Jesus was a revolutionary–a political dissident who was executed for his subversion of the Roman government. I know, it’s a bit unsettling to layer modern legal terms over stories that took place ages ago in another world. Crucifixion? Yep, we’ve been using that term long enough that we’ve desensitized ourselves to its true meaning. Execution? That sounds more like something that happens today…to criminals.
And yet there it is, in the Bible and serving as the foundation of our faith—Jesus was executed as a political criminal. God raised him from the dead three days later as a witness to God’s existence, Jesus’s identity, God’s power and triumph over death, and God’s promise to raise us one day too.
We prefer to focus on these truths rather than the ugliness of a death sentence and execution. But he was executed. And before that, he was arrested, imprisoned, and beaten. This was all legit because legally, the government had a case against him. He *was* teaching things that sounded like resistance to Roman rule. When faced with the government’s questioning, he didn’t defend himself.
Of course we know his trouble had more to do with the religious authorities than the government. When the religious leaders were fed up with his critiques, outrageous claims, contempt for some of their rules, and the ways in which he was leading others astray, they turned to the government to end this once and for all.
Those words printed in red ink in Bibles, verses we hold so dear and put to lovely melodies, phrases we memorize and cross-stitch on pillows—those are the words that got him killed.
I mean basically, if you were wealthy or powerful–middle class on up—and you weren’t helping others, Jesus had some harsh words for you. He criticized your traditions, called out the way you spent money and hoarded possessions, and questioned your loyalties. He didn’t have you singing “what a friend we have in Jesus…”
Jesus’ tenderness was for the poor, the one whose neck was trapped under the boot of oppression. His kind words were for those society said “no” to: the one with disabilities, the one whose only means of earning a living was by selling her body, the one infected with an incurable disease. To all of these he said “YES. The kingdom is for you. God is for you. I am for you. All those labels and divisions and hierarchies—rubbish. God’s kingdom is for everyone and you’re the first ones there. I’m here making God accessible to all.” And that got him killed.
But that was Jesus. And this is us. That was then. And this is now.
I mean, yeah, we want to be like Jesus, but… that doesn’t mean we protest in ways that might bring us harm, right? That doesn’t mean we speak truth to power and get ourselves slaughtered metaphorically or literally, right? We don’t have to go befriend or help those who are lower than us in society, do we?
Consider again that these are the things that Jesus did. These are the ways in which God’s eternal, transcendent kingdom crashed into time and space in the person of Jesus. Injustices had to be called out and corrected. God’s truth busted out and set records straight left and right. And God’s love bowed his head, breathed his last, and submitted to execution knowing that through his death, all would have life. Through these ashes would come beauty like the world has never seen before.
Friends, if we find ourselves in positions of wealth or power, we are called to wield those in ways that bring healing, kindness, and love to the world. We are called to submit in ways that bring life, wholeness, and peace. In this way, may the light of Jesus shine brightly through us and illuminate a beautiful new world before our eyes.