Good Friday: Nothing and Everything

Nothing and Everything

John 19:17-42

The soldiers at the scene of the cross were dividing up the spoils, as was their way. But this time, the pickings were slim. Some small wrappings. A pretty good seamless robe. No money.

Jesus had lost even the clothes on His back, exchanging them for some wood and some nails. He had no home of His own. His only visible means of support had been His network of friends – but now they were mostly scattered or hid. Alone. No power. No last will, nothing to probate. His short burst of fame had now run out. He’d given over the care of His mother to someone else. He had no children — no legacy, as this culture saw it. And now, He was being stripped even of life itself.

Nothing left but a corpse,

in a grave,

the stony end.

Nothing. The perfect place to start for someone whose task it is to renew everything. The end. Of the beginning.

And what of us, who live our lives in a world stuffed with stuff, putting our treasures in the retirement account of earthly life, some of us with families, some with friends, some with at least 15 minutes of fame? What of our life of blessings and curses, and dreams fulfilled and broken? Why would we want a new beginning?

Because as it stood, it all came to the same stony end. And all that’s left then is what had been there all along, hidden beneath all the stuff of life. A loving God who is with us and for us. A God who was left with nothing, who went into the tomb, but didn’t stay there. Nothing became everything. And we can share in that everything now, while we still live, whatever we might have.

Lord, You are at the end of everything. You are at each new beginning. You are in between, where we are now. You make something worthwhile out of nothing. Help us be part of the Kingdom for which You have set us apart. Amen.

Bob Longman

Lent midweek, Feb 26-28 2013.

John 5:17-47

We see his face portrayed on a magazine cover. The name is spoken, and large numbers of people perk up their ears, all over the world. One of the most web-searched names on the Internet is his. There is no lack of interest in Jesus today, two thousand years after His death.

But they wonder: who is this Jesus? Some called him a prophet, some a healer, some a social reformer, some a teacher. Many people think of Jesus as a good man whose words were twisted by his followers. Others see him as a great leader crushed by authorities. Was Jesus aware of what he was doing, or of what would come from it?

John tells us that Jesus was well aware of who he is. Jesus says he does nothing on his own accord, but only what God, his Father, wills him to do. Jesus says what he does bears witness to who he is. But these deeds are miracles, acts of authority, of compassion, of knowledge beyond that of a mere teacher. And what do they bear witness about? Jesus as the Anointed One, the Son of God. More than a figure to be curious about or to make theories about — a person, indeed, to belong to, to trust, to follow.

Lord, let us bear witness of You as the God you really are, no matter what anyone else says about You. Amen.

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Luke 13:22-31

Jesus was on his way to Jerusalem, preaching and teaching. And people were asking him questions. (Jesus was as well-known for his unusual answers as he was for healings and for traveling from town to town.) Someone asked Jesus about whom God would be rescuing. He seems to assume:

  1. (1) that the burden of life was such that only God could bring about any rescue;
  2. (2) that God would take them into the Kingdom of God (described by Jesus elsewhere in his teaching in glowing terms); and
  3. (3) that it was troubling to him that only a few would experience this, and perhaps that the few would not include him.

Jesus replies by telling him about a narrow door into the Kingdom. It acts as a constraint, in that there are many who will try to go through but can’t. Jesus uses the image of the narrow gate in Matthew 7:13. There, it is the gate to life, and the alternative is the wide gate that leads to destruction. The Matthew verse has an immediate context of God’s goodness in the current life, and recognizing that which makes for good in this life and not bad. But the more interesting parallel is that in Matthew 7:21-23, Jesus says that many who did mighty acts on His behalf won’t enter the Kingdom, because they didn’t do as God wanted them to do. God tells them “I don’t know who you are, where you’re coming from. Go away!” Their lives had no consistency, they lived one way and then another. And that is not the way of the Kingdom.

Jesus then warns that some are last who will be first, and vice-versa. Notice that it’s not a total flip. Each time the gospels say this, it says that ‘many’ or ‘some’ of those who are last will be first. The saying isn’t meant to condemn all those who would be expected to be the first in just because they are first. Jesus is saying that being first or last doesn’t matter. Jesus here already mentioned the presence of Abraham and the prophets, who the listeners would assume would be there. It’s just that whoever bids to come in is called to go through the narrow door of living the life of love that God calls us to live. If you do that, God will recognize you as already being of the Kingdom, already part of the yeast that will make the Kingdom rise in the life we now live.

Bob Longman