A delightful activity that most of us would have engaged in at some time or other is playing peek-a-boo with a baby. With the baby’s attention on you, you cover your face with your hands and then leap out of nowhere. The baby might blink, start, open their mouths and stare. This is the human startle response. Adults do it in exactly the same way. It clears the mind of everything other than the here and now. The person waits to see what will happen next. All that happens next in the peek-a-boo game is that you grin stupidly at the baby and do it again! The baby laughs back at you and you do it again.
The gaze of love and joy between two people is a lovely picture of the spiritual life lived in communion with God.
The word “startle” is used in this mornings reading (Luke 24:36-47). The risen Lord Jesus startles the disciples with His sudden presence. After demonstrating some of the features of His resurrected body to help them believe, Jesus prepares them for the blessing of being conduits of God’s love. He takes advantage of their full attention to explain from the Scriptures why He had to suffer.
Prior to His suffering Jesus had tried to explain why the Messiah was going to suffer but they didn’t get it. So they hadn’t seen Jesus’ death coming. It had hit their faith very hard. They were sorrowful and despairing, afraid and holed-up behind locked doors; starting to drift away and slow to believe Jesus was risen or even to recognise Him.
In the Book of Acts, we see that just a few weeks later the Apostles have become the bold proclaimers and conduits for the love of God. Part of the transformation was doubtless that Jesus had opened their eyes to the forces that conspire against the Kingdom of Heaven – and what God’s strategy is to overcome them.
But we are not told exactly what Jesus said on this occasion… so here is my take on it: Jesus had to suffer firstly because…..
He was an ambassador of God’s universal love…
When Jesus started a public ministry of God’s love He got into trouble immediately with the authorities by praising the faith of Gentiles.
He taught that we should love our enemies & do them good (Lk 6:35) – but universal love is far from the usual human way of managing your enemies! The usual way is to marginalise, disempower your enemies… up to enslave or kill them.
Jesus never returned threats, lies or violence. He did not surround Himself with armed warriors. He just tried to enlighten His enemies about the spiritual insecurities fueling their negativity.
He regarded death as going to be with the Father. Consequently, He had little fear of lethal consequences.
Usually, “enemy loving” is not a credible proposition at all but Jesus made it credible. Not only did He lead by example, but because of His devotion, faith and obedience, the Father was with Him and did miraculous deeds through Him. These miracles were powerful testimony to the people that Heaven itself was on His side.
One miracle in particular caused a stir in Jerusalem just before His crucifixion – the raising of Lazarus . It highlighted a second reason Jesus had to suffer…
There was a fundamental clash of values between God and Humanity.
Straight after the raising of Lazurus, in John chapter 11, we read this in verses 47 & 48:
Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our (place) and our nation.”John 11:47, 48 (New International Version)
How could everyone believing in Jesus in anyway contribute to the Romans further taking over the country? The most plausible explanation is perhaps that the Jewish ruling elite was concerned that Jesus might turn the people into pacifists who followed Universal Love. How would Israel ever kick out the Roman invaders if the population was willing only to love the Romans – not fight and kill them?
It is absolutely normal for governments to not like enemy-lovers. (e.g. research the history of conscientious objection to war.) So what could the ruling elite do to the threat Jesus appeared to present to them? In the text (John 11:49-50) we have:
Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! (50) You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”John 11:49, 50 (New International Version)
We are all familiar with this reasoning, aren’t we? If the government deems certain drastic actions are necessary for “national security”, then a government may spill a great deal of blood – even killing a person for preaching love.
In the great clash between God’s values and ours, in one corner, there was Jesus who loved everyone and would much rather die rather than kill. And in the other corner, there was humanity’s much more selective ways, where we would rather kill enemies than love them or risk dying by their hand.
In the spiritual battle precipitated by Jesus’ earthly ministry, neither side would give in. Jesus would not stop preaching love until He was dead. And the ruling elite would not be stop until Jesus was dead. Therefore Jesus had to die! It was inevitable and entirely predictable! Given the clash of values and the determination on both sides, the Messiah, whenever He came, would have to suffer.
In Acts, the Apostles are clear that putting Jesus on a cross was deliberate & government-orchestrated wickedness. (Acts 2:23, 3:13-15, 4:25-28, 7:52 & 13:27-28.) The crucifixion was intended to stamp out the Universal Love of God and preserve humanity’s sinful ways of organising a nation.
So we can regard nations in two ways. Humanity’s fundamental lack of faith in God results in a need for strong governments to keep the peace. But the down-side is that government is liable to do violence to the Kingdom of God & its representatives (cf? Matt 11:12)
The government of Jesus day was very sophisticated. It was established on 1000+ years of Jewish spirituality, with Greek philosophy and Roman law and order. But because Jesus challenged the nation’s unloving ways of doing things, they made Him a victim of the very things He would turn them (and us) away from – anxiety, materialism, hatred & killing.
We often hear that Jesus bore a Divine penalty for human sin. We don’t hear so much that Jesus bore our sin itself.
Jesus bore our sin itself
Jesus identified two foundational sins of human society – homicide and lying (John 8:44); both are fundamental tactics in national security. When Jesus challenged the legitimacy and acceptance of these tactics, the government used both of them against Him. They lied about Him at a sham trial – they blamed and framed (scapegoated) Him as a trouble-maker who deserved His nation’s wrath. They orchestrated the victimization and homicide of Him. And they thought they were doing necessary service to God and nation.
In this way, Jesus was made to “bear” our sins – in particular the lying and homicide that are foundational to the human way of running nations. He bore these sins of ours “in His body on the tree” because we imposed them onto Him. We made Him bear the consequences of our collective disbelief in God’s love and provision – our disbelief in the Kingdom of God that Jesus preached.
What other conclusions can we draw from this reading of the Scriptures?
There’s a great uniqueness about Jesus’ death
Countless numbers have borne and suffered Humanity’s injustice and sin. But Jesus volunteered for it because of His love and faith. Without any encouragement from any other human being, and while preaching Universal Love, He voluntarily and quietly bore human injustice and cruelty in His body on the tree. No-one before Him has ever shown such love and faith. The many Christian martyrs who followed Him voluntarily and for love had the spirit of Jesus strong in their souls.
What Jesus achieved via the Cross
Aside from the idea that Jesus paid a Divine penalty, the Cross demonstrates God’s preference for Universal Love over government-led nationalism.
In Jesus’ public campaign for the Kingdom of God, – related via first-hand witnesses whom God prepared chose beforehand – we see the machinations of human sin in all its futile vileness. In Jesus’ teaching and example we are offered an alternative ‘holy nation’ to serve with prime allegiance – the Kingdom of God.
Jesus revealed that the Kingdom of God is near that God is still on His throne reigning (even when the righteous suffer) and that resurrection awaits us! We see through Jesus that God’s way is perfect and we need not be afraid – but need only to believe and let Him reshape outlook.
In the Kingdom of God, whenever anyone suffers instead of giving into fear, selfishness or intimidation – then love wins! On the cross, the universal love of God won! Yes, the Universal Lover Himself died – but He rose, never to die again!
Lord, we praise you and thank you for including us in your great victory of love! Thank you for the invitation to join your Kingdom and to be conduits of your love. Thank you for the peace the Government keeps. Help us be strong and keep loving universally even when human peace-keeping becomes violent against us. Help us, as Your people, to love mercy, do justice and walk humbly with You. May we live with great consciousness of Your presence, in a mutual gaze of love and joy.