“Word for Today” – John 19 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

April 10, 2009 at 4:45 am Leave a comment

crucifixion-1The other day, I was walking back from the cafeteria on our Concordia campus talking to one of our staff members.  We were joking around about my propensity to be a “control freak.”  And it’s true.  As much as I hate to admit it, I do have a problem with power.  I like to know what’s going on, when it’s going on, and exactly how it’s going on.  I want to leave nothing to chance.  And leaving nothing to chance can sometimes mean leaving everything to me.  Sadly, or perhaps happily depending on your point of view, even when I’m ruling the roost, things do not always go according to plan.  Mistakes happen.  Directions veer off course.  Things fall through the cracks.  And it is at these moments, often through my gritted teeth and clinched fists, that I realize that no matter how much I may try to direct things, I am not always really in charge.  I just like to think I am.

In our reading for Good Friday from John 19, Jesus’ moment of deepest sorrow, deepest agony, and deepest anguish has come.  For Pilate, in the face of escalating acrimony from an unruly mob, has handed Jesus over to be crucified.  And when Pilate does this, John records:  “So the soldiers took charge of Jesus” (verse 16).  And so, John tells us, Roman soldiers are now in charge of the Son of God.  They are directing the course.  They are making the plans.  They are calling the shots.  Who’s in charge?  Roman soldiers are.  Or so they like to think.

It’s quite striking to me that the actions of the soldiers, after “taking charge” of Jesus, are anything but according to their plans and directions and courses.  First, the soldiers, after nailing Jesus to the cross, decide that they will cast lots to decide who gets Jesus’ last piece of clothing, which is finally nothing but a pair of underwear.  Jesus, it seems, upon his crucifixion, does not even have control over the way he dresses.  But though the soldiers believe they have control over Jesus’ wardrobe, John tells us that their control is only illusory:  “This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, ‘They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing’” (verse 24).   The soldiers, even if unwittingly, are not “in charge;” instead, they are only fulfilling a biblical prophecy from Psalm 22.  And so John continues, “So this is what the soldiers did.”  Scripture, not soldiers, is “in charge” of the events at the cross.

Then, in verses 32-34, when the soldiers arrive at the cross to break Jesus’ legs in order to expedite his death, they find him already, and seemingly prematurely, deceased.  And so, “One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water” (verse 34).  Why did this unnamed soldier do this?  Because he is “in charge” and desires to demonstrate, with ghastly gruesomeness, his unilateral authority over death and life?  Hardly.  According to John, this soldier is once again at the mercy of biblical prophecy: “These things happened so that the scripture would be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken,’ and, as another scripture says, ‘They will look on the one they have pierced’” (verses 36-37).  And we find, once again, that Scripture is calling the shots, directing the course, and fulfilling its own plans.  The soldiers are not, nor have they ever been, “in charge.”  They only think they are.

As John highlights so eloquently, the cross, among many other things, is an attack on our presumption that we are “in charge.”  The cross shows us that we are not in charge of our own mortality, for it reminds us that we will all die.  The cross shows us that we are not in charge of our own righteousness, for the very reason that we are in need of the cross is because we are “slaves to sin” (Romans 6:20) and unable to stop sinning.  And, most significantly, the cross shows us that we are not in charge of God’s grace.  We do not deserve it nor can we earn or coerce it.  It is completely and wholly a gift from God, apart from our control or domestication.  We are not in charge, no matter how much we might like to think we are.

So, on this Good Friday, stop gritting your teeth and clinching your fists when things do not go according to plan and instead cling to the cross.  For this is the very place we meet the one who not only thinks he’s in charge, he really is.  Jesus, even though he looks weak and wounded, sick and sore, is the one with real power.  And in a world where so many things are out of our control, why wouldn’t we want to trust in the one who really is?

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – John 18 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – John 20 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

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