Sermon, 22nd Sunday after Pentecost, The Story week 26
Isaiah 53:1-6, Psalm 130, Romans 6:1-11
The Hour of Darkness
36 Then Jesus went with his disciples to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to them, ‘Sit here while I go over there and pray.’ 37 He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’
39 Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.’
40 Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. ‘Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?’ he asked Peter. 41 ‘Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.’
42 He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.’
43 When he came back, he again found them sleeping, because their eyes were heavy. 44 So he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, saying the same thing.
45 Then he returned to the disciples and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and resting? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!’
When you are stripped down to wearing only a thin linen gown, lying on your back looking up at the ceiling bathed in the white light of florescent lights, being wheeled along a corridor on a gurney, knowing that in a just a few moments you will be unconscious of 5 -10 people who will centred on cutting open your own body for better or for worse, there is a special place that you find yourself in – a place of complete trust in the Saviour.
When you wait outside the doors leading to the large area in which you and several hundred others will go through to participate in 2-3 hours of mind-numbing examination, that to a large extent will complete your 12-13 years of childhood as a school student, and significantly determine what choices you have in your dreams and visions for career and contribution to the world and your own life, you find yourself in that same place; the place of complete trust and reliance on the Saviour.
When you come to the mind that this person is the person with whom you can share your life for your whole life, no matter what happens, knowing that plenty will happen, and you prepare to pop the question to him or her, as a disciple of Jesus you find yourself in this same ‘sweet spot” – total reliance and trust in this Saviour.
When you make that decision to bring an end to the income and the meaning and reward of a life-long experience and love for your working life and face 20+ years of having to survive well in retirement, you find yourself trusting your Saviour to get you through.
When big moments of challenge in life happen, why can you trust him? Why, as a baptised child of God do you find yourself with this strange inner peace that calms fear, brings quiet courage and bears witness to the love and grace of the Saviour to those around you?
I think I know why…
I will use the words of Brennan Manning, ex-Catholic Franciscan monk, self-confessed alcoholic, divorcee and man who proclaimed the ‘furious longing of God’ for sinners…
“The death of Jesus Christ on the cross is his greatest single act of unwavering trust in his Abba Father’s love. Jesus plunged into the darkness of death, not fully knowing what awaited him, confident that somehow, some way, his Abba would vindicate him.
Twenty years earlier, Jesus spoke these words to his panicked parents, “I must be where my Abba is:. Surely these words must have surfaced in Mary’s mind as she stood at the foot of the cross watching her son die.
And then comes a moment in Jesus’ life that is more shrouded in mystery, denser with misunderstanding and incomprehensibility than perhaps any other. Jesus, the eternally beloved Son of the Father, is abandoned by his Abba. Sin appears to have it way over the entire world. For the first time since he was a baby,, Jesus feels himself to be without the sustaining presence of his Abba, an inner bleakness of forsaken aloneness….
Eloi, eloi. Lama sabachthani?
My God, My God. Why have you abandoned me?”
(Brennan Manning, The furious longing of God, 2009, David C. Cook, p 49-51)
And that friends, is why we can trust him. Because, despite our small faith, our easy giving in to fear, our small vision, our natural self-focus and chasing after just about everything else in order to escape, deny, minimise or control our life and its suffering, in huge compassion and love for each of us, Jesus has gone to the depths of our loneliness, abandonment and fear and trusted his Father in it and through it. Jesus has willingly entered this moment of complete darkness for his beloved world. As he willingly entered the darkest moment the world has ever and will ever see, he showed us the way through all darkness to light – his light.
What is the way? What is the way through your hopes for marriage, for children, for family, for a full and fun life?
What is the way through your uncertainty about the world, its brutality, its evil, its terror, its violence, its oppression and injustice?
What is the way through our worries about church, future, buildings, children, families, schools, caring for our community?
What is the way through our aging and dying, our ailments, our suffering, our pain – be it emotional, psychological, physical?
“I am the way.”
And who brings the truth to bear? Who brings the God-honest trust about who we are and what is good and what is beneficial and best as we struggle in the darkness and delight in the joys?
Who brings us crashing to the ground when we get too big for our britches and lifts us up with a gentle hand when we are brought low by it all?
Who is our solid ground when the rest of the place is flooding and shifting and has just about got us off balance and in peril?
“I am the truth.”
And who takes us by the hand and leads us through all the challenges, all the changes, all the catastrophes, and even through the last enemy, the last great darkness, the last Jordan we all have to cross from prime Minister to pauper?
“I am the life.”
The bread of life who sustains us, the light of life who lights up our hearts and minds, the Good Shepherd of the flock who leads us to still waters and peace-filled places, the one who was before Abraham and before you but also there at your Baptism is the one to trust with your life – especially when you are at your end. This is where he becomes clearer and wonderfully present.
It is because of his presence and promises that we have a promised and preferred future of joy. Because of his defeat of darkness and his lifting of even death’s dark vale over us in his cross and tomb, we can pick up that cross, whatever it is at the moment and hard though it is, and follow his voice. We don’t have to fear the cross, leave the cross, deny the cross or worry about any cross we need to bear. Jesus has the darkest cross and the greatest victory on the cross.
Evil is undone. Death is killed. Satan is dispelled to the back room where he can now only mimic. He is like a frill neck lizard. he puffs himself up to make himself looks fearsome as he tries to dominate and control us, but when it is all said and done, for us who have been buried with Jesus and raised with him in our baptism to now, he is just a lizard.
So, friend, in Jesus the Saviour, the one sacrificed for you so that you can truly live in the pleasure and the pain with truth, joy, love, patience, resistance, and above all great self-sacrificing love for others, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.
In the living of the cross and the comfort, trust your Abba as Jesus trusted his Abba for his Father is our Father too.
Chapter 26, the hour of darkness
Timeless Truth: it is finished!
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
Knowing that His time had come, Jesus spent His last few hours with His disciples. The Passover was approaching so they prepared a customary feast. But this was no ordinary Passover meal; Jesus was about to change history. At His “last supper,” He taught the disciples a significant lesson by washing their feet. He even washed Judas’ feet, although He knew Judas would betray Him. Then Jesus took the unleavened bread and cup of wine from the Passover meal and instituted the New Covenant, the Covenant that Jeremiah and Ezekiel had promised centuries ago. Aware of His God-ordained destiny, Jesus clarified His relationship to the Father so that His disciples might understand what lay ahead. He promised them that an advocate, the Spirit, would come and help after His own departure. After a lengthy prayer to the Father for His glorification, Jesus led this rag-tag group through the night to the Garden of Gethsemane.
What Peter lacked in judgment, he made up for in zeal. Peter pledged to even die with his Lord rather than abandon Him. But Jesus knew that He would go through His ordeal alone. He told Peter that he would disown Him three times before dawn. Jesus’ anguish for what was to come drove Him to agonizing prayer. Peter and his companions quickly exchanged fidelity for forty winks while Jesus prayed, searching to see if there was any way to avoid what was awaiting Him. He answered His own prayer when He acknowledged that He would do God’s will and not His own. Then Jesus’ betrayer and conspirators arrived to arrest Him. They escorted Him to Caiaphas’ kangaroo court. No one could find legitimate charges against Jesus until He affirmed His identity—Messiah, the Son of God. The Sanhedrin charged Him with blasphemy and sentenced Him to death. The religious henchmen beat and belittled their legitimate King. Watching from a safe distance, Peter denied knowing Jesus three times before the rooster crowed. Stunned and ashamed, he left in bitter humiliation. Judas, in a sudden moment of remorse, returned the blood money and opted for a rope.
Meanwhile, Pilate was stuck between a rock and a hard place. The Jews wanted Jesus crucified, and he wanted Caesar’s sustained support. What’s a governor of a no-name, backwater region of Rome to do? Interrogating Jesus himself, he found no legitimate charge to pin on this man. Yet the pressure was escalating from the crowd as they threatened to turn him in to Caesar as a rebel sympathizer. Pilate’s thug soldiers clothed, beat, and crowned Jesus with contempt before they marched Him to the cross.
Crucifixion was an exceptionally cruel way to die. The public execution drew hordes of scornful onlookers. Their jeers challenged Jesus to save Himself. They failed to grasp that Jesus was there to save them. One of the two criminals crucified with Jesus, however, got the picture. His faith secured his place in paradise. Even the creation itself testified to the enormity of this event. As sin overcame Jesus, darkness eclipsed the whole land. For the first time in eternity, Jesus was forsaken by His Father.
“It is finished,” He proclaimed. At that very moment, the temple curtain was torn, an earthquake split rocks and tombs were opened. It was finished. What could compel the Son of God to endure such torture? Finishing. Finishing the work that the Father sent Him to do. The debt of all sinners was put on Jesus, who alone could pay it in full. God is holy, loving, and just. His love compels Him to pursue His people, but His holiness requires justice for sin. The mob of mockers witnessed a Lower Story drama. A few faithful disciples witnessed a Lower Story injustice. But God witnessed the Upper Story culmination of a plan prepared before the foundation of the world. It was no surprise. It was justice. And it was finished.
Icebreaker Question: Which of the unusual events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus do you find most compelling, and why?
- In what ways does Jesus’ preparation and celebration of his final Passover meal parallel the original Passover? What does this teach us about the purpose of Jesus’ death? (Review Exodus 12:1-13 and 21-27, John 1:29, and 1 Corinthians 5:7-8.)
- What was Jesus trying to teach the disciples when he washed their feet? What are some ways you can wash each others’ feet as a small group?
- Review Jeremiah 31:34 and Ezekiel 36:26-28, where the prophets describe the new covenant. What are some of the characteristics of the new covenant listed in these verses? How does Jesus fulfill these promises?
- Look back at pages 369-370. How would you describe Jesus’ special relationship to the Father?
- How is the Spirit described on p. 370? How have you experienced the Holy Spirit in your life?
- What can we learn about Jesus and about prayer from the Garden of Gethsemane (p. 372-373)?
- Compare Judas with Peter after each betrayed Jesus (p. 375). How can you tell the difference between remorse and repentance?
- The Sanhedrin could find no evidence to charge Jesus (p. 374). (Jewish Law, Deuteronomy 17:6, required two witnesses.) Three times Pilate declared, “I find no basis for a charge against him” (p. 376-377). Why is this important? Why was Jesus crucified?
- Discuss the irony of the statement, “He saved others but He can’t save himself.” How do you feel that such a price was paid for you?
- Compare Jesus as King to Israel’s and Judah’s former kings and the religious leaders of Jesus’ day to Israel’s religious leaders in the past. Why did Israel need King Jesus?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.
Chapter 27, the resurrection
Journal your answers to these questions as you read through the chapter this week. You may wish to read one day and journal the next, or spread the questions over the whole week.
- Seventy-five pounds of spices and aloes was an unusually large amount to use to prepare Jesus’ body for burial. It was enough to bury a royal king. How do you suppose Nicodemus changed over time in his relationship with Jesus and what might account for that change (p. 381-382)? (See p. 326-327, John 3:1-18.) When in your own life have you experienced the greatest change in your faith and what accounted for it?
- What were Mary Magdalene, Mary, and Salome going to do that early morning and what does it indicate they expected about the resurrection (p. 382)?
- As Jesus talked with the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, they later reported that “our hearts [were] burning within us while He talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us” (p. 385, Luke 24:13-35)? Has your heart ever burned with insight into God’s word? What did you learn?
- Jesus in essence explained the Upper Story to the downcast disciples on the road to Emmaus and to the Eleven (p. 384-386). How have you been changed by watching the thread of the Upper Story weave throughout the Old Testament?
- The night before He was crucified, Jesus taught Peter and the other disciples about abiding in Him (John 15:1-5). How does this teaching relate to the fishermen’s miraculous catch and Jesus’ call on Peter’s life (p. 386-388)? Reflecting on these events, how do you know that you can carry out the mission God has on your life?
- What does Jesus’ Great Commission on the mountain in Galilee require of all His disciples (p. 388)? What are the various ways you can obey this command?