Sunday, November 22, 2009

Underestimating Jesus

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14; Revelation 1:4b-8; John 18:33-37

Today we celebrate Jesus’ reign in our lives, and we take time to remember the fullness of who he is. We will soon celebrate his birth; during Epiphany we remember Jesus as the revealing of God’s presence among God’s people; from there we move into Lent and prepare our hearts to receive the gift of salvation through Jesus’ suffering and death. With Easter we receive with joy the good news that God is more powerful even than death. All summer and fall we hear once again what Jesus taught his followers. In November, we spend some time contemplating the impact of Jesus life, death, and resurrection on the whole world – the cosmic impact as well as the earthly impact. This morning’s songs tell the story of Jesus’ birth, life, death, and resurrection, as we sing one song from each season of the church year, except Pentecost. 

Two thousand years later, after the resurrection, it’s easy for us to look back and wonder why people who lives with Jesus just didn’t get it. But there had never been anyone like him before, they understood him in terms of what they knew. Because of that, people were always underestimating Jesus. They didn’t expect that he would do most of the things that he did; they didn’t expect that he was God incarnate – God with human skin.
At his birth, Mary and Joseph were amazed that people of all sorts came to honor him. Yet his birth caused an emotional earthquake in King Herod, who wanted no competition for his throne. Even so, Herod underestimated God’s power to save the Son.
Even those who lived and traveled with Jesus underestimated him. He taught as one with authority, and did not simply repeat what previous rabbis had already taught.
Often, people asked for healing, and were offered forgiveness – God’s forgiveness – as well as healing. The sick and disabled underestimated what Jesus had to offer them.
The families of the deceased underestimated Jesus’ power over death.
The religious leaders underestimated Jesus’ power to draw a crowd and challenge their authority in peoples’ lives.
In our Gospel passage today, Pilate underestimates Jesus. He tries to understand him in terms of human kingship. “Are you a king? Of what country are you the king, if not the king of these Jewish people?” … We can read between the lines and imagine Pilate’s thoughts: You certainly don’t dress like a king. You don’t act like any king I’ve ever known. Why don’t you claim your authority and your throne? … Later in the conversation, we do know that Pilate said, “You do realize I have the power to save you or to put you to death, don’t you?” But Jesus had a very different throne to claim, and it meant the humiliation of flogging and crucifixion first. Pilate didn’t understand, and continued to underestimate Jesus.
Even the disciples underestimated Jesus. In the upper room, hiding from the religious authorities, they were grieving the death of their friend and teacher. Even though Jesus had told them several times that he would suffer and die and on the third day be raised from the dead, they didn’t believe his words, didn’t believe him.
After his resurrection appearances, however, the disciples tried to understand what had happened and found various ways to explain Jesus to others. The more people believed and became followers of Jesus and the Way that he taught, the more authorities, both religious and political, persecuted the believers. But even they underestimated the power of Jesus to reign on earth.
The persecutions led to a form of writing we call apocalyptic, which means revelation. Apocalyptic writings are often written in code, to protect the author and readers from authorities who would object to what was written. There was in those days no such thing as a free press!
In the vision we know as the book of Revelation,  Jesus reveals himself to John, and through him to the seven churches in Asia Minor. In this vision, Jesus reveals himself to be as divine as the God in Daniel’s vision – the Ancient One. Yet, Jesus also reveals a loving God – One who takes off the robes of divinity and comes down to human level and dies for all of creation.
In this revelation, Jesus is also revealed as the One through whom the earthly powers and principalities will be defeated. It may seem to us that nothing has changed – we still battle evil on a personal scale as well as on a local, national, and global scale. Yet, if we assume that God isn’t paying attention, then we, too, underestimate Jesus’ power.
Those who suffered persecution in the first century read or heard Jesus’ Revelation to John and found comfort and reassurance that God was in charge and Jesus had been victorious over the power of evil and death. If we fail to believe that God will eventually win, we underestimate Jesus. If we fail to recognize that Jesus is Lord, Alpha and Omega, Beginning and End, all we need, we fail to give Jesus the honor he deserves as God and King of our whole lives.
… There’s another way in which we underestimate Jesus. We underestimate what we are called to do in Jesus’ name. We have been freed from the power of sin and death, and made to be a kingdom, priests serving Jesus and God. That service does not come in the form of the most perfect worship, but in the form of service to those in need. That service to Jesus does not mean only taking care of ourselves and what we like, but seeing to the needs and preferences of others.
Sometimes, we resist letting Jesus be the most important thing in our lives. We’d just as soon have him reign in our lives from a distance. We are sure we can make our own decisions and don’t need God’s help – or interference. But, when we let Jesus guide our lives, and help us make decisions, life goes a lot better because we put our trust and faith in Jesus. We know that Jesus wants what is best for us, because God loves us and cares what happens to us.
Your challenge for this week is to pay attention to how well you let Jesus reign in your lives. Do you even think about Jesus during the week between Sundays? Do you put Jesus’ wishes for you and all God’s people first, or do you push him aside and make your own decisions? In what ways do you underestimate Jesus? In what ways do you intentionally do some things specifically because Jesus wants you to?
Please pray with me. Jesus, you are the portrait of a loving God, who took off the robes of divinity to walk with us on the earth. You reign over all, on earth and in heaven. Forgive us when we underestimate you. You want to reign in our hearts always. Forgive us when we limit your power in our lives. Amen