What will I do with this man?

Mark 15:1-5

“And Pilate asked him, ‘are you the King of the Jews?’ And he answered him, ‘You have said so.’” V. 2

Pilate sat on the edge of his bronze couch staring across the dirty street outside his palace. He watched the people rushing in and out of the markets, priests scurrying like rats to their duties, and soldiers sleepily keeping morning watch. Balancing his goblet between his heavily jeweled fingers he looked at his distorted reflection on the surface of the wine.

“What will I do with this man?”

The beleaguered Governor had been at this for seven years, about five years too long. He was weary of desert living, among strange people with strange ideas. At first he found the silly costumes and obsessive practices of the priests to be amusing. He could entertain himself for hours listening to the meticulous pharisaic regulations about food, clothing, days of the week, and the contradicting interpretations of ritual cleanness. How much easier to please are the gods of Rome, than this Hebrew deity. He never understood how, amidst all the regulations and purifications, anyone ever found time to live. Religious obsession can be fun to watch, but beyond that he saw little use for it.

But now, after almost a decade of placating these fools the fun had worn off. “Oh Tiberius, what great offense to you and the gods did I commit to deserve this fate?”

He was sick of religion. Sick of politics. Sick of playing games. But something happened this morning that left him shaken.

It was early morning. The sun had barely managed to crawl out of its bed behind the sandy horizon and the sky offered only a hint of daylight. Pilate’s deep wine induced sleep was shattered by the trembling voice of his servant,

“Sir, your attention is needed. It seems the Jewish priests have a man in custody. They say he is inciting rebellion.”

Pilate, still hung over from the previous night, tried to keep his head from rolling off his shoulders and splattering into the floor. He struggled to adjust his red eyes to sunlight.

“This had better be good! Have them wait until I arrive.”

The Governor took a bit of pleasure in making them wait as long as possible. When he arrived and took his place on the Judgment seat he condescendingly waved his hand, signaling the plaintiffs to speak. Few things can compound the throbbing pain of a hangover like a gaggle of angry priests screaming obscenities against the marble walls. All he could make out was something about false prophets, and someone claiming to be King of the Jews. Finally Pilate, unable to handle any more, lifted up his hand, with pained eyes closed.

“Stop! Leave the criminal here with me. The rest of you, get out of my sight!”

Two soldiers escorted the council out into the courtyard. When they were alone, Pilate still nursing his headache surveyed this man standing before him. The idea of such a humble man posing any threat to Rome made Pilate chuckle within himself. “Let’s just get this over with. I need a bath.” He muttered, and then spoke to Yeshua.

“They say you claim to be the King of the Jews. I can hardly imagine why anyone would want to rule over such people, but, to each his own. Nevertheless, making such a claim, regardless of how absurd it may appear, is considered treason against Rome, and is punishable by death. So now I’m going to ask you a question, and you must consider carefully how you answer. Do you understand what’s at stake here?”

Silence filled the room. Yeshua simply stood staring into eternity. Pilate was struck with the serene courage of this man. He started to wish he had soldiers with that kind of strength. After a few moments of waiting, the question came.

“Are you the king of the Jews?”

Pilate felt an uneasy tension, knowing that what Yeshua said next would determine how they would spend the afternoon. If he said, “No” Pilate could set him free. But if “Yes” death was automatic. The battered messiah raised his head and stared into Pilate’s weary soul. His eyes seemed to say more to Pilate than he had ever heard from a prophet or priest of any religion.

 “You have said so.” was the reply.

Pilate was stunned. Yeshua had put the ball back in the Governor’s court. The decision about Jesus Kingship had to be decided in the heart, not in the courtroom. Pilate was now the one on trial, as is everyone confronted with Yeshua. The Nazarene had presented Pilate with more than religious games. He was confronting him with the condition of his heart. Will this Nazarene be king or not? Pilate could only stand so much introspection, so he sent Yeshua out, walked over to his couch, poured himself some wine and looked out on the streets of Jerusalem.

What will I do with this man?”

Promises are easier kept around the table.

Mark 14:66-72

“And he broke down and wept.” v. 72 

Promises are easier kept around the table than before the fire. The one Yeshua had named the rock, now lay in pieces in an alley outside the courtyard. The accusing roosters scream tore into his inner ear with unrelenting mockery. There’s a kind of weeping that is so deep that it makes your whole body convulse until you vomit up burning grief from deep places you had no idea existed. Peter was discovering depths of sadness that tore his soul to shreds.

“I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me…” He had said. “One who dips his bread with me…” 

Writhing on the ground Peter felt like a serpent impaled with a spear. All he could do was relive those horrible moments.

He had been standing by the fire warming himself, not sure if he should fight or run. He knew for sure he would be arrested for assaulting that servant, so he considered going into hiding. But he was unable to move. Suspended helplessly between his concern for Jesus, and his instinct to avoid further trouble, he warmed his hands while his synapses raced for a plan. Then she approached.

She didn’t bring any accusations, just a simple statement. Why does it seem our greatest temptations come wrapped in plain brown paper, almost unnoticeable until too late? She casually mentioned, “You were with that Nazarene.”

Fearful that she would point him out as the one who assaulted the servant, he tried to protect his cover,

“No, sorry, you’ve got the wrong guy lady.”     

The Rooster crowed.

Peter reasoned to himself, “I wasn’t denying him, just my association, in case they’re looking for me.”

Not only does temptation come in plain brown paper, it finds an opening and keeps coming.

Enter the servant girl again, only this time she told all the bystanders.

“Hey this is one of the disciples of that Nazarene.”

Fearing this time they would surely report him, he denied it.

“I’m not denying him, just my association with him. I can tell them later after all this blows over.” He assured himself.      

Then another chimed in, “Hey I can tell by your accent, you’re a Galilean. I know you’re one of them!”  Temptation also plays hard on your fears, and Peter was fearful of more trouble.

“_______it! I don’t know this Nazarene you’re talking about.” He shouted.

Almost immediately the rooster cut through the night with a menacing indictment. At this all his rationalizing and reasoning fell into a million scathing pieces. Peter ran into the night, oblivious to the laughing crowd behind him.

The sound of his master’s warning couldn’t be drowned out by his convulsing heart.

“Before the rooster crows twice, you will deny me three times.” Yeshua had said.

Promises are easier kept around the table than before the fire.

Satan delivered a package in brown paper and Peter received it first class.  What do you do when the promise you gave the Lord at the table, fails the test of fire?

Through the torrents of emotion Peter could only think of his dear friend, betrayed by those he had given so much to. Flashes of memory cascaded into his consciousness compounding his grief.

Every word Yeshua had spoken, every deed he had done hovered over Peter with a crushing heaviness. Glimpses of walking on water, passing out bread, and opening blind eyes hammered  him with unstoppable force.

Peter spent hours sitting in the corner of his home, arms folded around legs, rocking back and forth. “He gave me a life, and I gave him death. Oh God have mercy. His blood is on my head.”

But somewhere in the night something clicked. “Yeshua knew this would happen. He warned me. He wasn’t surprised. He knew I would falter. But he didn’t send me away.”    

That thought seemed to give him some hope, although he didn’t know why.

He knows that much of what we say at the table doesn’t make it past the door of the upper room, much less to the fire of trial. Yet he still calls us to be with him.   That’s the gospel.

One cross is better than a thousand.

Mark 14:53-65   

“But he remained silent and made no answer.” v. 61

“Let’s get this over with.”,  Caiaphas roared himself and the council awake. He hated these late night trials with a passion. But time was of the essence with Passover fast approaching. News of this Nazarene’s rebellion had kept the High Priest awake many a night, so he was pleased to have finally apprehended him, especially before the feast day. “The last thing we need is a false prophet running around at the most holy time of the year.”  The only thing he despised more than the filthy Romans was rabble rousers like this Yeshua, who threatened, not only the spiritual well being of Israel, but also her political stability. Rome doesn’t take too kindly to rival kings. “I’ve seen too many crosses along the highway, to let some misguided mystic start another rebellion. One cross is better than a thousand.”

One by one the witnesses came bearing testimony.

“I heard him say he wanted to destroy the Temple.”

“Well, I heard him say he was going to build a new temple in three days….”

“Or was it seven?”

“He told us to eat the flesh and drink the blood of Roman soldiers, or something like that.”

It wasn’t long before Caiaphas weary mind was unable to keep all the accusations together. Trying to sort out truth from innuendo this late at night was like trying to catch the evening rain in a fishing net. His vision, weak enough as it was, began to falter amidst the dance of flickering lamps and shadows across centuries old tapestries. The smell of incense fought in vain against the stench of councilmen and soldiers encircling the accused, eyes burning like hot coals into innocent lambs flesh. And there stood Yeshua, in the center. He was strikingly calm for a man facing death. He seemed impervious to the barrage of piercing accusations raining upon him. How could he be so silent? He had to know he was going to die! One cross is better than a thousand.

When the last accuser completed his clearly contrived testimony, the council members sat there, a bit baffled about what to do next. They all seemed to be shaking their nets along with Caiaphas, who sat there rubbing swollen eyes and massaging a throbbing forehead. He could feel a new furrow forming as he awaited any further testimony. For a moment he allowed the silence to linger while he marveled at the man who stood before him, bound in chains, but freer than anyone in the room.

Yeshua stood for the longest time averting his gaze to the floor, then to the ceiling, then around the room. But still he said nothing. No defense was made against the flimsy testimonies. No pleas for mercy, or claim to innocence, nothing but silence. After a moment of stillness and quiet confusion, all eyes in the room, except for Yeshua, turned to Caiaphas, whose weary eyes widened like a deer caught in the headlights. Straightening his robe and clearing his throat he asked Yeshua to speak.

“What do you have to say about these accusations?”

Silence continued to loiter like an unwanted guest, so the High Priest pierced deeply into the heart of the matter.

“Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed?” This question was the fuse, that once lit, set off the explosion that changed a covert trial into a virtual riot.

Until now, Yeshua had not made eye contact with Caiaphas. After a brief uncomfortable silence, the accused deliberately raised his battered head until his gazed was locked onto his interrogator. Piercing black eyes riveted the fatigued priest into the back of his chair. For a moment Caiaphas felt that he himself was the one on trial, and Yeshua was the High Priest. The accused spoke with stunning regal force. “I am…”

At this Caiaphas felt himself wither away like a leaf in a storm. He could barely keep from falling to the floor. What followed next crashed upon him like the red sea upon ancient Pharaoh’s army.

” and you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of power, and coming with the clouds of heaven.”

The short fuse incinerated. The room exploded.

The tearing of cloth. A scream for justice. The sound of fists crashing into Yeshua’s face.

Foreboding blood spatter sprinkling angry men.

An hour passed before the room cleared and Yeshua was dragged off toward his death.

Caiaphas sat there alone, staring at blood washed tapestries, and listening to the echo of Yeshua’s claim. He had tried and executed many false prophets in his years as High Priest. But this time something shook him. No matter how hard he tried to justify the means with the end, he couldn’t quite escape the queasy feeling that Yeshua wasn’t the one on trial here. Hours later, he lay awake in his bed, repeatedly muttering neurotically to himself, “Better for one man to die than everyone else, right? One cross is better than a thousand…right?”

 

Naked Faith

Mark 14:43-52

“And a young man followed him, with nothing but a linen cloth about his body. And they seized him, but he left the linen cloth and ran away naked.” V. 52

Cleptus thought his lungs were going to collapse. Falling naked into a thicket of brush and stones, he tried to suppress his frantic wheezing until the squad of soldiers passed by. He felt relieved that they had quickly lost interest in him, as they dragged Yeshua away into the night.

His weary head spun wildly in a sea of fatigue and slowly waning fear. Heavy perspiration and garden foliage was his only covering. He considered going back for his linen cloth, but apprehension kept him in hiding. He was now living everyone’s worst nightmare; finding yourself naked in a public place, and looking for cover. Only for him the dream was real. He sat there trembling, his mind racing for a plan.

Eventually he mustered the courage to go back to the place where it all went down, retrieve his cover and make his way to his shelter. After cleaning off and falling into his tiny cot, he laid face upward entranced by the handful of stars that peeked through the hole in his ceiling. “It must not be meant to be.” He moaned through hot jagged tear streams burning frustration into his thin cheekbones.

Ever since last year, when he happened upon this Rabbi, who was blessing a group of children, he had wanted to meet this amazing man from Nazareth. He wanted to talk with him about so many things, but it seemed like the whole universe was conspiring to stop him from making contact. He had heard incredible stories about this miracle working sage, but what really caught his attention was that day when he watched this Messiah playing with a bunch of children.

Until then Cleptus hadn’t had much use for any god. To him gods, if they existed at all, were interested in little more than toying with people, or making unreasonable demands of piety.  But then, he saw this man of God, who some said, was a god, stooping down in genuine love for snotty nosed, smelly, wild eyed children. It made him start rethinking the whole god thing. It made Cleptus want to change his ways. He was tired of stealing. Tired of running. Tired of being afraid.

But this was the kicker. Every time Cleptus tried to get close to Yeshua, he came up just a little too late. Once, he saw Jesus teaching from a boat. At the end of the teaching he fought his way toward him, but by the time he arrived at the shore, Jesus was halfway across the water. He prayed late into endless nights, “God if you’re real, and if this Yeshua is really from you, let me meet him.” But time after time he found himself too late, too slow. But tonight it looked like his prayer was going to be answered.

He had just finished bathing himself, when he glanced out his small window and caught a glimpse of a group of men heading into the garden. He recognized Yeshua was one of them. Cleptus, not wanting to take time to dress, grabbed a linen sheet and sprinted into the darkness, tiptoeing around sharp rocks and thorns. The pain was a small price to finally meet this Yeshua of Nazareth.

When he came upon them, the men were sleeping some distance away, while Yeshua appeared to be in prayer. The site of Yeshua, calling out into the night sky, with tears and blood dancing together down the Rabbis face, left Cleptus in awe. How can one speak so intimately with thin air? He wondered. Was there someone really out there, listening?

Cleptus planned to wait until the Rabbi was finished praying, before approaching him. But the opportunity never came. The rapid-fire events that followed filled him with terror. Swords, clubs and torches sent men scattering in all directions. Panic invaded everyone there…except Yeshua. “How do you have such peace when hell breaks out upon you?” The Rabbi seemed to be the only one in control of himself. Even the soldiers seemed unnerved, but not Yeshua. “I’ll never forget that about him.” Cleptus whispered to himself there on his lonely cot.

He didn’t sleep though. He tried to utter a prayer, but started to doubt if anyone would hear. He had prayed for a chance to meet Yeshua, but it never came. He had watched Yeshua pray for help, then he saw him marched away like a common criminal. Even his friends left him.

“If those who claim to be his friends don’t stick with him, then why should I?” He murmured through clinched teeth. “That poor guy’s as good as dead now. Whatever chance I had is gone now.” He spat out. “If God’s out there he must not think much of a crook like me.”

Barely had the words crossed his weary mind, when the morning silence was blasted by the sound of soldiers crashing through his rickety door. They quickly bound him, and ransacked his house, finding the Centurion’s stolen silver. “You thought you’d make a quick sale eh? Well, today you have an appointment with your god! You filthy thief!” Later that afternoon Cleptus found himself cinched to a crossbeam with two others. He could feel the life seeping out of him. Looking to his left he is shocked to see Yeshua.

Cleptus watched, stunned by the jeers and taunts, hurled at the rabbi. The curses all seemed powerless against Yeshua’s obvious love for them. He suffered so terribly, beaten to a pulp, his flesh torn from his body as if by a ravenous animal. Yet Yeshua almost seemed in control even here. “What is this man dying for?” It didn’t make sense to Cleptus. Funny thing was, it didn’t have to. When you find yourself face to face with somebody like that, you don’t have to understand everything, you just have to believe. At that moment Cleptus found Yeshua and Yeshua found him.  That’s the good news.

Just stay awake and watch.

Mark 14:32-42

“My soul is very sorrowful, even to death. Remain here and watch.” V. 34

Sometimes you can feel the darkness. The black night sky pours out thick oil on your shoulders, smothering any semblance of daylight. Andrew dug in just far enough from the master to hear his faint groaning’s mingled with haunting night sounds, harmonizing with an eerie sense of foreboding.  There’s a kind of hypnotic effect that comes over a weary soul, in the late hours, blurring the lines between consciousness and sleep. You don’t really know how much is real, and how much is just in your head. This is one of those nights that make you long for something to happen, good or bad. You’d just about welcome anything at all to shake you out of this limbo.

Andrew wanted to stay awake but his eyelids fused into iron with every creeping moment, and his head was drunk on darkness and firelight. To stay awake he tried to nail his eyelids on his master who was in prayer a few yards, seemed like miles, away.

In the past three years he had seen Jesus angry, sad, joyful, frustrated, and even a bit perplexed on occasions, but never like this.  It was a bit unnerving to see him shaking so violently. His whole body seemed to quake and totter constantly on the edge of an abyss. A momentary flash of firelight revealed what looked like a foreboding stream of blood priming Jesus ashen face.

Andrew found himself running to Jesus with a long sword slashing and cutting away at a fierce dark beast, which was jabbing a makeshift crown full of thorns onto the Rabbi’s head. Then there were bats with red mocking eyes coming at him from all sides, spitting fire at Jesus. Andrew was swinging wildly, but then his sword grew heavy. He tried to run, but couldn’t move his legs. Another dark beast shoved a spear at the master, piercing his rib cage. Andrew tried to fight but was too weak to lift his hands. He screamed out echoes of terror into the night sky.

The next thing he felt was a hand on his shoulder, shaking him. “Wake up! Andrew! Wake up. You’re dreaming! The master is coming.”

Trying to rub the embarrassment from his eyes, Andrew stood up with the others, letting the cold night air resuscitate him.

“Could you not watch one hour? Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

Jesus’ words cut into Andrew’s heart leaving him fumbling in vain for a response. His weary frame dipped back against a tree watching Jesus enter the ring for another round.

Seeing his teacher rock back and forth with the world perched on his shoulders, its crushing claws sinking deep, Andrew wanted to do something. But what do you do when the world seems to be suffocating in darkness, and even God seems powerless to stop it? He decided in such a time all he could do was try to stay awake, and keep his gaze riveted on his teacher, no matter how hard it became to see him. There must be some battles that only Jesus can fight. So  Andrew kept telling himself, “Stay awake and watch. Just stay awake and watch. Just stay awake and watch.  Just stay awake….”

The diamond of redemption.

Mark 14:22-25

“and Jesus said, ‘You will all fall away… but after I am raised up I will go before you.’ ” v. 26

It’s set like a precious jewel between betrayal and denial. In the text, you can see it arranged perfectly. Before the bread and wine, he predicts betrayal, then after, denial and abandonment is foretold. Set indelibly in between two great human tragedies are the words of our Lord, “This is my body…this is my blood.” I don’t think the position of these words is coincidental.

Jesus first predicts the searing dagger of betrayal, clothed in a kiss of friendship. Then he offers the bread and wine of the New Covenant. After that he declares that he will not only be betrayed, but abandoned and denied by those closest to him. What a tragically beautiful picture of redeeming love. This is the gospel. This is the good news.

The betrayer prepares to make his way to the door under pretense of charity, while the others staunchly declare their willingness to die at his side. He knows they want to, but they can’t. They don’t yet have the power to match their passion. But there he stands, heavens brightest diamond, set between humanities failings. This is the gospel. This is the good news.

We’re all betrayers at heart, waiting for the right bag of silver to draw us away from our redeemer’s side. We’re all scattered sheep, looking incessantly for some place a little greener than we had yesterday. He listen’s with love to our porcelain promises, cracks forming as we speak. He can already hear the rooster crowing in the background. He knows we have passion, but don’t trust his power to see it through.  But there he stands, with bread and wine in hand, offering more love than we can ever imagine or repay.  This is the gospel. This is good news.

He knows the wolves are coming, the sheep are growing restless, and the rooster is about to play taps on our resolve.  But still he offers us his body, broken and his blood poured out. He is the diamond set in the midst of your greatest point of brokenness. Your past failures, and present struggles, and even your future disappointments form the setting to reflect the glory of his redeeming love. In the same way the setting of a ring is transformed when it receives the precious stone, you have been offered God’s glorious new covenant of grace. Once you receive him, your failures are transformed forever. You are never the same. That is the gospel. That is the good news.

Am I the betrayer?

P1070664

Mark 14:17- 21

“They began to be sorrowful and say to him one after another, ‘is it I?’” v. 19

It’s one of those dinner conversations that destroy whatever appetite you thought you had. It’s hard to swallow with your heart crawling into your throat, its pained beating drowning out the usual sounds of munching and swallowing. “Why did he have to say that?”

Jesus’ words, “one of you will betray me.” exceed discomfort. Like swallowing an anvil, the words, sink deep into the bowels tearing a hole in my deepest fear. My head spins with panic, and I blurt out every defense I have. I quickly build up a fortress for my terror-stricken consciousness.

“I’m making a stand!”

“I’ll die before I deny.”

“I pledge allegiance to you.”

“I’m an overcomer for you Lord!”

Too many “I’s” create a crack in the wall, dark fear oozes through burning away my certainty.

The walls dissolve like a sand castle at evening tide. Slowly, methodically even, defenses give way to inner voices I thought to be extinct, but now come bubbling to the surface, terrorizing me. With sharp claws they pick and scrape and tear away at every past failure, every moral flaw, until I lay exposed and bleeding with shame. But no one sees. Or do they? I hate this.

I look through blurring eyes, unable to eat another bite. “Is it I?”

Am I the betrayer? Could I eat with him, and then turn on him? Am I that shallow? Is my love so flimsy?

Where will I be when the hour of darkness comes?   Holding a candle or a bag of silver?

I try to comfort my rickety heart. I want to prop it up with pious clichés and fervent declarations. But the props are made of faulty materials that crack under pressure.

Who am I kidding?  It has to be me. He knows me all too well.

He’s seen the games I play in the dark.

He’s heard the deals I make with my conscience to get by.

He has a front row seat to my deepest thoughts.

I’m sure it’s me. Who else could it be?

I look around at the others. Towers of strength. All of them.

The others are holier. Wiser. Purer.

They don’t battle with my demons. I deserve this. I’m such a fake.

“Lord is it I?”

We’re all asking, but I think everyone knows it’s me.

I know too well, how brittle I am inside.

The thought of what I am deep down is crushing me.

I wish I could be stronger.

Like Judas, over there. No wonder Jesus trusts him with the money.

He looks so sure. He’s so confident. He’s so together.

Can’t be him.

“Lord, is it I?”

I can barely sit up. I’m so weak.

I need to be near him.

Close to him. I have to lean on his strong shoulder.

I lean in, resting my heaviness on his strength.

I release my fears into his shoulder, tears soak his robe.

Then he hands me a cup and a piece of bread.

And bids me eat and drink with him.