Jesus May Be Mocked, But He is Always Worthy of Praise

When Jesus was crucified, as Paul says in 1 Corinthians, it certainly appeared foolish. Here Jesus is seen as a common criminal, a failure, and powerless. In Mark we read these words of how he is mocked at the crucifixion:

And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. And they began to salute him, “Hail, King of the Jews!” And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him.

Mark 15:16-20

That is our savior. Paul won’t waiver from this painful sight–the Messiah dying on the cross. It seems foolish. But it is our savior. It is love in action.

I thought I’d share a hymn that puts these two concepts together. Each stanza begins with what appears foolish: birth in a manger, a wandering existence with no home, his beating, and finally his crucifixion. But coupled with these scenes is the fact that such humble events do not diminish our Lord. Each stanza asks, “Who is this?” And the answer is always, regardless of circumstance, “our God.” We still praise him. Jesus Christ is the Son of God in these times and judging by the world’s standards, or by the world’s wisdom, does not fully comprehend his real power and glory.

Who Is This, So Weak and Helpless?

Who is this, so weak and helpless,
Child of lowly Hebrew maid,
Rudely in a stable sheltered,
Coldly in a manger laid?
’Tis the Lord of all creation,
Who this wondrous path has trod;
He is Lord from everlasting,
And to everlasting God.

Who is this, a Man of Sorrows,
Walking sadly life’s hard way,
Homeless, weary, sighing, weeping
Over sin and Satan’s sway?
’Tis our God, our glorious Savior,
Who above the starry sky
Is for us a place preparing,
Where no tear can dim the eye.

Who is this? Behold him shedding
Drops of blood upon the ground!
Who is this, despised, rejected,
Mocked, insulted, beaten, bound?
’Tis our God, Who gifts and graces
On His church is pouring down;
Who shall smite in holy vengeance
All His foes beneath His throne.

Who is this that hangs there dying
While the rude world scoffs and scorns,
Numbered with the malefactors,
Torn with nails, and crowned with thorns?
’Tis our God Who lives forever
’Mid the shining ones on high,
In the glorious golden city,
Reigning everlastingly.

You can also listen to the song here, in a rendition from Indelible Grace, sung by Sandra McCracken (although the video was not made by them):

Into Darkness Christ Came: Matthew 2 and Reflections on Newtown, CT

We know about the recent events of Newtown, CT and the depths of darkness we see in such a tragedy. It make me ache to think of those whose lives were snatched away. It seems difficult to celebrate with joy the coming of Jesus when the world looks so dark.

Sadly, that is just the sort of world to which Christ came. It is why he came. This place is not as it should be nor is it as it was created to be.

When Christ came, did waves of goodwill roll out from Bethlehem enveloping the whole world? Sadly no. Immediately the dark powers of this world were in full force. Jerusalem was distrubed, but the king–the man with power and power to lose–escalates the situation. Hate takes hold, fear drives him on. And so soon after Immanuel, Jesus Christ is born, children are slaughtered by Herod to protect his place as King.

16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Matthew 2

How can we even claim to be a people–a world–worth saving? From his first to his final breath, we see how the world reacts to its savior. Jesus comes to bring peace on earth, to make peace between humanity and God. Yet Herod seeks his life at his birth, and the crowds are calling to crucify him before his death.

It is terrible. And this world can still be terrible. It can terrify us. But that is why he came. And that is why we need his peace. Only Jesus has the power and authority to say in John 14, Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

But it is hard to live with his peace, especially in trying times. I am reminded of the Christmas carol, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” and this stanza:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Hate is strong. There is evil is this world. We can’t ignore that. We can’t deny it. The events of the world do not make sense if there is no sin. It is a powerful force pulling and pushing us. But there is more. Hate is strong, sin and death are powerful, but they do not have the victory.

It may appear that they do, but we are to live according to what is unseen. We are to step out in faith and believe that Christmas does mean peace on earth and Jesus has come to save. It does not always look like this has happened. But by faith we say we will not live according to the darkness. We won’t live according to the ways of the world nor the values or this world. We, by faith, seek to be children of light and live in light of God’s rule. We live as followers of a new way.

He did not design his people for hate and fear. He called us to love and service. We are called to live in a way that is a great ‘yes’ to God and his ways, and is a resolute ‘no’ to the evil we know tries to overwhelm the world.

Christ came into a world not unlike what we see now. Full of fights for power, with greed, fear, and hate. A world with sin. The fight looked to have been lost to all who knew him for those powers had won. The powers had put him on the cross. It looked like the day was lost–that love had lost. But we were wrong. Christ defeated such powers and did so through sacrifice, humility, love, and obedience. The cross looked to become a sign of the victory of all that is wrong in the world, but appearances can deceive. Hate was strong, Christ was mocked, there seemed to be no peace. Despair seemed the only option for his disciples.

But the truth of God can go unseen for a time. Sin and death were no match. We were wrong. When it looked like Christ had failed and God had died, he had won the victory. The Christmas carol concludes:

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth he sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men.

By faith we hear those words and sing that song. There still is hideous evil in this world and we mourn. But we Christians are called to live out our hope. We live unlike those who believe hate gives strength and power prevails. We follow a savior who had power in humility and submission. Our savior died at the hands of evil, but he died for us, and he now lives. At this time of year we celebrate his birth, but every Sunday we celebrate his resurrection, and the resurrection is victory over the powers of sin and death.

Jesus Christ came to a world created good, a world that fell–but did not fall from grace. God’s grace endures. Christ came to this world bringing grace, making peace, and doing so because it is a place in the greatest of need.

Today the world needs Jesus Christ. We need him. Only he is our peace, and when we place our faith in him, look to him for our hope, and live in his love, then we make a stand. We draw a line and say ‘no.’ We will not let sin masquerade as sovereign on earth. We will not forsake this world to evil. God is not dead, nor does he sleep. Christ rose and we will carry his name into a world in desperate need and live according to his rule, anticipating the day when he will come again.

Catching Up: 1 Samuel 7 and ‘Come Thou Fount’

I’m going to look back in our schedule at a selection that fell in the previous week of Year in the Bible. In 1 Samuel the Israelites are having some difficulties with their neighbors the Philistines. At the urging of Samuel, they cry out to their Lord for forgiveness and deliverance, and Samuel intercedes with prayer and sacrifice. God saves his people giving them victory over their enemies.

In response to God’s help and in recognition that God is the one who secured the victory, Samuel sets up a memorial to be a witness for the people. Earlier Israel had matched up against the Philistines and failed, but with God’s help they succeed. Samuel wants the people to remember this so he erected a stone to serve as the memorial and named it Ebenezer, meaning ‘stone of help.’

There’s a song that recounts this story from 1 Samuel and mentions this Ebenezer, but this detail has been lost in more recent rewritings. The song is “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Our hymnal at church uses the 1973 rewrite in which the second stanza goes like this:

Hither to thy love has blessed me
Thou has brought me to this place
And I know thy hand will bring me
Safely home by thy good grace

These lyrics replace in other modern hymnals the lyrics:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;
Hither by Thy help I’m come;
And I hope, by Thy good pleasure,
Safely to arrive at home.

I can see why someone would rewrite lyrics that might carry no significance if no one knows what Ebenezer is. But that can be a challenge to teach others or inform ourselves of these Bible stories that inspired the hymn writers and shaped their words. When we sing this popular hymn let the words remind us of this story from 1 Samuel, a story of our complete dependence on God’s help and of the way we should memorialize the wonderful help he gives to us.