. That in the end everything will be OK. There will be a resurrection. There will be a heaven. There will be peace and joy and reunion.
And I think we need to be reminded of that message again and again and again.
But I don't think that that is the right message for today.
I think there are too many that are so caught up with the fear that they are scared to believe that message,
so caught up with the pain that they can’t believe in that message,
so caught up in the betrayal and the anger and the frustration that they can’t believe that message,
so caught up with the destruction that is their life that they can’t believe that message.
I think when people are at that place it is not a message they can hear.
Maybe one day, but not this day.
And until they can be in a place where they can hear that message they need another message.
The need the message of today.
I had an experience while waiting for my angiogram after the heart attacks. I was sent to Edinburgh and was stuck in a room with three other guys who I had never met.
There was this guy diagonally across from me called Patrick who wasn't a church type. He spent his time swearing a lot when he described stuff. He had already had 6 heart attacks and when he described the life he led I wasn't surprised. He wasn't exactly the type of person who would go on a low saturated diet.
He was the type of guy who when he got a stent in would behave himself for a week, then he would feel he deserved a treat and would get a pie supper and a few cans and just the one cigarette because what harm could one cigarette do.
He had already got numerous stents and had a pacemaker AND a defibrillator in his chest.
He didn't look at an angiogram as a sign that something serious had happened to him it was more of an annual check-up.
Here’s the thing. When the consultant comes in and tells me this would happen or that would happen and reassures me that it would all be fine I nodded at their expertise but I didn't trust them. And why didn't I trust them? Because they had never lay in the bed where I was.
As soon as they left I would turn to Patrick and when Patrick said, ‘It doesn't hurt, you just lie there and get their cold feeling down your arm.’ I trusted him, because he had already gone through it.
When he said, ‘The bit afterwards is awful because you need to rush to the toilet all the time.’ I believed him, because he had been through it.
Though for complete accuracy I should point out that those weren't the exact words he used. The words he used were a bit ruder.
Though one of the funniest things I have ever seen was his face three days later when he found out I was a minister and he had been using all those words.
So...the message of today.
It is not a message of good news tomorrow.
The message of today is UNTIL...
I will be with you until...
Here’s the strange truth.
The strength truth is that when we get to heaven we won't need Jesus.
The strange truth is that when we have our happy ever after we won't need Jesus.
When everything is fine and perfect and we are the best we can be, we won't need the Messiah.
But these passages tell us that until then...he will be with us.
There is no place of darkness that he will not wait with us.
There is no shadow so long that he won't stay with us.
On that day long ago, there were two men dying on a cross.
We don't know what brought them there.
We don't know if they were guilty or innocent.
We do know that it was a slow and agonising death.
We do know that it was a death that was regarded as cursed.
It was regarded as such a painful death that God himself must have abandoned you. You must have done some great evil for God to allow you to suffer that way.
And where was the Messiah...was he watching them, was he advising them, was he mentoring them?
He was beside them, going through what they were going through.
Being there with them for as long as it took.
Until the suffering was finished, he would be suffering with them.
Until the pain was gone, he would be going through the pain with them.
Until the agony was passed, he would be going through the agony with them.
Next week, next week, we celebrate the happy ever after.
But until then, until then, we know that whatever we are going through, the Messiah is going through with us.
May that be our comfort, may that be our strength.