Promise in Night: Endurance to Stand
Mark 15:1-20 with Isaiah 50:4-9
As we began our service today outside, we re-enacted together what it might have felt like to be among the crowd waving palm branches and singing the praises of “Hosanna!” We shouted praises of thanksgiving for Jesus. We hailed Jesus as king. We adored his name.
But, as we know and as we continue to follow the story from Mark’s gospel, the shouts of praise for Jesus were not the whole story. Jesus’ darkness would soon be upon him. Soon Jesus’ courage, determination and ultimately proclamation of his Lordship would bring about his sentencing.
This is what we need to know: Jesus enters Jerusalem for the Passover fully intent on continuing the mission that was set before him at the beginning of his ministry: “bringing good news to the poor and release for the captives and proclaiming the year of the Lord’s favor.” Nothing was going to change about his message of this “upside down kingdom” of the first being last and the last being first on the last week . . . no matter what kind of outside pressure Jesus got to back down.
But, as we know, none of this was really acceptable in the eyes of those who were hanging their hat on getting something really good at the end of this adventure of following Jesus. We know the disciples scattered and denied knowing him.
Judas, the money keeper, led the high priests to send guards to arrest him. Peter trailed behind and say, “I do not know this man.”
And, Jesus certainly wasn’t winning him any support in the crowds either as the accusations were brought up– no one wanted to say that they knew or loved him. And though the high priests found fault with him, they had no power to sentence him to die. We see in verse 1 of chapter 15 of Mark’s gospel that the elders, teachers of the law, and the whole Sanhedrin reached a decision, “They bound Jesus and led him way and handed him over to Pilate.”
In the Roman Empire the justice system made no provisions for a trial by jury. It was up to the ruler in charge to decide how he would judge cases. Therefore, after conferring with the religious leaders who brought the charges against Jesus, Pilate, the Roman administrative official, proposed to flog Jesus for his unlawful teaching and release him. But he looked to the crowds for moral support. Not acting as Pilate expected, the crowds strongly disagreed with anything other than the ultimate punishment under Roman law. As defiantly as Pilate said Jesus does not deserve death, the crowds demand for Barabbas’ (a convicted criminal) release and shout loudly: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Let’s stay here at these words: “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” and notice how quickly the crowds who said “Hosanna” changed their tune. We find that spiritual maturity was at an all time low in the land. Although Jesus healed the sick, helped the lame, and blessed the children, it didn’t matter. It was if they just completely forgot the belovedness of their teacher– and were caught up in the emotions of the moment. With ease, they said with their words, “Jesus, we want you gone!” It was the dark night of soul– betrayal at a corporate level! It was a moment when the suffering for Jesus went to an even deeper level.
So, what was Jesus’ promise in the night now?
If you’ve stuck with me throughout Lent, you begin thinking that in the face of the horridness of crucifixion to come, there possibly couldn’t be a promise for Jesus at this juncture! We must have run out of promises by now!
But, such is not the case when we peer into our Old Testament lesson for this morning from the book of Isaiah. As the children of Israel continued to deal with the ongoing disappointments, frustrations and shouts of “How long O Lord?” are you going to make us wait in Babylon in exile, hope seemed lost. They basically were shouting “We want to go home!”
Verse 6 of Isaiah 50 serves as the center piece of the Israel narrative telling us from a personal perspective what it feels like to be in the midst of a time of deep loss and pain. And though the desire to give in, give up, or simple fall under pressure arises, Israel is asked to be strong. Israel is asked to actively wait. Israel is asked to stand and move through their sufferings through resistance that is not self-seeking, but resistance that sees the bigger picture.
Verse six says, with a collective voice for Israel speaking: “I have my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting.”
With some consideration in mind for the trials of the life of Israel at this time, it seems odd doesn’t it that they’d be boasting of “turning the other cheek?” We might even call this weakness. But, courage comes it seems to remain in this posture, why? Because look with me at verse 7: “The LORD God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame.”
In a nutshell, Israel remains committed to enduring the injustice in an active way– for the only way to faithfulness is to move their way through the suffering is to simply keep standing. Why? We hear the testimony of the Lord being with them.
If we go back to our gospel for this morning, we see this promise lived out in Jesus as he stays grounded in himself– no matter who spoke ill against him. For there was no amount of shouting, no amount of mockery, no amount of physical pain would change him or set him off course of fulfilling his mission. With Jesus:
There would be no overt shows of power for power’s sake.
There would be no reigning down the heavenly lights to slay the captors which spoke ill of him.
There would be no dueling or “I’m better than you” contests between Jesus and his adversaries.
Jesus remained steadfast in suffering.
Do you really get this part of the story? I mean, I know I’m talking to several folks who have been in church their entire lives, but do you really get the point that Jesus could have done anything to save himself, to defend his honor to command his disciples to get their butts out of hiding and come protect him– yet he doesn’t?
If we were to sum up the actions of Jesus during this dark night of the soul, we’d have to say that he modeled for a God-fearing response to suffering as he clung to the promise of “Endurance to Stand.”
No matter what. No matter why. No matter how long. Jesus stands. Jesus faces his sufferings head on.
When we think about our own experiences, it is true, like Jesus, we all know a thing or two about situations that are unfair.
Anyone experience a back-stabbing loss lately?
Anyone experience a life-threatening illness lately?
Anyone experience the lonely nights of grief lately? I see many faces nodding back at me in affirmation.
But, while true, as we were discussing in our Wednesday night grief class recently, few of us (if any) have faced suffering to the decree that it threatened to end our life as Jesus did in this reading of our scripture this morning. Few (if any) of us have been asked to make the choice of either our faith or our life again, as Jesus experienced. But, such has not be the case of all Christ followers throughout the centuries.
Consider the Civil Rights movement in our country over the last century and the suffering evoked for many as a result. It was a time in our history when making stands for racial equality in the name of one’s faith, easily could have cost you your life.
Under the leadership of Dr. Martin Luther King, especially, hundreds, then thousands, then ten thousands, of folks took stands for freedom for all, putting their own lives in danger. But they did so not the way that their adversaries expected. No militia formed. No battle plan of warfare was drawn. No slogans of “We really hate you, oppressive white folks” were placed on protest posters. No, a revolutionary campaign of non-violent resistance began through boycotts, marches and speeches. But, not without some push back from community leaders who thought this approach of standing tall and not backing down to fear or to violence was pointless. Dr. King had some explaining to do. During the Montgomery Bus Boycott in 1957, Dr. King sought to give theological perspective to simply standing strong saying:
A nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. This was always a cry that we had to set before people that our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all of the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past.[i]
And, yes, as we know from history, there was suffering to the non-violent protests for civil rights. That while yes, friendships across racial lines were formed and while, human dignity was restored to many, it wasn’t the whole story. Martin Luther King, Jr. and friends spent nights in jail. Dogs and fire hoses were directed toward school children. It led to the senseless death of four little girls in Sunday School class in Birmingham. And the list could go on. Suffering came. And it wasn’t pretty. We know Dr. King eventually lost his life in the fight.
Teresa of Ávila, the sixteenth century mystical writer, knew of this wrestling with life-threatening suffering.
In a particularly difficult moment of her life she was forced to cross a river while sick with fever. She raised her voice of complaint heavenward, “Lord, amid so many ills this comes on top of all the rest!” A voiced responded, “This is how I treat my friends.” “Ah, my God!” Teresa retorted, “That is why you have so few of them!”[ii]
In the same way, when we too continue to grow in our faith and walk in the footsteps of our Lord, I believe, much like Jesus, and like our forefathers and foremothers in the faith, we too will face suffering that it must to our distaste. Our suffering too will be longer. It will be more painful. It will cost us more than we ever could have imagined. It will force us to rooms filled with darkness that we’d rather overlook than deal with head on. But, as friends of God– it doesn’t matter, suffering is just a part of the human condition, even as Jesus lived it.
But, as followers of Jesus, as we suffer, is does not come without comfort. We are given the courage to actively say “no” to what is unjust even if pain still comes. We are not asked to lose our souls in the process. We are given endurance by our Lord to stand through it and to know that even if death comes, resurrection is on its way.
Look with me again at verse 8 of Isaiah 50. The prophet speaks of the shared communion in sufferings as he writes, “Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. It is the Lord God who helps me.”
Let us stand up together– the Lord says!
When insults are thrown against us, we can say because of the Lord, “I’m going to stand!”
When gossip is hurled against us, we can say because of the Lord, “I’m going to stand!”
When our best friends reject us and leave us alone, we can say because of the Lord, “I’m going to stand!”
When our words of testimony at work about our faith cause others to mock us, we can say because of the Lord, “I am going to stand!”
Some may feel it is in the fine print of the Christian contract (all this business about suffering), but following Jesus is anything but safe, I must remind you! The prophecy of Isaiah puts a sharp question to its readers, “Will you identify yourself with the suffering One?”
Jesus stood and now today invites us to stand too.
Today, I ask you, will you follow this Jesus? Will you commit to stand with him even if the night is long? Will you commit this week in a practical to go with him to the cross– all the way– even if it means taking time off of work, leaving some home chores undone or even changing some travel plans so that you can attend our Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services coming up this week?
The blessedness of our promise for this morning is that as much as we are willing to stand with Jesus, Jesus is willing to also stand with us.
So, today, let us come to this table together and share of the meal that reminds us that we are not alone, we worship the one who says to us, no matter what trials find our way, that we are not without grace to keep going. Our suffering is not useless. For, we are standing together with our Lord. Therefore, no matter what may come, no matter what may go we have this promise in our night: Jesus says to us, “I’m giving you endurance to stand with me.”