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Jesus' Way to Justice and Peace

June 25, 2020
By Paul Emmel
Jesus and Barabbas discuss justice and peace.
The street warrior had his way. Jesus had another way.

 

Holy Scripture does not record that Jesus and Barabbas actually sat down and discussed the best way to respond to military oppression. However, considering Jesus' popularity among the common people, it is certainly conceivable that the Zealots (militant activists) might have appealed to Jesus to support their cause for political revolt from the systematic oppression of the Roman government.

In the 1972 epic film Jesus of Nazareth, such a conversation was included. Their fictional discussion certainly is pertinent to the situation America is facing on the streets of major cities today. Perhaps we can learn some better answers for our endless quest of justice and peace.

Let us enter into their conversation using the words of Bible commentator William Barclay:

Meanwhile, Jesus, surrounded by some of his disciples and others who had been listening to him, went towards the Portico of the Ablutions. Barabbas followed with some of his fellow conspirators.  Other people slipped away at the sight of Barabbas who, with two of his followers, came up to Jesus.

"Master, he said in low tones, "I am Barabbas the Zealot. The temple guards are ready and so are my brothers.  We will follow your orders to the end."

Jesus raised his eyes to Barabbas, "You have heard that it was said, "You shall resist your oppressors and hate your enemy." But, I say to you, Barabbas, love your enemies and pray for those who misuse and persecute. The day of forgiveness is upon us."

"Forgive Herod?", demanded Barabbas incredulously. "Forgive the Romans?"

Jesus answered, "You must change your hearts. All that take the sword shall perish by the sword. The new Jerusalem will not be created by armed might, uprising, and murder. The wisdom of God will fill the land as water fills the sea. Barabbas, don't lose your confidence in God. His justice will come down among men, and the lion will lie down with the lamb. There will be no more hurting and destroying, and the voice of weeping shall be heard no more."

Barabbas and the Zealots were plainly shocked and obviously bitterly disappointed. Jesus stood very close to Barabbas. He addressed him now in a more affectionate voice. He deeply wanted Barabbas to understand.

Jesus continued, "I must take on my shoulders the sins of the world. He who would follow me must do the same. The scriptures say thou shalt not kill. But I say to you, anyone who is angry without a cause is guilty, and anyone who calls his brother a fool shall be in danger of hell fire."

Barabbas could not believe his ears. "The Romans have killed dozens who were not even involved in politics. You can't mean to forgive that, Master. We must meet the sword with the sword."

Barabbas and his Zealots stared at Jesus as if he were mad. They were incapable of understanding him.

Extreme revolutionists are incapable of understanding Jesus' way to achieve justice and peace. They see things only from a human perspective.  In their own minds, their objectives justify their means. Whatever it takes to get the job done; they move ahead with passion, even hatred, and revenge.

Barabbas responds to Roman oppression

 

The Roman response was swift and decisive. Barabbas was arrested immediately, taken into custody and charged with insurrection, the highest of crimes. He had no rights, no defense, no hopes for acquittal. He could expect certain execution, Roman-style by crucifixion.

Roman arrest in an angry crowd.

                              

In contrast, let us consider the way of Jesus. Barclay continues:

A group of men guided by Judas appeared in the garden. Judas went straight up to Jesus and kissed him on the cheek. "Master," said Judas.

Jesus stared at him." This is your hour, Judas, the hour of shadows. You betray your master with a kiss." Judas looked at him, confused and troubled.

Zerah (a Jewish leader) pointed out Jesus to the guards. "That's the man. Arrest him."

The guards moved forward to seize Jesus. Peter turned to attack the guards who had already bound Jesus' wrists. He gave one guard's ear a glancing wound with his knife. Jesus in a commanding voice stopped him. "No, Peter, put your dagger down!"

Peter was perplexed by the calmness of Jesus. He began to think that possibly what Judas had said was true. There was a moment of great confusion. Zerah called for the remaining guards who had remained outside the wall. "Arrest them all!"

Jesus checked him. "It was me you sought," he said. "Now you have found me, let them go!" In a moment, the garden, the scene of so much commotion, was almost deserted. The disciples ran away. Jesus was marched off with the guards.

Jesus offers himself in his arrest so his followers can go free.

 

There we have it: the way to justice and peace demonstrated by Jesus. Jesus' way required restraint and trust that in the end, God would have his way. He put the needs of his followers before his own welfare so his disciples would not be implicated in his arrest. He sacrificed himself for his followers.

Ultimately, the results of Jesus' way would be vindicated. He faced Roman justice, a human system in which "might was right". Roman justice produced "The Pax Romana," an imperfect even corrupt peace that eventually crumbled into history.

The justice that Jesus pursued resulted in genuine and lasting peace. Through his self-sacrifice, not only did his disciples avoid human injustice, but ultimately the justice of God was served and all humanity was offered God's peace. The irony was that even Barabbas himself was set free!

In all ways, the way of Jesus to justice and peace is superior.

He bids his followers to employ his way rather than adapting the way of Barabbas, the way of the world. His way requires faith that God will protect his own and judge the systems and people who oppose him.

Jesus sums up his appeal to his way: "Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God."

Let us strive to attain justice His way. That way, true peace will prevail.

Paul Emmel
Minneapolis
Trinity Sunday 2020
or
The First Sunday after Pentecost

The biblical narrative of this essay was written by William Barclay in Jesus of Nazareth (Collins World 1977).

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

The Holy Spirit: Our Guide for Unchartered Waters

June 02, 2020
By Paul Emmel

Pentecost Graphic

Our local priest was explaining online to his flock how the Pentecost Mass would be celebrated. "There will be enough changes that everybody will not be pleased with something. This is more complicated than you might think in order to make it both safe and liturgically acceptable. Please don't complain, but enjoy the experience of being actually together once again."

I can tell how difficult it is to lead a flock in the unchartered waters of a viral pandemic. There is no "book" to consult; there are no "church approved" methods for supervising restrooms and designating pew space for restless children. Exactly how do you commune with a mask on? What about the needs of elderly people? What about congregational singing? The list goes on and on.

Surely, figuring out the best way to go forward in the choppy waters of a pandemic is a daunting challenge.  It requires not only wisdom, patience and understanding of everybody, but most importantly it requires the guidance of The Holy Spirit.

Above all considerations the Church must follow The Spirit's gentle lead; otherwise she could easily drift off her course and end up "on the rocks" of unwise choices. There are enough wrong turns in past church history to make leaders proceed with utmost caution.

This Sunday bishops, pastors and their flocks pray for guidance of the same Spirit that guided the Apostles and Early Church in the unchartered waters of the First Century. They had no "book" to consult on the inclusion of Gentiles and the proper place of Jewish Law within the freedom of the Gospel. They had to discern the Lord's will through discussion, consultation, fasting and fervent prayer.

The Book of Acts records that The Holy Spirit led them through each complex issue and each unexpected turn. By the end of the Second Century, the Church had found its way through its formative stages. The Church established a firm foundation of solid truth and energized life.

Painting: "The Holy Spirit Guides Us
Though Uncertain Times"
by Elizabeth Wang
 

As each day begins, we embark on a new voyage. Since March our lives are filled with all sorts of questions and uncertainty we never could have anticipated in February. Suddenly, paying bills, supervising children, and going to work in dangerous conditions are issues that require wise choices for governors and citizens.

How do we balance the need for the economy with the need for personal safety? How do I pay for my rent and for my food and medicine?

How do I get along with this difficult person in confinement? These are complicated questions.

For people of faith, the choices go even deeper.  Can I trust that the LORD will show me the way through all the dangers I face? Will I focus on all my problems or will I focus on the promises of God? Will I overdose in the bad news of the day or will I immerse myself in the Word? Will I put my own concerns aside and attend to the needs of others? The list of faith decisions goes on and on.

As Christians, we must trust that we have a Personal Guide who is always present to show us the way. The Spirit's nine fruits (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control) are evidence of His presence in our lives.

Thus, we move forward one day, one prayer, one moment at a time trusting He is beside us, within us, over us, and under us charting our course. When we do that, we experience a perfect peace that we are exactly where we are supposed to be: in our Savior's arms.

This past week arsonists lit fires on Lake Street in Minneapolis for the purpose of destruction. At Pentecost God lit fires on the heads and in the hearts of Jesus' disciples for the purpose of bringing new life. Now the citizens of His Kingdom spread the fire of the Word wherever they go so that others may be guided to a new life.

Lead on, Oh Gentle Spirit, lead on!

Paul Emmel
Minneapolis
Pentecost Sunday 2020

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

Kingdoms In Conflict

May 25, 2020
By Paul Emmel
This photo from the book Jesus of Nazareth catches a precise moment of conflict between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Man. Although Jesus perfectly understood the kingdom of Caesar, the Roman Governor had no clue about Jesus or of the Kingdom Jesus represented.
 

 

Pontius Pilate asked Jesus, "Are you a king? Who are you?" Pilate was a shrewd political pragmatist, attentive to raw power in the kingdom of Caesar. He understood what it took to gain and maintain authority in the world.

"Behold, the man!" Pilate announced to the angry crowd, but he did not know the man he condemned.  He knew that Rome would not be pleased with more unrest in his province. To the Governor, Jesus was nothing more than a delusional dreamer, just another troublemaker who came to stir up the masses and make it more difficult to maintain Roman rule and power.

Pilate had no understanding that he himself was being used in the divine drama of the salvation. In fact, Jesus had to remind Pilate that he would have no authority had he not been given that authority by Caesar and by God Himself.

Similarly today, people who deny the existence of spiritual beings are blissfully ignorant of the existence of The Two Kingdoms. They react to what is in front of their faces and what they see in the news, but they have no clue of the bigger and deeper reality that lies behind immediate events. They are like infants constantly distracted by shiny objects in front of them.

We get a clue about spiritual beings from the Apostle Paul:

            "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood,
            but against the rulers, against the authorities,
            against the cosmic powers over this present
            darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil
            in the heavenly places."  (Ephesians 6:12  ESV)

 

Behind the forces of evil in this world, stand demonic forces which infiltrate and seek to destroy the kingdom of God. Our real enemy is not the actors we see on the surface (criminals, tyrants, unjust systems, racism, plagues, wars, ignorance, etc.), but our real enemy is the dark spiritual forces that use these events to rob, destroy, and defeat God's kingdom on this earth.

Criminals, liars, deceivers, and wicked people may have no idea they are being used as pawns in the conflict of the kingdoms. They see themselves as players, yet they are being played in a much bigger struggle than they imagine. They are minor actors in the larger conflict between the kingdom of God and the kingdom of darkness.

These pernicious forces use capitalism and socialism, conservatives and liberals, rich and poor, intellectuals and simple people, democracies and autocracies, spiritual and secular,  scientific and unscientific alike. Like the virus, these forces cross all human boundaries and eras. They are forever pandemic and forever universal.

To gain a proper perspective on the conflict of the kingdoms, we must realize that ultimately the enemy is deep within us. Within each of us is the power of sin that can pervert our sense of justice and distort our sense of good and evil. The gods we worship reflect our own broken images.

Within all of us is the potential for evil and destruction whether it is by our tongues or by our hands. In short, "All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All we like sheep have gone astray, each in his own way."  The cloud of infected includes saints and sinners, the good and the bad. There are no exceptions. We have all been tested and found wanting.

 Were it not for the mercy and grace of God in Christ, we would forever be lost in the divine battle for our souls. Yet, in the wisdom of the Almighty, One was appointed to defeat the unseen enemy. Miraculously, He defeated the enemy and death itself by his stunning resurrection and ascension to the right hand of His Father.

Therefore, we put on the full armor of God and stand our ground against the seen and unseen assaults - within and without- that face us day by day.

We know that the conflict between the kingdoms has already been resolved by His grace, and we shall fully inherit the Kingdom prepared for us when our time on this earth is over.

Few knew spiritual conflict better than Martin Luther (1483-1546) who all his life battled forces within and around him. Notice both his sensitivity to these forces and his adamant faith in the third stanza of "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God."

 "Though devils all the world shall fill
All eager to devour us,
We tremble not,
We fear no ill,
They shall not over pow'r us.
This world's prince may still
Scowl fierce as he will,
He can harm us none,
 He's judged; the deed is done;
One little word can fell him."

 

That little word is "Jesus."


Paul Emmel
Minneapolis
The Last Sunday of Easter 2020
and
The Sunday after the Ascension

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

The Unstoppable Story

May 13, 2020
By Paul Emmel
Seeing that the body was gone, Zerah says, "Now it all begins."
Zerah, a scribe in the film Jesus of Nazareth, cleverly manipulated people
to make sure Jesus was convicted and crucified.

 

How does one stop a story once it's breaking news? That was Zerah's problem. His worst nightmare had happened: Jesus' body was gone! Immediately, Zerah knew that "the Jesus problem" was not going away. In fact, the real story of Jesus was just beginning!

Let's drop in on the scene and see what's happening at the tomb of Jesus when the news broke:

Zerah had stationed himself a short distance apart from the soldiers and was keeping watch. Nothing happened the night through. Then, with the dawn of Sunday scarcely breaking, the guards were suddenly alert, startled by the women.

"What's happening?" cried the bewildered sentry.  Zerah hurried forward, realizing with sudden alarm that the tomb was open. Bending down, he entered the low doorway.

He looked horrified.

Lentullus, the officer in charge, demanded from the sentries, "You were stationed here all night. Who moved the stone?"

The guards remained silent. Lentullus snapped, "I don't like this at all. Are you sure you were on guard all night, that you didn't fall asleep?"

"Positive, sir. We were given strict orders. Those Jewish priests were here watching us."

Zerah emerged from the tomb, panting and angry. "There's only one explanation. His followers came here during the night. They removed the stone."

"Impossible!  I had officers posted on both sides," objected Lentullus.

Zerah shook his head and bending down looked inside the tomb again. There was nothing. "Now it begins," he muttered. "Now it all begins....."

The lid was off and the story could not be contained. For the Jewish leaders and the Romans, the missing body was a public relations disaster.  They had to make up fake news that would tell a different narrative.

According to Matthew 28, when the soldiers reported to the priests and Pharisees, they were offered hush money to report that the body had been stolen. So the sentries would not be charged with neglect of duty,  the Romans were also bribed. Zerah was very determined to stop any story of a resurrection.

Also, the Roman government wanted to stop the story because Jesus represented a possible threat to their absolute authority. They would seek to arrest anyone teaching a resurrection. But, could even the mighty Roman Empire stop the story?

The incredible news spread from Mary and the women directly to the 11 disciples.  At first, the disciples were reluctant to believe, but after several bodily appearances of Jesus, they gradually came to believe the news and became active carriers of the news showing symptoms of joy and hope.

Suddenly after Pentecost, the story spread like "a benevolent virus" from Judea to Samaria to Asia Minor and eventually to Rome.  Within a generation, Jesus was being worshiped as a living LORD throughout the Mediterranean world!

In the next two hundred years, the resurrection story was officially banned by the Romans under the threat of persecution.  However, the more they suppressed the Gospel, the faster it spread. The blood of the martyrs fueled its growth. The edicts of emperors seemed helpless to stop it. Thomas carried the news to southern India. Others to Egypt and Africa.

"But the Word of the Lord increased and multiplied."(Acts 12:24).

Throughout the centuries, many attempts have been made to discredit the resurrection of Jesus. Islamic teaching maintains that Jesus did not actually die, but He went into "a swoon" and later revived.  This disinformation did not stop the resurrection story from spreading throughout the entire European continent and beyond. 

Following the Age of Rationalism and the Enlightenment, the bodily resurrection of Jesus was claimed to have been a development of the Early Church.  "The Jesus of history became the Christ of the Church." Although this theory has attracted some, it has not advanced beyond a circle of academics.

More recently, some scholars claim that "supernatural" stories in Scripture should not be interpreted literally, but metaphorically. They  teach the notion of "meta truth," a virtual truth, so to speak.  However, this doctrine has not gained traction in the real world.

Totalitarian governments have always tried to stop the story by substituting the "good news" of their ideologies. Classic Communism cannot tolerate a living Lord.  Party hardliners assert that "salvation" is achieved by loyalty to the State and dismiss the resurrection as a pious myth. But it has not stopped the amazing growth of the underground Church in China.

Perhaps the most convincing proof of the bodily resurrection of Jesus is that it began with a missing body, was spread by only 12 apostles and within two centuries "went viral" to the uttermost parts of the earth. Believers gave their lives for its veracity. They were not motivated by a dead hero and his teachings, but by a living LORD.

The liberating story of the resurrection of Jesus will continue until His return, The Great Day of the Lord when all peoples will appear before Him, and every knee will bow and acknowledge His lordship.

His living presence will endure forever and ever. As Zerah suspected,  there's simply no stopping it!


Paul Emmel
Minneapolis
The Fifth Week of Easter 2020 

 
 

Paul EmmelPaul Emmel is a retired pastor in the Lutheran Church - Missouri Synod, having served as a parish pastor, a correctional chaplain for the Wisconsin Department of Corrections, and a hospital chaplain and a community counselor. As a retired pastor, Paul continues to serve the Lord and His people, including establishing the Minnesota South District’s “Pastors to Prisoners” ministry.  

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