From Pastor Kenny's Desk
April 14, 2019
When they had reached the place called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there – together with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. And Jesus said, “Abba forgive them. They don’t know what they are doing.” Then they divided his garments, rolling dice for them.
The people stood there watching. The rulers, however jeered him and said, “He saved others, let him save himself – if he really is the Messiah of God, the Chosen One!” The soldiers also mocked him. They served Jesus sour wine and said, “If you are really the King of the Jews, save yourself!” There was an inscription above Jesus that read, “This is the King of the Jews.”
One of the criminals who hung there beside him insulted Jesus, too, saying, “Are you really the Messiah? Then save yourself – and us!”
But the other answered the first with a rebuke: “Don’t you even fear God? We are only paying the price for what we have done, but this one has done nothing wrong!”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your glory.” Jesus replied, “The truth is, today you’ll be with me in paradise!”
~ Luke 23:33-43
I have to admit, every time I read this story there’s a welling up inside of me one simple, pathetic cry: Why?
Perhaps you recognize this question; it is the distraught cry we utter when we are confused by our circumstances, outraged by a sense of injustice, or simply feel utterly out of control: Why did the cancer came back? Why was I chosen to be “downsized? Why is my child struggling so? Why do I feel so alone? Why didn’t the
relationship work out?
Why? It’s the question that helps us articulate our deep desire to find meaning in meaningless events, to understand … and thereby not feel quite so overwhelmed by … events beyond our control. It is exactly this question that haunts me at this time each and every year as we begin Holy Week. Why must Jesus die like this? Why must it end this way? Why the mockery and abuse, why the nails and cross, why such an agonizing and shameful death? Why?
The truth is theologians, pastors and educators alike have struggled to answer this question and their various answers have been described as “theories of atonement.” Emphasizing one part of the Scriptures or another these theories attempt to answer the why question by describing Jesus’ death as a substitution for our own, or of Jesus satisfying God’s requirement for holiness, or of Jesus paying the penalty for sin, or of the example Jesus’ death sets for us, or even of the victory Jesus wins over death and the devil. And yet while each of these theories highlights some aspect of the truth of Jesus’ death, none of them ultimately satisfies or completely answers Why ... therefore our questions continue.
We may take some small comfort in knowing that we are not alone in our confusion, that we are not the only ones who question. Throughout all the biblical stories of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Jesus regularly predicts his death and just as regularly his disciples do not understand him, or misinterpret him, or, finally, reject his predictions as simply too awful to believe. And so, when the unimaginable … though not entirely unexpected happens and Jesus is handed over, judged, and crucified, the disciples, also, are left reeling and left asking, Why?
And perhaps this confusion isn’t really the disciples’ fault in the end or … truth be told … ours. For while Jesus may have predicted his death he never went into great detail to explain its meaning; that it, he never got around to explaining why.
And yet Jesus does address another … and I think perhaps a more important … question. Remember, … as Jesus says to his disciples at the very outset of Luke’s description of Jesus’ death, when the hour came, he took his place at table with his disciples to share one last meal with them. And at that meal he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave to them, saying, This is my body, which is given ... for you.
Did you hear that … those last two words? For you. For those disciples including Judas who betrays him, Peter who denies him, and the rest who desert him. And if for these, then also for us! And knowing this … I believe … makes all the difference.
So while Jesus doesn’t answer the question why? he does answer … and answer definitively … the deeper question of for whom? That is, though Jesus may not explain the full meaning of his death, he leaves no doubt as to its significance for you and for me, as above and beyond all our confusion and questions, we hear in these two words the shocking, unimaginable, and utterly unexpected promise that everything Jesus suffered … all the humiliation and shame, all the defeat and agony … he suffers for us, that we might have life and light and hope in his name!
And this we know because Luke makes it abundantly and painfully clear that Jesus gives himself over to death willingly. As Luke writes near the end of the Passion account, Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘Abba, into your hands I commend my spirit.’ Having said this, he breathed his last.”
Do you see what I mean? Jesus’ life is not ripped away as in some horrible accident, nor is it torn from him as in some senseless tragedy. Rather, he commends his Spirit to the Creator … his Abba … giving his life of his own accord. As the resurrected Jesus will say when he meets two of his disciples on the road to Emmaus, Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory? And then he will open the Scriptures that their hearts may burn with the knowledge that Jesus gave himself, fully and freely, for us and for all the world … a world God loves so much … because that is why he came: to declare God’s favor to and for all.
The hard part of all this story is that we may never be able to answer that persistent and perplexing question of why. But we can answer another … perhaps more important question … for whom. Why more important? Because if pressed, I must say that I also cannot explain why Kirk Blandford means so much for me, why Kirk loves me, or why my friends put up with me. And yet I do know that their care, love, and patience is for me, and knowing this makes all the difference.
So also with the mystery of Jesus’ death. While we can surely never fully comprehend the why of God’s unfathomable commitment to us, when we embrace the reality of Jesus on the cross we can never doubt God’s profound love for us. And knowing this makes all the difference!
That’s why Luke tells this difficult story. For in Jesus we have God’s tangible and tenacious promise to be always and forever for us … just the way we are! Thanks be to God! Amen.