a Sermon for Good Friday
Text: John 18:1-19:42
By what authority?
There’s a telling moment toward the beginning of Holy Week that explains the drama that is unfolding. A moment that involves a simple enough pair of questions:
By what authority are you doing these things?
Who gave you this authority to do them?
It is the very crux of the story.
For us, the question is simple. By what authority? GOD. GOD has given Jesus authority because, well, Jesus is God. Or at the very least, GOD’s authority is found through Jesus. That certainly is a variation of the answer Jesus would give if He gave answers rather than responded with new questions.
But the Temple authorities, the people asking Jesus this question on Tuesday of Holy Week, aren’t thinking like that. They are thinking about people. Which person authorized this? Who are you to be teaching us? Where are your credentials, Jesus?
Their response to Jesus is clearly based in fear. Each step along the way, Jesus proves to be smarter, wittier, and quicker than they are. He is more magnetic than they are, and the people have fallen in love with Him. They love Him and they love His message. So the Temple authorities respond, not from a place of theology or tradition, but of pure politics. Jesus is a genuine threat to their authority.
At the same time, Rome is beginning to get antsy. Jesus is causing a problem for them, too. Problems need solutions. So they find a way to take care of their problem, permanently.
It would be disingenuous not to mention that Jesus started it all. He is the one who entered Jerusalem in a political way. He is the one who made a big political statement at the Temple the next day, overturning the tables and driving out the moneychangers and dove-sellers. He is the one who chose to expose the hypocrisy of the Temple authorities by shaming them in front of their own people.
Jesus was clearly making a political statement. It is no wonder that his adversaries responded from a political position.
Each of Jesus’s actions reveal His sense of authority. That it is not His will, but GOD’s. But Jesus has a very different idea of how to express authority.
For Jesus, it is not about ruling the people, but communing with them. It is not about reinforcing GOD’s rules of behavior, but witnessing GOD’s actions in our midst. It is about living the way GOD calls us to live, creating the blessed community that GOD has revealed in the world and in Scripture, and working toward the great Shalom, the great sort, the great restoration of the world.
Jesus is preaching justice and new life. Jesus is preaching food for the hungry and sacrifice for the wealthy. Jesus is preaching hope for tomorrow and action for today.
For Jesus, the Kingdom isn’t about who is in charge, because that is not up for debate. And He is quick to remind them that He isn’t the answer, either. Truly, the authority isn’t human at all. The authority isn’t rules or a book. The authority is GOD and everything else isn’t.
The faith of Christ
Today, Jesus has died. God is dead. And we will do what we do when we’re afraid. We scatter and desert Jesus. We run away. Away from our fears and our problems. Our anxieties and our losses. Our pain and our conflict. We run. And we leave behind the mother to watch her son hang there.
We abandon our faith for certainty. And we know without a shred of evidence to the contrary that up there on that cross is not really GOD, for GOD is untouchable. And up there on our crosses are certainly the deserving dead.
The authority of Jesus’s life is GOD, but not His death. The authority of every life that comes into this world is GOD’s. And for far too many, the authority of their deaths are on us. On our negligence and bigotry and cowardice. On our need for certainty and blame. On our obsession with rules and outrageous systems of injustice.
The authority of Jesus, however, is life. And that authority remains, even in death.
Today and tomorrow, we resist the urge to desert Jesus; to run away, to scatter—for we are already scattered. Instead, we are here as witnesses. Witnesses to the wonders Jesus has done. Witnesses to the love that has invaded and transformed our lives. Witnesses to the work Jesus has done.
And we pledge to live the way Jesus has taught, act the way Jesus has shown, pray the way Jesus prayed, and we live out the Kingdom as if the Good News Jesus proclaimed was worth bringing here. Living or dead, Jesus has brought us here and defined the very nature of our faith.
For faith is not faith if it is dependent on Jesus. Today, all we have is faith. And each other.
More Good Friday
Here is last year’s sermon about the cross, which is still one of my personal favorites. And check out the one from 2012 which deals with how we choose responsibility for the crucifixion. If you haven’t noticed, something about Good Friday brings out the intellectual side of me…