Why, Jesus?

The following is the manuscript and audio from the sermon I preached this Palm/Passion Sunday at EUMC, entitled "Why, Jesus?"  Join the conversation...

“Why, Jesus?”

Mark 15:1-39
April 1, 2012
Emmanuel UMC
Rev. Aaron B. Kesson

Reading and hearing these words from Mark 15 sends shivers up my spine each and every time I experience them.  Unlike the words of the procession of palms, these words are wrought with despair, wrenched with hopelessness, foreshadowing betrayal and the experience of humiliation, and end with isolation and death.  You may be asking why we are hearing these words on this day.  I mean- Why don't we just stick with the waving of palms and the humble entry of Jesus upon a borrowed mule? - Why don't we simmer with the elaborate images of what it would have been like to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem, shouting hosannas! and blessed be the one who comes in the name of the Lord! as our hopes and dreams for Messiah have become closer to reality?  It would seem that ending the story there, adding a few more miracles of healing, some more turning of water into wine, and raising the dead to round out the edges would be sufficient.  I mean, it would be a lot more convenient if that were the extent of the story, wouldn't it?

Today marks the beginning of what is called holy week, the final week of Jesus' earthly life.  Over the past several weeks, we have experienced the joy of the palms as Jesus entered Jerusalem, we have experienced the righteousness of God as Jesus cleansed the temple, we have experienced the awesome power of God to heal even those whom society has deemed untouchable.  More recently, we have come to realize God's compassion and desire to be with us as Jesus broke bread with the disciples in the upper room.  In the same way, we have experienced the betrayal and agony of Jesus as he prayed in the garden that if it were possible, if there was another way, if there was another option, he would gladly accept it - yet nevertheless, the will of the Father was what he would follow.
This morning, we experience the culmination of the events of the previous days as we approach Friday, the day of crucifixion, the day the world would never be the same.  The day that Jesus willingly gave up his rights, his God-ship, his life...

But, why?

Why did Jesus die on the cross?  Was it so that we would feel better about ourselves?  Was it so that we could have an extra day off each week?  Or was it to save us?  If so, save us from what? working on Sunday? or who?... "those people?"  Was the purpose of the cross so that we would have something shiny to adorn ourselves with?  Or have an excuse not to associate with particular groups of people because they haven't been "saved"?

These sound like ridiculous reasons, don't they?  But think about it for a moment... how many of these 'reasons' have you allowed to take root in your heart?  How many times have you fallen prey to the lie that the cross has made you better than someone else when in fact the cross has made us all equal before God?
Throughout the ages since the crucifixion of Jesus, theologians have tried to understand the purpose behind Jesus' death on the cross.  In theology, this is called the "atonement" or the attempt to reunite God and humankind.

In fact, God tried this before - through people like Moses and Noah, but the people continued to complain and reject God's presence and promises.  Later on, through the prophets God tried to show humankind that he was interested in our existence as eternal beings and that there was an opportunity to repent of our sin.  When we failed to recognize God's efforts to be reunited with us, God decided ultimately to become one of us, being born of a virgin and rooted in humble beginnings, so that we could see that God is not blinded to the needs of humanity.  This is the reason God sent us his Son Jesus, the Passover Lamb, Emmanuel - God in the flesh to die for us.

It is in my experience of being a father that I have come to realize more clearly the reason for God's decision to live among us as one of us and to give his own life for us.  I find no greater joy in life than my opportunity to be a father to Andrew and Joshua.  One word is all it takes to melt my heart... "daddy".  It is in hearing that one word that I know they trust me, that they love me, and that they know I love them.  It doesn't matter how many times they disobey me, how many times they fail to follow through, or whether or not they will be "successful" in life, as long as I am their daddy, everything is going to be alright - for them and for me.

You see, it is not enough for me to simply bear the title "father" and never have my children experience the love I have for them as their "daddy".  Yes, there are those "moments", but those times are nothing compared to the joy I feel when their little arms are wrapped tightly around my neck as I carry them about like little monkeys.  It would not be far from the truth for me to say, as I have heard so many parents say, that I would give my life for my children.  Suffering for them would be the greatest expression of love that I could ever give.

The same is true for God -
simply becoming one of us was not enough to show God's love toward all humankind.  
God knew, even before the world began (John 1) that there would be a sacrifice to trump all sacrifices.  God knew that we would need Jesus... Not simply because the "law" demanded an appropriate sacrifice, or because somehow evil might triumph if God didn't become human and die for the sins of the world, but because God desired for all humankind to see him as "daddy".  God became one of us - to suffer as one of us - to experience humiliation as one of us - to experience alienation and isolation as one of us - and ultimately, to die as one of us so that we might see that God loves each and every one of us with a far-reaching, never-ending, always-giving kind of love.

One time, when Andrew and Josh were playing with their new found friends at the park, I remember feeling so proud when Andrew walked toward me, tugging his friend behind him, excitedly telling him - "this is my daddy, he is the best daddy in the whole world!"  Yes, my daddy-pride meter increased a few notches and I felt quite accomplished, but the pride I experienced only paled in comparison to Andrew's pride in sharing with his friend, his relationship with me.  In fact, I am sure that my pride is only a blip on the radar in comparison to the immense pride experienced in God's heart when we lead others to him!

When have you shared the far-reaching, never-ending, always-giving kind of love that only Jesus can give?  I imagine that the daddy-pride meter increases within God's heart each time we decide to share Jesus with others, pointing them to the reality of God's love.

Praise God that we know the story doesn't end with the crucifixion and burial of Jesus - That Sunday is coming when the women will find the grave empty and later meet the risen Jesus on the road.  However, there are many - some may be here today - who can find no end to the hopelessness, suffering, and pain in their own lives.  There are many to whom the story of Jesus' crucifixion is just another story amidst others that has been used to exclude rather than to include, and that serve to alienate rather than to demonstrate God's desire to be re-connected and reconciled with the entire world.  They need to know that the darkness in their lives is overcome by the Light of the World, and that their suffering is not foreign to God.  They need to know that God has been there, right where they are at.  They need to experience the arms of a loving God wrapping around their heart, comforting them, ministering to them, bringing hope to them.

The thing that we must not forget is that many times, we are those arms!  You may be that comforting presence somebody may need in their time of trial.  You may be that essential element in that person's search for meaning and faith.  The question is... Are you willing to be that presence?
As the events of Jesus' final week continued, the world was watching...

The world is watching us now...
They need to know why...
Why the suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus?  Because "God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.  For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him."  That's why!


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