By James Beaty
Chris Powers, of First United Methodist Church, spoke Friday about the meaning of Good Friday —what it meant to the people of Jesus’ day, and what it means to believers today.
Powers, of First United Methodist Church, served as featured speaker for the fifth gathering of this year’s Holy Week Breakfasts at the First Presbyterian Church in McAlester. He spoke as a gathering of 102 men and boys partook of a breakfast consisting of scrambled eggs, biscuits, gravy, grits, orange juice and coffee.
Prior to Powers’ presentation, the Balcony Brass played musical selections.
Powers began his presentation with an opening prayer and then spoke of the days prior to the Crucifixion. Many of the people and pilgrims of Jerusalem hailed Jesus as the long-awaited king, the one to finally bring Israel out of bondage from the occupiers and into peace and freedom from a tyrannical foreign government. They felt Jesus was there to claim the throne of Israel, Powers said.
After he spent some time in Jerusalem, it appears Jesus preached a message that amazed the people, said Powers.
“He taught with authority, which was of course bothersome to those in power,” Powers said.
“The people themselves may have been excited by the thought of Jesus being the promised Messiah,” Powers said. But if Jesus were truly the king they were awaiting, he showed no signs of attempting to incite the Jewish people into rebellion, Powers noted.
He seemed more interested in exposing the religious authorities and calling for everyone to love their neighbors and their enemies, and talked nothing of rebellion or fighting, Powers said. The Jewish people had to be anxiously awaiting this Passover celebration, he said.
“I find evidence the people were captivated by his wisdom when I read Luke 19:47-48, among other passages,” Powers said.
“Why would they believe Jesus should be a uniting figure for a violent overthrow?” Powers said in the Old Testament the prophet Isaiah had spoken of a branch from Jesse and said in Isaiah 11:3 “but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions from the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”
“This man was, whoever he might be, coming to clean house in their reckoning,” Powers said.
Not only would the Jewish people feel this way about Jesus, they would expect it, even long for it, said Powers.
“But Jesus had other plans from his Father. Peace, forgiveness and love. These were his trademarks and those attributes would not quench the thirst to remove Rome from occupation,” Powers said. “They all knew, or thought they knew, that the only way to rid themselves of the pagans would be to fight as in King David’s time.”
But when Jesus came speaking of peace, not war, he would even rebuke Peter for using the sword as the temple guards came to arrest Jesus in the garden, Powers noted.
“This would be like sending in our troops to fight the big fight only to watch them turn their cheeks and lose the battle for loving reasons.” We would be devastated if that was our strategy, even angry at those who made those decisions, he said.
Moving to the trial of Jesus before Pontius Pilate, Powers said some of those calling for the crucifixion had also been present to welcome Jesus into Jerusalem on that long-ago Palm Sunday, calling out Hosanna, Son of David.
“Now, they were calling for Jesus to receive one of the most brutal and humiliating punishments Rome could produce,” Powers said “That Friday they nailed Jesus to the cross.
What did Jesus’ death mean to the people of his time?
Powers said among other things, it meant the financial security of the religious leaders.
To others who believed, it meant the loss of a savior, friend and brother; it also meant the loss of a beloved child to his mother.
“Let’s move forward about 2,000 years,” Powers said. “So what does his sacrifice mean for us?”
We live in a privileged nation, Powers said.
“We have the right to speak up about what we believe and not be castigated or brutalized by our government. We do not have to fear being scourged or crucified for dissension.” We are free to believe in the saving grace, of Jesus, in most places anyway, he said.
But, asked Powers, what does that saving grace mean in a nation where most live in relative wealth and fewer and fewer even look to God for direction in their life? Do we even feel we need a savior?
According to a 2013 Gallup Poll concerning religion, 76 percent of those polled believe religion is losing influence on American life, while another 56 percent believe religion can fix ,most of today’s problems.
Powers said in his opinion, society’s confusion is somewhat evident in those statistics.
“It’s as if we see apathy and its effects, but nothing seems to buck the trend,” he said.
That saving grace seems to have less and less value in our society, until our day of reckoning comes, of course, said Powers.
“While we may think we have become too smart for God, I submit to you that I believe Jesus’ death on the cross was not about what we know in this world,” Powers said.
His suffering was not endured so that people would have an easier time in life, but rather that we might have eternal life in the presence of God and His love if we accept that gift — joy unending, rather than weeping and gnashing of teeth, said Powers.
“Friends, Jesus’ sacrifice was not in vain, but was the perfect sacrifice that gives even those of us who know very little suffering a path to God, if we will just believe and follow Him,” said Powers.
When we are on our own, we make up rules that don’t honor God, he said.
“We would cut off people who don’t fit our ‘pattern’ of the Christian.
“The longer I think about it, the more I see that this grace freely given really is the gift we didn’t or couldn’t earn,” said Powers. “What can we do to earn God’s acceptance and forgiveness?”
“If only I could remember the cost of our salvation at all times. Stripped, humiliated, beaten, rejected and murdered in one of the most horrific ways,” Powers said.
He used a paraphrased quote from a book titled “24 Hours That Changed the World” written in 2009 by a Methodist Preacher named Adam Hamilton.
Powers said the book states the last 24 hours of Jesus’ life on earth speaks first of how humanity is broken.
“The disciples fell asleep, then fled in fear as Jesus was arrested. Judas betrayed Jesus. Peter denied him. The Sanhedrin wished him dead. The crowds preferred a messiah preaching violence to a Messiah preaching love. Pontius Pilate wished to satisfy the crowd and soldiers took delight in torturing an innocent man. The story of what human beings did when God walked among us is an indictment of humanity... We are meant to realize there is something deeply wrong with us, that we are broken and in need of forgiveness.”
Powers then posed a question to those attending the breakfast.
“What does Jesus’ death on the cross mean for us today? At least for me, and I hope for the rest of you it means we are no longer burdened by the need to find earthly means to gain eternal life, only to fall short, time and time again,” Powers said.
“In closing, I encourage all of you to go to church Sunday where you can hear the rest of this story and receive the Good News.”
Contact James Beaty at email@example.com.