John 1:29, 19:1-16
When we talk about stroking a person or an animal we usually think about a type of caress.
At this time of the year there is a lot of interest in rabbits. They are very gentle and many children and adults like to cuddle them and pet their soft fur.
But unfortunately, when the cuteness wears off, these little animals usually end up suffering.
Many homes have companion animals, usually dogs or cats, and most of us can relate to stroking them, as they rest their head or sit on our lap.
We can picture children playing with a lamb and petting it, too.
We have also probably heard the expression, "different strokes for different folks".
This expression has a different connotation; it refers more to the way we relate to another person than it does to how we physically touch them.
In essence, we stroke their personalities, that they would accept us, or relate in a more favorable way toward us.
We try to impress others, that they would think more highly of us.
In a very real way, both of these ways of understanding the meaning of stroking refer to our own relationship to and with Jesus Christ, and it is very evident in Scripture.
There was a Danish philosopher-theologian who lived and wrote in the first half of the nineteenth century, whose name was Soren Kierkegaard, who made some very profound statements concerning the church and our stroking of Jesus Christ.
While I may not agree with all his Neo-Orthodox philosophical positions, he does express many truths about us.
He said that a man or a woman can cease to be truly human by allowing himself or herself to be swallowed up by the crowd.
According to Scripture, this is exactly what happened during Holy Week.
On Palm/Passion Sunday, when Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowd shouted their "hosanna".
But was that what each person really felt in their heart, or were they just going along with the crowd?
Let's take a look at what we are told in Matthew 21:8-17.
8 A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, while others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road.
9 The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest!"
10 When Jesus entered Jerusalem, the whole city was stirred and asked, "Who is this?"
11 The crowds answered, "This is Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth in Galilee."
They recognized Jesus as a "man of God" when they said He was a prophet, but their cries of "hosanna" implied that He was Messiah.
We hear the same people expressing different opinions about who Jesus really is, an indication of their lack of true faith.
12 Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. 13 "It is written," he said to them, "'My house will be called a house of prayer,' but you are making it a 'den of robbers.'"
And here we see that He is challenging the priests' and the other temple and public officials' source of income.
14 The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them.
15 But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant.
16 "Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, "'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'?"
17 And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night. (NIV)
I personally find it very interesting and curious that the priests became indignant over the children's praises of Jesus and not the adults', and that Jesus only responds concerning the children.
Could it be that even if the children went along with the crowd that they also truly believed?
Could it also be that most of the adults just went along with the crowd, not really believing, and that the priests and Jesus realized it?
I believe this latter understanding is borne out by what we are told in John 19:1-16.
1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged.
2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe
3 and went up to him again and again, saying, "Hail, king of the Jews!" And they struck him in the face.
4 Once more Pilate came out and said to the Jews, "Look, I am bringing him out to you to let you know that I find no basis for a charge against him."
5 When Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe, Pilate said to them, "Here is the man!"
Pilate was mocking Jesus, because of the claim of His being any more than an ordinary man. He was going along with the crowd.
But then something happened:
6 As soon as the chief priests and their officials saw him, they shouted, "Crucify! Crucify!" But Pilate answered, "You take him and crucify him. As for me, I find no basis for a charge against him."
Mark tells us that the priests also incited the crowd to shout out, "Crucify! Crucify!" along with them (Mark 15:11-13).
Note that Pilate finds no fault in Him, yet he has already punished Him, and even more, he is willing to hand over an innocent man to the crowd to be killed.
7 The Jews insisted, "We have a law, and according to that law he must die, because he claimed to be the Son of God."
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid,
9 and he went back inside the palace. "Where do you come from?" he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer.
10 "Do you refuse to speak to me?" Pilate said. "Don't you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?"
11 Jesus answered, "You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin."
12 From then on, Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, "If you let this man go, you are no friend of Caesar. Anyone who claims to be a king opposes Caesar."
13 When Pilate heard this, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judge's seat at a place known as the Stone Pavement (which in Aramaic is Gabbatha).
14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. "Here is your king," Pilate said to the Jews.
15 But they shouted, "Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!" "Shall I crucify your king?" Pilate asked. "We have no king but Caesar," the chief priests answered.
16 Finally Pilate handed him over to them to be crucified. So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. (NIV)
Pilate may have been afraid of the fact that Jesus might indeed be the Son of God, but he was still more of a politician and wanted to please the crowd (Mark 15:14-15).
According to Kierkegaard's position, Pilate and the crowd ceased to be human beings, because they gave up their individuality, which God had created in them.
The crowd stroked Jesus with their cries of "Hosanna".
The priests stroked Pilate's position and authority by bringing Jesus to him for punishment.
Pilate stroked the priests and the crowd by condemning Jesus to death.
John the Baptist presented Jesus to the people by saying, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
The horror of living in sin and of being freed from that life of sin was presented annually in the sacrifice of the Passover lamb.
On the tenth of the month, traditionally, the elder man of the household would survey the flock, pick out a yearling lamb and proclaim, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world."
The lamb was then brought into the home to become a part of the household.
It was fondled and petted and stroked by all.
But then, on the fourteenth of the month, just four days later, just prior to sundown, they would take this loveable little lamb and slit it's throat and roast it and eat it.
This was intended to bring such horror to the members of the family that they would never sin again.
But instead of changing their life and allowing their hearts to be softened, they hardened their hearts so as not to feel the pain of taking the life of this innocent lamb.
And this is exactly what happened when Pilate, the priests, and the crowd sent Jesus, the Lamb and Son of God to His death.
They stroked the Lamb for a few days, and then they killed Him.
As mostly Methodists and Baptists, we have learned over the years that our doctrinal differences cannot be proved, but only presented from Scripture.
Often, we can use the same verses to show both positions, and that such belief in these differing doctrines has little to do with our true faith.
This is a point that Kierkegaard makes, too.
He says that faith means the giving or commitment of one's whole life to God in Jesus Christ, and not one's faith in doctrines that cannot be proven.
He goes on to say that there is no "halfway house"; one either accepts or rejects Jesus Christ.
According to Kierkegaard, those Christians who try to hide in the Church as respectable persons are seeking a "halfway house", but they are greater enemies of Christ than the atheist.
And this applies to both pastors and parishioners.
What such people are doing is stroking the Lamb and each other.
They have not come to the point of laying down their own lives for either the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, or for each other, as Jesus did for us.
The questions we need to ask ourselves today are:
When we sing forth our "hosanna" are we truly praising God in Jesus Christ our Lord, or are we just going along with the crowd?
Are we receiving the Lamb of God as innocent children accept little animals, that they can love and pet and hold in their arms close to their hearts?
And in this love, are we willing to let ourselves be led to the cross in place of the innocent Lamb?
Are we just stroking, or are we fully committed?
I pray we are fully committed.
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