Good Friday: When Jesus Decided NOT to Make Israel Great Again

Today is Good Friday, remembering the day when crowds demanded to crucify a man who was supposed — and had utterly failed — to make Israel great again.

Israel has long and powerful legacy of being great. All Abrahamic religions clearly identify them as God’s chosen people: promised to become a great nation, one through which all the earth would be blessed.

Yet Israel also has a long history of captivity and oppression. From Egypt to Babylon to Rome, it’s woven into Israel’s history. When conquered by Babylon in the 6th century BCE, Israel began to focus on the hope of the Messiah — a descendant of King David who would rise up against their oppressors, set Israel free, and restore the temple of Jerusalem to its former glory.

In 63 BCE, Rome violently began its long occupation. Various rebels attempted to regain power, but none of their uprisings were successful. And at this point in history, the need for a powerful leader to set Israel free is urgent. It’s a world of brutal oppressors, political instability, and rebel uprisings. There’s no real sign of hope in sight.

When Jesus of Nazareth claimed to be the Messiah, everyone expected him to be a military leader.

Sure, he was just a small town carpenter. But King David was just a teenage shepherd. And he killed the giant Goliath, and that was just the beginning of his many military victories.

Israel needed a military hero — desperately. And when Jesus refused to use his power, popularity, and following to fight against Rome, the people felt betrayed. You heal, you feed people, and you claim to be Messiah (not just a descendant of David but the actual son of God) and then you allow yourself to be arrested, and refuse to even try to fight your charges?

There’s no doubt Jesus was weird. He traveled around healing people and telling odd stories. He spent time with all the wrong people: sleazy tax guys, the homeless, women, everyone an up-and-coming leader shouldn’t be making focusing their time on. But he also turned water into wine at weddings and sometimes gave free food to thousands of people.

Today, most people familiar with the story of Jesus already know how it ends. He wasn’t an earthly king, silly. Jesus was a heavenly king. He died to save us from our sins. God’s plan was so much bigger than saving Israel from Rome.

He sent Jesus to die to save the entire world — throughout history — from a life of slavery to the pain and evil of our world. He died to crush the grip that money and abuse of power have on our world. But no one has any idea of that back then. What they knew of the Messiah was told in the poem and metaphor of prophecy.

We’re so quick to be mad at the Jews for demanding the Rome crucify Christ that we miss a potentially terrifying reality. The ones whose ideas of Jesus was so dangerously wrong — the ones who were so stuck in their interpretations of history and convinced they already knew God’s plan — the ones whose pain and suffering blinded them to God’s actual mission and left then screaming for Christ’s death in a sudden riot in the middle of the night — that’s us.

We’re the ones in that crowd demanding that Rome take Jesus and crucify him. God’s plan for our world is so far beyond what we had in mind. We don’t understand. Any time we think we grasp what God is up to — what God has planned to heal and restore our world — we’re probably very far off.

What’s important is following Christ: immersing ourselves in Scripture, in God’s teaching, following Christ — his actions, his lessons and the messages his parables teach — seeking to be his hands and feet in our world.

Its so easy for us to get caught up in our needs, as we see them: to view God’s story through the lens of our lives, our struggles, and our current situation. God’s plan — and the ways that God is at work in our world — are so much bigger than that.

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”” -John 18:36

This isn’t about God making us great. This isn’t about God making us powerful. More often than not, it’s about us giving up our right to have control over our lives and our world. It’s about giving up our dreams and plans so that we can be a part of God’s bigger plan.

Its about dying to ourselves to live for Christ: Its about learning how to take up our cross daily and follow God.

Israel wasn’t set free from Rome for a couple hundred years, and a lot of war and bloodshed later. God didn’t send the Messiah to crush Rome and make Israel a great and powerful kingdom. God had a bigger plan in mind — one that was a lot more of a tough sell.

Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.” -Matthew 16:25

On Good Friday, we see ourselves in Peter, the faithful disciple who swore three different times that he didn’t know Christ.

We see ourselves in the crowd, desperate for a military victory, turning on the leader who claimed to be their hero and then refused fight Rome.

My world gives me plenty of reminders of the ways I fall short: how I don’t live into the way Jesus interacted with our world. There’s so much I wish I could change — and I don’t know how. As much as I might try, I don’t follow Christ as well as I would like.

All of us will fall short. None of us is enough. None of us understands. None of us will get this right.

We don’t have to. That is why Christ died.

In the words of a prophesy that really didn’t make  sense until after the fact:

He was pierced for our transgressions. He was crushed for our iniquities … By his woulds we are healed.” -Isaiah 53:5

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