John 12:23-33 Trinity as commentary of John’s Gospel

Reading: John 12:23-33

Today our Sunday school class discussed a passage in John where a voice from heaven. There are other similar passages in the gospels such as when Jesus is Baptized, and a voice comes from heaven saying: “This is my Son in whom I am well pleased.” and of course at the transfiguration where the voice from heaven instructs the disciples Peter, James and John to listen to Jesus.

In the gospels, Jesus talks about the Father and the Holy Spirit. There are times that a voice comes out of heaven that is understood to be the Father, and at the Baptism the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus, like a dove. When we read the Gospels, especially John, we hit these sections that show a relationship between the Son and the Father; and us readers have to figure out what to do with them.

Today is also the Sunday where pastors everywhere take a vacation, and let somebody else preach the sermon. You see, today is Trinity Sunday where it is traditional to preach a sermon that takes on the doctrine of the Trinity. The surest way to profess heresy is to stand up and try to explain the Trinity. When I started studying Christian theology in an academic setting, and I read the definitions of Trinitarian Theology, along side list of condemned heretical views I quickly realized that just about every metaphor I heard explaining the Trinity had been condemned. A Lutheran pastor, Hans Fiene, made a rather silly video that demonstrates why long term pastors dump this task on whoever is available in the pulpit supply list.

I like this video. This video gives us enough of a summary of the arguments, and the major names that as long as you remember that the council of Nicea was in 325, and the council of Constantinople was in 381, you have enough information to pass the 4th century section of the exam in an into to Church history class. Unfortunately while this is a great overview of the arguments — it is not a very attractive picture of Trinitarian theology.

When I was a student at Friends University, I did a major project on the theological proclamations of the councils of Nicea and Constantinople. At first, this was difficult, as most of what I read from the councils was an expression of how not to talk about God; everything was negative. Eventually, I started reading letters, books, and commentary by people who were involved in the argument; the most important book I read was Athanasius’ Incarnation of the Word of God. When I read Athanasius, I began to understand that Trinitarian theology is above all commentary on John’s gospel. Jesus talks about the Father and the Spirit, and the Father talks about Jesus, and the Spirit shows up. Trinitarian theology is about trying to make sense of this.

Shield-Trinity-Scutum-Fidei-earliest-and-latest-major-variants.svg

Perhaps the best way to explain Trinitarian theology is with a diagram called the “Shield of the Trinity.” This is a little drawing that show that the Father Son and Spirit are God, while the Father, Son, and Spirit are distinct from one another. When thinking about Trinitarian theology as commentary of the Gospel accounts, this is useful. Jesus is Divine, and the voice that speaks from heaven is Divine — but, there is a distinction between the Father and the Son. When Jesus promises to send the Holy Spirit, this Holy Spirit is divine, yet distinct from the Son and the Father, and in spite of this distinction, we believe that there is one God.

When I took a class that tried to explain Trinitarian Theology, my teacher, Chris Kettler, tried to explain to us that one reason that God is trinity is that a being in isolation is incomplete. A human, separated from community, is greatly diminished. Without other people, we lose a lot of ourselves because we are most ourselves in and through relationship. There is a reason why in Genesis, God said of Adam that it is not good for Man to be alone.

In the creation account when God creates the world and humanity, God says things such as: “Let us create Man in our own image.” The references are plural. Perhaps the significance of this is that God is complete without our help — God does not need a relationship with creation to be complete. God is complete in Godself.

Perhaps a more important passage is 1 John 4:8, which tells us that God is Love. This is not like a passage that calls God merciful, this is a statement that God is Love — that Love is a basic, fundamental defining aspect of God. Love requires community! The idea that God would need to create in order to be a fundamental aspect of God would make God dependent upon us — this is something that is unacceptable. Dr. Kettler taught us that the Trinity exists as a loving community. God is completely who God is without needing us. While you might say this is a metaphor; it is trying to understand God through human eyes, it has provided a positive way for me to understand Trinity — God is complete.

Now, somewhere there are armchair inquisitors who will decide whether or not I just spouted heresy. I hope I shared a helpful idea in here somewhere. I know sermons often have some sort of call to action — but, when it comes to theoretical theology, the best I can give is a call to think and reflect. I don’t know about you, but I’ve given too much thought to how I can be useful to God — and not enough thought to what it means that God loves me. I think about what I can do for God, forgetting that God does not need me to do anything. We believe in a God that is greater than us — and, we believe that God invites us into relationship.

Acts 2 and John 11:21-44 Pentecost and Resurection

Reading: Acts 2, and John 11:21-44

Today is Pentecost. Today is the day that I secretly hope the Holy Spirit will come down powerfully, and breathe new life into the Church. Today is the day that I wish for something different, today is the day that I wish to see Resurrection.

Pentecost is the end of the Easter celebration. We are not looking so much at points in time as a whole narrative that covers about 2 months. While I cannot say how much time passes between Jesus calling Lazarus out from the tomb to Passover, the very next chapter in John is the triumphal entry. Resurrection is the reason that the political parties unite in the decision that Jesus must die. If I were to guess, I would guess that the Resurrection of John is within a few days of Passover.

The passages we read today are not isolated events, they are the start and the finish of the craziest, most stressful spring that anybody can imagine. When Jesus went into Jerusalem, a crowd might have yelled ‘Hosanna to the king of Israel’, but Jesus and the disciples were fully aware that the end was coming; remember that when Jesus tells the disciples that they are going back to Judea, the disciples are uncomfortable with this, and Thomas says to the rest, ‘let’s go and die with Him.’ When John is raised from the dead, the cross is so clear that even Thomas can see that this is where they are going.

During this period, the disciples with just a few exceptions fall away. Peter falls away in a spectacular way; he denies knowing three times, including to a man who recognized him because he just cut of the man’s cousin’s ear and a servant girl. Peter even tries to deny that he has a Galilean accent when a servant girl notices it. Peter is so afraid of being associated with Jesus on the night of the crucifixion that he does not even want to be from the same country as Jesus.

As you might remember, following the crucifixion was the resurrection. Scripture tells us that the risen Jesus appeared to about 500 people. I love this period, because it is a great metaphor for my faith; Jesus is present in a very real way, and not even death can change that. I also appreciate that even now, the disciples do not always get it — because on the very day Jesus ascended into heaven a disciple asked if it was finally time to overthrow the Romans.

When Jesus ascends into heaven, the disciples watch; they keep staring into the sky, they have no idea what to do. Eventually they actually do what they where told to do and wait in Jerusalem for the Holy Spirit. When the day of Pentecost comes, they had been waiting about 10 days. Over this ten days, the 500 that Jesus met with and taught after the resurrection were reduced to about 120. Too often, I identify with this period of silence and contraction. Sometimes it feels like we wait for a miracle, and we start to wonder if the miracle will ever come.

Pentecost comes, and it is exciting. The Spirit descends like tongues of fire, people talk in other languages, and everybody wonders what is going on. Everybody these days gets excited about how everybody is talking in tongues, and thousands are ready to join the new church.

Me, I am even more impressed with Peter’s speech. The last time Peter had a chance to speak out about Jesus, he said: “I never met the guy.” Peter showed that he was afraid of being recognized by anybody, even a servant girl. Peter gains courage, and the only thing that I see that really changes is now the Holy Spirit is here. It is as if Peter is not the same man he was a 8 weeks ago.

One of my favorite metaphors in Christianity is that of resurrection. I know, it is not only a metaphor; The disciples and early Christians really did believe that Jesus rose from the dead, and were willing to die over this point. The creed really does say “We look forward to the resurrection and to the life of the world that is to come.” I am fully aware that this is not a metaphor, but resurrection is constantly used as a metaphor.

When we read Paul’s epistles, Paul speaks of dying to ourselves, or our sinfulness and being risen in Christ. In other places, Paul speaks of our sinfulness being so destructive that we were dead in it until Christ raised us out. For Paul, salvation and transformation is about being raised up with Jesus and given new life. The coward Peter died, and when Pentecost was fully come, this brave man, Peter, spoke out in a way that the coward named Peter never could.

I love that we are invited to participate in the same sort of resurrection that Peter experienced. I know it is often said that he was restored on the beach when Jesus told him, “feed my sheep” — but, we don’t see proof of how Peter changed until Pentecost. Until Peter stood up to those who could kill him, we do not know the power of the resurrection. There is something life-giving about the Holy Spirit, and there is something meaningful about this metaphor.
If any one of us was dead in our sins, we can be thankful that Christ is able to give us resurrection. The church is always an Easter community, even when Pentecost comes around. We believe that Christ is risen from the dead, but we also believe that when the time comes, it is our turn as well.

John 7:37-49 Arguing about Jesus

Reading: John 7:37-49

In today’s reading, we people arguing about who Jesus is. Some of the people say that Jesus surely the prophet, others say He is the messiah, and others observe that He comes from Galilee — and, thus he must be a nobody. There were arguments in the crowd; was Jesus the messiah, or was he a nobody who came from a province filled with nobodies.

The crowds were not the only people having this argument, but the elites were having the same argument among themselves — although, for the most part, they spoke with the voice that protected their position. The thing is Jesus was the talk of the nation. Everybody had an idea about who he was, and what his mission was. One thing that I find remarkable is that Jesus has continued to hold this place in discussion.

I know some of you have read C.S. Lewis. There were a series of radio lectures that were later turned into a book, and in one of these Lewis posed a famous trilemma, which is summarized that Jesus is a liar, a lunatic, or God, as He claims to be. Lewis elaborated on who Jesus claimed to be, and acted as, in that he claimed the authority to forgive sin, he claimed to have always been, and he claimed that he would come back to judge the world.

I really enjoy C.S. Lewis; even though he was a teacher of literature and not Theology — I consider him to be one of the great 20th century Theologians. Usually when I read modern theology, it is either fails to say anything worth saying or it says what it is trying to say in such a complex way that even other theologians struggle to make out what was just said. I like Lewis because he is able to speak clearly, even when expressing complex and challenging ideas. It requires a unique kind of genius to make complex ideas understandable without “dumbing” these ideas down.

Of course, I find one problem with Lewis’ statement about Jesus — it is used to be the final word in a discussion, but it makes a base assumption that everybody in the conversation agree on what Jesus said about Himself. More specifically, this makes an assumption that Scripture accurately records what Jesus said and taught. For those of us who say, yes of course, Lewis makes an utterly convincing argument. The problem comes when we argue with people who believe something different.

You might be aware that many people search for the historical Jesus — that is, they hope to separate the man from the myth. They study various sources, not just scripture but various ancient sources that quote Jesus, or make a statement about who he is. This attempt has been made many times, but there is no consensus in what sort of man Jesus is when you strip away everything that is miraculous. My opinion is that this task will always be fruitless; but that is because I believe Jesus is miraculous.

This idea, also, as you might know isn’t anything new. Most discussion is limited to books written within our lifetimes, but one of the most famous attempts to distill the teachings of the good teacher, who was in no way divine, was Thomas Jefferson’s “Life and Morals of Jesus Christ.” Thomas Jefferson, the man who wrote the Declaration of Independence believed that Jesus was not divine, but merely a good teacher. Using a razor and some glue, he cut up a Bible and made a book that had Jesus’ teachings, some story, and an account of the crucifixion. Jefferson’s narrative ends with the stone rolled over the tomb; in Jefferson’s Bible, there is no Easter.

If you have the idea that you can strip away the miraculous, then you can also strip away the inconsistent. The brilliant thing that Lewis told us explaining the Jesus of scripture breaks down if you no longer assume that scripture accurately reports who Jesus is. Apologetics are tricky because too often the most convincing arguments are only convincing for ourselves — the arguments start with an assumption of certain shared beliefs. Jefferson’s Bible is different from my own; those who follow his ideas have a different idea of Christ than I do.

The crowds have always been divided, and they still are. I had a Theology teacher named Chris Kettler at Friends University who told us that none of us can prove God — all our best arguments cannot convince anybody. Only God can prove God. Of course, many very important works of Theology start out trying to prove that God exists — then they try to harmonize the god they proved with the God of scripture and the Christian Faith. I understand the problem with this, because many times the God postulated through philosophy is very different than the God we know by knowing Jesus. The God we try to prove falls far short of the God of our Faith.

A good example is the disciples; even if they believed that Jesus was a prophet, or the messiah, they were not convinced that Christ was divine until they encountered the risen Christ. Paul was convinced he was right to persecute the Christians until he met Christ on the road to Damascus. Over time, Christianity became the dominant faith because people saw the ways Faith helped people learn to love one another — and people saw the courage and comfort that came from faith. We can argue all we want, but nothing can come of arguing. What people need to meet the risen Christ, and to see how Jesus has changed us for the better.

John 7:1-19 — “Show yourself to the world”

Sermon delivered at Raysville Friends Meeting

Reading: John 7:1-19

This week’s and last week’s section of scripture, along with the parts in between are somewhat challenging for me. I guess the way I can best describe the challenge is that it is hard for me to understand why Jesus did and said these things in chapters 5-7. Jesus brothers really did have a point — he was not behaving like somebody who wanted to become famous, or a great leader, or anything. He made powerful enemies, then proceeded to chase away his supporters. After doing this, he went into hiding.

Two weeks ago, we read that Jesus was willing to tell a Samaritan woman that he was the Messiah, but now he’s unwilling to attend a religious festival openly. Scripture tells us that the “Jews” were looking for Jesus at the feast, and Chrysostom tells us that it is because they were so eager for his death that they would seek him a at a feast; and we remember that there is truth to this as the crucifixion was as the feast of the Passover. This is where the march to the cross really starts.

Reading this section of scripture, we see several bits of slander directed at Jesus by his opponents: 1. They accused him of being ignorant, asking how an illiterate person could have learning to teach. 2. They accused him of being possessed by a demon. 3. They accused him of being a demon possessed Samaritan. 4. They implied, without saying, that Jesus’ paternity was unknown, and 5. They accused Jesus of deceiving the crowds.

While one group was making accusations, the other group was asking if this could be the messiah, and was ready to make him King. Nicodemus responded to the accusations by pointing out that these questions were not fair, and that nobody should be condemned without a trial. The response to this was to ask if Nicodemus was also from Galilee.

These days, we would say that Jesus’ opponents used ad hominem, which is a logical fallacy where instead of addressing the topic at hand, you attack the person. They tried various versions of this — but, the topic at hand was that Jesus did miracles, and claimed that his power and teaching came from God. A bigger topic at hand is that there were large crowds that believed that Jesus was the Messiah — and they had their own ideas about what the messiah would do.

Jesus did not openly go to the festival, because he knew that his opponents were waiting there for him, seeking to seize him. When he went in secret, they sent some people to arrest him — but those who were to arrest him went back empty handed, saying that nobody spoke the way Jesus speaks.

The truth I see here is that no matter what names those who wanted to discredit Jesus threw at him, nothing undid the miraculous feeding of the 5000, nor the healing of the man who was born blind. There was something that was special about Jesus that would be able to survive him being a Samaritan, even if that were true.

Jesus managed to drive the crowds away in chapter 6, but this was short lived. Who can give sight to the blind? Who can make the lame walk again? Who brings the promise of salvation? Just as Peter said earlier, Jesus gives words of life, where can we go? The crowds left and the crowds came back as Jesus continued to do miracles; and then they go away again. Jesus’ opposition also became more and more desperate to take care of this problem as the crowds saw more and more.

I’ve said before that these few chapters in John where the opposition of Jesus solidifies is one of the most challenging parts for me to know what to do with. Jesus seems moody and frustrated. His banter, at least in the English translations I read is no where near his best — in other cases, he sees every verbal trap coming, and `wins’ verbal battles with the best and brightest of the time. In these chapters, when Jesus speaks, his hearers are confused. His behavior confuses people, and his banter comes off as exasperated. Perhaps John is reminding us of Jesus’ humanity by showing us what a bad day looks like. These answers are an expression of strong emotion — Jesus sees what the Pharisees are trying to do, he sees that the end-goal for them is his death, and he reacts. Jesus’ supporters are hyper focused on making him a symbol of their movement to overthrow Rome. They don’t care about big miracles, they want Jesus to fit an agenda, they want to make him King; so Jesus is tired, exasperated, and reacts according to his emotion. While I’m not comfortable calling this a ‘human moment’, this is a part of scripture where we are quite aware of Jesus’ humanity. Us humans get tired, burned out, frustrated, and cranky. Even the fabled patience of Job wore quite thin — and, perhaps part of Christ’s humanity is that even His patience had a limit.

I don’t know what to do with this passage — ancient commentators focused on the ruthlessness of Christ’s enemies, and how their hatred took no holidays; and this isn’t a widely chosen section of scripture for modern sermons; this is one of the parts of scripture that the lectionary passes over, and for those who pick and choose, we rarely choose those things that make us say; “huh?” If we are indeed looking at a Jesus feeling frustrated, burned out, and at the very end of his patience, then we are reminded that Jesus is indeed compassionate. We are not judged by somebody who was never at the end of His rope — but by somebody who understands exactly what a whole string of bad days with interrupted sleep feels like; and considering that Jesus’ enemies started looking for opportunities to kill him just 2 chapters earlier, that sleep was often interrupted. I don’t know what to do with this passage, but my best guess reminds me that when I am tired, cranky and feel like I’ve run myself ragged — Jesus knows how I feel, He’s been where we have all been and He remembers and has compassion on us.

John 4:1-42 — Jesus and the Samaritans

Reading:  John 4:1-42

When I was young, I was always reminded of the relationship between Jews and Samaritans in the New Testament. When people of Galilee would travel to Judea, or back, they would go around Samaria. Remember the parable of the good Samaritan? Jesus told this story to a lawyer who asked Jesus the question “who is my neighbor”, and when Jesus finished the story Jesus asked: “Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who was robbed on the road?” The lawyer was unwilling to say the word “Samaritan” in a reply that put one in a good light — and thus replied “The one who helped him.”

This is enlightening: It is possible to be a good, God fearing, gentile. Though the Jews hated the Romans, and wanted them to go far away, it was possible for one to become respected by the community –and even accepted as a decent person who can be part of the community. I believe that a 1st century Jew might say of Cesar the same as the prayer in “Fiddler on the roof” “May God bless the Czar, and keep him far far from me.” Now the Samaritan was an embarrassment. The Jew did not wish them to live somewhere else, they’d rather them not live at all.

Now Jesus is traveling through Samaria, and he stops to talk with a Samaritan woman. The disciples noticed this, and did their best to ignore it. Nobody asked what he wanted, nobody asked why he was talking to her — I’m sure none of the disciples wanted to know. It must have been bad enough for them that they were taking this shortcut.

We know how the Jews felt about Samaritans, but do we know who they were? What was it that made the Samaritans so hated? The woman at the well asserted who Samaritans were when she said to Jesus: “Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us this well?” Jacob was renamed Israel after he wrestled with the angel, and his twelve sons were the ancestors of the 12 tribes of Israel.

Samaritans are named for a place that is familiar to those who know the Old Testament. Samaria is the name of an important city — it served as the last capital of Israel before the kingdom was completely destroyed by the Assyrians. Samaria the chief city within the half-tribe of Ephraim. Samaritans generally consider themselves to be descendants of either Joseph or Levi, just as the people of Judea considered themselves to be descendants of Judah, Benjamin, or Levi.

Fortunately for us, Samaritans still exist. Bible scholars are in debt to the Samaritan people, because they provide an independent witness to the text of the Torah. They also provide their own version of history. This means that we can know not only what was said by their enemies, but also who they claim to be. The Samaritans claim that they have always been culturally separate from Judah, even in the time of the United Kingdom. We see some evidence of this in the accounts of David’s kingdom in that David becomes king of Judah before he becomes king of Israel: even in the united kingdom, Judah is culturally distinct from the other tribes.

This division was complete when Solomon’s son Rehaboam gave a rather foolish speech where he promised to enslave the people. Judah accepted the rule of David’s grandson, but the other tribes did not feel obliged to remain in the kingdom; and Jeroboam started a kingdom with the capital in Shechem. Jeroboam established two centers of worship, one at Dan, the other at Bethel. Judah was deeply angered that temples were built outside of Judah — and, the relationship between the two kingdoms was always uncomfortable.

The Assyrians spent 20 years conquering Israel. Israel was significantly reduced long before it was fully conquered, they lost all their land except Samaria and the surrounding area; only Ephraim remained. When Samaria was finally conquered, the Assyrians exiled, according to their records, 27,290 people. The Assyrians also sent a similar number of people conquered in other places to take the place of these people — one might say that the Assyrians decided the best way to prevent revolt was to remove the ruling class from their people, and replace them with foreigners.

The foreigners moved to Israel assimilated. While Judah was in captivity in Babylon, Samaria built a new temple on Mt. Gerizm where they worshiped God. When the Judeans returned, and rebuilt the temple in Jerusalem they met the Samaritans, and the arguments began. Here you have two groups that read the Torah and worship God, but they do not have a shared history, nor do they worship in the same place. Where there are differences, both groups are convinced that their understanding is the more legitimate one. Their fight is not because they are so different — but, because they are cousins fighting over their inheritance.

Near the end of the 2nd century BC, the Jews destroyed the temple on Mt. Gerizm — Josephus tells us that the temple was destroyed by Maccabean ruler John Hyrcanus — and that he conquered the Samaritans. When Jesus talks to the Samaritan woman — less than 150 years ago, Jewish armies destroyed the temple on the mountain where her people worshiped, and they waged war on Samaria. The Samaritans had many grievances against the Judeans.

As they have their conversation, Jesus tells the woman about her personal life — that she has been married 5 times, and is currently living with a man who she has not married. The woman recognizes that Jesus is a prophet; and asks a question relevant to the argument between the Samaritans and the Jews: “Where should you worship God, on the Holy mountain, or in Jerusalem?” Jesus answers in the future, one would worship at neither place, but ‘in spirit and in truth’, and then claims to be the Messiah.

The woman then goes out, and tells everybody. She lets them know about the man who knew her life story and still spoke with her, and called them to listen to Him. Jesus stayed in Samaria for two days to teach those that the woman brought to him — and many believed. Early Christian preacher John Chrysostom spoke of the woman at the well as a person who did the work of an apostle; she went out and pointed people to Jesus. She somehow recognized the Messiah, and showed him to others.

Now this tells me something of the gospel. Jesus went to Samaria knowing who the Samaritans were to His people. This hatred was part of his culture. He willingly entered a city inhabited by hated enemies, and stayed there to share God’s love with them. The message is that God’s love, and God’s plan of salvation is not limited by our prejudices.

Jesus spoke to the woman, knowing that her past was not something we easily accept. I know I have watched attitudes changing in my own lifetime; but even people who reject the idea of traditional marriage are going to ask what is wrong with a person to make her have such a history of failed marriages. Jesus offered her insight on the nature of God, and how this argument about which group possesses the place where God is worshiped is a pretty meaningless argument. Jesus shows a gospel of grace to those who are despised and rejected — and a gospel that tears down those things that divide God’s people. God has a place for those who worship outside of Jerusalem and in places other than Mt. Gerizm.

As I walk with Christ, I must remember that sometimes good news is hard to accept. The offer of salvation to a Samaritan is offensive to Jesus’ Jewish disciples. C.S. Lewis tells us that there is no Christian teaching more offensive than that of forgiveness — because forgiveness offends our sense of fairness. Sometimes people want to look down on somebody, to feel more righteous; forgiveness offends the self-righteous. Grace is given to those who need it, and there is enough good news for everybody; friends and enemies alike. The good news that is hard to swallow is that God’s love is greater than the human capacity for hate and anger — and God tears down walls and makes enemies into good neighbors.

John 20:19-31: My Lord and my God

Reading: John 20:19-31

For the disciples, the Resurrection became real to them when they saw the resurrected Jesus. As you might remember, the first people to see the resurrected Jesus were the women. Every one of the disciples heard about the resurrection second hand before they saw Jesus. Considering this, I think that it is unfair of us to focus on the doubts of Thomas; his reaction to the news that Jesus rose from the dead was not unique. Luke’s gospel tells us that the other 10 disciples considered the Resurrection to be nonsense, and did not believe it when the women told them.

Many of us notice that Jesus scolded Thomas for not believing; and to be fair, he was the last of the 11 to believe, just as he was the last of the 11 to see. Jesus told Thomas to touch his wounds, which is the very thing Thomas said he would need to do in order to believe. We really notice when Jesus tells Thomas that those who believe without seeing are the ones who will be truly blessed — and as much as we think of this as Jesus scolding Thomas, he really is no different than the others, who did not believe the women.

Remember, Peter denied Jesus three times. Peter denied Jesus to the woman who opened the gate, some unspecified person, and a man who said: “Didn’t I see you at the garden when we arrested him?” — John mentions that this guy who thought he saw Peter there was a relative of the guy who got his ear cut off, so when he asked “Didn’t I see you there?” surely he was thinking — “I recognize you, I saw you cut off my cousin’s ear.”

The disciples scattered, only the women and John were left when Jesus was put to death. A week or so before Passover, Thomas may have said to the disciples, “Lets go die with Jesus,” but at this moment, nobody was truly ready to follow Jesus to the cross. As much as we pick on Thomas and Peter, nobody believed, and few followed Jesus to the end.

Personally, I believe that the exchange between Thomas and Jesus is the climax of John’s gospel. I said before that I believed that John decided that the other gospel accounts needed supplemented, because some people where confused about who Jesus was. The specific confusion I believe he was addressing was a belief that spiritual is good, and physical is bad. This belief went on to suggest that if Jesus were good and divine, he could not have a human body; therefore, Jesus wasn’t a man but an apparition; They also believed since he was not physical, he could not be crucified — the nails couldn’t hold Him.

When Jesus tells Thomas, touch my wounds — it is clear that the wounds were made, it was also clear that the Resurrected Jesus was very much physically there. Jesus spent another six weeks with them, ate with them, and taught them. For these six weeks, the reality of Easter was there to see, and to touch. Christ was risen just as he said. John goes out of his way to make sure everybody can see that Jesus really was crucified, and that his Resurrection was substantial.

I know one of the first questions we ask when we hear about ancient argument is what difference does it make? The difference it made is the difference of whether or not Jesus was able to save us. Think about what is implied if we say: “Spiritual good, physical bad.” While it is an open debate how spiritual we are — it is obvious that we are very physical. We have no concept of being without bodies; our sense of identity includes what we are physically.
For Christians the life of Christ is, at the very least, an assurance that our physical life has the potential to be good — and, while this is good for a motivational speech; it is not the core of Christianity. The one teaching that Christianity stands or falls on is that of the Resurrection. One reason that the Resurrection is important to us is that we have a belief that God is in some very real way present in our lives. We don’t simply follow Jesus, but in some way God is with us as we live out our lives. Jesus’ work in the lives of the disciples did not end on Friday — and, it still has not ended.

Christians believe that Jesus came to save us — we have a bit of a problem with this if we are fundamentally beyond hope of salvation. While Christians have argued about some of the details of salvation; there is substantial agreement that we can be saved, that salvation is supposed to somehow include our life on Earth in our physical bodies, and that to quote the Nicene Creed: “We look for the resurrection of the dead, and the life of the world to come.”

One thing that Christians have always looked forward to is the promise that we are also on the path to resurrection. Jesus promised his disciples that he went to prepare a place for them; There are hints about this place that is to come, but the best any of us have are guesses. We look forward, because we believe that as long as we follow the way Jesus leads, we will end up in the place where he goes, and that He has made us welcome in this place. Resurrection is the hope of Christianity — and today this hope becomes flesh — flesh that can be examined and touched. Easter is the day that our hope is realized, and we proclaim our faith with Thomas, that Christ is our Lord and our God.

John 12 — two crowds

Reading: John 12

Today is Palm Sunday, it is the time when people hear the story of the crowds that met Jesus when he went into Jerusalem — it is something that we hear every year. For the longest time, thought of this as an example of how fickle crowds are: On Sunday the crowd is calling Jesus the king of Israel, and on Thursday the crowd is calling out to Pilate, “Crucify him.”

I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me that perhaps there were two crowds. These days we see two crowds all the time — it seems like our last decade up until now has formed crowds behind politicians: There is a crowd who looks to a politician as the messiah, and there is another convinced that the same politician is the Antichrist.

John is different than the other gospels, because John directly talks about Jesus being God. John is also different from the others because it gives us a look at both crowds. In the other gospels, the Pharisees, the Sadducee and the scribes do are more props than part of the story. In the other Gospels, they are in the story to allow Jesus to say something clever.

In John, the Pharisees are characters starting when Nicodemus visits Jesus in chapter 3. In chapter 5, Jesus heals a lame man who stayed at the pool of Bethesda, and Jesus is confronted by the Pharisees for Sabbath breaking. In John’s account, Jesus responds to this confrontation by making a statement about his relationship to the Father. John 5:18 reads: “For this reason they tried all the more to kill him; not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.”

Right when some of the Pharisees started thinking about their Jesus problem, the other crowd was ready to make this Son of David king right now. Jesus of course had no desire to be that sort of a king — so Jesus went up into a mountain, away from those who had their plans for him.

John makes it clear that not every one of the Pharisees felt this way; John chapter 7 has both ordinary people and even the pharisees talking with each other about who Jesus might be (as in some of the Pharisees believed Jesus was special); but soon, there would no longer be any room for discussion. People discussed Jesus with each other, and they discussed Jesus with Jesus — though for the Pharisees that did not accomplish what they hoped it would — Jesus continued to “testify concerning himself”.

When Jesus heals the blind man in chapter 9 — and the last part of Chapter 9 through most of chapter 10 has more discussion of who Jesus is, and annoyed Pharisees. We can see where this story leads because people are afraid of what might happen. When the blind man was healed, and the parents were asked if this was their son — their answer was “He’s old enough to speak for himself.” John tells us that followers of Jesus were thrown out of the synagogue, so the parents wanted nothing to do with this. John points out that it is quite a miracle to heal the eyes of a person who has been blind from birth.

At this time, Jesus started gaining followers again. For a while Jesus’ followers left; now people started to remember John the Baptist, and how he preached about the one that was coming. John even identified Jesus when at the baptism. As people remembered John’s preaching, and they noticed what Jesus said about himself, and they started to realize that Jesus was exactly what John told them to look for.

Basically, at first, the crowds made the leaders of Judah nervous. Rome was not exactly a friendly occupier; and this Jesus guy was attracting crowds, and many in those crowds wanted him to be the king that drove off the Romans. The chief priest expressed this problem exactly — if this continues, the Romans will take away both the temple and the nation.

About this time, Lazarus dies — and Jesus tell his disciples that he’s going to raise him from the dead. The disciples don’t want to go back to Bethany. They know that the anti-Jesus crowd has some real power there — they know, because the last time there were there people were throwing rocks at them. Thomas says to the disciples: “Lets go die with Jesus.”

Jesus goes and raises Lazarus from the dead — and the Pharisees decide form a committee to see to it that Jesus and Lazarus both die. If the crowds were frightening because Jesus healed a few people and gave out food; if that was enough that they wanted him as king — imagine the response when they see that Jesus has power over death! Death is the only thing that Rome had to threat ed the people of Judah with — Jesus has it within him to disarm the enemy!

Jesus knows what is coming — he is at a meal celebrating Lazarus coming back from the dead, and Mary, Lazarus sister washes his feet with a perfume called nard; this bottle cost roughly a year’s wages. When Judas protested that it could have been put to better use, Jesus points out that this is a burial perfume, and it is for *his* burial. Jesus was quite clear that saying “Lazarus come forth” was his own funeral, though it is safe to say that if Lazarus were not raised from the dead, the perfume would have been used; This happened on Saturday, six days before Passover. On Sunday, Jesus would travel to Jerusalem. Remarkably, Messiah means the anointed — and Jesus was, in his own words, anointed for His own death.

Those who saw Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead spread the word — by the time Jesus got to Jerusalem, his name was on many lips and as he was riding his donkey, on the way to Jerusalem he was greeted by a crowd of people with palm branches yelling “Hosanna, blessed be the king of Israel.”

Think about this; Jerusalem is the place where people go for Passover because the temple is there. Jerusalem was also the capital of the Roman Provence of Judea: The Praetorian was in Jerusalem — Pilate lived in Jerusalem! People are gathering and yelling praise to the King of Israel right in the very city that the Roman governor lives in.

When the committee decided that Jesus had to die — this had not happened, this was basically their worst fears coming true in front of their eyes. Thing is, the crowds were looking for a king, if it were not Jesus, it would be someone else — the crowds were itching for a fight, because they knew they could beat Pilot, but, the leaders were fully aware that even if they could beat Pilate and crown a king they would never be able to beat Caesar. In a very literal way, the Pharisees decided that Jesus had to die as a scapegoat — he had to die for the rebellious attitudes of the people.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem, there were two crowds — both of them very powerful. One crowd was the crowd that was seeking a king who would beat the Romans. Many of Jesus’ disciples were in this crowd. When Jesus preached, he said things that drove this crowd away — but, they saw the miracles he did and they came back; This crowd was large, in Jerusalem, and ready to move. This crowd was dangerous. The crowd that did not want revolution now continued their plan. This was a crowd that was in panic — and a crowd that was ready to use any means possible to both prevent the coming insurrection and appease the Romans.

Today we remember how Jesus was welcomed when he entered Jerusalem — “Hosanna, Blessed be the king of Israel.” On Thursday, the crowd that feared these words reaching the Roman leaders, and attracting Roman soldiers would give Jesus to the Romans; and the crime is the very words of the first crowd: Above the cross is written the accusation: “King of the Jews.”