“Do you think he really loved me?”

Good Friday Sermon March 25 2016

Jesus failed everyone’s expectations.

The disciples knew what kind of messiah they wanted.  They thought they knew what kind of messiah they were getting.  They thought Jesus fit the bill.  They were looking for a messiah who would usher in the Kingdom of Israel.  A messiah who would conquer the Roman empire and rule as king, taking vengeance upon the nations of the world who had subjected Israel to their whims.

They wanted superman.  Look up in the sky! It’s a Bird … it’s a plane … No Its Super-Messiah. Faster than a speeding spear, more powerful than a Roman Legion, able to leap the Temple in a single bound!

Instead they got a messiah hanging on a tree.

Today, we are no different.  We want the health and wealth gospel.  We want Jesus to be a vending machine.  We pop in our money, say our prayer, push the button and out comes the good life.

Jesus doesn’t meet expectations. He refuses to be the Savior everyone is expecting him to be. He is who he is. He is the great I AM who ushers in the Kingdom of God.

He comes on a donkey not a horse.
He comes in peace not in war.
He comes in poverty not in riches.

He comes in a manger not a palace.
He comes to suffer not to live in luxury.
He comes to serve and not to be served.
He comes to love his enemies and not for revenge.

He comes to take up a cross not to kill.
He comes to give his life that you may live.

He comes in lowliness and humility and dies the death of a criminal.

The cross?  That is a symbol of failure.  Of humiliation.  Of torture.  Of shame.  No one expected the cross.  The cross revealed a different kind of God than anyone imagined.

Here’s the deal.  We have a big problem and we can’t fix it.  We can’t work our way up to God.  We can’t work our way even a little bit to God—not one step. So God comes down to us. Today of all days we look to the place where alone the problem can be solved for us: to the cross and to the resurrection of Christ.

While Jesus hung on the cross he recited the opening line of Psalm 22 with an agonizing breath, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Jesus had been betrayed and abandoned by his friends.  He was surrounded by enemies who beat him with whips covered with pieces of bone and metal so the flesh was ripped from his body.  A crown of thorns was placed upon his head until his blood ran down his face and stung his eyes.  They spit on him.  They stripped him and divided up his clothing.  They nailed his hands and feet to the cross.  He was mocked as “King of the Jews” and they taunted him shouting, “Save yourself!  Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”  They laughed while he slowly suffocated to death.

Jesus died.  He wasn’t paying God; he was dying—painfully, excruciatingly, really, truly dying.  He took upon himself the full wrath of God. Make no mistake.  God died.  The fullness of God dwelled in Jesus; God took on human flesh and blood.

Jesus knows.

He knows what it feels like when God is silent.  He knows what it means to be human.  He knows what it means to experience temptation, humiliation, suffering and death.  He suffered the “total meaningless destruction that is death.”

Jesus died on the cross for you and me.  God’s plan is cosmic in scope.  Yet in his divine sovereignty as creator, redeemer and king of the universe, he calls us by name.  God has given his life and claimed us as his very own children, his beloved, with whom he is very well pleased.

If you had been the only person on the planet, would Christ have still died on the cross?  You bet.  If you had never been born, would Christ have still died on the cross?  You bet.  God chose to reveal himself, he chose to speak to us, he chose to invite us into his presence, he chose to offer us grace, he chose to empty himself, he chose to become human, he chose to take on our sins, he chose to die on the cross.

All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (Matthew 28:18-20).  Every knee shall bow and every tongue shall confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:5-11).  But his power does not crush, demolish, force, manipulate or coerce.  His power gives life and gives it abundantly.  It is the power of love freely given.  His power flows in us, through us, and out of us to transform and lift us up.

In the stillness of the winter night, Ray Brennan and Richard Manning quietly pass a chocolate bar back and forth between them.  A light snow is falling.  They can see their breath as they huddle beneath the stars in a bunker some 100 yards inside enemy lines in Korea in January 1952.  They are the best of friends.

Thump!

A hand grenade lands in the center of the bunker.  Ray, the first to spot it, throws himself onto the grenade.

Boom!

The grenade detonates.  Richard is untouched and unharmed.  His best friend, Ray, looks up at him, winks and rolls over, dead.

About ten years later, Richard Manning becomes a Catholic Priest and assumes the name Brennan Manning in honor of his dear friend, Ray Brennan.

Transport yourself some 30 years later.  Brennan is in a deep depression.  Uncertain what to do, he travels to Chicago to visit Ray’s 85-year-old mother.  Brennan had adopted her as his second mother after he returned from Korea.

While reminiscing about Ray, he asks Mrs. Brennan an innocent question, “Hey, Ma, do you think Ray really loved me?”

She looks at him and starts to laugh, “You’re the craziest man I’ve ever met in my whole life.  You’re always fooling around.  You can never be serious.”

“But I am serious, Ma.”

Then, he sees fear in her eyes.  Lowering her head, she whispers in a quiet, intense voice, “Don’t you ever talk to me like that again, and don’t you ever talk about my Raymond like that again.  You stop making fun of me.”

“But Ma, I’m not making fun of you.”

Then she rises to her feet.  The fear is gone and she screams, “What more could he have done for you!  Now you tell me, what more could he have done for you!”  She lowers her head and sobs, asking repeatedly, “What more could he have done for you!”  Finally, she reaches out, takes Brennan’s hand and quietly says, “I guess we all need reassurance now and then.”

Now take a slow deep breath and imagine that you have traveled backwards in time nearly 2,000 years to a hill outside Jerusalem called Golgotha, the place of the skull.  The sky overhead is dark and foreboding.  You are standing at the foot of the cross.

Look up and see Jesus hanging above you.  Sweat mingled with blood from the crown of thorns has seeped into Jesus’ eyes and he can hardly see you.  His lips are dry and chapped, his tongue swollen.  Nails pierce his hands and feet, encrusted in dried blood.  His body is bruised and battered.  His skin is peeling off his sides and his back where he was whipped with pieces of metal and bone tied to leather strips.  Jesus struggles to take a breath, while he slowly suffocates.  Behind you, people laugh and mock him, calling out “Hey, King of the Jews, save yourself!”

Now turn to your side.  There she is—Mary, Jesus’ mother.  Imagine that you reach out and place your hand upon her shoulder to comfort her.  She turns toward you, eyes red and swollen.  Tears are streaming down her face.  Now I would like you to ask her a question:

“Do you think he really loved me?”

“Do you think he really loved me?”

“Do you think he really loved me?”

Do you think he really loved me

What do you see in Mary’s eyes?  Now breathe deeply and slowly come back to the here and now.

This is Jesus, the Son of God, the King of the Jews, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.  He is not the Messiah we expected.  He is the Messiah we need.  What more could Jesus have done for you?

NOTE: Around 1995, I listened to a cassette tape recording of Brennan Manning telling his story at a National Youth Workers Convention.  Using notes I took at the time, I did my best to reconstruct his story.

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