This is the text of the message I prepared for the people of Yallourn Congregation, gathered at Yallourn North, on Sunday 18th March 2018. It was the fifth Sunday in Lent.
Hebrews 5:5-10; John 12:20-33
When the writers of the text we now call “The Letter to the Hebrews” sat down to get their thoughts together it seems that one of their primary concerns was the authority of Jesus. Probably written around the year 65CE and written to be read by Christ-worshippers in Rome, the issues addressed by this text include who Jesus was and why these writers felt confident to make the claims about him that they did. They also sought to answer questions about what the point of Jesus’ life and ministry was, to clarify what Jesus accomplished. The Roman Empire continued to occupy Jerusalem: God had not delivered the Israelites from oppression, and the temple continued to function for Judaism as it had done since the days of Ezra. How can the Jewish Messiah have come, and nothing has changed? Who was Jesus?
In today’s section we are told quite plainly that the work of Jesus as high priest was authorised by God: Jesus did not appoint himself divine intermediary, nor did he steal the role from the rightful Levitical clansmen in Jerusalem. Furthermore, say the authors, the evidence that Jesus was authorised by God is plain because he did the work of a priest properly, praying and interceding while he was alive. Jesus prayed with confidence, knowing the Father and knowing the Father’s capability and the Father’s will. Jesus asked God to do only what God wanted done: Jesus was qualified to be high priest because Jesus was faithful to God.
But this is only part of the answer, and Hebrews 5:8-9 speaks of Jesus’ life on earth as a time of struggle and of learning. As God the Son, and the Son of God, life in God’s creation might have been cushy for Jesus: descending from a cloud and floating about Creation he could have kept himself clean and dry by not touching anything or being touched by anyone. But that’s not how Jesus came and that’s not how he lived: Jesus was qualified to be high priest because Jesus was faithful to humanity.
Jesus was born in the part of the house where the animals were kept. Despite what you’ve heard about that cosy manger I have no doubt that little lord Jesus loud crying did make. And probably lots of times afterwards. Jesus grew up in an ordinary village in an ordinary family where his tradesman father taught Jesus his trade. Jesus was the Son of God, but when he was apprenticed to his father to learn the family business he matured into a fitter and joiner, not as Master of the Universe, the divine and sovereign creator. Jesus’ feet got dirty, we know that because a woman washed them. Jesus got tired, we know that because he fell asleep in the boat. Jesus got hungry, we know that because satan was able to tempt him with food, even though Jesus resisted the temptation. Jesus got lonely, we know that because he cried out that even God had forsaken him, twelve hours after his friends couldn’t remain awake for even an hour. It’s never mentioned but I am sure that Jesus must have relieved himself at times, perhaps having to hold it in, perhaps having to “nip off” in a hurry. I am sure Jesus got sick, and I imagine that Mary had to cuddle him and wipe him down and kiss it better when he was small. Jesus was a tradesman, traditionally described as a carpenter it’s likely that he was a builder alongside that: so, did he never hit his thumb with a hammer, or catch his fingers on a saw blade? Will anyone suggest that Jesus never got a splinter from the wood, or a stone chip? Did he never trip over, or stub a toe? Did he never bang his head on a low door or overhanging branch? Did he never drop something on his foot, or get dust in his eye? Did he never step in dog or camel or donkey poo? Jesus learned what it was like to live on earth as a person: baby, toddler, child, teen, youth, and man. Jesus was made complete and perfect we read in Hebrews 5:9 in that he experienced all that there was to experience as an adult Galilean Jew in Roman-occupied Judea. Jesus lived the whole picture and he learned the full story of humankind in action. God The Son had first-hand experience of the world in its fallen state, and he grieved with God The Father over what had been lost and over what had become of that wondrously good Eden that God had made.
So, the fully human Jesus got dirty and smelly, hurt and tired at times. Of course, he also had friends and family and I am sure he laughed quite a bit. Jesus experienced joy and love and companionship, he was not only a man of sorrows. Jesus ate and drank, and he probably spewed and pooed too. And the fully divine Jesus grieved for the world, but he also rejoiced in the company of the worshippers of God and in the news or presence of their devotion and godliness where he experienced it. Not that he desired worship for himself, but that he experienced God being worshipped by his companions in the room, and that delighted him as the Son of God amongst women and men.
All of that is true and meaningful. But what carries the most weight, at least as I see it, is what we read in Hebrews 5:7: Jesus experienced fear. Jesus got scared and Jesus drew back momentarily from the great act of the cross. What makes Jesus the best high priest, allowing for all that I have said about his being chosen by God rather than taking the mantle upon himself, and that he lived a human life of dirt and fun, and that his spirit grieved at the fallenness of Creation, no what makes him the best is that he saw how ugly the cross was going to be and he called “time-out”. Gethsemane is no secret to us, and apparently it was no secret to the writers of Hebrews 5:7: Jesus pleaded in cries and tears that God would use any other way to complete the work, anything else than the brutality of Good Friday. This is a man, a human; a flesh and bones and blood and sensory neurones person. This is a man who knows that what is coming is going to be all kinds of worlds of hurt in his body, mind, soul, and spirit. This is a man just like us; this is the one God chose to do this great work. Not an angel, not an alien, not a golem, not even a quadriplegic with no sense of pain below the neck.
And he knew it was coming from well beforehand because one day Philip and Andrew brought Gentiles to meet him. The great act of service of a seed is that it dies, anonymously and underground, to cause a new tree with thousands of new seeds to grow in that place. Jesus’ death was neither anonymous nor underground, but it was his great act of service, and his life’s end brought about the beginning of billions of lives in every land on the planet. With the request of these Greeks for an introduction Jesus knew that the time to embark upon his greatest service was at hand. Jesus’ response to the coming moment, John 12:27 tells us, is that he was troubled. He knew that the cross would break him, it would kill his body and it would take his mind and spirit over the edge of human capability too. And Jesus knew that in the activity and immediate aftermath of the cross his disciples would be broken by confusion, grief and doubt.
And he went through with it.
(But only after he had called a time-out to get his head around it.)
Jesus knows our every pain and weakness, he has been there. Jesus knows every pain and weakness of The Father, he has been there too. This is what makes Jesus the greatest of great high priests, the ultimate and unsurpassable intermediary between Holy God and Fallen Creation.
So, what does this mean for us? I see two outcomes of this message, two things we can do with this revelation of who Jesus was regarding this special role of intercessor and advocate.
- We take courage. Jesus to whom we pray, and through whom we pray to The Father, knows what it is like down here and he understands. Jesus will never call you a wimp or deride you as unfaithful and unworthy of him when the thought of pain and suffering causes you to pause. He gets it, he paused too, and then he went on. If he went on alone, then you or I can go on with him beside us. Whatever God is calling you to, or whatever life has thrown up in your path, Jesus knows about it and wants you to do well. Maybe its public speaking and evangelism, maybe its standing up for the oppressed or is dispossessed where you work or live; maybe it’s a mozzie bite or some dog poo on your shoe. No human experience, no make-or-break call to disciplined action is below Jesus’ attention or above Jesus’ capacity to support you.
- We worship. Last month we heard the story of the Transfiguration and of how Jesus was glorified by God in the presence of Moses and Elijah, and the special needs class from amongst his followers. This is the one who we killed, the transfigured one is also the crucified one. We need not be afraid of Jesus, he loves us, and his death is the ultimate act of love for us; nonetheless the Fear of The LORD, our great regard and honour for who Jesus is as Son of God, should drive us to our knees or faces, or maybe to our feet with our hands aloft. But we can’t just sit there, indifferent, any longer.
Jesus was afraid to die for us, that’s how we know he’s human and that’s how we know that he loves us. He understands pain. Nonetheless Jesus died for us. We may be afraid to live for him, after all we are human and that’s how he knows that we love him. He understands the threat we may be inviting, discipleship is not easy. Nonetheless we live for him.
But we live for him, with him beside us.