In this post we focus again on the Gospel of John, where power figures largely into the story of Jesus before Pilate. The Jewish leaders were not empowered by Rome to carry out capital punishment on their own, so Pilate the governor enters the story. Frustrated by Jesus silence, powerful Pilate threatened him with crucifixion (John 19:10). That’s when Jesus spoke truth to power. When Jesus spoke truth to power, Pilate spoke power to truth. But Jesus true truth trumped Pilate’s false power. There are many ancient remains in the Mediterranean world that testify to Rome’s powerful past. There are living churches all over the planet that testify to Jesus’ past, present and future power. That’s the truth.
As we approach the week of Jesus’ betrayal, suffering and death, it’s fitting that we consider the betrayer Judas Iscariot. Much of the New Testament teaches us by principle and by example how to follow Jesus. We enjoy feel-good stories of obedience and blessing, but we need warnings from bad examples as much as encouragement from good ones.
Apart from the crucifixion itself, the story of Judas’ betrayal is probably the saddest past of the Passion Week narrative. If you wonder about the relevance of this story for your Passion Week experience this year, remember how each of the disciples responded when Jesus told them that one of them would betray him. Instead of immediately guessing the betrayer was Judas, each of the disciples wondered whether he was the betrayer of whom Jesus was speaking. Just as Jesus’ prediction of Judas’ betrayal led the first disciples to introspection, so the story of Judas should lead us to examine our hearts this year. Apart from grace we are no better now than he was then.
The values of the Beatitudes turn the world as we know it upside down. Following Jesus means weeping as others laugh, longing for real shalom as others endorse the status quo, and being marginalized as others flourish. But it’s worth it when you consider the radical reversal of fortunes that will occur when God blows the whistle and ends the game. Jesus’ followers already enjoy the blessedness of his Lordship during difficult times, but when the game is over, the worship party really begins.
Millions of sermons have been preached since the days of Jesus, but only one of them could be known as “The Sermon.” Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5-7) is probably the most well-known of all the teachings of Jesus. The Sermon isn’t just counter-culture—sadly, in some ways, it’s counter-Christian culture. And that’s putting it mildly.
During the recent Advent season we followers of Jesus were reminded once again of the epicenter of our faith: “the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory” (John 1:14). This astounding message changes everything, and that includes prayer. But let’s be honest—the busy-ness of the new year tends to wipe away the afterglow of our Advent experience. I suggest this year we resist our tendency to forget Advent by pondering how the story of Christ’s birth impacts how we pray. Prayer can never be the same after God’s ultimate revelation, the incarnation of the Son of God. We need to pray with our minds set on Christmas.
The history of the Bible in Italy is instructive. Early reformists and later protestant reformers exemplify the clash between the reformed view of the sufficiency and clarity of the Bible and the practice of magisterial authority by the institutional church. Where do you stand on this question?