|Create Date||April 3, 2020|
|Last Updated||April 3, 2020|
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Jesus, Friend of Losers
Today I want to start the sermon with a verse from Hebrews, because the passage that you have just heard describes the story of the final days of Jesus life: from the betrayal by Judas to the time when Jesus body is buried and the tomb is sealed. Throughout the story, we see someone who experiences the most painful and universal feeling of being a human: to lose. To lose—to be betrayed by your closest inner circle, to yell prayers into the empty night, to look like a complete failure.
Read: For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (Hebrews 4:12 ESV)
In this verse is one of the deepest realities that we learn about Jesus as he travels through the story.
In the world of drug rehabilitation, there is a term for people who have simply learned about drug addiction and recovery from text books and courses, as opposed to being a rehabilitated drug addict themselves:
They are called Text Book Junkies. This unflattering label implies that deep down they really know nothing of the horror of drug addiction.
Those who have recovered from addiction and are willing help others are called Sponsors. Text book Junkies and Sponsors are worlds apart. One has credibility, the other doesn’t.
Talk about credible friends
And what this verse in Hebrews tells us is that Jesus is no text book junkie.
He’s one who was tempted in every way as we are and experienced some of the worst of the human condition.
So often we can think this verse in Hebrews refers simply to Jesus being tempted too and we can limit its potential effectiveness in our lives. Not everything that we experience is temptation. What about betrayal, loss of a dream, loneliness, frustration, disappointment, anger, burnout, hurt, pain. Our life experience contains a huge range of experiences.
So let’s think about Jesus
- Born into a beleaguered minority in an occupied country
- Son of a teenage mother, and rumoured to be illegitimate
- Considered a bad influence by the upstanding taxpayers of the community
- Born in a cattle shed
- Led a movement of people who didn’t understand him and eventually fell asleep leaving him alone on the worst night of his life
Jesus understands what it means not only to be tempted like we are, but to live a life that most of us haven’t had to live. Then he died a death that none of us will ever have to endure.
We can have a romanticized view of these events in the life of Christ. We can think of him as the misunderstood hero who kept to his vision despite all odds.
But in the moment, at the time, Jesus looked like someone we’ve all been in life: a loser.
A loser with his world crashing around his ears.
A loser pleading with his friends just to stay awake with him for a little while.
A loser whose life’s work is mocked and derided by the crowd.
A loser crying out on the cross.
Let’s look through this night, the last night of Jesus’ life, to see how he embraces this loser status.
He becomes the high priest who knows not only what temptation feels like, but also loss, betrayal and perceived failure — he is no textbook junkie.
Until these very last moments, even after his resurrection, his inner circle is looking for his show of military power as he kicks Rome out of Israel at last.
But in his passion, Jesus embraces the ultimate fruit of humanity’s failure: death because of our sin.
He experiences our pain, our alienation, and weakness—his throne is an instrument of torture and his crown is made of thorns.
His highest moment is his lowest moment.
So let’s walk through the passage and see what God will show us.
Then one of the twelve, whose name was Judas Iscariot, went to the chief priests and said, “What will you give me if I deliver him over to you?” And they paid him thirty pieces of silver. And from that moment he sought an opportunity to betray him. (Matt. 26:14-16 ESV).
The betrayal of a friend.
Think of that part of the movie where we know something the main character doesn’t know—we see the enemy sneaking up or the main character’s spouse leaving to cheat.
There’s a reason that device shows up so often in movies and books—we can all identify with it.
Jesus knew what was coming, but his disciples didn’t
And his friend sold him for a pittance.
The thirty pieces of silver they counted out for Judas wasn’t as much as people thought. Not enough to change your life. I remember having a friend about 30 years ago who won R20000 for his garden layout and in those days that was a lot. But I remember hearing him say that it was nice, but not enough to “ change my life”.
Now Historians differ about the value of a piece of silver, but most estimates say the 30 pieces of silver would be worth between $200 and $3500 today. Not a lot of money to betray someone over to death.
Knowing the amount in today’s terms reframes this a bit and makes it even more pathetic. How do we feel when some gets stabbed for a cell phone? We rail over the waste of life for such a small amount.
But it looks like the established powers want this irritating character Jesus taken care of.
Maybe this isn’t the first time they’ve “gotten rid” of a political nuisance like him. They pay a weakling an insulting sum of money to make it happen.
This betrayal isn’t a dramatic moment involving epic battles and famous kings—this is a seedy, back-alley exchange that brings out the worst of the people involved.
Have you ever felt betrayed? Discarded? Dismissed? Jesus gets it.
So let’s move on.
And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” (Matt. 26:37-38)
Have you ever been in this scenario? When you’re scared and feeling exposed and you ask a friend just to sit there with you. When you just want someone to hold your hand or put an arm around you—no words needed, just someone else’s presence.
I remember the night that I discovered I was unexpectedly pregnant again for the third time. I was 41 and scared. Very scared. All I said to Chris was hold my hand. Don’t talk, I can’t talk . And that’s what he did, held my hand and said nothing. Until I could talk.
Asking for this kind of support is pretty humbling. You have to admit that you’re scared, and that you don’t want to be alone.
We see Jesus going through this—something we can all identify with at the end of the day. Don’t leave me; just stay here with me, I don’t want to be by myself.
And guess what? They fell asleep on him. He didn’t ask for much—not military defence, not money, not great words of wisdom. He just asked for someone to be there in the night with him. And they failed him.
Jesus knows what this utterly human feeling is like.
When your spouse walked out and left you in an empty house.
When you were retrenched and for the last time walked from work to your car.
When a trusted friend didn’t answer that late-night call.
Jesus understands this, he’s been there.
But his journey doesn’t end here
Have you ever wondered as a teacher or a parent or a pastor whether anyone ever listens to you?
And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matt. 26:51-53)
Peter does his thing here. Peter is known for shooting first and asking questions later . John says that a “band” of soldiers came for them. Peter, out of sheer emotion, makes his move.
It’s already absurd to have a band of soldiers come down on a few guys in a garden. Then one of the guys tries to defend himself.
And this is after 3 years of teaching Peter not to use violence!! Where was the sermon on the Mount?? Didn’t he listen??
But then Jesus does what, by the world’s standards, makes him an even bigger loser. He says, stop! No more! No more violence—no more eye-for-an-eye! It ends tonight! Peter, put down your sword.
In our world, the winner is
- the most powerful,
- the most fearless,
- the one who demolishes his enemies.
Here Jesus stops this cycle, just as he’s about to stop the whole thing with his life.
He will not take up revenge—he will lay himself down.
Skip ahead in the story.
Skip ahead to see Jesus standing silent before his accusers as they lie about him again and again.
Skip ahead to the whips and the purple robe and the mocking. To where Jesus holds back when he could defend himself, when he could demolish those hurting him.
Look back through Jesus’ life for a moment and you’ll find he does most of his best work with losers. People Like you and me. Like Peter who denied him when he needed him most.
His friends are all fringe people who have been left behind by society: prostitutes, smarmy little sell-out tax collectors, terrorists and petty thieves.
He touches the lepers and defends adulterers caught in the act.
Why is Jesus not only the friend of sinners, but the friend of losers?
Because most of us have experienced being a loser
He comes first to those whose only qualification is their need.
The longest one-on-one conversation we have recorded by Jesus was with the woman at the well—a discarded person with a chequered past trying her best to hide from the world. No one was watching; she had no political connections he could leverage.
And here he is, more than any other time, joining their number. Here he is at his most powerless, giving up control, letting himself be crushed by the merciless gears of society.
The saddest moment is not his death, but just a little before.
Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Matthew 27:45-46
And that is the final breaking. That’s when Jesus fully expresses the human experience—the feeling of being abandoned by God. There’s nothing worse, and nothing more universal.
When we see another mass shooting on TV, when a young person in perfect health dies in an accident, when a baby is born sick, when the categories of good and evil and cause and effect have exploded and there’s no logic to be found, we ask: Why have you forsaken us?
Jesus has now been to the depths of the human condition.
He’s looking at it all from down here with us.
Did Jesus fully explain how the trinity works at that moment?
How God could seemingly abandon God?
No, he didn’t—
He cried out what was on his heart. He was a Jewish man who knew these scriptures up and down. He had grown up reciting, reading and singing them throughout the year. He’d expressed joy and pain through these scriptures.
Now he expresses the deepest pain through those words: abandonment, forsaken. Where are you?! Jesus is no textbook junkie. He knows it, he’s been there. He knows the kind of pain that causes people to think, just as the Psalmist did long before, that God was ignoring them.
But Jesus saves the world by not saving himself.
Now the resurrection is coming, don’t worry. The temptation this week is to start talking about that right away. We want to feel the power of joy not the weakness of pain. But let’s pause right here.
The last line of our reading for this week says:
So they went and made the tomb secure by sealing the stone and setting a guard. Matthew 27:66 ESV
Maybe it’s Good Friday in your life right now.
Maybe you feel like they’ve sealed the stone and secured your tomb. Part of the message of Christ’s life is that you’re not alone in that darkness. You’re not the first one to go through it.
Maybe you feel that the only option is to leave. Run away, hide. It’s all too much. Many of us right now are experiencing a deep sense of anxiety. The future looks very insecure. We are not sure how this will all work out.
Jesus came all the way down into our darkness.
He never left the project, he never pulled out and scrapped the whole thing. Despite the hurt.
In Christ, God told us the human experiment is worth it. You and I are worth it.
Jesus, friend of losers, experienced humanity all the way through.
From the minor annoyances of friends who don’t get it, to the darkness of feeling like God had abandoned him.
Jesus wept, says the shortest verse in the English Bible.
He triumphed for us, he saved us, he wooed us, he ransomed us, but he also paused in the middle of it all and cried with us.
This is what Passion week is about.
Read the story again as you go through the week. Ask yourself, do I see how much he loves me?
Do I see how much he loves others? Do I see Jesus?