THE LOST MESSAGE OF JESUS
Steve Chalke and Alan Mann
The task of the Church is to preach Christ crucified. But surely its task is equally to preach Christ resurrected. Together, Jesus' death and resurrection represent the most potent symbols of his life-transforming message. But rather than seeing them as different events, the crucifixion and resurrection are two scenes from the same actthey are indivisible.
Scene One: The Cross
To a first-century Jew the idea of a crucified Messiah was an oxymoron. A dead Messiah was no Messiah. A crucified Jesus stripped naked, gasping for breath, for water and for dignity, would not speak of atonement or liberation to his followersit would be an unmitigated disaster! You only have to hear the mocking taunts that rained down on Jesus while he hung on the cross to understand that"He saved others but he can't save himself. If he is the Messiah, the King of Israel, let him come down from the cross!" (Mark 15:31-32).
As far as the Jewish authorities were concerned the purpose of nailing Jesus to a cross was to publicly state, "Here he is, this would-be Messiah of yours: this is what happens to failed Messiahs!"
The Romans had a well-developed justice system of which they were proud. They didn't crucify muggers or thieves and they certainly didn't crucify blasphemers from a religion in which they didn't believe. But they did crucify revolutionaries, because they posed a threat to the State. Israel's religious leaders decided to downplay their personal charge of blasphemy. Instead, trying to persuade Pilate to put Jesus to death, they charged him with attempted revolution. "We caught this man trying to get our people to riot and to stop paying taxes to the Emporer," (Luke 23:2). Of course, the reality was that Jesus had taught exactly the opposite (Matthew 5:44; Matthew 22:15-22).
Pilate had Jesus crucified between two rebels. While most modern translations of the Bible suggest they were thieves, the original Greek word is lestes; more correctly used of those convicted of using violence in an attempt to overthrow the state. But more than that, Rome didn't crucify thieves. By crucifying Jesus with these men the Romans were making a public and categorical statement that for them, at least, he was just another failed revolutionary.
Scene Two: The Resurrection
Tony Campolo tells a now well-known story of a preaching convention at this home church where he was asked to preach before his senior pastor also spoke. Campolo preached a great sermon that really connected with the congregation who he had on the edge of their seats, hanging on his every word. As he sat down beside his pastor, he patted him on the knee and simply said, "Top that." The older, black pastor looked back at him and said, "Boy, watch and learn."
It was a simple sermon, Campolo recalls. It started softly, but it slowly built in volume and intensity until the entire congregation was completely involved. It went something like this:
"It's Friday. Jesus is arrested in the garden where He was praying. But Sunday's coming!"
"It's Friday, the disciples are hiding and Peter's denying that he knows the Lord. But Sunday's coming!"
"It's Friday, Jesus is standing before the high priest of Israel silent as a Lamb. But Sunday's coming!"
It's Friday. Jesus is beaten, mocked and spat upon." At this point the preacher paused and looked out across the congregation who all responded simultaneously with the cry, "But Sunday's coming!"
"It's Friday. Jesus stands firm as they press the crown of thorns down into his brow. But Sunday's coming!"
"It's Friday. See Him walking to Calvary, the blood dripping from His body. See the cross crashing down on His back as He stumbles beneath the load. It's Friday; but Sunday's a coming."
"It's Friday. See those Roman soldiers driving the nails into the feet and hand of my Lord. Hear my Jesus cry, Father, forgive them. It's Friday; but Sunday's coming."
"It's Friday. Jesus is hanging on the cross, bloody and dying. It's Friday, but Sunday's coming."
"It's Friday. The sky grows dark, the earth begins to tremble and Jesus cries out, 'My God, My God. Why hast thou forsaken me?' What a horrible cry. It's Friday, but Sunday's coming."
"It's Friday. And Jesus is dead and his followers are beaten." Silence descended on the church. People looked at the pastor. They looked at Campolo. They looked at each other. And then, as with one voice they shouted out; "It's Fridaybut Sunday's coming!"
And that's exactly the point. Without the resurrection, the physical raising of Jesus from the dead, the cross is a bitter blow, not just for the original followers of Jesus, the people of Israel, but for all humanity and for creation itself. Its message is violence wins, might is right, the weak will always be oppressed, downtrodden and abused by the powerful. Power, privilege, position, money and the gun may rule. But the truth is, Sunday is coming! The events of that first Easter turn the tables. Love is stronger than death. The God of love takes the powers of darkness and evil on their own terms and wins. There is hope in the universe.
Excerpted from THE LOST MESSAGE OF JESUS © Copyright 2004 by Steve Chalke and Alan Mann. Reprinted with permission by Zondervan. All rights reserved.
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