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The scoffers must not have been listening when Jesus spoke about the kingdom of heaven. They had ears that did not hear, and tongues that did not stop.
Sitting down, they [the soldiers] kept watch over Him. They put up over His head the accusation: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
Those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads and saying, "You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross."
Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, "He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let God deliver Him now if He will have Him."
Matthew 27:36-43 NKJV, condensed
The gospels don't tell us what took place on the inside of Jesus. But on the cross above Jesus' head was the sarcastic sign Pilate had prepared which identified Jesus as "The King of the Jews". Pilate was mocking all the Jewish people, especially those authorities and members of the Sanhedrin who had engineered Jesus' execution. Pilate despised the whole lot and he didn't like them putting him in a position to be the final judge of Jesus' fate.
The Jewish authorities, in turn, made sure everybody knew Jesus was no king of theirs. They disowned Jesus and taunted him with Pilate's descriptive accusation. Others joined their verbal attacks, mocking Jesus with his own words, taking them out of context and making him appear silly.
The religious authorities finally had Jesus subdued. He would not be aggravating them anymore. Not seeing any sign of God's aid, they felt justified. It all proved he was not God's son, otherwise angels would come to deliver him. His enemies were closing the book. It was over and done; they had won. Little did they know that God's book is full of new beginnings.
Looking up the soldiers could see the "King of the Jews" sign. From the Roman point of view that phrase defined the ludicrous charge against Jesus. From the perspective of the faithful, it was the final word of truth. Yet sadly, at the moment, it seemed not even God wanted him now.
"Save yourself!" was not only the insulting chant of the spiteful bystanders. It was surely the silent prayer of those hoping against all hope that Jesus would do something miraculous. Still believing the ancient dream of Israel's salvation. Not understanding why Jesus, who by a single word had raised the dead and performed astonishing miracles, suddenly was powerless to save his own life.
Jesus spoke many times about a "kingdom of heaven." He said it's always within reach, belongs to the humble, and requires a pure heart and childlike spirit. There are keys to the kingdom and a narrow door which requires all baggage be left behind. It's everlasting, full of mystery, glad tidings, happy feasting. It's where sinners enter first before religious folks, where people who worked one hour get the same pay as those who worked all day, and only those who watch and wait will be prepared when it's time to enter. People fit for the kingdom face forward and don't look back. It's home to those who show kindness to strangers and mercy to the needy. Jesus' kingdom grows like a mustard seed or the leaven hidden inside a woman's bread dough. Discovering the kingdom is like stumbling upon buried treasure or tracking down that one pearl prized above all others, or like soil receiving the seeds which some hopeful farmer scattered everywhere.
These are some of the images Jesus painted for us during his three year ministry. But who is listening! Amazingly, the message of Christ's kingdom has never faded away nor perished from the earth. It gets mangled and manipulated, but its truth is eternal, and surviving all enemies, marches on.
We call the day Jesus died Good Friday, but what was good about it? The best answer may be the quote from Jesus in John 12:24: "Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain."
Reminds me of one of my favorite Easter hymns: "In the bulb there is a flower; in the seed, an apple tree; in cocoons, a hidden promise: butterflies will soon be free! In the cold and snow of winter there's a spring that waits to be, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see.
"In our end is our beginning; in our time, infinity; in our doubt there is believing; in our life, eternity. In our death, a resurrection; at the last, a victory, unrevealed until its season, something God alone can see." --Natalie Sleeth, 1968
Things are seldom what they appear to be. Never was that more true than on the day Jesus suffered and died on that old rugged cross.
Use the following questions for small groups, journaling, further study or reflection.
Icebreaker: What was the worst job you ever had?
What do you think the job of crucifixion was like for these soldiers and describe what the scene looked like to them as they waited for the offenders to die. If they found the taunting amusing, who were they laughing at--Jesus or the scoffers? What do you consider odd about ridiculing a dying man?
Describe what the scene may have been like for anyone who loved Jesus. Think about Peter and the other disciples and what they might have been going through. What options did they have for venting their heartbreak?
Imagine what the world looked like to Jesus from the cross? What did he see and hear and think about while he died?
We call Jesus our Savior because he gave up his life to save ours. Discuss whether the people before him were worth saving? What motivation did Jesus have for wanting to be our Savior?
Make a list of words you associate with kings and kingdoms. How many words on your list describe Jesus and his kingdom? In what ways is Christ's kingdom different than an earthly kingdom? How is it the same?
What is your favorite image of the kingdom Jesus proclaimed?
How well does the title "King Jesus" represent how you experience Jesus?Among other things, kings require obedience. What does Jesus require of you?
There were people of faith who waited in vain for Jesus to come down from the cross and prove he was God's son. But the miracle they prayed for was not forthcoming. When have you experienced a severe challenge to your faith? What is it like to pray and then realize that God is not going to give you the answer you desire?
"In the cold and snow of winter there's a spring that waits to be." What example from your own life testifies to this rhythm of nature?Even in winter you believe in spring--do you believe in God when God is silent?