John 18 – Jesus, Too Hot to Handle

Notes from a sermon preached on 22.02.09pm

Following Jesus is like this…

A man had a desperate desire to fly. He’d seen the Sun and the sky and wanted to feel the freedom of flying amidst the clouds, and to see the Sun closer for himself. Over time he gathered together feathers from the fowl he kept, and with care and dedication, glued them together with wax to make a pair of wings. Finally the day came. He strapped them to his arms and jumped towards the heavens. Flapping his arms as he’d seen the birds do, he tried to fly. Much to the surprise of the onlookers he succeeded, and up, up into the air he lifted! But as he came nearer the inviting yellow globe, the wax in his wings began to soften and change…

On a dark night, the warmth and light of a glowing bulb is attractive, but to the moth who draws close it is a two edged sword, as the light demands total commitment…

Let the person with ears listen!

See, Judas is leading the soldiers to come and take Jesus. They’re large burly men, armed and dangerous. They mean business. Feel the tension crackle in the air as they appear. They’re lead by the chief priests and Pharisees, those who had been speaking out against Jesus. You’ve heard the rumours, talk of retribution and murder. Indeed, Jesus himself has hinted that they are a threat to him. Seems he was right and the talk true. Feel the adrenaline rushing through you. You ready for the attack, but as Jesus is pointed out, the guards don’t rush. No, look, they’re drawing back and falling to the ground!…

Peter skulks outside whilst Jesus is grilled by the High Priest. A warm fire offers heat on the cold night, but you can see that it brings him little comfort. ‘You’re one of his disciples, aren’t you?’ asks a servant girl. Peter answers abruptly, ‘No, I am not.’ You can sense the fear in his voice. What will happen to me if I’m found out? Will I get arrested too if I make my allegiance public?…

Smack! The sound of the bound and helpless Jesus being struck in the face resounds around the room. But is he helpless? Listen to the way his calm replies rattle Annas the high priest, and the others in the room. As they grill him it is obvious that there is one man who is control of the whole situation. He remains calm and honest…

If Pilate were in a graphic novel, then you could see clearly in a bubble what he was thinking. Its hardly needed though. You know he found nothing wrong in what Jesus had done. It is clear, he is innocent of breaking the law. Annoying Jewish leaders maybe – but Pilate could identify with that – nothing would give him more delight than to shut them up himself. But he couldn’t afford to. He needed their support as much as he needed Rome’s. What to do; if he released Jesus that would only cause him trouble in the end?…

Jesus or Barabbas?…

Time and time again in this chapter a choice is offered, to choose Jesus, or to choose an easy life. What is clear is that to choose Jesus is anything but an easy life. To put it bluntly, Jesus was too hot to handle. There’s something about this man that made him attractive. But those who found themselves drawn to him found that life with Jesus was not always as comfortable as they’d expected. In fact, at times it could be downright uncomfortable.

But what is it about this man that made him too hot to handle? Why did the guards draw back and fall to the ground? What did they see in him that caused them to be filled with such awe? Why is Peter afraid of being associated with him? What is it about him that unsettled Annas? What did Pilate think he might do if he released him?
How do we see Jesus?

This particular passage has challenged me afresh about this man. There’s something in human nature that makes us want to box things into categories – perhaps that goes back to naming the animals in the Garden of Eden! If you’re ill you want to know what you’ve got – if an ailment has a name, it is no longer so frightening; it is easier to deal with. It’s the same with people. A stranger has no name. We don’t know who they are, how they might see us, what they might want of us, or do to us.

Over the centuries we’ve tried to give Jesus a box to fit in; Jesus the Teacher, Jesus the Miracle Worker, Jesus the Revolutionary and so on. If we can give him a tag we know what to expect from him.

To many outside the church, Jesus has become Jesus the Good teacher. But who is he to us? What name have we given him?

I suspect that many in the church have made him Jesus the Friend, and indeed he is! Think about some of the passages we’ve looked at recently where we’ve thought about Jesus staying with us, caring for us, concerned for us, sharing his plans with us and seeking to bring us joy. These are all marks of a True Friend.

But there’s a problem with that. By turning Jesus into Jesus the Friend, we’ve made him predictable. Jesus the Friend is not Jesus the Trouble-Maker, nor Jesus the Revolutionary. If Jesus is Jesus the Friend, how can he be Jesus the Righteous or Jesus the God? When was the last time that you found him too hot to handle?

Perhaps we need to ask ourselves if our definition of Friend is big enough. Can Jesus be our friend and still challenge our lifestyles, fill us with awe, and demand our allegiance?

As some of you know, I’m one of the governors at the local school. When I first became a governor they sent me away on a course to find out what that meant. One of the definitions they kept referring to was that we were to be ‘critical friends’ – in other word we were there to help and encourage the school, to care for it and so on as a friend would, but that through having that relationship we were to challenge the school to improve, to seek to point out its weak points as well as its good.

I hate the phrase ‘critical friend’ – it sounds harsh and somewhat clinical – but I like what its trying to say. In many ways it applies to Jesus. He is our Friend – that is clear. One of the major thrusts of the Gospel is to tell us that God cares for us, loves us, is there for us. But the relationship isn’t a niave one or a blind one. God sees us as we are, he knows our weaknesses as well as our strengths. His calling on our lives isn’t all sweetness and life either. He might say, follow me, ‘my yoke is easy and my burden light’ but he also says that we should ‘take up our cross and follow him’. As our God he has every right to challenge us, to look into our souls and demand change. As our God there is every reason why we should draw back and fall to the ground before him. As our Friend he still has that right, but as our Friend we know that when he challenges us, he does it for the right reasons.

Jesus demands so much of us. He demands our loyalty, our time, our resources, our obedience. He calls us to put aside our own desires and needs, and to serve. He calls us away from lives of comfort to lives of change. If we come close to him, he changes our behaviour, our ethics, our ambitions, our dreams even. What’s more, this is public.

I can think of no more unsettling verse than his call for us to take up our cross and follow him. As a friend he calls us to live his life. This costs.

Are we prepared to let the Jesus who turns over tables into our lives as well as the Jesus who feed the Crowd with bread and fish? Are we prepared to welcome the Jesus who spoke to Annas with unwavering honesty as well as the Jesus who said he no longer calls us servants? Are we prepared to say that we know the man who is ridiculed and in trouble for what he has said and done?

As I was preparing this, the news was full of talk about Abu Qatada, the radical Muslim preacher who the Law Courts have finally decided can be thrown out of the UK. His words of revolution has caused outcry and he has been connected to the 7-11 bombings and called a key UK figure in al-Qaeda related terror activity. Jesus never called for terrorism or violence, but in many ways his actions caused him to be seen in a similar way in his days. He too called for a change in the established order and the way in which we see the world. He called for the first to be last and the last to be first. As a radical religious teacher, he too was not afraid to preach a message that would not be universally popular. He too was despised by the authorities of his day.

As I mulled on these thoughts, I also remembered that Jesus called us to continue his work, to be like him. Do we love the world as he did? Do we challenge the world as he did? Are we, his family today, too hot to handle?

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