A sermon for Lent:
What Got Jesus Killed: The Kingdom of God
Tonight we continue to explore what I believe to be one of the most important questions for us during the season of Lent-
Why did Jesus die on the Cross?
A few weeks ago Ann preached how Jesus was killed for equating himself with God: “I and the Father are one.”
While it is true that Jesus made these claims, Rome could have cared less about the theological quarrels and quibbles of the Jews. As a matter of fact, Rome was more concerned with political zealots like Judas Maccabeus. The time of Jesus had grown increasingly volatile, the Jews hungry for justice and freedom from 500 years of oppression.
There were rumors the Messiah was on his way, meaning Jews everywhere on the edge of their seat waiting for his call to overthrow the hands of its current oppressor: Rome.
The cross was not only reserved for guys like Barabbas, remember the violent, political traitor Pilate released instead of Jesus, but the cross was invented as a means of control, a reminder that Caesar was Lord, the Prince of Peace and if you didn’t like his Pax Romana then crucifixion was your fate..
Jesus died then, the death of a political traitor, someone forming a movement that countered the ways of Israel and Rome.
So, I want to begin with the end, I’ll give my answer for Why Jesus died on the cross, then work from there. So my answer to this central question is: “The Cross is the unavoidable cost of God’s mission.”
So what was this mission that got Jesus killed?
IN our reading from the Gospel of Luke, we find Jesus’ mission statement. Jesus, like every Jew of his time, read and reread the prophet Isaiah, because this was a prophet pregnant with hope, much like the nation of Israel.
As a matter of fact these words in Luke 4 came directly from Isaiah 61. Yet Isaiah didn’t invent these words or concepts. Rather, the mission of God found in Isaiah, quoted by Jesus come to us all the way from Leviticus 25: the year of Jubilee.
Jesus arrived in the first century scene with this message and mission: I am the jubilee.
Jubilee was the sort of hope every Israelites’ imagination was full of. Under Roman occupation, Jews throughout the Empire dreamed of Jubilee. Established under Moses, Jubilee was created as an economic institution within Israel where all debt was forgiven and every slave released on the 50th year.
In the very simplest of terms, Jubilee can be described as God’s holistic mission. The Jubilee revealed that nothing, absolutely nothing was more important than humans created in the dignity and image of their Creator, no economics system, debt, or injustice could hold people under oppression. Israel was to be a witness to God’s restoring justice by instituting the Jubilee.
And under the vicious violence of the Romans, freedom and restoration is exactly what Israel longed for. So, when Jesus came making this claim that in him, God’s rule was coming on earth, just like he had taught the disciples to pray, “Your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” Jesus wasn’t making mere spiritual statement about the state of your soul when you die, he was making political pronouncements:
In me God’s restoration is occurring, the hope that you wait for is now in your midst.
Basically, Jesus was making the claim that exile was over and God’s kingdom, his rule of was present among them.
Now that’s good news to captive Israel, right?
From some Jewish writers from the 1st and 2nd century, we find that “repent and believe,” terms Jesus used to build this Kingdom movement, meant he was asking for nothing less than full allegiance, allegiance to himself as the way of Jubilee.
But every group found something didn’t like & wanted Jesus dead over. He was either too radical or he wasn’t radical enough.
This last week, I heard a condemning statement that said, “if Jesus came down and lived among us now, we wouldn’t crucify him, we’d laugh at him.” For the same reasons those in the 1st century killed him, we in the 21st century mock him.
One such group, is the ever recognizable Pharisees.
For the Pharisees, what got Jesus killed was their religion. Now I know everyone gives these guys a bad wrap, but I think if we were being honest ourselves then we’d most likely identify with them. See, the Pharisees were the common people who preferred the familial and communal worship of the synagogue to the Temple. These were the guys who worked hard to keep their faith intact while the Greeks propagated their culture everywhere. If it wasn’t for the Pharisees, who knows, orthodox Judaism may have been lost to Hellenism.
Eugene Peterson, the author of the Message Bible says that if Jesus was looking to align himself with a group, it would have been the Pharisees, grassroots, common people.
Where the Pharisees wanted to divide and define life by what was sacred and what was not, Jesus’ very presence collapsed their system of religious boundaries. The sacred became the secular and vice versa.
Jesus makes this claim on our lives: to follow Jesus means to give your life in every way. There is no part of you or your life that is separate from God. Yet, we still like to exclude God from our daily lives.
The same as the Pharisees, we hide behind our religion.
We think as long we go to church, serve on a committee, teach Sunday school, sing in the choir; we’ve fulfilled our allegiance to Jesus.
Jesus’ call to put our allegiance in God’s Kingdom means orienting our entire lives, our jobs, families, and careers, and even our church around him. It’s not the separate and definable Law that interests Jesus, but the living relationships of loving God and neighbor.
Does your life reflect the Kingdom of love and justice?
Another group that murdered Jesus was the Sadducees. The Sadducees were the affluent and aristocratic types, they were the priestly class.
For the Sadducees, what got Jesus killed was their nationalism. Because of bad theology, the Temple had become the single sign of God’s presence for Israel, therefore God was on their side. It was the Jewish hope that the Messiah would come and destroy all of Israel’s opponents.
Somehow Gods kingdom had become reduced to a single location, a single theology. The Sadducees forgot that Israel’s existence was not for themselves, but for others, for God to bless the world through.
A few weeks ago, one of our countries most important leaders said:
“The United States is the Last Great Hope of the World.”
The same as Caesar’s claim as Prince of Peace and Lord of Lord, and the Temple’s claim on God’s presence, we tend to make nationalistic claims reserved only for Jesus.
And the reason we do this is we don’t trust that Jesus’ ways are the best ways. We say we believe in Jesus as our Savior and Lord bringing in Jubilee, but we trust our nation for our salvation and freedom.
For Jesus, the means did not justify the ends because in God’s Kingdom, the means become the End. The final eschatological hope, the hope Israel had been waiting for, of God’s final Jubilee came through Jesus’ ministry of healing, forgiveness, reconciliation, enemy love, service, and self denial.
To follow Jesus means pledging allegiance first and foremost to God’s kingdom: a Kingdom here but not yet. We tend to put our trust and salvation not in Jesus’ ways (which by the way we’d rather ridicule), but in our nation’s way, the pursuit of the American dream.
Which last great hope of the world do you truly trust?
Another group couldn’t stand the means of Jesus. This group always justified their means with their ends.
For the Zealots, what got Jesus killed was their propensity toward violence. This was the group, inspired by the Maccabean revolution and filled with deep passion for the Jubilee -for freedom and restoration, that fervently worked to bring in God’s reign by overthrowing Rome.
Jesus’ mission statement from Isaiah 61 is remarkable for not only what it includes, but also what it excludes. Jesus says the Spirit is on him to preach the Gospel, proclaim freedom to the captives and release the oppressed (important to the zealots), and proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.
Then he stops, and rolls up the scroll, certainly stealing the thunder from anyone with a tendency toward violence in the room. See in Isaiah, that final sentence reads:
To proclaim the favorable year of the LORD
And the day of vengeance of our God;
Obvious enemy love and forgiveness wouldn’t go over to well with this crowd, it may even get you thrown off a cliff. Jesus trusted this commitment to nonviolence all the way to the cross.
Do you pledge allegiance to a Kingdom where the means are the ends?
Many other names and ways of approaching life could be mentioned, both 1st century and 21st. Ultimately though what lead to the cross was Jesus’ ways for bringing about the Way.
For Jesus, the means are the ends. The kingdom had come and is coming. NO nation, church, or religion has the absolute right to claim God on their side.
The Kingdom shows up in glimpses when we feed the poor, clothe the naked, visit the sick and those in prison. The Kingdom reveals itself when we find our lives intersecting with God’s life in the world.
Jesus was killed for fulfilling his mission statement- for creating a movement of people within Israel and beyond who trusted his ways over the worlds.
What got Jesus killed was his call for allegiance not to God’s Kingdom, but God’s way of bringing about that Kingdom:
For the same reasons Jesus was killed in the 1st century, we mock him in the 21st-
“If anyone wants to follow me, he must pick up his cross and deny himself.”