By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 24, 2022
John 20:19–31 (ESV)
19 On the evening of that day, the first day of the week, the doors being locked where the disciples were for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.” 20 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were glad when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” 22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld.” 24 Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” 26 Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” 27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” 28 Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” 30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; 31 but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
This past week I have contemplated a great deal. I have tried to explain my lifestyle of prayer often as I have spoken here. I do not really follow any real discipline that people could label. It is a little bit Lectio Divina where you pray with scripture and it is a little bit just sitting in my chair thinking and saying, “I don’t have a clue.” Actually, if I am honest, the I don’t have a clue prayer has been said on multiple occasions. It could probably be what could be engraved on my memorial marker when that time comes. “Here lies Jared, he wanted to do something yet he did not have a clue.”
I say that in jest, but it is true. This weekend while we had a movie night with the family, I sat watching Disney’s Encanto, I know all good conservative Christians are supposed to be protesting Disney, but I also have another thing that goes through my mind sometimes, I don’t really care. I love Disney movies. I always have and I most likely always will. I like them because they often start a conversation. For me a movie that starts a conversation is a good movie. Well, I sat watching this movie, and the Gospel message came pouring through. If you have not watched the movie, I will try not to spoil it too much, but it speaks of family, giftedness, power, and brokenness. It is a movie about the human condition and I love that it started a conversation with my son.
In this movie the family all have this special gift, except one. This one person feels like an outcast because she does not know where she fits into this family of exceptional people. I identify with that young lady. My sister participated in state track her freshman year in high school. She can sing like a bird, she was a college level cheerleader, she had friends. And I was her annoying brother. My little brother can look at a machine and figure out how it works. He can take it apart fix what is broken and put it back together. He used to get broken cd players from his friends and he would fix them. He was funny and I have to stress that he is my little brother because he is about a foot taller than me. And I am me. I do not see anything special; I feel like I am this odd duck that just does not fit.
I am sure that most of us have experienced these sorts of feelings at some point, or if you did not you might have known someone that has. Most adolescents experience it in some form or another because that is pretty much the definition of adolescents. We are becoming who we are to be, and none of us know what that is. We see people around us that are amazing and we do not feel that way about ourselves.
It pretty depressing really. I struggle with this and have for some time, and I have come to realize that Christian humility requires us to be honest with ourselves. We must recognize both our strengths and our weaknesses, and we must be willing to stand aside as well as stand up. But I am getting ahead of myself.
Last week we celebrated the greatest day of human history. Not everyone agrees with that statement but for me, that is what it is. The day that Jesus rose from death’s tomb, the day he thwarted death’s grasp and was restored to life, is in my opinion the greatest day in human history. And because of that day, my life has forever been changed.
The thing about that great day is that there was a journey to get there. Sometimes we do not always recognize the journey. Jesus according to John’s Gospel is the eternal Word of God. I love that distinction. I love that throughout the history of Friends we have been keen on that distinction. Jesus is the Eternal Word of God. He is the source of wisdom and light. It is through Jesus that all things were made visible and invisible and without him nothing. We often look at scripture and say that it is the word of God but I want us to be careful about that thought. Scripture bears witness to the Word. It is God that gives scripture its power, these inspired words written by the saints and prophets of old direct us to the True Word, Jesus.
That is just the beginning of the journey. From the dawn of creation when God said, let there be light, to the day of glory, Jesus has been on a journey. Every word of scripture speaks of this journey, it tells of the struggles and the triumphs. It speaks of companions along the way that utterly fail, and about seemingly insignificant individuals that have risen to an occasion to point people back to God. And then in the fulness of time, God sent his unique son to dwell among us. God, this Eternal Word, lowered Himself for a little while to experience a complete and total human life.
He experienced life as a fetus in the womb. He endured the indignity of having to have his mother feed and change him as a baby. How often to you think of that. Those mothers who wake up in the middle of the night to feed your baby, I know you have cried out yourself, “Oh God can’t I get just a little sleep!” Mary actually said that to God.
He grew up. He learned. He played. He became a man and began to work with Joseph and his extended family in their construction company. He went to synagogue every sabbath and sang praises and prays with his community as they honored God. And yet God was sitting in their midst.
And then one day, his mother noticed that there was not enough wine at a wedding feast and she came over to him and said do something about it. I have often wondered about that first sign. Was Mary looking at Jesus and thinking, if you do not start pulling your weight… ok maybe I have been told to do the dishes a few to many times.
Jesus lived a complete life. After that first sign Jesus began to teach, he explained scripture and he caused even the greatest scholars of his day to wonder if they knew anything. And then Jesus pushed them a bit too far.
The journey changed course in our minds. Jesus had a good thing going and then suddenly the tables turned. Jesus turned those tables. They had enough and they requested, no they demanded blood.
Jesus rode into Jerusalem with the cheers of a king, and within one week he was nailed to a cross. John tells the story. He tells the story because John witnessed much of the story. And the last words Jesus said on the cross according to John was, “It is finished.”
Those words have been in my mind and prayers the past couple of weeks. They have been there because I need to hear them. I sat this weekend watching a movie with my family and in the movie this enchanted house was falling apart around them. No matter how much the matriarch tried to keep the family together the brokenness kept returning. And Bruno… we don’t talk about Bruno was hiding in the recesses of the house trying his hardest to patch all the cracks.
That is the gospel. We are broken, we are patching up cracks. We are running around trying to do our best. We know our strengths and we live into them as best we can but we have this fear that maybe I am not strong enough, maybe I lose control. And what will happen if I do lose control? We don’t talk about Bruno because Bruno knows that everything is about to break and we cannot allow the world to see that we might have a weakness.
This is life. We all have strengths we all have weaknesses. We try to do it all ourselves but eventually we will get tired. Jesus took on that life for us. He took the shame of our own failures and he cried out from the cross, “It is finished”.
John saw his king die. He watched as Joseph of Arimathea took the body and laid it in his own tomb. John listened to the women as they gathered the spices together that Sunday morning and began the journey to the tomb. John heard the panic in those women’s voices as they came running back to say that the body was not in the tomb. And John raced Peter to see what was going on. When the returned to the house leaving Mary Magdalene behind, John then heard Mary return not in a panic but in astonishment. She said she had seen the Lord.
The world was falling down around them. Everything they thought they knew was crumbling. And they sat in that room behind a locked door. And in their minds three words continued to play, “It is finished.” They were confused. Afraid. Terrified. Will those that took Jesus come for them next? What exactly happened to the body? Why won’t Mary just be quiet we are trying to think?
Then as they sat there, Jesus appears. He is standing in front of them. And he says, “Peace be with you.”
I have spent several weeks dwelling on the phrase, “It is finished.” Those are the words of men in despair. Those are the words of defeat. Those are the words of brokenness and resignation. Those are the words that we often hear spoken in our own minds when we are making attempts at a better life. Those are the words we hear when we are at the end of our rope and we just do not have another ounce of energy to offer. Those are the words we so often attempt to avoid, to cover up, and to hide. What if the world really knew that I am finished?
It is true. I am finished. I do not have the strength to move forward at times, and I do not have a clue. I sit in my big blue chair staring at my computer screen and I have often wondered if this will be the week that everyone will find out that I am just a scared kid putting on a brave face. I hide behind locked doors, because I do not have anything to offer. Man died on the cross when Jesus said it is finished. Jesus took our failures and our shame onto his shoulders and they were laid in that tomb with him. “It is finished”.
But now he stands in the room and a different phrase comes out of his mouth. “Peace be with you.” It is a simple greeting. It’s actually a greeting that is still commonly used today. Shalom. In Barclay’s Daily Study Bible commentary, he says that this greeting basically means, “May God give you every good thing.”
I spent hours this week fixated on two phrases, not even full verses. I thought about the distance between, “it is finished” and “Peace be with you.” And I reflected on where I was on the journey between the two.
You see we must pass through the despair of “it is finished” before we get to the peace. We have to come to some understanding within ourselves that I am not enough. I am broken, I am weak. I am hiding behind the façade of what everyone thinks I am but eventually everything will crash down around me. If I rely on myself only “it is finished” death will overcome, evil will triumph, and the enchanted house will fall. I want the peace but how do I get there?
We get there by walking through the brokenness. We get there by letting go of the façade. We get there by walking into the darkness and admitting that “I don’t have a clue.” The beginning of wisdom is the fear of God, we are told in scripture. We begin that journey by turning first to him the Word of God, the very one that has the words of life because all of life was spoken through him. We begin that journey by confessing our weaknesses, our brokenness, our darkness, and our sorrow. And we allow Christ to take those things onto his shoulders and cry out with us, “It is Finished.” And we believe. Death entered the world because our first parents thought they could know and determine good and evil on their own. They thought that they could handle it and control it. But they were wrong. They walked head long into the very thing they were determined to avoid. And suddenly they realized they were exposed and vulnerable. The entire world could see that they did not have a clue so they had to hide. The results of this multiply and expand. We have gotten so used to this that people that want power will use our own fears to control and manipulate us. We say we want peace, but do we?
How does peace happen? It begins when one person decides to say it is finished. And it grows when we live as God’s hands to give them every good thing. Peace occurs when we stop thinking about ourselves and start caring for others. Peace happens when we recognize that we really do not have a clue and we ask for help.
Where are you in that journey? Are you lost and bleeding on a cross? Are you buried in the darkness of a tomb? Are you locked behind a door in fear? Or like me do you not have a clue? Two thousand years ago Jesus was born of the virgin Mary. Grew up in a town called Nazareth. He worked with his family as they build and repaired the structures their communities needed to survive. He taught and he showed us a lifestyle and holy rhythm. He made it his custom to worship in the synagogues. He withdrew often to pray in isolated places. And he ministered to the needs of the community. And he calls us to follow him. He suffered under Pilate, was crucified, and died. He was buried in a tomb. And on the third day rose from that grave to restore our hope.
Where are you in that journey? “Peace be with you.” And may you know that peace to the very core of your being.
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 17, 2022
Luke 24:1–12 (ESV)
1 But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. 2 And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they went in they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. 5 And as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you seek the living among the dead? 6 He is not here, but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, 7 that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.” 8 And they remembered his words, 9 and returning from the tomb they told all these things to the eleven and to all the rest. 10 Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James and the other women with them who told these things to the apostles, 11 but these words seemed to them an idle tale, and they did not believe them. 12 But Peter rose and ran to the tomb; stooping and looking in, he saw the linen cloths by themselves; and he went home marveling at what had happened.
I have been a pastor for nineteen years, and twelve of those years I have been here at Willow Creek. I struggle with Easter messages because what more is there to say that has not already been said. I began sensing a call to ministry while I was in Odesa, Ukraine teaching American English Classes to college students with Campus Crusade for Christ. But a few months prior to that trip, my pastor’s wife and my Sunday school teacher looked at me one Sunday morning and said you are going to be a missionary. I of course laughed at her, and if you knew me back then you probably would have laughed as well.
The reason I laughed is simple really. I grew up in the Friends Church. We attended Mt Ayr nearly every Sunday my entire life. Even when we lived in Hays my parents would make the one-hour drive back home so we could attend Meetings for Worship at Mt. Ayr. The Friends Church is what I have known, it is what I love, and it is through the Friends Church that I found who I was meant to be.
This has not been a simple road to travel. I did not grow up thinking I was going to be a pastor. I did not really like being in front of people which is bad when I come from a family that loves to sing. My mom and my dad would regularly volunteer our family to sing a special for our Meeting for worship. We would stand in front of the entire church, many of which were friends from school and we would sing. And at times I would be asked to sing alone. I did this, but it was tough. I like singing do not get me wrong. I will sing all day long. I will sing with the family at home. I would start whistling a song and then start humming and eventually I would start singing, and then my mom would join in, and then the entire family would join together. Singing in harmony for no other reason than someone in the house had a song in their heart. I like to sing, but I do not like to sing in front of others. I know that might shock many of you since you see me doing it every week. There is a legitimate reason for my hesitancy, I was born half deaf and to be totally honest I do not know if I am singing the right notes or not. This also affects my ability to remember names, because I just cannot hear them.
That is some of the back story. I love singing with my family and I love singing the hymns of Easter. Even through I had this rich heritage of faith, I was not that faithful. I had read the Bible completely at a very young age. I listened to the sermons and I asked questions, but that really did not matter to me, because when it came right down to it, I wanted to be a scientist.
I loved NASA, I wanted to be an astronaut, I built model rockets and shot them off. I read everything I could about every space mission. I was devastated when I watched the Challenger explode while I was watching it on TV with my classmates. And yet I loved science. Then I found out that it would be very unlikely that a half deaf boy would be able to become an astronaut. My dream was seeming shattered. But about that time something else amazing began to happen. We began to learn and understand DNA. All the energy that I extended toward space, quickly got diverted to genetics. I actually went to college with the intent of getting a degree in crop science with the hopes of eventually going into genetic engineering.
Then one fall morning while I was sitting in economics class someone from the school office came knocking on the door of the classroom in tears as they called me from class. My brother and sister had been in a car accident, and my sister was being flown to the hospital in Wichita. My little sister died the next day, and before they prepared her for organ donation my family once again began to sing, “It is Well with my Soul” over her.
I was just a kid myself; I was a freshman in college and did not know how to deal with any real loss like that. I could recite scripture, not chapter and verse because I am terrible at that, but I could relate pretty much any story at will, and yet it did not matter to me. I had a little faith but to me in that moment God was nowhere. And the world began calling. In my grief and mourning I began making decisions that were not in keeping with the faith I said I possessed. And at the age of nineteen I had a son out of wedlock.
This great family that sang for church nearly every month, that had just lost a sister, had a son that fathered a child without being married. For the nine months I questioned everything about my life, but then on January 15th, 1999. I held my son for the first time. I looked into his eyes and suddenly I knew what love was.
I did not have the answers to all of life’s problems at that time. In fact, I had a great deal of searching that I had to do because I realized that if I wanted my son to grow into a strong young man, I would have to figure out how to do that in the situation that he had been born into. That is why I laughed at my pastor’s wife when she said I was going to be a missionary. What mission organization would accept a single dad? And that very summer I boarded a plane for Ukraine. And it was in Ukraine that God started to give me a greater understanding of who I was. It was in Ukraine that I realized that this quiet kid that never really talked to people, actually loved having conversations and talking about the things that excited me. It was in Ukraine that I began really studying scripture and talking about it. It was in that place on the other side of the world I heard God.
But God was working all along. He was working all throughout my life in little ways. He used my strengths and my weaknesses. He used my failures and my success. And ultimately it was the love I felt when I held my son the first time that brought me to Christ because I began to understand true love.
I tell my story because each of us have a story. Each person in this room is significant and important. From the oldest person sitting in the pews to the child yet to be born, each of us bears the image of God. I sometimes think we do not realize how important that truly is. If we were to think of it as a story, the image bearer would be the messenger sent from the king. The king would give something to that messenger to authenticate that individual as a representative commissioned and sent bearing the authority of the king in that moment. The thing that the king would give would usually be some paper that was sealed with an impression that was unique to that ruler, his image. We bear that image. We have been called and commissioned. We, each one of us, have been given a mission that began from the beginning of time, we are make and bring all the earth under submission and make it into the Garden of Eden.
We have this mission we bear the image but so often we fail. We have gotten distracted by power, by entertainment, by manipulating the hearts of the people around us to do what we want instead of staying on track to complete the mission that God created us to fulfill. We are the image bearers and yet we have been deceived. God placed our first parents into the Garden, and the serpent convinced us that the best way to fulfill our mission was not to listen to God but that we should have the knowledge of good and evil, so we ate of that fruit. Ever since that moment death and deception entered our existence and has held us captive.
Last week we reflected on the passion of Christ. Jesus faced every injustice that mankind had to offer. Rulers killed him because he threatened their rule of law. Kings mocked and beat him because he would not entertain their selfish desires. Religious leaders falsely accused him because they feared that if they let him continue, they would lose the influence they had over the people. Each of these aspects of life, have power, influence, and selfish desires attached to them. And when we allow these things to control our lives, we will always be participants of injustice. Just open a history book and begin to read, within the pages are stories of valiant nations and people that have changed the world as we know it, but often there is another story, a story of oppression, neglect, and injustice. That does not mean that good things have not come from history. We live in a time and place that is amazing. At our fingertips we have access to things that only decades ago were the things of science fiction. Many here have watch technology move from a transiter radio to the iPhone streaming pandora. We can listen to music from any nation in any language at any time. We have that ability because of the lives that we read in history, but there is a cost to it all.
Jesus was tried and hung on a cross. He bore the greatest shame that a Jewish man could have faced, and as the people mocked him, he cried out, “Forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.” That phrase often haunts me at night. It haunts me because I know who placed him on that tree. It haunts me because it so easily could have been me. I am what many would regard as a religious leader, and I speak every week hoping that the words I believe God is inspiring me to say will encourage you to become a friend of God. That is my hope but what does it mean to follow God? We like to point to scripture and say this is what it says, but so did the people that took Jesus to Pilate. Forgive us because we do not know what we are doing. I know just how true this is. I could have great intentions and be completely wrong.
The religious leaders were not the only ones with fault. The governor was also involved. The one who was entrusted with the task of justice also failed. He looked at the crowd and instead of doing the right thing he authorized the execution of an innocent man so that he could maintain his power.
Forgive us. We so often fail. Then Jesus looked up to the heavens and said it is finished.
What was finished? Death had overcome life. We often look at the world in this dualistic manner. We think light and dark, life and death. We seem to think that they are two powers that are struggling against each other, but the reality is that there is light and there is life. When light is present darkness is vanquished. When life is present there is no death. There is not a struggle if the source of light and life are present.
When Jesus said it is finished the source of life stepped away. The deception had overcome life, death had triumphed over life. But there was something interesting about that phrase as well, Jesus said it is finished.
The disciples believed that it was finished. There was no hope. The women that followed Jesus and wept as he was led to the hill believed that it was finished. They had placed their hope in Jesus and the injustice of this world had killed him on a cruel cross. It is finished hope is gone. And on the first day of the week, they went to the tomb, taking the spices they had prepared. They were laying their hope to rest and were resigning. They were done. They once believed the words that Jesus spoke. They once believed that there was going to be a kingdom where the meek would inherit the earth. Where those that were thirsty and hungry would be filled. They once thought that there would be peace, but their hope is buried.
I have felt that hopelessness. I would be lying if I said that even today, I do not have touches of that despair shadowing aspects of my life. They walked to the tomb; the women walked to the tomb. It is very important to remember and to honor this aspect of the story. The women walked to the tomb because the men scattered. Once hope had died it is often the women remained to honor the memory.
They did not find what they expected there. The stone was rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. It is interesting to note that this is the first time Luke uses the term, Lord. The story is about to change, and yet the women are perplexed.
Jesus’s last words on the cross were “it is finished” according to John. Death had gotten a grip on Jesus, and yet the story has not ended. The women looked into an empty tomb perplexed because they had been there when they laid the body to rest. And two men stood by them in dazzling apparel. Shining ones. We recognize them as supernatural beings, those agents that serve God the Most-High are often described as shining. But I also want to remind you that the words translated as the serpent in the garden the one that deceived our first parents could also have been translated as a shining one. That was why our first parents were deceived one of God’s messengers, one that they regarded as trustworthy had failed to give good advice. And when we looked at Hebrews, we noticed that because of this deception by one of God’s angels caused us to unwittingly join their rebellion of death there was only one way to rectify the situation. God would have to restore life.
Jesus when he said “it is finished” he took death on himself, and yet now shining ones are appearing to these women and they say, “Why do you see the living among the dead? He is not here but has risen. Remember how he told you, while he was still in Galilee, that the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise.”
Do you remember? Remember when Jesus took the disciples to a place far in the northern regions and asked them Who do they say that I am? And he again asked them Who do you say I am? And Peter said you are the Christ the chosen on of God. Jesus asked those questions at a place known as the Gates of Hell. It was on a mountain that many believed to be the source of evil, the den of Pan. And after Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus said, “it is upon this rock that I will build my church and the gates of hell will not overcome it.” That rock some believe was Mount Hermon, the very place that the angels of the great rebellion took place that caused what we know as Noah’s flood. And at that place Jesus told them those very words that the angels spoke. But they did not accept the words of Jesus. Peter the great confessor said this will never happen. And Jesus looked at his friend and said get behind me Satan.
They, the women, remembered the words that Jesus spoke. They remembered that on multiple occasions Jesus plainly told them that these events were going to happen, yet they did not listen. And now the tomb is empty and they are perplexed, they are seeking the dead and the angels are asking why are they seeking the living among the dead.
They eventually realized what the angels were meaning by those words. They eventually realized that if Jesus had said that he would be crucified and would die. Jesus said this and he also said that he would rise again.
They go back to the place the disciples were staying. They tell them what they had seen and heard. They remind them of the words that Jesus said. The women are preaching to the disciples, and they were sent by God’s angels to do this very thing. But the disciples do not listen to the women. Luke tells us that the apostles thought the words were idle tales, something unbelievable. Luke does this on purpose. He is purposefully being sexist to prove a point. The very disciples of Jesus did not believe because women told them.
How often do we get distracted from the truth because the source is not from the place we expected? How many times do we overlook or neglect wise council because it just does not fit with our own thoughts? How many times do we think we are wiser than those around us? Forgive us because we do not know what we are doing. But Peter remembered that painful day. The day his best friend called him Satan. He remembered the words that Jesus spoke that day that were rejected and caused the rebuke. Peter remembered, and he did not want another one of those rebukes. He was just wise enough to recognize that these women were not the spinners of idle tales, and he gave them the benefit of the doubt. He rose and ran to the tomb. John tells us that the disciple Jesus loved also ran with him, and ran faster than Peter because Peter was old and slow. Peter ran to the tomb, and stopping he looked inside. He saw the linen cloths by themselves, and he went home marveling at what had happened.
What happened? The body was gone, and the grave clothes remained. Hope began to well up where despair once reigned. The darkness began to fade as a dim light started to burn brighter. Something happened in the place of death, the grave clothes were by themselves. This phrase might be overlooked but it basically means that they were folded and placed in separate stacks.
We know the rest of the story. The grave could not hold him. And death’s sting is overcome. Jesus is risen. He is Lord. He has risen from the Grave and He is Lord.
Every year we celebrate this great day. The day that Jesus restores our hope, and yet this Easter like so many the wars still rage. This year like so many we struggle between hope and despair. We confess with our mouths that He is risen but so often we live as if these are just idle tales. What can we say?
I will not argue, nor will I make any attempt to prove things right or wrong. I know my story; I know that when I look back on my life God has done little things that have brought me to this place at this moment. For me I believe. And I believed completely when I held my first son. Sure, I struggle with doubt and unbelief at times, but I know that without Christ I would not be that man I am today. He has restored my hope, he has given me new life, and I believe His is risen and is Lord of all. That is all I can say, but what can you say? Jesus said that he would be turned over by sinful men, that he would be tried and crucified and on the third day he would rise again. The women heard all that yet walked to the tomb to put spices on the dead body. Peter heard that as did all the disciples. When the angels spoke and they saw that the tomb was empty they believed. They believed even before they fully understood. What can we say?
If you would like to help support the continued Ministry of Willow Creek Friends Church please consider donating online:
To help support the personal ministry of JWQuaker (Jared Warner) online and in the community click to donate.
By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
April 10, 2022
Luke 23:1–49 (ESV)
1 Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. 2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” 3 And Pilate asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” And he answered him, “You have said so.” 4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.” 5 But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.” 6 When Pilate heard this, he asked whether the man was a Galilean. 7 And when he learned that he belonged to Herod’s jurisdiction, he sent him over to Herod, who was himself in Jerusalem at that time. 8 When Herod saw Jesus, he was very glad, for he had long desired to see him, because he had heard about him, and he was hoping to see some sign done by him. 9 So he questioned him at some length, but he made no answer. 10 The chief priests and the scribes stood by, vehemently accusing him. 11 And Herod with his soldiers treated him with contempt and mocked him. Then, arraying him in splendid clothing, he sent him back to Pilate. 12 And Herod and Pilate became friends with each other that very day, for before this they had been at enmity with each other. 13 Pilate then called together the chief priests and the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was misleading the people. And after examining him before you, behold, I did not find this man guilty of any of your charges against him. 15 Neither did Herod, for he sent him back to us. Look, nothing deserving death has been done by him. 16 I will therefore punish and release him.” 18 But they all cried out together, “Away with this man, and release to us Barabbas”— 19 a man who had been thrown into prison for an insurrection started in the city and for murder. 20 Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21 but they kept shouting, “Crucify, crucify him!” 22 A third time he said to them, “Why? What evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him.” 23 But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, for whom they asked, but he delivered Jesus over to their will. 26 And as they led him away, they seized one Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, and laid on him the cross, to carry it behind Jesus. 27 And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 28 But turning to them Jesus said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For behold, the days are coming when they will say, ‘Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then they will begin to say to the mountains, ‘Fall on us,’ and to the hills, ‘Cover us.’ 31 For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 32 Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with him. 33 And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34 And Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” And they cast lots to divide his garments. 35 And the people stood by, watching, but the rulers scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!” 36 The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine 37 and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38 There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 while the sun’s light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” And having said this he breathed his last. 47 Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!” 48 And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts. 49 And all his acquaintances and the women who had followed him from Galilee stood at a distance watching these things.
There are days within a faith tradition that hold greater importance. This may not necessarily be the case among Friends because we have a long history of regarding all days as equal, but even among us there are some days that seem to stand out. We are not the only religious group that has a history of this, and thankfully it has fallen out of fashion for the most part. Which to be honest I completely accept. Life would be pretty dull if we did not give ourselves an excuse to celebrate. In fact, this was one of the disciplines that Richard Foster promoted in his now Christian Spirituality classic celebration of Disciplines. In this book Foster tells us that we need to celebrate. It is important to celebrate, because in the celebration of certain days and events we build memories. If you were to think back on your life. If you were to consider the most important events of your memory, what are they? I would venture to guess that there was some sort of celebration attached to them. We remember Christmas because it is a day that is not normal. We do not generally give loads of gifts to children because it is Tuesday, there is some important event attached to it, either that particular Tuesday is December 25th, or it happens to be the anniversary of their birth.
We remember the things that are out of the ordinary. We remember the days that dad comes home early and plays baseball all afternoon, and the three hundred days dad worked until suppertime fade into the background. We remember the day of our children’s birth, not really because it was such a chaotic day, but because it was an event that changed the course of our existence. We remember the events, the days that become significant.
God actually encourages the use of celebration as a way to remember. This is why I disagree with some of the early Friends. God commanded Israel to reenact the Passover, He told them to go to the place of meeting to build booths or tents to remind them of the desert wanderings. God set a precedent within the religious community to set aside certain days to remember and celebrate. He did this because it is easy to forget. We can get so caught up in the things that are occurring all around us that we forget how we actually got to where we are.
I do, however, respect the first Friends in their bravery. They bravely stood against the social tide and refused to celebrate the traditional holidays for a reason. Sometimes we forget why we celebrate. Sometimes we get so caught up in the celebration and we forget the whole point of the day to begin with. Christmas is probably the greatest example of this celebration amnesia. Why exactly do we give gifts? Why exactly do we gather together with family? Why do we do it in December when traveling is not exactly the easiest or the safest thing to do? My family, my dad God bless him, tried very hard to keep the reason for the season at the forefront of the holiday. He tried very hard to tell the story, to read the scripture, to sing the songs, unfortunately it is a daunting task when you have four very excited children who have just eaten a plate of cookies focused.
These early Friends saw that there was a sort of selective amnesia occurring among the people of faith. They had gotten so used to the celebration that even though the priests were reciting the scriptures nothing was being retained because everyone was focused on the next thing. Or maybe they had gotten so used to the celebration that they had forgotten the deeper meaning of the activity. These early Friends would remove the holy days from their calendars, they would stop participating in perceived sacred ceremonies, they would teach that every day was holy because this is the day that the Lord has made, and they would say that every aspect of life is a sacrament to God. I respect their position. I respect their bravery. I respect their dedication. But like so many things, their lack of celebration became so routine that it caused the same problems as they protested against.
Today is one of those holy days. Today we celebrate Palm Sunday. We celebrate but do we really? Do we really understand just what this day meant to the people two thousand years ago, and do we recognize just how it changed the course of history to this day?
We say we believe, we participate in celebrations, we recite our beliefs and our doctrines and teach them to our friends and our families, but have we allowed this day to penetrate into our lives?
Today is the day that Israel proclaimed Jesus as their king. Today a multitude in Israel shouted and paraded through the city of David escorting Jesus riding on a donkey’s colt from the edge of the city into its very heart, to the temple courts. Today is the day that sparked a revolution that would eventually spread through the entire world. But like so many things this simple day can sometimes be forgotten because of a multitude of other things that occur around it and after.
We did not read about the palms today, but the passion. I chose this reading because we are from a tradition that does not have significant holy days. In some faith traditions this upcoming week would be filled with Meetings for Worship. They have special names for each of the days, like Holy Monday, Holy Tuesday, Holy Wednesday (Ok so maybe the PR department needs to become a bit more creative), Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, and Holy Saturday. But since we tend to only worship one day each week, because all days are equal, we miss out on some of the story in collective worship. So often we forget that within a week’s time Jesus went from the King’s Throne to the Traitor’s Cross. Do we recognize how quick that change occurred, and do we realize just how vulnerable we are at repeating it today?
Then the whole company of them arose and brought him before Pilate. I want us to think about this for a moment. The whole company. If we were to read the chapters prior, we would get the context, the company in question is what we know as the Sanhedrin, which is a governing body of religious leaders. This is like the board of elders today; they were the people that carried the most influence among the religious people within the community. But it is an extended community not just a local meeting. I am not sure how these leaders were selected. Maybe it is like it is among the Friends, maybe they had areas that met together and they appointed their representative, or maybe it was like other faith communities were people were appointed by leaders to serve on the board. I do not know because I am not part of that community. But what we can find is that there was some sense that they were in this together, sure there might have been some dissention, but we are told that the whole company was involved. This means that this entire body had come to the conclusion that this man (Jesus) needed to be dealt with.
So, they brought him before Pilate. Who is Pilate? We do not really know much about this man, but what we can find is interesting. Did you know that he was one of the longest serving governors over this region? He served in this position for ten years. And this is significant because this region was not exactly an easy place to rule over. There were constant cultural clashes between the people of Israel and the outside rulers. This constantly sparked riots and rebellions. And for the governor that was a problem, because they really only had three basic tasks to do. The first was that they commanded the troops stationed in the region, they oversaw judicial cases, and they administered the financial affairs. This does not sound so bad right. Basically, if you keep sending the tribute to Rome, you are golden, but if riots broke out and prevented you from making your payment you were in trouble. And if you happened to spend more money than was thought to be acceptable on those riots which might decrease the payment to Rome you were in trouble. And if by chance someone sent a letter to Rome saying that you were ruling with injustice you might be in trouble. As long as you were able to balance those three things and basically keep the money flowing to Rome without anyone getting to riled up you could last a long time. The problem is that the Jewish people lived by different standards. Pilate once brought the standards into the Holy City and these standards had images on them, and mere presence of these standards which every military unit carried, cause the people to riot, because they perceived them as being idols. Then there was the fact that every three months or so every faithful religious observant would come to this one city to worship. And this vast influx of people would come into this one area at one time, and one misstep by a political leader could cause mass hysteria that would make the protests in Minnesota a couple of years ago look like a walk in the park.
Pilate had a difficult job, but he was actually fairly decent at it. We are told that Jesus was born during the reign of Herod the Great which ended around 3-6BC, and from that time since Jesus was approximately 33 years old, there had been four previous governors. Pilate started around the year 26 so these guys lasted about five years, and Pilate doubled that average. He knew how to do his job, but that does not mean he was a good man. There are at least three instances where Pilate was recorded as being brutal, one of which we mentioned a couple of weeks ago. And another the instance that eventually had him removed from office was when he slaughtered pilgrims in Samaria as they were going to worship at their holy mountain, Pilate had a problem with the Jewish festivals, He did not like these groups of people congregating in one place, and when it happened, he was swift and brutal.
It was to this man that these religious leaders brought Jesus. They knew that Pilate did not like their cultural traditions and he had a history of swift violent judgments. These religious leaders wanted Jesus eliminated but in a way that would take attention away from themselves so that they could maintain their standing within the community. No look at the accusations they bring. “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.” They bring three accusations: Misleading the nation (basically prompting unrest), forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar (not paying taxes), and saying that he is a king (the arbiter of law and justice). These are the three jobs Pilate must do to remain in office.
These people are using the fears of Pilate to manipulate him into doing their bidding. But I want you to notice something. Of those three accusations Pilate only asks one question. “Are you the king of the Jews?” And according to the Gospel of Luke this is the only question that Jesus answers from the secular governments during this whole trial. “You have said so.” This is something profound because it is so off the wall. Jesus did not answer him, because the question is not even a real question. The only thing that Pilate even listen to is that they said that Jesus was the arbiter of law and justice, he is the king. That is what Pilate focused on. Pilate is looking at Jesus who is standing surrounded by people, religious leaders and soldiers. Pilate is looking around him as well seeing the makings of worldly power and government and he looks at Jesus this single man that cannot even remotely defend himself. And he asks one question, “Are you the King of the Jews?”
Pilate is looking at Jesus through the eyes of worldly power and making a judgement call. This man is brought before him, at best he can talk and cause some people to get excited, but not even the most respected religious leaders within this province care for him. There is no power here. And the question is not a question at all but a scoff. This is the best they have to offer. But they insist. They try to say he is more powerful than you think. “He stirs people up all through Judea, from Galilee and to this very place.”
Pilate raises his eyebrows a bit. So, he has followers even in Galilee. This does issue some concern but that is not his jurisdiction. If Jesus is doing something in Galilee, then who really cares, Galilee is under the rule of someone else, and if that guy cannot handle him, all the better it would just increase Pilate’s power. Pilate then says, Herod is here in town let’s talk to him. Herod was in town because the family of Herod converted to the Jewish faith. We often neglect this aspect of history; we tend to think that the Jewish faith is based solely on heredity but there are converts. We see this throughout scripture, some of those converts have become very important, like Ruth the great-grandmother to King David.
Now the company takes Jesus to talk to Herod. Herod is excited to see Jesus but there is something different about the excitement. Pilate was concerned with power; Herod wants to be entertained. I hope you see a bit of our contemporary life in this trial. We have those that are concerned with worldly success and others that are concerned with pleasures but both of these groups are being manipulated by others with their own agendas. Herod has heard of this man Jesus and had been wanting to see him perform some signs for him. To Herod Jesus is nothing more than a court jester, and he wants him to dance. But Jesus does not comply. Herod sends Jesus back to Pilate, because Jesus is a bore.
Now Pilate has to do something. Jesus, in his mind is not anything of importance, He does not have a band of thugs following him around. In fact, if he had heard correctly the one guy that drew a weapon ran away, and one of his followers that they attempted to apprehend slipped out of his clothes and ran away naked, in case you wonder tradition tells us that brave soul was Mark the one that wrote the gospel of Mark. What exactly will Pilate do?
These people are instant they want blood, and there is really no reason for Pilate to do anything. And this is the injustice of the whole thing. Pilate and Herod get together to figure things out. Herod because Jesus would not entertain him, began to mock Jesus. Dressed him in fancy clothes and tried to get some sort of rise out of him. But Jesus did nothing. And we are told that Herod and Pilate became friends that night. This is important. Herod and Pilate were in competition. They both wanted to rule the other’s lands. Herod wanted to be like Herod the Great who ruled all of Palestine. And Pilate did not care about the Jews but If he could govern Galilee as well as Judea his political capital would rise and he might be able to make his way out of this Imperial backwater and get a better position somewhere better. They became friends, they united, formed an alliance with one another. They laid aside their differences over this one man. Herod mocked Jesus because he would not entertain, and Pilate decided to brutally beat the man and release him. An alliance of brutality and mockery was formed power and entertainment united together if we cannot get what we want we will watch this one man’s suffering while we eat together.
These men joined forces under the banner of injustice. They both would get what they wanted most entertainment and authority and all it would cost is the suffering of some insignificant man. They thought that this could appease the company standing before them. They thought that if they could just distract them enough, they would all just shut up and they could get back to what was really important. But the company was not appeased. They wanted more. You will crucify him they began to chant. Release instead Barabbas, a man that had actually been a treat to the authority of Pilate. A man that actually had a band of armed men that were ready to fight. Release Barabbas they chanted and crucify this man.
They did not care that Barabbas was a criminal. That Barabbas had actually done the very things that they accused Jesus of doing. They wanted that man because they could control him. Jesus on the other hand they could not control. He walked into their religious establishments and caused the people to question their own power and authority. He began to cause people to question how they related to God, and their livelihoods were based on the ability of the religious organization being able to keep the people buying sacrifices at the temple, changing money at their counters, and making that pilgrimage. If they actually let the people worship as Jesus said, “in spirit and in truth”, what would happen to them? They wanted Barabbas, the only threat he caused was that some poor Galileans might get some crazy idea to draw a sword and get killed by Pilate for his trouble. But Jesus, he threatened their ability to manipulate the people.
We see here three branches of life. The hearts of the people, the authority over the people, and entertainment. Just turn on the news and we can see the same strategies being played out every day. There is a war going on, one party is speaking to the hearts of the people, one speaks about authority and then there are those that are reports from the Oscars and the Grammy’s and can you believe they wore that dress. All of this is going on but what is really important?
When Pilate announced his judgement Luke tells us that, “He delivered him over to their will.” Pilate delivered Jesus over to their will. Jesus is being led up the hill and there are some weeping for him. Jesus stops and turns to them and says, “Daughters of Jerusalem do not weep for me but weep for yourselves and your children.” I want us to consider this, he was delivered over to their will. Authority lends itself to entertainment, entertainment lends itself to the heart, and the heart lends itself to authority. The cycles of power manipulation continue back and forth and we are all delivered up to our will. We will sacrifice Ukraine for the sake of NATO. We will allow war in Africa as long as it does not affect us here. We will turn a bind eye to the perpetuation of human enslavement as long as Apple releases a new iPhone next year and we can trade our old one in so we can get another camera. We will let our politicians spout lies about the other party and we will still vote for them knowing full well they are just as evil, and we justify it by saying our candidate is the lesser of two evils. That is rubbish. The reality is that we actually want and approve their evil more that the evil of the other person, because we do not want good, we only want to have our will delivered up to us and we will give power to whoever is willing to do it.
We are all delivered up to our will. But what is our will? We want to be seen as waving palm branches for the king, but are we willing to stand up for the people our king loves? We want to proudly claim our righteousness, but do we sacrifice our righteousness for something else. Something that speaks of manipulation of the heart, Authority, or entertainment? Jesus was turned over to their will. He was turned over to the will of humanity. The desire of knowledge of good and evil, that ushered in death and separation from life. And Jesus looks at us and says do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and your children. Why does he say this? Because we are still trapped in the cycles of our will. We still try to cling to the powers of this world and because of this we are constantly whipped to and fro like leaves on the wind. We are whipped about because we are delivered up to our will. How do we stop this cycle? We stop the cycle by recognizing and confessing the truth. The condemned man that hung next to Jesus confessed. “We are here justly but this man has done nothing wrong. Remember me when you enter your kingdom.” That man had the assurance that that day he would enter into paradise. That man broke the cycle, because he recognized the truth, he was not right, he was not righteous, he had lived his life according to his own will and that his will had led him directly to where he deserved to be. We all deserve that sentence because we all contribute to the injustice of the world. I might not have started the war in Ukraine, I might be outraged and speak out against the injustice of the situation, but what have I actually done to prevent it? I might have an opinion about the injustice that occurred in Sudan that is currently on trial, but what have I done to prevent it? I might not agree with the culture war waging in our own culture, but what have I actually done to alleviate the problems? All of this happens because we are given over to our will. And it will continue to occur until we like Jesus say not my will Father but yours. We might not be able to offer humanitarian aid directly to those affected by war, but we can recognize our own injustices here in our communities, and we can offer ourselves to His will here in our communities. But there is a question that remains. Will we be delivered to their will or His? Will we continue to perpetuate the cycles of injustice that required Jesus to go to the cross, or will we proclaim with Christ, “Father, into your hands I commit my Spirit!”
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