Monday, November 09, 2015

The Trouble with Jesus (John 19:5-8)


John 19:5-8
The Trouble With Jesus

With the possible exception of the Doobie Brothers and a handful of other musical acts that have recorded a song by this title, the one thing that no one in the history of the world has ever been able to say about Jesus is that He is “just alright with me.” If you could travel the world in a weekend, only stopping in at Christian churches on every continent, you may come away from the experience with the conclusion that Jesus is the most popular and beloved Person in history. Songs of praise and adoration are sung to Him and about Him; prayers are prayed to Him and to the Father in His name; sermons are preached about Him and the words that He said, and people are called to follow Him in faith and obedience. But if we were to look outside those churches, in the ivory towers of secular academia, in the corridors of political power, in temples of other faiths, and in the places where people gather and talk about the important issues of the day, we have reach a far different conclusion. We may conclude that Jesus is the most hated Person in history.

One place where we can find this sentiment expressed is in the Gospels themselves. In contrast with disciples who left all they had behind to follow Him, multitudes with faith enough to believe that He could heal them, and throngs who held to His every word, we find a group of people whose hatred for Jesus led them to conspire for His murder. Who were these people? Throughout all four Gospels we find them to be the religious leaders of Israel. The moral standards of Jewish religion were higher than those of any culture that had ever existed in the history of the world until that time. And yet, human history is filled with examples of the evil that results when religion turns bad. As J. C. Ryle wrote, “In every age, none have been such hard, cruel, unfeeling, and bloody-minded persecutors of God’s saints, as the “ministers of religion.”[1] It was certainly true of these elite Jewish officials, who are described in verse 6 of our text as the chief priests and their officers.

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The name of Jesus today can still evoke just as much ire. If you’ve ever tried to speak up for Him in public, you know this. It is hard to understand sometimes, but Jesus and His follower have a long history of getting in trouble. So, what is the trouble with Jesus? The brief passage we have read presents us with several answers to that question.

I. The trouble with Jesus is that He just won’t go away (v6).

Jesus had gotten under the skin of the religious establishment in Jerusalem. His teachings challenged their traditions and their authority. He had called them out as hypocrites, a brood of vipers, whitewashed tombs, sons of the devil, and blind guides because of their corruption, greed, and spiritual ignorance. When multitudes began to follow Him because of His teachings and His miracles, they felt threatened by Him, and they determined to do away with Him.

On several occasions, they had tried to seize Him and stone Him to death on the spot but they were unable to (Jn 8:58-59; 10:39). At long last they had gotten a foothold through an insider – Judas Iscariot – who would betray Jesus over to them. Finally, they had Him before Pontius Pilate, who alone could issue an official death order. When Pilate took Jesus away, they must have thought that they had at last secured a victory over Jesus. But in verse 5, Jesus reappears, bloody and beaten, but still alive. Pilate called out to them: “Behold the Man!” And verse 6 says that they saw Him. But He wasn’t dead, so they cried out all the more, “Crucify! Crucify!” Weymouth translates the phrase, “To the cross! To the cross!”

Here for the second time, Pilate announces that he has found no guilt worthy of death in Jesus. He will not crucify Him, so he says, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him.” Now, this is a loaded statement. The Jews had no power to execute criminals. That power belonged only to Rome. So Pilate is saying essentially, “I won’t put Him to death, so if you want Him dead, you will have to do it yourselves, if you dare.” For them to do this would bring the wrath of Rome upon their own heads. So Pilate won’t crucify Jesus, and the Jews can’t crucify Jesus. They will have to revise their tactics if they want Him dead.

As the text goes on, we will see that they do, and finally they will persuade Pilate to issue the order to crucify Jesus. Jesus would go to the cross and die. The Jewish officials will see His lifeless body hanging on the cross and think that at long last they have finally made Him go away. That was Friday. But on Sunday morning they would find out that even death could not make Jesus go away, because He would rise from the dead! That’s the trouble with Jesus: He just won’t go away!

Two millennia later, people are still trying to make Jesus just go away. They try to avoid, ignore, and disregard Him. They refuse to believe in Him. But this is just the thing: disbelief, ignorance, and avoidance of Him will not make Him go away! C. S. Lewis tried when he was an atheist. As he was laying in a hospital ward recovering from an illness he acquired in the trenches of World War I, he began to read. He had never heard of G. K. Chesterton, but he began reading a volume of Chesterton’s essays. He said, “I did not know what I was letting myself in for. A young man who wishes to remain a sound Atheist cannot be too careful of his reading. There are traps everywhere – ‘Bibles laid open, millions of surprises … fine nets and strategems.’ God is, if I may say it, very unscrupulous.”[2] Suddenly, every book he read, every friend he made, every conversation he had, was seemingly thrusting God-in-Christ before him. After several years of this, he said,

Really, a young atheist cannot guard his faith too carefully. Dangers lie in wait for him on every side. … Amiable agnostics will talk cheerfully about ‘man’s search for God.’ To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat. … I had always wanted, above all things, not to be ‘interfered with.’ … That which I greatly feared had at last come upon me. … I gave in, and admitted that God was God, and knelt and prayed: perhaps, that night, the most dejected and reluctant convert in all England.[3]

As Hebrews 4:13 says, “there is no creature hidden from His sight, but all things are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with Whom we have to do.” You will deal with Him here and now, or you will deal with Him before the judgment seat of eternity, but you will deal with Him. He just won’t go away. And for many people, that’s the trouble with Jesus.

For some, they would say …

II. The trouble with Jesus is that He makes such radical claims. (v7)

As Christmas approaches, many popular magazine covers switch from their usual fare of celebrities and world affairs and feature instead full-color portraits of nativity scenes. The check-out lanes of the local grocery store become virtual art galleries with more glossy images of the baby Jesus than are found in many churches. Television documentaries follow suit, with features on the birth of the baby at Bethlehem. These scenes, meaningful as they are to us as Christians, are very palatable and non-threatening to the world because the infant Jesus is somewhat different from the full-grown Jesus we read about in the Gospels in one very important way: He is not speaking. Just like in the first century, so today, people don’t seem to mind a silent Jesus. It’s when He starts talking that things get uncomfortable. This Jesus makes radical claims that demand a response from all who hear His words.

The Apostle John says in the closing verse of this Gospel that the whole world could not contain the books that could be written of all that Jesus said and did. But none of those things are in focus here as He is brought to trial before Pilate. There is a singular claim that is the center of attention: “He made Himself out to be the Son of God” (v7).

The religious officials of Jerusalem had been very crafty in seeking to secure a death sentence from Pilate. Knowing that Pilate would not care to meddle in a Jewish theological debate, they presented Jesus as an insurrectionist, a rabble-rouser who posed a threat to national security and Roman authority. The charges were set forth in Luke’s account: “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, and saying that He Himself is Christ, a King. … He stirs up the people” (Lk 23:2, 5). It was on the basis of these charges that Pilate had interrogated Jesus, and concluded that He was not guilty of any serious threat. Twice at this point, he had announced the verdict (18:38; 19:6). They had been unsuccessful in persuading him to convict Jesus on political charges. Their only remaining resort was to appeal to the religious charges on the basis of their own laws.

As the Roman prefect of Judea, Pilate’s primary responsibility was enforcing Roman authority in the land. But, in the interests of preserving the Pax Romana (the “peace” of Rome), he also had the responsibility of enforcing local laws as well, so long as they did not contradict Rome’s interests. Knowing this, the Jewish officials make an appeal to their own religious law as a last ditch effort to gain Pilate’s cooperation in putting Jesus to death. They say in verse 7, “We have a law.” In other words, “Though you do not find Jesus in violation of any of your Roman laws, He is in violation of one of our laws!” The law that they have in mind is the law concerning blasphemy, stated in Leviticus 24:16. The Law of God states there, “[T]he one who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall surely be put to death.” To blaspheme is, in the words of Calvin, “to assume any honor which belonged to God,” or to claim for oneself “what belongs only to God.”[4] This, they say, Jesus has done by “making Himself out to be the Son of God.”

They understood that the title “Son of God,” as used by Jesus was a claim of equating Himself with God. It was to say that He was of the same nature as God, and possessed the same authority and power as God. Now, to be sure, if anyone ever made himself out to be something of this order, that person would most definitely be guilty of blasphemy. That is, unless it were true. So the question that Pilate must now consider, and which each of us must consider, is that: Did Jesus make Himself out to be the Son of God? Or was He truly the Son of God?

Make no mistake about it, Jesus clearly claimed to be the Son of God on multiple occasions. He spoke of God as His Father, and referred to Himself as the Son (e.g., John 10:36). On that very evening, when He was interrogated by the high priest, He was commanded: “Tell us whether You are the Christ, the Son of God.” His answer was, “You have said it yourself” (Mt 26:63-64). It was fresh in their ears. Others had called Him the Son of God, and He never once corrected them. Even the demons whom He cast out of possessed people had called Him the Son of God (Mt 8:29), as did the angels who had announced His birth (Lk 1:32, 35). At least twice, God had spoken from heaven with an audible voice to declare that Jesus was His beloved Son with whom He was well pleased (Mt 3:17; 17:5). He was known in heaven, on earth, and in hell as the Son of God. But Jesus also demonstrated His unique power as the Son of God through His words and deeds. When He taught, He amazed the people because of the divine authority of His words (Mk 1:27; Lk 4:32). In one of the most telling of His miracles, He told a paralytic man that his sins were forgiven. When the religious scribes protested that He was blaspheming, for only God can forgive sins, Jesus said, “Which is easier to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’; or to say, ‘Get up, and pick up your pallet and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins,” He said to the paralytic, “I say to you, get up, pick up your pallet and go home.” And the Bible says that he got up and immediately picked up the pallet and went out (Mk 2:5-12).

He was not making Himself out to be the Son of God. He had existed from the beginning as the Son of God, or God the Son as we may say, and proved His radical claims over and over. Ultimately, on the Sunday after His crucifixion, He would provide the ultimate proof by rising from the dead. In Romans 1:4, Paul says that He “was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead.”

Yes, Jesus made radical claims – like the claim to be the unique Son of God – and those claims created a lot of trouble. But you and I must do what the religious leaders of Israel were never willing to do. We must consider whether or not these claims, no matter how radical they were, might be true. When Jesus ascended into heaven, He commanded His followers to continue to spread His message to all nations. He did not commission them to draw pictures, but to write and to proclaim His Word, because in His Word we come face to face with His radical claims. That is something many people refuse to do. And they would say that this is the trouble with Jesus. He was always making these sorts of radical claims about Himself.

But our text shows us yet one more thing some would say is the trouble with Jesus.

III. The trouble with Jesus is that He strikes dread in the hearts of those who don’t know Him. (v8)

In the first chapter of his book, The Problem of Pain, C. S. Lewis asks us to suppose

…. you were told there was a tiger in the next room: you would know that you were in danger and would probably feel fear. But if you were told “There is a ghost in the next room,” and believed it, you would feel, indeed, what is often called fear, but of a different kind. It would not be based on the knowledge of danger, for no one is primarily afraid of what a ghost may do to him, but of the mere fact that it is a ghost.[5]

Lewis says that this is a special kind of fear that may be called “Dread.” He says, “Now suppose that you were told simply ‘There is a mighty spirit in the room,’ and believed it. … [T]he disturbance would be profound. You would feel wonder and a certain shrinking.” Lewis says, “This feeling may be described as awe, and the object which excites it as the Numinous.”[6] It is like that feeling you get when you are all alone, and suddenly feel as though you are not alone. It is akin to the sensation you have when, in the middle of the night, you hear a noise, and do not know what caused it. Maybe it is nothing, or maybe it is something – something that could be wonderful or terrible for all you know. In his most well-known book, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Lewis says that when Mr. Beaver said that Aslan was on the move, “None of the children knew who Aslan was … but the moment the Beaver had spoken these words everyone felt quite different. … At the name of Aslan each one of the children felt something jump in its inside.”[7] It was an encounter with the Numinous.

I suggest to you that this is exactly what came over Pontius Pilate upon hearing the officials say that Jesus had claimed to be the Son of God. Verse 8 says that “when Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.” There was already a spark of fear within him as he dealt with Jesus. His wife had warned him of an ominous dream she had about Him the night before (Mt 27:19), and he had surely detected that there was something unusual about Jesus as he had interviewed him. Now that spark of fear was fanned into full flame as he heard these words, “Son of God.” It was the awestruck dread of the Numinous.

Though Pilate was a well-educated man, and a seemingly hardened cynic, like any other Roman, he was a deeply superstitious man. The Roman universe was haunted by the stories of a pantheon of deities and their half-divine offpring who sojourned among men from time to time. Though he’d never personally experienced it, he’d heard enough stories to believe it was just barely possible. And if possible, then perhaps this was just such an encounter. Perhaps here one of those stories that he had written off as mythology was becoming a fact before his very eyes. If this Jesus is who He says He is, then Pilate has just had a divine Person scourged and beaten to a bloody pulp. Surely, there would be a literal hell to pay.

So far as we know from Scripture and secular history, Pilate never acted on the dread that he experienced at the sound of Jesus’ claim to be the Son of God. His life ended in a shame, being deposed from his position and later taking his own life. How different it might have been for him if he had turned that moment in faith and repentance to the Son of God who had struck such dread in his heart.

Jesus is still doing this. That’s the trouble with him, some would say. He strikes such a sense of dread in the hearts of those who refuse to believe in Him. You don’t believe me? Here’s a little experiment you can try. In a few weeks, when you gather with your family and loved ones for Thanksgiving, and the conversation lulls as everyone fills their mouths with food, simply say, “I thought it would be good for us to talk about Jesus together.” Watch the looks on their faces. The room may clear, or a food fight might erupt. No one wants to do business with this dreadful deity, for to do so will mean confronting one’s own sins.

I remember the day well. It was a sunny summer day, and I found myself on a bench on the back side of Oak Island with a Bible in my hand. Before that day, I had never given thought to the possibility of God, much less of Jesus Christ. I had been invited, almost dared, by my Christian friends to join them for a week of summer camp. Every morning there was a Bible reading assignment, and I decided I would play along. On the final morning, there I sat on my little bench reading. I sat down an atheist. Before I got up, I was convinced that there was a God, that Jesus Christ was God in human flesh, and that He was as near to me as if He were sitting on the bench with me. But my only thought was of my own sinfulness. Seemingly every sin I had ever committed, every time I had taken His name in vain, every time I had ever blasphemed Him, every time I had ever rejected and debated Christians who sought to persuade me, came flooding back. To me, it was all very bad news. I spent the rest of that day in a fog of holy dread, fully aware that I had a well-deserved sentence of eternal hell awaiting me. But that evening, I heard the Good News … that Jesus had come to die for my sins so that I could be forgiven and have a personal relationship with God. My fear turned to joy as I surrendered myself to Him.

C. S. Lewis says that when he began to read the Gospels, he found them to be very unique. They were not like the myths he had grown up reading. They presented a Person, Jesus Christ, who was so “numinous, lit by a light from beyond the world.” He confessed, “if ever a myth had become fact, had been incarnated, it would be just like this. … Here and here only in all time the myth must have become fact; the Word, flesh; God, Man.”[8]

Here before Pilate stood this One – the numinous Word-made-flesh, God-become-Man, more real than all the mythology of his culture and tradition. He struck dread in Pilate’s heart. Maybe you have experienced the same. That’s the trouble with Jesus. He has a way of doing that. He isn’t going to just go away. He’s going to keep thrusting those radical claims that He made upon your conscience. And there will be this gnawing sense of dread at even the mention of His name. That’s the trouble with Jesus. Deny Him, avoid Him, ignore Him, or as these in our text found out, even kill Him. But He isn’t going away, He isn’t shutting up, and He isn’t leaving you alone. It is only as you turn to Him in repentance of your sin and faith that He is Lord and He is the Savior who can deliver us from sin, that dread becomes joy, and life becomes abundant and eternal in Him, and with Him. The Son of God has become a man, and lived among us in the Person of Jesus Christ. He died for our sins, and conquered sin and death by His resurrection, and thus He was declared with power to be the Son of God.

What’s the trouble with Jesus? Well, as it turns out, there’s really not any trouble with Jesus. There’s only trouble with us, who keep wanting Him to go away, to be quiet, and to leave us alone. He’s never going to do that. There is no trouble with Him, but He has come to bear the trouble of us all.

[1] Quoted in Robert Mounce, “John” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary (rev. ed.; Vol. 10; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005), 614.
[2] C. S. Lewis, Surprised by Joy in The Inspirational Writings of C. S. Lewis (New York: Inspirational Press, 1994), 1:106. 
[3] Ibid., 1:124-1:125.
[4] John Calvin, John (Crossway Classic Commentaries; Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway, 1994), 422.
[5] C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1996), 14-15.
[6] Ibid., 15.
[7] C. S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (New York: HarperCollins, 1994), 67-68.
[8] Lewis, Surprised by Joy, 1:129. 

No comments: