THE KING’S GAME
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Bully. It’s a documentary about bullying in schools. It opened over the weekend in a handful of theaters but they were packed. In the first scene the parents of a 17-year-old boy tell how he killed himself because of being bullied in school.
Welcome to HT, I’m CM sharing the GS that’s all about Jesus on a week that changed the world and a program on what has been called Maundy Thursday. This program is called “The King’s Game” and it is an actual game played by Roman soldiers and it figures heavily into the passion of Jesus Christ. Intrigued? Then stay with me.
As we get started, I want to mention a movie of the year that won 11 Academy Awards, incuding Best Picture. It’s the fictional story of a Jewish Prince named Judah Ben-Hur in the first century who came under the wrath of Rome, but along the way he meets, Jesus of Nazareth and that changes his life …
CLIP #12 (music underneath me from the clip, voice track “he gave me water” starts :20, end cue “this beginning” music fade as I’m talking. Leave some dry space before Chris Tomlin)
“Ben Hur, now available on Blue Ray and DVD from Warner Home Video” and we have it for you at HT. The late Charlton Heston in probably his most well-known role as Ben-Hur. We have the newly digitally remastered 50th anniversary edition of Ben Hur as our thank you for your gift to HT this week. Call us after the program at 1-800-654-2836. That’s 1-800-65-HAVEN. Or go to our internet site after the program at haventoday.org. That’s haventoday.org. I should mention we have the two DVD set, but we also the Deluxe boxed set that includes a replica of the actual journal that Charlton Heston over the 10 months that it took to film Ben Hur. Thank you for getting in touch after the program.
OPENING SONG – Jesus Messiah – Chris Tomlin
Cruelty is hard to understand. Why do the strong pick on the weak? Why does it seem like fun to choose a scapegoat and taunt and tease him? What drives people to bully?
Is this human nature? Yes, I think it is – it’s one of the many ways our fallen depraved human nature shows itself. And it’s been happening since the Fall. Just read Genesis.
Or read the Gospels. This is Easter week – the week that changed the world. As I thought about what happened to Jesus that week a little over 2,000 years ago it struck me that he experienced an extreme form of bullying. As you read the account of his arrest and you follow him through the joke of a trial the chief priests gave him and then on to the conversation with Pilate – you see the injustice. But when the crowd starts yelling for his blood and Pilate washes his hands of him you know he’s about to be put into the hands of bullies. And he is – he’s handed over to the professionally cruel Roman soldiers – soldiers who make a game out of torturing their prisoners.
It was the custom to flog a condemned prisoner so the shock and loss of blood would make their death on the cross come quicker. They used something called a flagellum, a collection of heavy leather straps set with pieces of bone, glass and lead weights. The only first-century details we have says a man would be flogged until the flesh hung from his back.
But the soldiers didn’t just inflict pain, they made a game out of it – they enjoyed it – they laughed at the suffering of their victims. They were bullies.
When we were in Israel we went to the Antonia Fortress which is very likely the “Praetorium” referred to in the Gospels – the place Jesus was taken by the soldiers. In one of the stones of the courtyard you can clearly see a sort of checkerboard etched it into the stone. It was called “The King’s Game” and they’ve found lots of them in ruins of the ancient world. They would roll the dice and the chosen king – the prisoner – would receive his treatment – a mocking bow, a slap on the face, a scourging. Eventually the “king” would lose and be taken away for crucifixion. They were having fun. They were breaking up the monotony of being stationed in Palestine. They were bullies.
Let me read the account from Mark:
Mark 15.16-20 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.”
The bullying Jesus received wasn’t unique – it was extreme but a lot of people have endured similar treatment in the history of this cruel world. But what was utterly unique was Jesus’ reason for enduring it. He gave himself over to suffering and death. He entered into it willingly and he had a choice. When he was arrested by the cohort of Roman soldiers Peter took out his sword and got ready to put up a fight – as outnumbered as they were. But Jesus told him:
Matthew 26.52 “Put your sword back in its place . . . Do you think I can’t call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”
Jesus intentionally entered into this suffering and endured it willingly to fulfill the scriptures. What Scriptures? Psalm 22 is the most detailed account. It predicted that Messiah, the King, would endure not just suffering but bullying – that people would gloat over him – laugh at his pain.
Psalm 22 tells us what’s going to happen to Jesus in amazing detail but Isaiah 53 tells us why:
Isaiah 53: 3-6 “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”
Jesus was a willing victim. He endured all that agony and rejection and bullying for an absolutely unique reason. He was suffering the judgment we deserve so that we could go free. He did it for us – for our benefit.
And even as he was hanging there being mocked, going through that unimaginable pain, he poured himself out in love to one of the men being crucified along with him. There were three crucified that day. One of them joined in the bullying but amazingly the other one began to understand what was going on and he ended up asking Jesus for mercy.
Luke 23.39-43 “One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
The first man railed at Jesus. “If you are the Christ, save yourself and us.” It’s not a statement of faith. It’s dripping with scorn. It’s hard to imagine a man nailed to a cross joining in with the crowd and bullying Jesus but that’s what he does.
But then there’s the other criminal. From the other Gospels, we know this second man was railing against Jesus, too. But something changed him. Somewhere in the process as he was dying, hanging in excruciating pain, as the crowd jeered at Jesus, he was changed. God woke him up and he saw three realities. As we think about the suffering of Jesus the real question we need to be asking ourselves is – have I seen these three realities? Because unless we do, the suffering and death of Jesus will have no benefit for us at all.
Reality number 1. The reality of God.
You hear it in what he says to the other criminal, “Don’t you fear God?!” He’s been judged by Rome and his punishment is terrible but somehow he wakes up to the fact that he going to be facing God at the ultimate bar of judgment. \
Reality number two. The reality of sin, but not sin in general. His sin. He personally admitted his own guilt. “We’re getting what we deserve, this man has done nothing.” You may not have committed a crime deserving crucifixion, but we’re all equally guilty. Maybe you think you’re a good person. But understand, go back to Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-6-7. Many say they love the sermon because it teaches Jesus is a God of love. It does. But it also opens our eyes to see ourselves as God sees us, to see the Law as God sees the Law. The lust in our minds is just as bad as carrying out a lustful act. To call someone a “fool” is the same as murder. What comes home is that we all fail to meet God’s standards – all the time. Not just at the crisis points of life, but constantly. That sermon is holy and it shows that we’re unholy. Have you seen the reality of your sin?
Reality number three. The reality of Jesus. Isn’t this what we already said, he was awakened to the reality of God? Yes, but this is different. You can talk about God and most people will give you a pass. But talk about Jesus as God and define Him in a personal way and people will be offended. What did he know about Jesus?
He knew he was a king. The soldiers mocked him as a king. They bullied him with a crown of thorns. Pilate had the sign nailed on the cross over his head “King of the Jews” -- what a joke, what a king – right? But the criminal somehow realized – and it was because God revealed it to him – that this naked humiliated suffering man was the King. The King of Kings.
And he knew he’d done nothing wrong. He knew that he was perfectly innocent – that he was not suffering for any wrong of his own.
And somehow he knew that Jesus would live past this crucifixion and go on to rule over a kingdom. This king would conquer evil, and death, and this world with its bullies. He knew that Jesus would live again and that he would rightly rule over His Kingdom.
And not only did he see that Jesus was the King, he somehow understood that he could approach him personally. He’s the only one in the entire Bible who addresses Jesus simply as Jesus. And he makes a very personal request, “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He’s asking for mercy – he’s admitted his guilt; he’s helpless to do anything to deserve his request. He couldn’t even bow down to Jesus. He just cried out for mercy. Remember me when you come into your kingdom.
And just listen to Jesus’ answer. It’s beautiful. In the midst of all that pain and humiliation Jesus pours out love to this man. Most English translations don’t follow the Greek order. Here it is:
Amen (Truly) to you I say.
Today with me you will be in paradise.
CLOSING SONG – Your Masterpiece – Ashmont Hill – Your Masterpiece
He was probably gasping for breath. His lungs were already collapsing. But he makes a stunning promise to this man: Today with me you will be in paradise.
Sheer grace. Sheer mercy. Have you seen the reality of Jesus? And have you asked him, “Remember me”? Have you said, “Jesus, King of Kings, Savior of the world who died for me, would you have mercy on me? Would you remember my sins no more? And would you instead remember me?”
Jesus will answer you like he answered that criminal. “I will not remember your sins, I died to take them away, but I will remember YOU. You will be “with me” – we’ll be together – in paradise.”
Fifty-three years ago the movie Ben-Hur hit the big screen creating a worldwide sensation, much as Lord of the Rings did recently. In the short list of truly epic movies, Ben-Hur is distinctive for pointing to Jesus while portraying a powerful story of love, heartbreak, slavery, heroism and redemption. Everything about this film is big - the backdrop, the music, the acting, the sheer number of actors and extras required to film it - and as you watch you can't help feeling dwarfed by the enormity of it, while being pulled into the story yourself. Now restored and digitally remastered this is a DVD worthy of your library and is available for your gift to Haven.
And if you're a big fan of this movie and of Charlton Heston, as I am, we have a 50th Anniversary Collectors Edition boxed set with a compelling documentary by Charlton's son, Fraser, and a complete copy of the diary Charton kept during the filming of the movie. Be sure to ask about that when you get in touch .... (Haven contact info)
Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary 2-Disc DVD Set
For a gift of any amount
Fifty-three years ago the movie Ben-Hur hit the big screen creating a worldwide sensation, much as Lord of the Rings did recently. In the short list of truly epic movies, Ben-Hur is distinctive for pointing to Jesus while portraying a powerful story of love,...
[Get It Now]
Ben-Hur: 50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Box Set)
For a gift of $65.00 or more
50th Anniversary Ultimate Collector's Edition (Box Set) Ben-Hur: Digitally Restored and Remastered Full-length documentary on Charlton Heston and the filming of Ben-Hur Bonus disc containing special features Exact reproduction of Charlton Heston's journal during the year of filming Ben-Hur Full...
[Get It Now]