Summary: A sermon that looks at the cross and it’s impact on our lives.Concludes with a little poem that you might find helpful - I wrote it so it isn’t Wordsworth.
The surprising Cross
We live in the twenty first century.
There are things that we value in this culture and things that we don’t.
One of the most least desirable things to have in your neighbourhood is a prison.
Nothing is more likely to drop your property values than the building of a prison among modern lifestyle blocks.
When they were planning and proposing a new prison just north of Milton in south Otago a huge protest went up.
People were far from happy.
There was a groundswell protest.
Signs were erected alongside the highways - you could not mistake the message – it was:-
“We don’t want your prison here!!! This prison is crazy.”
One thing is for sure people expected no blessing from the planting of a prison in their midst.
Any blessing from that prison would be most surprising to the local residents.
You may wonder where I am coming from.
But let us – instead of thinking of undesirable things in the 21st century think of undesirable things in the first century.
In Palestine – the Jews felt that the Romans as an occupying force were highly undesirable.
The Romans were viewed as undesirable Aliens.
Deep in the Jewish religious psychie was a revulsion of the Romans and all that they stood for. From 63 B.C.. Palestine was subject to Rome. In that year the Roman general Pompey marched on Jerusalem, and after a three month siege entered the city, went into the Temple, and even inspected the Holy of Holies—a terrible desecration of the Temple. He made Hyrcanus both high priest and local ruler, thus bringing the Hasmonean line to an end. During the next two troubled decades, Antipater emerged as the most powerful figure in Palestine, although he was never designated king. Finally, in 40 B.C., Herod, a son of Antipater, was named king of the Jews by Rome, although it was not until 37 B.C. that he entered Jerusalem and gained control of his kingdom. Herod was the most competent Jewish king of this period and amply earned the title, “Herod the Great,” bestowed on him by historians. He was an able administrator, who loyally carried out the wishes of Rome. Yet he never did gain the approval of his Jewish subjects, who always regarded him as an alien (he was an Idumean, or Edomite). Herod dealt ruthlessly with real or suspected opponents, even having three of his sons and his wife Mariamne murdered; so the story of the massacre of the innocents (Matthew 2:16
Herod was, at the core of the Jewish mindset, highly undesirable.
They might use and even grudgingly appreciate some of his institutions but Herod, in the most loyal of Jewish subjects – beyond the pale.
And what of Pilate?. According to Josephus, Pilate’s first major act was that he ordered Roman standards brought within the walls of Jerusalem (a direct violation of the sanctity of the Jewish faith honoring false gods). Pilate also used money from the Temple treasury to construct an aqueduct. When the Jews assembled outside his quarters to protest, th Pilate did not relent killing many Jews. Why then would Pilate later give up Jesus in the famed trial and crucifixion of Jesus? The reason was the political situation was influencing him. Pilate’s behavior clearly changed after the fall of Sejanus a trraitor who had been highly influential on the Emporer Tiberius..
While under Sejanus the Jews were poorly treated, Tiberius simply to counter Sejanus (as Tiberius was no lover of Judaism himself), ordered that the Jews be tolerated. Despite his own personal feelings towards the Jews, his fear for Roman social status and survival would dictate his behavior.. With Tiberius back in charge, however, Pilate, and everyone else had to tread a very fine line. The Jews, it seems, were also very much aware of this. Jesus was brought before Pilate for treason against Rome. As the Gospel of Mark says, by Josephus and also by Tacitus, the Jewish leadership wished Jesus killed essentially for being a blasphemer against their faith and against them personally. Only Pilate had the authority to address the matter.. Despite several attempts to resist demands of Jesus death, Caiphas and the Jewish leadership wisely invoke the use of the term ‘Amicus Caesaris’ against Pilate to get their way. This term ‘friend of Caesar’ were not just theoretic words of friendship but practically functioned as a title. Losing that title, in Pilate’s case by not following Tiberius’ new Jew-favorable policies, might not only cause him to lose his life. The Jews with full knowledge of Roman politics, because of Pilate’s previous behavior and relation to the known traitor Sejanus, knew exactly how to force their will. Faced with a man accused of being ‘King of the Jews’, a crime against Tiberius himself, Pilate had no choice but to relent, and crucified Jesus in order to preserve the peace, and his own skin.