Do you know what a “chain reaction” is? Three modern authors came together to write a story (Arne Schmidt, Rick Seaman and Josh Friedman) that became the basis for an American film in 1996 by that name. Both Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman played major characters in the movie. I did not see the movie, but I read an article on the plot and found the idea fascinating. The story offered a fictional account of the invention of a non-contaminating power source based on hydrogen. According to the story, the United States government was desperate to prevent the spread of this technology – because it would devastate US investors, and topple the oil-based economy- threatening American sovereignty among nations. The story goes that a University of Chicago student made a discovery that enabled him to obtain vast reservoirs of completely clean energy from water by efficiently splitting the hydrogen and oxygen molecules. After the kidnapping of his colleagues in the lab and the destruction of the campus laboratory, the key characters realized they were being set up by powerful people. Their discovery set off a “chain reaction” – not in the world of energy – but in the powerful political world. The story was based on the premise that this new free energy would be suppressed because it would be viewed as too disruptive to the way things work in our world.
That work was FICTION – nothing more than made up chase scenes and invented scenarios from the minds of the story’s three authors. The story for our lesson today is NOT. It is a TRUE account of real events. What they have in common is the ‘CHAIN REACTION’ set in motion by the introduction of a power source that was very disruptive. Jesus is the absolutely clean power source – but the political fallout was just as dirty as the story I just mentioned. We are back in the Gospel of John, closing in on the Cross in John 19, and there is a truth oozing from the story….
Key Principle: Jesus brings out the worst in us, to replace it with the best of Himself.
The story of John 19 is one of Jesus standing before men – and the record of how each reacted differently – even as we do today:
1: Guilty: Some look for a quick way to dispose of their guilt– but Jesus keeps coming back to stare at them (19:1,7-8).
John 19:1 Pilate then took Jesus and scourged Him… John 19:7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out [to] [be] the Son of God.” 8 Therefore when Pilate heard this statement, he was [even] more afraid…”
Pilate, by most any reckoning, comes off as a pathetic excuse for Roman leadership in the narrative of John’s Gospel. He thrashed about in the text and shows up in a number of different categories of reaction on our list – because he is all over the place in responses. What is clear is that Pilate could not have believed that Jesus was both guiltless and deserving of the scourging he ordered – much less a cross and the horrid tortures of crucifixion. Pilate was going to have to dip deeply into the amphora of Roman wine to dull his guilt over what He was doing in regards to Jesus.
Pilate didn’t just FEEL GUILTY – he WAS guilty. An innocent man stood before his judgment seat looking for justice – and got NONE. Innocence stood in the shadow of corruption and contempt. Many who have stood in the presence of Jesus have felt that same twinge of guilt. Some may be feeling it right now.
Consider this: If Jesus is the One our Bible claims Him to be – you and I WILL stand in His presence after our earth journey is done – whether a believer and follower or not.
If we reject Jesus, we stand in an awful place when we look into His eyes after this life. He doesn’t want that to be the case – and that is why He has said it all clearly:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
The Cross cries out to those who would try to earn their place with God – STOP! Know that even your righteousness is filthy before God. Accept life as a gift, and not as a religiously earned payment for doing good!
Yet, not only unbelievers must anticipate the gaze of Jesus. As believers and followers of Jesus, the Bible is clear:
• Paul wrote to the Romans (14:9-11): “For to this end Christ died and lived again, that He might be Lord both of the dead and of the living. 10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. 11 For it is written, “AS I LIVE, SAYS THE LORD, EVERY KNEE SHALL BOW TO ME, AND EVERY TONGUE SHALL GIVE PRAISE TO GOD.”
• To the Corinthians he wrote (2 Corinthians 5:10): “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad. 11 Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made manifest also in your consciences.”
Both of those letters – to the Romans and to the Corinthians were written to congregations of followers of Jesus. Paul wasn’t teaching that believers would need to be stand in front of Jesus to find out if He would let them into Heaven. The issue in both texts was that we as believers will stand before Jesus, having had our sin dealt with at the Cross, and face a judgment of our WORK in this life… this is a PERFORMANCE measure – not a RIGHTEOUSNESS measure. Believers are declared righteous based solely on the washing away of all of their sin by Jesus at the time of their submission to Him – the “born again” experience Jesus spoke of before Nicodemus in John 3. Sin isn’t the issue – life and walk as a believer is the issue.
As a believer, I must understand that someday Jesus will take all of my labor and place it between us. He and I will look at the number of hours I have labored to know and teach His Word. We will look at the way I communicated that Word to people. He will examine the time I have spent caring for people – and He will give the TRUE and PERFECT evaluation of me. If I have done well in His estimation – the trial of my work before His fiery eyes of scrutiny will survive. If I have not done well – that work will evaporate – with no opportunity to relive my life on earth.
I have said this before, but let me repeat it again: When I stand before Jesus – seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months and years will evaporate into the smoke as the fire of His eyes burn through my life’s work. What is left after all the selfish, ego-driven, stubborn, hard-hearted, gossip-laden, flesh colored work is gone – is what Jesus can BEGIN to celebrate. Mature believers keep that day in their minds eye – and never lose sight of it. Guilt need not be our response to Jesus’ coming test of our work – we have today to surrender anew to Him!
2: Brash: Some revel in fallen man, and sing from the thrown of their own hearts, snubbing the true king before His face.
The soldiers openly mocked Jesus about the very thing that was at the core of His identity – He was and IS a King.
John 19:2 And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and put a purple robe on Him; 3 and they [began] to come up to Him and say, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and to give Him slaps [in the face].
Is there reaction long ago really different than the modern reaction to Jesus? We live in a world that is increasingly bold about their disdain for even the notion of a personal God. Many have no hesitation holding them back from bold blasphemy. Some contemporary Comedy Channel stand-up routines would make Sodom and Gomorrah blush in the way they refer to Jesus. The words about Jesus and His church are both HARSH and RELENTLESS. I was going to illustrate this, but the sheer volume of gross insults against Jesus on YouTube makes my heart churn with pain for what could have happened in people’s lives that could make them do very angry and brash about mocking God.
The soldiers MADE A CROWN – they went out of the way to MOCK what Jesus said of Himself. They placed on his shoulders an expensive cloth – for men who feel empowered in their hatred of God will spare little expense to press their point. Drunk with a temporary sense of power – men sing songs of a rebellion – not identifying that they are perched on the deck of a sinking ship.
How we must show them authentic LOVE! How we must ceaselessly PRAY for them! How we must BE the church that will care and not bristle… for the daylight of all of our lives is quickly fading, and judgment awaits those who have in arrogance and ignorance. Remember, the words of Scripture are clear: “It is appointed to man once to die, and then the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27)
How awful, how painful, the sound of anguish in those who stand before the judge when they see Him face to face – knowing they have freely mocked Him in this life!
Beloved, do not be lulled into intellectual posturing of well know agnostics like the late Christopher Hitchens with his rants against God. In 2007 he wrote God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, and in 2011, he died – his arguments against God absolutely ended. Just before he did, he said in an interview:
“In whatever kind of a ‘race’ life may be, I have very abruptly become a finalist,” Mr. Hitchens wrote in Vanity Fair, for which he was a contributing editor. One author pointedly wrote: “He took pains to emphasize that he had not revised his position on atheism, articulated in his best-selling 2007 book, “God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” although he did express amused appreciation at the hope, among some concerned Christians, that he might undergo a late-life conversion.”
Some may laugh at the notion, but I find nothing unloving about the hope many believers had for him. It wasn’t to win the argument – it was to see another man who God deeply loved come into the Father’s arms. Brash men will mock the notion of God – but that power lasts until their breathing stops… then they see the truth.
3: Clueless: Others judge Jesus as a benevolent and harmless man, and don’t seem to grasp why so many are bent on mocking Him.
John 19:4 Pilate came out again and said to them, “Behold, I am bringing Him out to you so that you may know that I find no guilt in Him.” 5 Jesus then came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. [Pilate] said to them, “Behold, the Man!“
At the heart of the pronouncement of Pilate was the biggest mistake he ever made as a livin and breathing human being – he saw Jesus only as a MAN. He was CLUELESS concerning the true identity of the One who stood before him.
Let us be ever so clear now: Jesus is no harmless man. The Bible says that He is a King. The Bible shows Him in power and might. Don’t make the mistake… the “baby Jesus” of the Christmas play and the “lifeless shell” draped across Mary in the Pieta are NOT the final word about Jesus in the Bible. He is a powerful Sovereign. He is a Coming King. He is a Mighty Warrior. Look ahead in the Word, and behold the coming of Jesus in glory:
Revelation 19:11 “I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and wages war. 12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean. 15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron scepter.”a He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: King of kings and Lord of lords. “
Dear one, do not sit back and think that you can ignore Jesus because following Him would inconvenience you. You WILL face Him. Some, I know, look forward to it. Others will shrink away – and Scriptures says of them they will find no place to hide in that day.
4: Angry: Some see Jesus as a threat to their self-made religious and ethical standards. He would not fit their mold, so they discard Him completely.
John 19:6 So when the chief priests and the officers saw Him, they cried out saying, “Crucify, crucify!” Pilate said to them, “Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” 7 The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and by that law He ought to die because He made Himself out [to] [be] the Son of God.” 13 Therefore when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out, and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Pavement, but in Hebrew, Gabbatha. 14 Now it was the day of preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, “Behold, your King!” 15 So they cried out, “Away with [Him], away with [Him], crucify Him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16 So he then handed Him over to them to be crucified.
The chief priests and officers had little real interest in maintaining the illusion of a love for Roman domination – their subsequent history bears that out. What they DID care about, was their own sense of control, and Jesus’ apparent ambivalence to it.
Jesus doesn’t respect religion – because it is man’s attempt to build a system of favor with God. Jesus wants us to have a relationship with the Father through His work. That is why He made clear His goal:
John 14:5 “ Thomas said to him, “Lord, we don’t know where you are going, so how can we know the way?” 6 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 If you really know me, you will know my Father as well….”
Here is the problem: If Jesus is the way, then religious rulers have no power to control others. If they cannot open and close the door to eternal life through their religious rituals – their power is diminished. No wonder they have grown to hate the relationship Jesus offers men, women and children. They need no other intercessor with such a priest as Jesus. The Scriptures clearly teach:
1 Timothy 2:5 “For there is one God, [and] one mediator also between God and men, [the] man Christ Jesus, 6who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony [given] at the proper time.”
Religious leaders want to be the door, the controller, the mediator for God. The truth is – they simply can’t. Jesus already fills that role, and that makes people that want to control others very angry.
5: Trapped: Caught between the clear truth that Jesus was not the evil one and the “power play” of angry men – some hope to pass by the responsibility of explaining Who Jesus is.
John 19:9 “…and he entered into the Praetorium again and said to Jesus, “Where are You from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10 So Pilate said to Him, “You do not speak to me? Do You not know that I have authority to release You, and I have authority to crucify You?” 11 Jesus answered, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it had been given you from above; for this reason he who delivered Me to you has [the] greater sin.” 12 As a result of this Pilate made efforts to release Him, but the Jews cried out saying, “If you release this Man, you are no friend of Caesar; everyone who makes himself out [to be] a king opposes Caesar.”
Pilate didn’t think Jesus is evil – but he could not grasp why the men were so anxious to have Jesus executed. He WANTED to see Jesus released in His beaten and diminished state – to die quietly in a bed of some dark room. He didn’t want to have a public role in Jesus’ death. He didn’t want to openly declare Jesus as EVIL. He was like many today who want to argue that Jesus was GOOD, and self-sacrificing – a lover of men who was merely misunderstood. They are trapped in their view of Jesus, between the Gospels and their own sense of bland moral tolerance.
Listen to these words very carefully, by a man who died in 1946, but is still quoted the world over as a deep and spiritual man, Mahatma Gandhi:
“…my Christian friends have told me, on more than a few occasions, that for the very reason I am not a Christian and that (I shall quote their words exactly) “I do not accept Christ in the bottom of my heart as the only Son of God,” it is impossible for me to understand the profound significance of his teachings, or to know and interpret the greatest source of spiritual strength that man has ever known. Although this may or may not be true in my case, I have reasons to believe that it is an erroneous point of view. I believe that such an estimate is incompatible with the message that Jesus Christ gave to the world. For, he was certainly the highest example of one who wished to give everything, asking nothing in return, and not caring what creed might happen to be professed by the recipient…” Compare what Gandhi said to the words of Jesus as they are recorded in the Gospels…
John 12:44 “And Jesus cried out and said, “He who believes in Me, does not believe in Me but in Him who sent Me. 45 “He who sees Me sees the One who sent Me. 46 “I have come [as] Light into the world, so that everyone who believes in Me will not remain in darkness. 47 “If anyone hears My sayings and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world, but to save the world.
If you stop reading right there, you may agree with Gandhi’s assessment. Jesus seemed to be saying that He would not judge one who did not believe and follow His teachings. He didn’t seem to care if you professed another creed that was in direct disagreement with Him. The problem is that isn’t the end of the passage. Jesus continued:
John 12:48 “He who rejects Me and does not receive My sayings, has one who judges him; the word I spoke is what will judge him at the last day…“
In other words, Gandhi thought it didn’t matter to Jesus if you followed his teachings specifically or not – he didn’t think that was Jesus’ message. The problem is he was just WRONG. Jesus DID care about the judgment – and it would be based on the WORD that God spoke. The standard of judgment, according to Jesus, is the Word of God.
If Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life – then those opposed to His message have not found the way, are not walking in the truth and are not living in the life that He provides. Let me encourage you: “Get off the fence!” This isn’t a philosophy class where what is imperiled is your grade point average. What is imperiled is your eternal destiny! Get off the fence. If He is Lord – we must treat Him as such.
6: Showy: Some are willing to write “John 3:16” on their head band, but live like they know nothing of Jesus and what He taught. They are unwilling to publicly yield to Jesus – but they will appear in some small way to honor Him.
John 19:17 They took Jesus, therefore, and He went out, bearing His own cross, to the place called the Place of a Skull, which is called in Hebrew, Golgotha. 18 There they crucified Him, and with Him two other men, one on either side, and Jesus in between. 19 Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It was written, “JESUS THE NAZARENE, THE KING OF THE JEWS.” 20 Therefore many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, Latin [and] in Greek. 21 So the chief priests of the Jews were saying to Pilate, “Do not write, The King of the Jews; but that He said, ‘I am King of the Jews.'” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.”
Unwilling to take a public position and exonerate Jesus, Pilate settled with a showman’s “celebrity Christianity”. This was perhaps the first example of using Jesus to help aid a politician before his constituency! Many others would follow.
They would sing about Jesus is a rap song while moving sensuously about with scantily clad women. They would proclaim themselves “Christians” in their political speeches while launching platforms that stood in opposition to many of the most fundamental Biblical ideals.
Have you ever listed how many celebrities have done Christmas specials, made Christmas albums and offered stirring versions of Christian hymns – when their public persona is clearly not one that values the message and lifestyle of a Christ follower? How we long to have those who not only speak of Jesus- but LIVE Jesus. When they come onto a football team or hold a public place of high regard in the media – we begin praying they won’t let Jesus down and dirty His name. Keep looking up! Some believers have run their race well. Some young women and some young men are about to step out and do it for this generation. How welcome they will be!
7: Selfish: Some take from Jesus what they feel they can, with no sense of His person or place.
John 19:23 Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took His outer garments and made four parts, a part to every soldier and [also] the tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it, [to decide] whose it shall be”; [this was] to fulfill the Scripture: “THEY DIVIDED MY OUTER GARMENTS AMONG THEM, AND FOR MY CLOTHING THEY CAST LOTS.” 25 Therefore the soldiers did these things…
The soldiers parted the garments of Jesus – each taking a piece. Kneeling beneath the crucified King, they cast lots for His clothing – but they would not find in that meager pile the thing that would truly satisfy them. The satisfaction wouldn’t come because of their proximity to the King, nor the scraps they would be able to grab from His estate. The real satisfaction would only come if they could truly grasp within the words of the centurion who uttered: “Truly this was the Son of God!”
Even now, some come to hear about Jesus, because they have some need they hope Jesus will meet. Some draw near because they are hurting financially, and they hope that Jesus will smile on them if they go to a church meeting. Others come because their treasured relationships are falling apart, or perhaps illness has begun to ravage someone they love – and they are seeking the help of a compassionate one. Whatever the reason they come, they will do best if they simply put aside what they thought they came to get. It isn’t what they really need. Good health will eventually fail for all of us. Piles of money will be eaten away by time and economic change. They will do best to simply put the tunic of Jesus down. Drop the sandals. They aren’t what we truly need!
Jesus is what we need. The one who suffered the cruelty and torture of a cross to offer us a connection to God is what we need. A personal relationship with the God that created us through the work of Jesus will fill the hole of our true longings. Jesus said when talking about all the STUFF we seem to qualify as our “need”: (Matthew 6:33) “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” What did He mean?
Seeking first the Kingdom of God is making my highest desire the honor of my King. Following and trusting in His kindness and wisdom, I will find His provision all I need. To seek a Kingdom, we must kneel to a King. To seek His righteousness, we must surrender to His choices. To do less is to seek His benefits without truly swearing our allegiance to Him. He is what we need – and we dare not place something else in the hole in our hearts.
I want to end this with a celebration of the Love of Christ. It is fitting since our victory is only in His loss, His suffering, His blood.
It was February 1941, Auschwitz, Poland. Maximilian Kolbe was a Franciscan priest put in the infamous death camp for helping Jews escape Nazi terrorism. Months went by and in desperation an escape took place. The camp rule was enforced. Ten people would be rounded up randomly and herded into a cell where they would die of starvation and exposure as a lesson against future escape attempts. Names were called. A Polish Jew Frandishek Gasovnachek was called. He cried, “Wait, I have a wife and children!” Kolbe stepped forward and said, “I will take his place.” Kolbe was marched into the cell with nine others where he managed to live until August 14. This story was chronicled on an NBC news special several years ago. Gasovnachek, by this time 82, was shown telling this story while tears streamed down his cheeks. A mobile camera followed him around his little white house to a marble monument carefully tended with flowers. The inscription read: IN MEMORY OF MAXIMILIAN KOLBE. HE DIED IN MY PLACE. (from sermon central illustrations).
Why would Kolbe have given his life for another inmate? Because he did what his what his Savior did for him! He showed the kind of love Jesus showed. He acted out the command to be like Jesus. In Maximilian Kolbe’s life…he responded with surrender. Was he born that way? No. He was in his earlier life just as selfish as any other man. But…Jesus brings out the worst in us, to replace it with the best of Him.