The Renegade Gospel: The Way of the Cross
Mark 11:1-11, 15-17
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 25, 2018
We continue this morning with our Rebel Jesus series, the Renegade Gospel. I don’t know about you, but I feel like I am seeing Jesus in a whole new light. Gone is the image of Jesus as the kinder, gentler Messiah. He has been replaced with a Jesus who stands up for others and does so with passion. I feel like I am seeing him almost for the first time and I like what I see.
“Jesus journey to the cross began several months before his fateful ride into the Holy City on that day we know refer to as Palm Sunday. Luke tells us in his Gospel, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem: (Luke 9:51).”
“Jesus’ final trip to Jerusalem leading up to his arrest and crucifixion gives crystal clarity to the meaning of the cross and the cost of following Christ in obedient discipleship. Jesus began his journey to the cross with a focused resolve based on the realization of his own human mortality. He was aware of his life purpose in perspective to life’s brevity and God’s mission.”
He focused on finishing his earthly purpose, understanding that his overall purpose was continuing. “On Thursday evening, the night marked by his last supper with his disciples and his later arrest, we are given this account of his priorities:
“3 Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going to God, 4 got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. 5 Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”
“Within the emotional tsunami of impending betrayal by those closest to him, as well as the certainty of execution for heresy made by the religious bureaucracy that was backed by the state, this rebel of the renegade gospel chose the servant role.
“What an upside-down, counter-cultural demonstration of leadership and power, contrasted against the religious and political leaders of his time as well as our own! In making that choice, Jesus confirmed that our life’s mission lies between two points: knowing from whom we have come and to whom we will return. Following Jesus in the way of the cross means resolute commitment to fulfilling God’s mission.”
We have spent time talking together about what God’s mission is for our church. Last year we adopted the new mission statement, “We seek, nurture and send Christian disciples into the world to serve.” In living this mission, we are modeling Christ and choosing to live as one of his disciples who, like Jesus, is journeying to the cross. But are we fully prepared to live this mission?
“Following Jesus in the way of the cross will mean a radical reordering of our priorities. We get a glimpse of those priorities in two of Jesus’ parables. In Luke 10:25-37, Jesus told the story of a good Samaritan who sacrifices his time and financial resources to help an unknown stranger. “Go and do likewise,” Jesus commanded. And then in Luke 12:13-21, Jesus related the parable of a rich man who forgets his responsibility to be a channel for God’s blessings in helping the least and the lost. The man in the story wastes his precious gift of life, living only to serve his expanding lust for bigger, better, and more. Jesus told him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’ This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God’” (verses 20-21). What a poignant reminder – the only thing we can take with us beyond death is what we do for God and others.”
“Following Jesus means relinquishing the rights to all that we are and all that we possess. When a young entrepreneur came asking how to prioritize his life, Jesus told him, “Sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me” (Luke 18:22). When the young man heard this he walked away, choosing the comfort and security of his lifestyle over the renegade gospel of Jesus and the kingdom of God.
“Following Jesus means being “rich toward God” by serving God’s interests in meeting others’ needs. Jesus put it this way in one of his parables: “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourself, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). The rebel Jesus calls us to use our affluence for the purpose of influence in the lives of people who have neither.”
The way of the cross causes us to challenge the priorities of our relationships. In Luke 9:59-60 Jesus told a man to “Follow me,” But he said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.”
“At first glance Jesus’ response seems harsh and uncaring: “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:59-60).” It’s not exactly as it seems.
You see, “the Jewish practice of burial lasted from twelve months to two years. If we read the passage carefully it may even suggest that the father hasn’t died yet and the man was merely anticipating his father’s death and burial. In that case it was the cultural expectation that the oldest son remains and take responsibility for the final care of the father and then through the extended burial process.
“In either case – whether the time period would have been up to two years or even more – Jesus was challenging the priority that we place on relationships when they become an excuse for not acting on God’s will. In other words, relationships will not be considered an excuse for putting off until tomorrow what we know God is calling us to do today.”
One of the most challenging scriptures I have come across is in Luke 14:25-27:
25 Now large crowds were traveling with him; and he turned and said to them, 26 “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, and even life itself, cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.
That is a radical teaching. “Obviously Jesus didn’t really want us to hate those closest to us. But he was saying that our love and allegiance to him must supersede and take precedence over all other relationships, even those with our families. In fact, giving Jesus first priority actually makes for great health in relationships, helping us build unbreakable bonds in marriage and raise healthy, God-serving children!
“Our children adopt the passions we demonstrate through our priorities. This might be one of the major reasons that the vast majority of young people between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five are absent from the church and why the fastest-growing religion in the United States is no religion. We must rightly align our passions and priorities with our profession of faith.”
The way of the cross also challenges our indecisiveness. Following Jesus is an all or nothing proposition. We aren’t to wait but rather dive in and follow Jesus like his first disciples like Peter and Andrew did, immediately and faithfully. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr wrote, from a Birmingham jail cell, that “if today’s church doesn’t recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning for the twentieth century.”
These final days of Jesus life demonstrate three kingdoms on a collision course. “While Jesus was heading into the Holy City from the east on the Sunday morning preceding Passover celebrations, the Roman contingent, headed by the Roman prefect Pontius Pilate, paraded into the city with quote an impressive display of military power from the west.
“The Romans reinforced their occupation forces on Jewish high holy days to discourage any attempted insurrection by rebel leaders who made their camps in the Galilee and wilderness regions of the country and who might take advantage of the swelling holiday crowd. Numerous political resisters had claimed to be Jewish political messiahs.
“They planned acts of terrorism and led rebel assaults, attempting to deliver Israel from the oppressive Roman occupation. Pilate wanted to be close enough to the Temple complex with a strong display of Roman force to ensure the “Pax Romana,” Rome’s version of peace. And Rome had the cross, an intimidating execution device, to enforce Roman authority with any who would question it.
“By contrast, the rebel Jesus, who came with no sword, rode into the city on a donkey from the east with a group of ordinary working-class folks from backward rural areas. He had been born a member of an oppressed minority and then spent the first two years of his life as a refugee in Africa, escaping Herod the Great’s campaign of infanticide in Bethlehem.
“Early in Jesus’ ministry, when people had heard where he grew up, some had commented, “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46). On this day, however, the crowds lining the street along his route into the city hailed Jesus as “the king of Israel” (John 12:13).
“In addition to the contingents led by Pilate and Jesus, there was a third force at work: the compromised religious institution. The institution was controlled by a group of aristocratic elite who were no longer concerned with caring for the poor and marginalized. This religious ruling class was intent on placating Rome for the purpose of personal gain and institutional security, with no concern for God’s redemptive mission of justice and righteousness in the world.
“We read in the Gospel of Mark that Jesus, responding to this compromised religious institution, went to the Temple immediately after his arrival in the city on Sunday:
15 Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16 and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple. 17 He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,
‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’?
But you have made it a den of robbers.”
“Did you catch the inclusive all in Jesus’ statement? All means “all”!
“Three kingdoms – led by Pilate, Jesus, and the religious elite – were on a collision course. The converged in Jerusalem, and there, during the most dramatic week in human history, the eternal Lord subjected himself to the best knockout punch that evil could throw. Jesus was crucified not simply for being a religious rabbi; he was crucified for advocating a revolutionary movement that threatened the religious and political interests. Jewish leaders sought to kill him because his teachings were considered heretical.”
“Following Jesus in the way of the cross means giving ourselves fully and sacrificially for the concerns of God heart. In saying yes to Jesus, it is his cross we are lifting, his cause we are embracing and his life mission we are supporting. Saying yes to Jesus is an all-out, all-in commitment to go where Jesus goes, be who Jesus is, do what Jesus does, and give what Jesus gives or the life of the world that God loves and gives himself for.
“Does our faith talk match our faith walk? Are we trying to live with a foot in two contradictory worlds? Are we putting off until tomorrow what God is calling us to do today? Are we offering ourselves to Jesus as a volunteer who serves when it’s convenient or a servant who acts sacrificially?
“We will not experience resurrection to the miracle of abundant life here on earth and life everlasting until we put to death our self-determination.” The way of the cross demands action, what will our answer be? Amen.