Dan Swaningson, Hope Chapel 3-29-15
“In him was life, and that light was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.”
Find Matthew 5
Today is Palm Sunday, the day we commemorate the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem, in fulfillment of prophecy, as a conquering King riding on the foal of a donkey. But this wasn’t a king as we, nor the people who welcomed him that day think of, one coming in regality or pomp to claim his throne, nor was he one coming to vanquish and kill all who stood in the way of his ascension to that throne. This King was coming as a humble soft spoken servant who would be reviled, rejected and then killed a week later.
This was a king who was determined to live out, in the most extreme way possible, the message he had been preaching for years, the message that would be sorely tested over the next few days and the fleshing out of this message would ultimately win him the throne, not just of his father David, but of his Father God in heaven as well. His determination to walk out his message would also secure our place alongside of him as he claimed his rightful place as King.
So what was that message? We need to look to a beautiful blue clear sky morning three years earlier. On a mountainside near the sea of Galilee a large crowd is gathered to hear this man Jesus speak. He has been traveling around healing the sick and driving out demon spirits from people amid rumors that he may be the Messiah they have been waiting for; so they all sit facing this miracle worker- row upon row like tiers in a stadium- as they settled in on the slope overlooking this Messiah, all expecting to hear words of patriotism, of revolution- rebellion against the Roman tyrants who have overrun their country and enslaved them; to hear him rail against the puppet King Herod whose cruelty and debauchery knows no bounds- but it wasn’t to be- what do they hear? Let’s read his words:
11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.
14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Mat 5
An Angry People Not quite what they expected nor what were they used to hearing. These were people who were at their end, who were living daily in a constant struggle to survive the hardships brought on them not just by life but by an oppressive regime who taxed, threatened, conscripted, imprisoned and murdered them without mercy or reason. This was a people who were fed up and angry at the injustices and abuses they suffered. This was an angry people.
They knew there was a better way to live. Especially as a people who knew they were God’s chosen, they had a rich history of prosperity and freedom from tyrants as time after time they threw off the yokes of oppressors. They knew that only God was supposed to be their King, that they had a God given right to live, love and worship the way they believed their God desired them to and in fact within the lifetime of many of those people who sat on the hillside that day expecting to hear a revolutionary speak of political victory and battle plans for revolution, that anger and desire for vengeance and justice would finally boil over and get them and their nation quite literally destroyed, their Temple and the city of David turned into a pile of charred rubble and the very nation of Israel renamed by the Romans who had had enough of their rebellious and spiteful uprisings- they renamed the land once known as Israel and Judah- Palestine.
A name which it would carry until 1949 when the flag of Israel bearing the star of David- a symbol used just a few years earlier by the national socialist party of Germany- the Nazi’s for short- to mark those same people for extinction. They live there still today amongst and surrounded by a people, who live to remove the descendants of the people who sat on that mountainside listening to a message of love and hope, forgiveness and love, from the land so they can once again call it Palestine, a name forced on the land by the people who crucified the Son of God. In the years to come after that crucifixion over seventy thousand Jews would also find themselves crucified on crosses planted around the Holy City like a gruesome forest of death, in an effort to remove from history all traces of God’s chosen people and their Messiah- now become our Messiah.
And here, on a mountainside in Galilee, is that Messiah, telling them, begging them, knowing all that is yet to befall his people- to be peace makers, to be merciful, to be salt and light- a radical message indeed to a people who had known nothing but bitterness and darkness and had been taught by all the other revolutionaries who had come and gone, to respond in kind. Because Jesus knows that darkness can never chase away darkness, bitterness can never take away bitterness. Only a light can take away the gloom in a dark room, only salt can make a sour tasting vegetable palatable or keep a piece of meat from spoiling.
Only love can truly overcome hate, only mercy can truly overcome violence. Yes, sometimes those things must be backed up with strength and actions, but those actions must be done to restore mercy and remove evil on behalf of those being victimized and often by the sacrifice of our own security and comfort- our own blood and treasure- and that is what Jesus ultimately did, he gave up everything, sacrificed and put in jeopardy his position and authority on earth and in heaven, offered his flesh to be torn and beat and his blood to be spilled for the sake of those who were oppressed and hopeless- those who were defenseless against the very powers of the universe, the decree of God himself that all who sin would surely die- but for the love and sacrifice of the one, the perfect representative of man- born as one of us but who did not find his beginning as a created being but rather was the creator, the very Son of God, the same God who had made the decree he was now redeeming them, redeeming us from.
So we have nothing left to do but be that salt- but be that light- to a world that has yet to fully recognize and accept that incredible offer of mercy; of life.
No excuses No matter the circumstances, no matter the injustices we suffer, we cannot stop being salt and light, we have no justification, no reason to be anything less than salt and light. Jesus suffered the greatest injustice any Man has ever suffered at the hands of man- or, arguably, from God- and his light still shines bright two millennia later. It is that message of love, mercy and redemption that we remember, that set him apart. If Jesus had been just another vengeful and bitter revolutionary, one in a long string that Judea had seen in the years surrounding his coming, he would have been lost to history, Israel would be lost to history, and we would be lost to eternity.
We are a people whose eternities are sealed and secured, whose lives are in the hands of a loving God who never leaves us nor forsakes us- even in our darkest hours- and our lives must be a reflection of that knowledge, of that love, of the inextinguishable light. “In him was life, and that light was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:4,5
The Place of the skull Another Beautiful blue sky morning. This time the teacher, the miracle worker Messiah is on the top of the mountain and the multitude are looking up at him. Unlike that earlier mountainside this one is given a name- Golgotha, the place of the Skull.
The angry people had had enough; “If you are not going to lead us in revolution, if you are not going to destroy our enemies, if you are going instead to threaten our traditions, to disturb our commerce. Impugn our motives and challenge our righteousness- the goodbye and good riddance!” This Jesus seemed to be way more concerned with challenging their priests and Rabbi’s, their precious laws and traditions, then what the Romans were doing. We need a conquering King, a hero- a Moses, a Joshua, a Gideon or a Deborah- we need the promised son of David to come and slaughter our enemies and restore us to greatness like in the days of Solomon!
Instead they got a man claiming to be that promised one- teaching love and mercy, to bless and not curse- to go the extra mile when put upon- turn the other cheek! Let’s see how his cheeks fare when we turn him over to the Romans, “Let’s see how loving he is when he’s being beat and dragged through the streets to be crucified- let’s see how bright his light shines while he is hanging on a Roman cross overlooking the city on the hill!”
So Jesus is betrayed by one he trusted, one of those closest to him to those who have sought to destroy him since the first time he came into their precious Temple and disrupted their carefully planned and construed religious activities, turning over the money changers tables and releasing the animals being sold for the sacrifice- disrupting the flow of cash that was enriching the priests, disturbing the fragile peace and bringing unwanted attention to them by the Roman centurions standing watch ready to strike with a terrible efficiency lest a mob arise that would threaten Pax Romana- the precious illusion of peace under Roman rule.
A few days earlier they celebrated him as King- today they are screaming for his death and reveling at the sight of him when he is lifted up on one of those wooden crosses they had all come to abhor, the stuff of nightmares, a beaten and shredded human body nailed to a tree and left to die slowly in unimaginable pain. “Where’s your Father now Messiah? Surely you can just come down from their and prove that you are our King! Do unto others, how’s that working for you?”
Even those who are being crucified alongside of him- the Romans never being ones to waste a good day to execute people especially if it can be done in front of a large crowd for maximum impact - like during the Passover, had crucified two others alongside Jesus of Nazareth that day. Even they, in their blinding agony and distress at knowing their life was about to come to a slow and excruciating end that would probably land them in the grave where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies- even they were so driven by anger and spitefulness that they found the energy in their last act on this earth to deride this man who had done nothing more that offer hope and a better way to people.
“If you are the Son of God save us and yourself!”
They mocked and ridiculed him but one of them was noticing something- even while the soldier was driving the nail through the hands of this bloodied thorn crowned Messiah- he was praying for the soldier who was mutilating him, Father forgive them…. Even as he was being scorned and harangued by the crowd he was talking to one of his few friends- John, take care of my mother.
He never cursed back those who were cursing him, he never lifted a hand to defend himself- not even so much as a look of defiance or hatred for those who were committed to making his last hours on this earth as miserable as humanly possible or conceivable- in all this Jesus seemed to shine- the light in his eyes, the love that seemed to bore straight into his soul when he turned them to him, never dimmed even for an instant.
For the thief the absurdity of it all was becoming overwhelming and something snapped in him, the vehemence of the crowd, the mocking spewing from the cross on the opposite side and even his own words still echoing in his mind suddenly sounded ridiculous and out of place- the light which seemed to emanate from the man beside him made all the darkness and hate around him, even that within his own soul, seem disturbingly wrong and unwelcome. He suddenly wanted it all to stop.
He had lived a life of darkness, he was now being executed by darkness and hatred- hate for hate, anger for anger- that had been his life for far too long. But now in this moment of agony and unimaginable torment the light was beckoning him and seemed poised to flood over him like the promise of the storm clouds over the desert. And he called out, with all the strength he could muster as he fought for breath against the pressure on his own chest as he hung suspended by his arms, seemingly between heaven and Hell; “Don’t you fear the wrath of God, this man has done nothing wrong but we deserve what we are getting!”
Then he looked at the man hanging beside him, also gasping for breath beneath the sign that mockingly said; “King of the Jews”, and said, “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Then his whole world changed, this “king” looked at him, eyes beneath a bloody brow seeing straight into his soul, seeing everything he had ever done, but also seeing the terrified and hurting remnants of a heart long ago scarred over but still aching for love; and said to him; “Today you will be with me in paradise.”
With these words that irresistible light that was Jesus came flooding into his soul like the spring rains in a parched land bringing life to his very soul. The clutches of hell which seemed to be reaching up tearing at him, trying to drag his entire being right off of that cross and straight into hell was no more. He felt only unimaginable peace, he suddenly knew his suffering would soon be over and he would indeed be in Paradise with his new found Savior, in the blessed bosom of his father Abraham.
Even when the sky went dark and the earth itself began to quake, in the midst of the frightened screams of those witnessing this cosmic struggle between good and evil, between light and dark being played out on a scale they could never imagine or comprehend, the man known only as the thief on the cross, knew he was going to be okay, knew somehow knew deep in his soul that love would win. This was a love that could not be overrun, a light that could not be understood or overcome and when that beaten and pierced body beside him went limp. And the sun once again began to shine, he knew it was indeed finished, that love had won- heaven was his.
let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven. Mat 5
Jesus had passed the test, his message was indeed true- not because he said it- but because he lived it.
Even on the cross in the midst of his suffering Jesus was a light.
How are we doing?
4 In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. Hebrews 12
Don’t go Dark Nothing disturbs me more than seeing brother or sister in the Lord get dark; to see the light and joy in their eyes go black as they talk about or to someone they feel had slighted them. We are light and salt- if that saltiness goes away it is good for nothing and might as well be thrown on the manure pile. You cannot undo words of anger and insult, actions of retribution, an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth leaves two people half blind and unable to chew and with little hope for reconciliation. We can’t beat, belittle, boycott or picket people into the kingdom, but we can draw them in- nobody likes living in the dark- they just haven’t seen the light yet; be that light!
So when you feel slighted, angry, bitter, justified in your responses to perceived slights and provocations, when you are tempted to respond in kind with acid in your tone and darkness in your eyes, ask yourself- “Have I suffered any more injustice than the one who teaches me to offer the other cheek, to love my enemies and bless those who persecute me? Have I resisted evil, not to me- but from me- to the point of shedding blood?
Am I being a person that will draw those who would destroy me over to my side; that by my actions and radically irrational response to their cruelty and ignorance they would see a light that overwhelms them to the point that they can only be left to conclude: surely, this person is a child of God.
39 And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”