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.
I like comedies better than tragedies. Stories with warm, fuzzy endings where they all live happily ever after get me every time. I shy away from stories that end in defeat, death-beds, and despair. What about you? There are lots of warm, fuzzy stories in the Bible—the grand epic or meta-narrative that we call the Bible is the greatest comedy of them all. But there are some tragic episodes in the biblical saga of redemption, episodes like the one we find in John 5. Evidently we need tragedies too.
The brutal killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis and other recent racially-centered incidents have raised tensions in the USA to the boiling point. Racial animus is a sad part of American history—the “melting pot” can get very ugly. The story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman in John 4 shows that we can overcome racial prejudice if we focus on God’s plan to unite people from all the branches of the human family in true worship through the Spirit sent by Jesus. All humans were originally made in the image of God, and God is at work today through the good news about Jesus to create a new humanity that worships God together in Spirit and truth, not in isolated ethnic enclaves.
Nicodemus is not just another leader of Israel who ganged up on Jesus. He’s a complicated guy whose story leaves us with questions. His kin are still to be found in churches today, leaving pastors with difficult soul-care questions.
Images of an empty tomb, viewed “from the outside in,” are common. Like the first followers of Jesus, we look into the empty tomb as spectators of a historical event. But there’s more to the resurrection than this. We also need to picture the resurrection “from the inside out,” as participants in its power. The resurrection transforms us internally when we open ourselves to God in faith. We need to think of ourselves as looking out of the empty tomb of our past life toward our new life with Christ. We’re not just watching what happened to someone else a long time ago, we are sharing in that experience today. We have risen with Christ!