Possibilities

Re:Verse passage – John 20:1-18 (day three)

“Mary was standing outside the tomb weeping.”

The disciples of Jesus were going to believe in this miracle at the speed of their lifelong experience, which is to say, belief was slow in coming. All their lives, these men and women had seen only a limited number of possible outcomes for any given circumstance. It’s just the way things were. When you can see no possibility for resolution to suffering but a darker future, despair makes sense. In fact, to hope is foolhardy. And when evidence points to something other than that bleak future, you’ll dismiss the evidence. The resurrection reveals, though, that despair is only a habit of thought. God has opened up new possibilities for the human race. If the dead are raised, no other seemingly impossible thing is off the table, no matter what it is.

Fellowship

Re:Verse passage – John 19:38-42 (day three)

“So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews.”

Beyond the group of twelve and the group of women who looked after Jesus, this partnership of Joseph and Nicodemus seems to be one of the earliest expressions of what would become a company of those united in their devotion to serving Christ. In one of the most tender accounts in scripture, these two men – careful, deliberative, and deadly serious in their attention to all that Jesus said and did – acted according to their regard for Jesus as one worthy of their reverence. What did they think about the future of Jesus’s teachings? What did they believe about Messiah? These questions aren’t addressed. What John does show is this somber little fellowship doing all they know to do.

Rejected

Re:Verse passage – John 19:31-37 (day three)

“Not a bone of him shall be broken.”

Loneliness is one of the most horrific circumstances that a human being can experience. It will lead to severe distress, which can manifest as despair, depression, even psychosis. It is agony. To be lonely is to suffer. Jesus knew loneliness. His hometown turned its back on him. A disciple betrayed him. Hoped-for companionship in the garden of anguish did not materialize. Most of the others left him prior to his execution. His Psalm 22 quote on the cross became his cry of utter abandonment. He remained alone until the very end. No one came to hasten his demise by the breaking of his legs to force bodily collapse and suffocation. He went all the way through without solidarity, without fellowship, without the intimacy of God the Father, without even an assist to speed his death.

Human

Re:Verse passage – John 19:28-30 (day three)

“I am thirsty.”

Jesus Christ came in the flesh. That means God the Son was now human for all eternity. He didn’t temporarily cloak himself in a body and then escape it after the cross and resurrection were done. The scriptures make clear that the “man Jesus Christ” is the mediator between God and humans as the writer of Hebrews states. A “temporary human” would be a joke or a ruse or a cringe-inducing attempt at being “one of the gang.” If Jesus were slumming for a little while, you would perhaps perceive him as special – lovely even – but you would know he’s not really part of your experience. On the cross, the simple words Jesus speaks about the state of his bodily dehydration are dear. They show a Lord who doesn’t rage against bodily frailty, but rather embraces his body – and yours.

Incarnation

Re:Verse passage – John 19:17-27 (day three)

“They divided my outer garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”

The gospel accounts of the actions of the soldiers in getting their hands on Jesus’s possessions – namely his clothing – has some history of being used as a cautionary tale to warn people against participating in games of chance: “To gamble is to partake in the same activities as the Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross.” With all due respect to the good intentions of those who would exhort people to avoid practices that can lead to crime and addiction, John’s intent is something other than throwing shade at casinos. What the scriptures reveal is Jesus Christ having come in the flesh – God made human, God made vulnerable. Only from a human being could everything be taken, from friends to the clothes on his back. Behold the man.

Winning

Re:Verse passage – John 19:5-16 (day three)

“If you release this man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out to be a king opposes Caesar.”

The Jewish leaders suddenly found their inner imperialist. Appealing to Pilate’s political insecurities was a shrewd move. This was going to happen; they’d had enough. They were not going to lose this game of brinksmanship. Somewhere along the way, where there had been any genuine engagement with Jesus, the shock troops of establishment power trampled it all underfoot. The powers that be determined Jesus now had to be destroyed to preserve the status quo. But they did not realize they presided over a crumbling regime. What they managed to save that day would all be razed to the ground within 40 years. The pursuit of political victory becomes all consuming, and sacrifice of the good becomes a justifiable price to pay.

Burden

Re:Verse passage – John 19:1-5 (day three)

“Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him.”

When did Jesus bear on himself all the sins of the world? The bearing of those sins culminated with his death on the cross. But prior to that, the soldiers mocked him and beat him and tortured him with thorns. Prior to that, Pilate scourged him. Prior to that, he was assaulted about the face in front of the high priest. Prior to that, Peter’s denial occurred within earshot. Prior to that, he was handed over to the authorities in history’s most infamous betrayal. Prior to that, his hometown rejected him. Prior to that, many followers turned away from him. He was a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, says the prophet. When did Jesus bear on himself all the sins of the world? When did he ever not do so?

Kingdom

Re:Verse passage – John 18:33-40 (day three)

My kingdom is not of this world.”

“Heaven good, earth bad” might seem like an implication present in this passage. But when Jesus speaks of the world here, what does he have in mind? The marvelous creation we read of in Genesis? The seas teaming with life? The dry land? The vegetation? Animals? Human beings? Has he at long last now, here before Pilate, given up on this place where we are born and where we live? Or does he mean the system of striving for power over one another, the system that has unleashed unbearable and unfathomable suffering – from warring families to warring nations, from depression to deforestation, from cancer to concentration camps? Pilate was a man of the system. Jesus stood before him as a man of the good. Pilate forced. Jesus loved. The system cannot stand against such a kingdom.

History

Re:Verse passage – John 18:15-18, 25-27 (day three)

“Again Peter denied it, and at that moment a rooster began to crow.”

One of the continuing conversations regarding the concept of time travel concerns the immutability question: Could one actually change history if one possessed foreknowledge of an event and took steps to prevent it? Peter was no time traveler, but he did receive a revelation from Jesus about a specific event soon to occur: his denial of his friend. It was repulsive to him — unthinkable. St. Matthew’s gospel quotes Peter: “I will never disown you.” It didn’t matter. Peter tried to alter history, but he could not. He had focused on the denial instead of the fear that had produced it. Now it was done. If only he could have that moment back. If only he could have one more exchange with the Lord. But that was impossible. Wasn’t it?

Grace

Re:Verse passage – 1 Peter 5:7-14 (day three)

After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you.”

Do spiritual characteristics – those qualities the Bible often calls “gifts” – ever show up where no suffering has occurred? Possibly – probably, even – but the consistent witness of the New Testament is that spiritual gifts are the residue of suffering. When suffering passes, gentleness – or faithfulness or patience or joy or courage or kindness or generosity or leadership or love – remains. These things increase and suffering loses its power to terrorize you. In this way, you move toward perfection, confirmation, strength, and steadfast confidence. The actual experience of suffering catalyzes the formation of the Spirit’s attributes in you. This is grace – the very word translated as “gift.”