Updated: Oct 7
Scripture: John 19:1-3
Over the past few weeks, we have been studying the Apostle's Creed, an ancient statement of faith of the Christian Church. This ancient creed, which was likely written in the second or third century, affirms the Orthodox faith that has been passed down from generation to generation since the days of the Apostles. The main question we have been exploring in our conversations has been, "Why does this old creed (and others) matter today?" Even though we are living through times like we have never experienced before, these are not necessarily unprecedented times. Our world has been through seasons of political turmoil, social polarization, religious struggles, and much more. The creeds of the faith can play an important role in our lives, they allow us to engage in faithful conversation with those who walked the path before us. They point us to safe paths as we interpret the Holy Scriptures and remind us of what is truly essential to live a life that follows the example of Jesus.
Today we engage in another part of the Apostle’s Creed, the statement that [Jesus Christ] “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; [in older translations, He descended into hell].”
Here these words from John 19:1-3, CEB. ‘Then Pilate had Jesus taken and whipped. The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head, and dressed him in a purple robe. Over and over they went up to him and said, “Greetings, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face.’
A few years back, Linda and I stumbled on the show Hoarders while on vacation. What is amazing about this fact is that the show had already been on air for eleven seasons, but it was brand new to us. If you are not familiar with the show, each episode profiles individuals who find themselves in crisis. They suffer from a psychological condition that makes them unable to part with even the tiniest of possessions. As a result, their homes become overrun with stuff, creating extremely hazardous conditions. Many of those who live with this condition have an illusion of control that is difficult to overcome. There is often the illusion of order and peace—an illusion that falls apart when outside voices speak into those situations.
Looking from the outside in, it seems that fixing those situations is simply a matter of telling people their home is a mess—but that strategy does very little in creating a better environment. To resolve the problem, an intervention is required. The individual must be willing to receive assistance from organizational professionals, a cleaning crew, psychologists, and a team of family and friends who enter into their reality and work to help them imagine a better way of being. But for the work to start, one must be willing to admit they have a problem and have the willingness to participate in the process so their lives can be transformed.
We stand a great distance from the first-century realities of Roman-occupied Palestine to fully appreciate all that we encounter in the Holy Scriptures. Every year during the season of Easter, we hear texts about the messy relationship between the Roman Empire and the Jewish people. It is no secret that Jesus was born, lived, and died under the rule of the Roman Empire. Though the people of Israel and the land of Palestine had a certain degree of autonomy, they were far from being free. There were highly noticed norms, rules, and expectations that controlled the daily lives of the people. And like a house overrun with stuff, life in occupied territories requires a careful balance to enable the continued existence of the people and the ever-elusive notion of order and control required by those who rule. To challenge that balance is a dangerous act with costly consequences for the individuals who dare to challenge the system and all others living under the same rule. Jesus found himself before the authorities not because he was a nice man who chose to do good, but because his words and actions threatened to destabilize the fragile arrangement that enabled the cruel illusion of order and peace.
So, here we encounter Jesus, standing before Pilate—and this scene challenges our sensibilities and understanding because, as the Apostle Paul tells us in his letter to the Philippians, “When he [that is, Jesus] found himself in the form of a human, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Philippians 2:7b-8, CEB). The Christian faith challenges the norms of the world because, for the sake of love, God chose to enter into the chaos of our existence, not quite like in an episode of Undercover Boss where a CEO pretends to be an entry-level employee to better understand his company. But much more like an episode of Hoarders—where a community of individuals must work together to intervene in the situation and enable change for the one trapped under the oppressive weight of a psychological condition.
Transformative change is at the heart of our faith, and the gruesome suffering experienced by Jesus is central to this reality, for as the Prophet Isaiah tells us, “He bore the punishment that made us whole; by his wounds we are healed” (Isaiah 53:5b, CEB). The late theologian James Cone, speaking about the cross and suffering, tells us that “The cross is a paradoxical religious symbol because it inverts the world’s value system with the news that hope comes by way of defeat, that suffering and death do not have the last word, that the last shall be first and the first last.” This inversion of values is what makes our faith so beautiful and so difficult. We live in a world that seems to be content with the sad disparities in power and justice that create so much suffering and pain. But, the reality of our faith, reminds us that we serve a God who has not stood casually at a distance while humanity disintegrates, but one who, through grace, has invested in the affairs of creation and calls us into a new reality where hope and love lead the way.
Hope here is not an abstract concept. Hope, as found in the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus, is something tangible and transformational. When we read about God’s journey with God’s people in books of the Old Testament, we should hear words of hope—because, despite their mistakes, God remained faithful. When we read the Gospels, we should hear words of hope because in Christ, God entered the messiness of our reality, and that is an invitation to hope. The unjust suffering of the author of life, too, is hope. It is hope because, in Christ’s suffering and death, our Triune God offers us new life and reveals a new reality for all people—we do not suffer alone. We are connected to a power and reality much greater than the limitations we see around us.
The reality of Christ calls us to live in hope, which connects us to others. This hope bridges the barriers that we put up between ourselves and those with whom we disagree. John Wesley, the founder of our Methodist movement, reminds us that salvation is not what we often think it is. It is not going to heaven or eternal happiness. It is not a blessing that lies on the other side of death or in the next world. Salvation is a present thing, a blessing that we can experience now through the free mercy of God. Wesley goes on to say that salvation is a gift that we receive when we put our faith in Jesus Christ. It is a gift that brings us forgiveness, peace, and hope. It is a gift that transforms our lives and makes us new creations.
It may be difficult to see, but Christ’s work on the cross is a work of love, a much-needed intervention for the messiness of our lives and our world. As we hear, Salvation, as John Wesley reminds us, is not just a future promise but a present reality. It is the transformative power of God's grace working in us, renewing our minds, and reshaping our hearts. It is the divine intervention we so desperately need. But instead of clearing out physical clutter, God's intervention clears out the spiritual clutter—the doubts, fears, and sins that weigh us down and keep us from living the abundant life that Christ offers.
[Jesus Christ] “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, so that we may have a new life. So that our reality may no longer be limited to the whims of those who hoard power for themselves, but fully open a reality of love, grace, and forgiveness.
[Jesus Christ] “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, because God’s love for us has no bounds.
[Jesus Christ] “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, so that we, my friends, can live lives of joyful obedience, peace, and love with God and one another.
Thanks be to God.
 Cone, James H.. The Cross and the Lynching Tree (p. 24). Orbis Books. Kindle Edition.  John Wesley, “The Scripture Way of Salvation,” in John Wesley’s Sermons: An Anthology, ed. Albert C. Outler and Richard P. Heitzenrater (Nashville: Abingdon, 1991), 372.