In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis introduces a concept he calls a trilemma. He says we are not able simply to ignore Jesus by saying he’s a “good teacher.” Jesus claims to be God. So we either agree with him or we disagree. We can’t say “well, he’s alright, I guess.” Lewis says we have to call him either a liar—because he knows he’s not God and wants to convince you that he is—or he’s a lunatic—he thinks he’s God, but he’s not, really—or he really is who he says he is—he is the Lord God of heaven!
In Mark 15:12-21, we have three scenes, three snapshots, and three sets of characters and they all react to Jesus in one of these ways. In the first scene Jesus is standing in Pilate’s court and the set of characters we’ll focus on is the Jewish crowd. In the second scene, we move outside of the court. Now Jesus is standing before the Roman soldiers. In the third scene, we're walking with Jesus along the road to the hill where he's going to be executed. And here, we're going to be introduced to a man named Simon from Cyrene.
In each of these scenes, I think we see one of these three reactions to Jesus. When Pilate asks the crowd what he should do with Jesus—this man who calls himself the King of the Jews—they get angry and shout "Crucify him!" They're so angry that they don't even answer the right questions. Pilate: What should I do with Jesus? Crowd: Crucify him! Pilate: But what crime has he committed? Crowd: Crucify him! The crowd was so angry because they judged him to be a liar and a blasphemer. They wanted him gone; they wanted him crucified.
In the second scene, we find the soldiers, who obviously think that Jesus is a complete loony. They mock Jesus by giving him—remember that he's all bloody from the beatings he received—they give him a purple robe, and a false crown made from thorns. Then they even bow down to him in mock reverence. They beat him up, and then they pretend to venerate him.
Now in the third scene, the connection is not quite as clear, but I think we can make the allusion. In the third scene, we see a man walking with his sons back into town, when suddenly, he's interrupted by the most significant event in all history. He's compelled by a Roman soldier to carry Christ's cross for him. Unlike the Pharisees, and unlike the soldiers, this man is compelled to pick up a Roman cross and follow Jesus up the hill.
My question for you is this: where do you find yourself in this story? We don't tend to react in such dramatic ways as the Jewish crowd or as the Roman soldiers. But I think we can find ourselves in the story when, like the Pharisees when we set up our religious systems and practices and we think that's what God is ultimately pleased with. We can tend to maintain all sorts of divisions and we fail to love God or our neighbors well when we focus on things like Calvinism vs. Arminianism, formal and structured worship vs. free-form worship, hymns vs. contemporary songs, even different approaches to being missional; you name it. All of these things are important, but if we put them at the center of our self-understanding, we completely miss the point. We must keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ at the center—we must not let our religious systems and practices eclipse the One to whom they are designed to point us.
Perhaps we are like the soldiers when we say we believe things, but we don't really believe them in practice. You say, "I trust the Lord with all my heart, and lean not on my own understanding." But then you—then we—wake up every morning worried about finances, or class, or marriage, or ministry, or whatever is on our minds at the time. What are the things you say you believe, but have trouble following through in your heart?
In the reading, when we're introduced to Simon, he was pressed into service by the soldiers. But what he did clearly alludes to the life we are called to live. We are to take up our crosses daily and follow Jesus. In doing this we are freed from all distractions and allowed truly to love God and to love our neighbors.
What Simon did outwardly, let us by God's grace do now in our hearts and with our lives, trusting in Jesus, who is neither a liar nor a lunatic, but who is truly our Lord and our God.
Date: 1 September 2011
Text: Mark 15:12-21
Title: Our Lord and Our God
Location: Dillard Chapel at Southern Seminary
Event: Evening Prayer