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  • Writer's pictureLou Hernández

17-03-24 - WHEN A PHARISEE TAKES AN UP CLOSE LOOK EASTER 2024

MESSAGE BY PASTOR ROB INRIG FROM

BETHANY BAPTIST IN RICHMOND, BC

When news of Him first came, I didn’t give it much thought.  To me He just seemed like one more in a string of the many who came making spectacular claims of what they would do.  Another deliverer claiming to have heard from God or one more zealot recruiting to his cause.  But their end, all the same – a flickering candle, the burn rate longer for some but the outcome just the same – snuffed out, leaving no evidence they’d ever been here.


Sure, some making an impact during their brief moments on show, but in the end just irritants: 

to Rome - a soldier or two killed; to the waiting but uninformed religious - small clusters of the deluded who’d soon discover, they were following yet one more self-proclaimed messiah who would disappear as quickly as shadows depart when the sun’s rays dim.  


But as I was to learn, this One was different.  His staying power unlike any of those who’d gone before.


Actually it was His staying power that finally caused me to take a closer look - not that I expected to discover anything different than what I’d seen before.  


What was different though were the things said of Him – of the words He’d spoken, of the things supposedly done.  Things said, heard by those suffering from sun baked delirium.  Preposterous things.    


The problem was, too many were speaking of things not easily dismissed as ramblings of the delusional.  And those things said of Him were getting louder and more frequent.  The number of voices increasing – to the point they could no longer be ignored.


Which is what forced me to look closer.  Not because I believed any of those things but because the furor was getting loud enough and numerous enough to warn that this one was dangerous. And that being the case, something had to be done to bring this noise to end. 


So that is what caused me to look closer - to observe Him from a distance and later when I met with my fellow priests and scribes, we could determine what next steps needed to be.


Had I only known then what I know now - this Jesus didn’t let anyone remain undecided, just standing at a distance. 


I saw that again and again - Jesus disturbing, disrupting, even turning things upside down - anything to provoke a decision.  But understand, these things not done in ways that were contentious.  No one, least of all me, could legitimately accuse Him of that.  Sometimes He didn’t even say a word but there would be a look or an action not even directed at me but at the same time, it felt like it was.  Calling me to look, to discover, to decide.  


It was a feeling I couldn’t escape no matter how hard I tried.


Like the time He said our devotion, our wanting to please God by religiously following the commandments was like a camel trying to get through the eye of a needle.  Our ‘good’ falling short of the good God required.  Okay, it’s true, He didn’t say it exactly like that and yes, those words weren’t directly spoken to me but in His strange way they were, He speaking personally to me and everyone else there.  That, how we saw ourselves was very different from how God saw us.  And that angered me about Him.


Like who was He?  Some unschooled prophet having none of what I had spent a lifetime pursuing.  I sitting for years under the great rabbis.  Immersing myself in Torah.  Faithfully giving offerings and tithes.  He doing none of that, yet somehow drawing great crowds, hanging on His every word, followers who were quick to give Him honor that would never be given me – not like they gave Him.


So yes, if you think I have problems with this man, you would be right.   


He of no reputation, no sitting at the feet of great scholars, no time unrolling the scrolls that I diligently searched, other than on a Sabbath or two when He chose to be seen.  Not even close to what I had done – earning my right to be heard. 

  

And what had He earned other than appreciation for a stool made, a doorway fixed or a child’s toy made?  This is the one they chase after to hear?  Some carpenter gifted with wood and nails?  Some mason skilled in repairing a broken wall?  


Listen, I’m not blind to the things He’d done nor deaf to the things He said.  But have you really considered how ludicrous some of His words were?  Like what He taught about servants signing on for a full day’s work for an agreed upon wage.  And then the same employer at the end of the day paying the same wage to others who had only worked mere minutes?  Those working much longer and much harder rewarded the same as those who did little more than show up at the end of day?  I’m sorry, but that’s ridiculous.  Those who spend years doing good deserve far more reward than those who arrive when all is said and done.  To think that God doesn’t see and reward in that same way, makes no sense.  What sort of God is that?  As I see it, ‘We do, God sees, God rewards.’


Look, I could tell you a multitude of nonsensical things He said like that, but what’s the point?  What difference would it make, because sense or no sense, people wanted to hear what He had to say.  Had they ever stopped to really think about how foolish some of those things were?  Like His instruction to, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?  What sensible person prays like that?  A sensible person prays for our enemies to be run through with newly sharpened steel.  A sensible person prays for judgment to fall.  Praying for anything less is foolish.  So how do you give credibility to some teaching that doesn’t even come close to living in the real world?


In the days ahead I couldn’t shake off my feelings of unrest with Jesus so as was my practice, I looked for comfort in the Scriptures.  God bringing me back repeatedly to Psalm 22, almost as if He wanted me to sit and rest in this place.  It was such a strange passage to be drawn to:


My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from the words of my groaning?   O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer, yet you are enthroned as the Holy One; you are the one Israel praises.  :1


I am a worm and not a man, scorned by men and despised by the people.   All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads: "He trusts in the LORD; let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him."  :6


Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.  Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.  I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. :12.


Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet.   I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.  They divide my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots. :16.


As I read, the voices of my long ago teachers spoke loudly, “This Psalm focuses on David and the things he experienced”.  Yet the more I studied, the more unsatisfying I found that teaching to be. It seemed so obvious David was writing about something far greater than him. With those thoughts swirling, I felt in a small way, as if I David was writing about me and my crying out but not being heard.  Almost as if the Heavens had been shut off yet still having a sense that its doors had been flung wide open for me to see things yet to come.  


That’s when I first began to see that God’s word was taking me to a far greater place than David or myself.  That my teachers were wrong.  I didn’t know where those thoughts would take me but I knew that ascribing the things said just to David didn’t make sense, like hurled insults and roaring lions, about bones out of joint, feet and hands pierced and clothing won by the casting of lots.  But that was only the beginning of what was unfolding to me.  Somehow in what I was discovering, all that was said seemed to be focused Jesus, I just didn’t know how.  


Given the things I’ve said, you might find this strange but I didn’t hate Jesus the way the other priests and scribes did. Most of them hating Him without cause.  Not that they presented it that way. Their words and actions dressed up in high sounding, ‘we’re protecting the purity of the faith’, but at the heart of it, faith in God had little to do with it.  


They were jealous of Jesus.  Of the love He received.  Of the numbers that followed.


He offering a way of living so different than the things we religiously taught.  No strict adherence to laws. No imperatives to worship in the right place, with the right words, with the right look.  Instead, freedom.  That we could come to a loving and accepting just God as we were – imperfect and broken.  Not having to be something we weren’t, not having to put on.  Just coming, admitting our wrong so we could be forgiven and made new. 


I couldn’t deny - knowing God like that was so attractive - what wasn’t, were Jesus’ declarations that forgiveness with God and knowing Him was only possible through Him.      


Let me tell you, that brought the hatred of my fellow rabbis to an entirely different level, a hatred they would use to their advantage by spreading their poison with ever increasing lies to enlist others to their cause.  


Seeing this, I began to question much of what I had once believed.  

They not leaving their hatred at a distance, gathering like wolves - closing in to confront, to challenge, to accuse.  Yet time and again, they came away scarred from their encounters.  On some of these occasions, Jesus not sparing His words, calling His accusers, blind guides and white-washed sepulchres – all dressed up on the outside, putrifyingly dead on the inside.


You can imagine how that was received.  But as they would have been wise to learn, they would have been better if they had hated Him from a distance.  Truth is, as I would learn, when you got too close to Jesus, it is as if you are placed in front of a brilliant light that exposes everything – not just things done but things thought and actions planned.


And when you have so much invested in what you’ve been hiding, the last thing you want is to be stripped naked.  And there it was - they hated Him not so much because of the things said, although that played a part, but because of the hidden heart things He exposed.


When I saw the lies in them, I couldn’t deny the lies hiding in me.  Jesus stripping away the layers that had imprisoned me, not to expose but to set free. In a strange way, though speaking to many, He speaking to one. Lovingly and respectfully coming to each one of us as if in private audience, His words knifing into the very thing each one was bound by.  Knifing not to wound but to set free and heal.


That said, almost all of my fellow priests turned a deaf ear.  They didn’t want to hear.  It was to these Jesus stepped out of private and personal encounters, His challenges becoming more pointed, more intense, more accusing.  I thought it cruel at first.  I mean who wants to be exposed with everyone else looking on?  Yet I would later come to understand, He was saying what needed to be said, not to be vindictive but because He wanted his listeners to own the hidden layers they denied even having.  But in their protective denials, they were too busy sharpening their own knives, not to heal but to destroy.         

It is with shame I now admit, I only saw the Jesus others wanted me to see, told me see, not who He truly was.  That realization really took hold when I saw Him die.  Staring at a dying man is a strange time to begin piecing things together but for me, that’s what it took. 


Putting that in focus were Isaiah’s words that my teachers passed over.


He was despised and ejected, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised and we held him in lo esteem. Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed.


We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.  He was oppressed and afflicted, yet He did not open His mouth; He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so He did not open his mouth.   Is 53:3-7

 

If asked for an explanation, the best my teachers could offer was that Isaiah was writing about Israel as a nation.  But seeing Him die, made it abundantly clear, in the same way David wasn’t speaking about himself when he wrote, Isaiah wasn’t speaking about a nation, he was speaking about a man.  


And with that, I couldn’t look past the disconnect between what our religious leaders, who we were to trust and follow, were saying, He should die, while the leaders Rome provided for us, who weren’t worthy of anyone’s trust, were saying, He has done nothing worthy of death. The contrast stark - those supposedly speaking for God plotting death and those not knowing God, calling for life.  How bizarre is that?  They and I knowing Jesus had done nothing worthy of death.  Their demands for His life weren’t based on justice or protecting the faith, their demands were about holding onto power and the rewards that came with that.  Self-important, puffed up and filled with greed.  There’s no other way to think about it, no matter how else they tried to dress it up.



As I said, it was at the scene of death where things started unfolding to me that who I was looking at was no ordinary man. It’s sad that I had to see death before I could truly see life.  But seeing death, at least His death, is what it took.  It was what He said to one of the thieves alongside Him that really forced me to drop all my preconceptions and judgments and for the first time, look as if I’d never looked.  And in that place I saw Jesus in all of His pain saying to a man who deserved to die hanging alongside Him, that He would be forgiven. A criminal who stole leaving families in distress - yet in some last gasp breath, he would have some ‘come to Jesus’ moment and be made new?  


Hearing that, my anger rose up once again.  How can that be right?  Where is payment for wrongs done in that?  Who was He to exonerate someone from the things he had done?  There was nothing fair at what Jesus was promising.  


I was settling into that place when I heard words that shook me to my core. Those words could only be described as a prayer but not like any prayer I’d ever heard.  This prayer not spoken as I had done when I bowed before Yahweh.  This prayer personal, familiar, intimate.  As if I were listening in on a conversation shared between two who knew each other’s heart.

But it wasn’t just that.  Perhaps I could have put that away, but there was a greater mystery in what I’d witnessed.  Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.  I mean who does that?  Who forgives when hate is called for?  Who forgives when revenge is what should be given?


Some around me saw this Father, forgive them as delusional, on the brink of death mutterings but that was far from the truth.  No, this was undeniably a conversation between two yet it was also a conversation God intended to be heard by all those willing to hear.  That this Jesus hadn’t come to judge or condemn, He had come to forgive and make new.  Come to those who know themselves bad and yes, for those who think themselves good; come for the rich and the poor, for the great and the small. 


The gift of forgiveness given - to the worker who accepted the offer at the beginning of the day and the  one who accepted the offer only moments before day’s end, all offered grace because of what the employer was willing to give.  Grace given, not in any way earned.   


Far stranger and I have no explanation for what I am about to say, I know Jesus’ prayer to His  Father was also intended for me to hear.  Not that I was to simply hear but I was to understand that the forgiveness Jesus spoke of was offered to me.  


It was that which caused me to take my largest step toward seeing Jesus differently.  Not seeing Him as just someone who was better or more worthy but Someone who truly was, ‘in this world but not of it’. I mean who talks forgiveness when so much has been done to them? Who turns His heart to another, caring about their needs, their fears as He, enduring the worst, committed Himself to others rather than Himself? Who prays for an enemy unless possessing power He alone has, turns an enemy into a friend?


Standing there hearing what I had, I knew my ‘doing well, acting well’ life was bankrupt.  It was as if I finally saw that my efforts to be good enough for God were like trying to fill an ocean one spoonful at a time. Despite all the things said about Him by others and yes, by me, He was the definition of what my ‘well’ needed to be.  His ‘well’ surpassing actions taken, things done, His ‘well’ impossible for anyone other than this Jesus on the cross.  At that moment, I saw myself for who I truly was – lost without Him.  Not me alongside another who I thought of as less than me.  But me, alongside the One I looked on at the Cross.   


All this time I’d been using others as my mirror to determine who I was.  Was I good enough?  Accomplished enough?  Worthy enough?  


But looking at Jesus, I saw me.  Really saw.  In way I can’t fully explain, it was as if I saw the part I didn’t want anyone else to know, the part from whom I wanted to run and yet, at the same time, I saw who I was created to be.  The first inescapably and undeniably true, the other available to me as an undeserved gift.  Offered but something I had to choose.  

I came so close to walking away from the Cross leaving it at that - knowing I needed to be different and yes, wanting to be different.  And that’s where I would have left it, had I not overheard another voice.


It was the voice of a centurion who had overseen countless deaths like the one I had just witnessed.  He who was very familiar with death.  On the battlefield, he knew death as a place of honor but not here.  Given the crimes that brought these men here, this warrior was deaf to the curses heard.  Their voices were not worth listening to. Those hanging on these crosses had earned their fate.  His job was to do his part in making certain his men cleaned up the mess of these who in their own way had challenged Rome in this god forsaken land.  


And yet, this one who was hardened to death, looked upon Jesus and saw what others had not, had believed what others would not.  Truly this was the Son of God.


How was it possible that this one, a worshipper of other gods, had seen what I’d been unable to see?  More honestly, had seen what I’d been unwilling to see.   


He who had not been given the words the prophets had spoken of about God’s coming Messiah, God’s Son – this Jesus - yet he had seen and believed. 


And in that moment, I knew what the centurion had understood what I had not, Truly this was the Son of God.


Had he and I only known that in a few days, we’d be seeing truth far greater than any of us could have imagined.  Something far more amazing, far more spectacular than what I had just witnessed and I finally believed.  Something speaking of more to come that makes sense of everything I had recently seen.


But that’s a story for 

another day.  






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