Friday, May 9, 2014

Amazon Book Review - "Crucify! Why the Crowd Killed Jesus"

Like the author, I'd always been a bit puzzled as to why the crowds 'suddenly' seemed to turn on Jesus, after waving palm branches and shouting “Hallelujuah”.

                                           Book: Crucify! Why the Crowds Killed Jesus

Even after having read the gospels multiple times, I didn't quite get the full picture of how Jesus intentionally and continually pointed out human failings and flaws to his audience, who clearly were happy to be fed and healed - but didn't want God's Son telling them what to do. More importantly, they didn't want to be told that their fond ideas of God, who He was, what He required (heart change along with living out the Commandments), and what He came to earth to accomplish - were all wrong. Sadly, that doesn't seem all that unfamiliar to those of us who follow Him, slowly and haltingly and occasionally with much complaint. (“Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”)

I'd always known that occasionally the crowds in Nazareth or around the temple were enraged enough to want to stone Him, but the author makes it very clear that part of Jesus' intent was to poke at their issues of pride, self-deceit, and hypocrisy...starting but not ending with their Pharisee and Sadducee leaders. The author makes it abundantly clear that there is no possible way, based on a thorough reading of the Gospels, to just see Jesus as a self-proclaimed agent of political and social change. HIs kingdom was not of this world, and He frequently used means that wouldn't make sense for someone trying to wow the crowds long enough to snatch political power.

Whenever the crowds tried to coerce or haggle with Jesus, he challenged their assumptions and ideas. They would try to force him to become king, at the improper time, and without consulting His Father. When He tells them point-blank that they only seek Him for more physical food, they ask to be given the ability to “work the works of God”. When He says their work is to believe, they throw the question back and cynically ask for a sign – even after having been fed with 5,000 loaves. “Our fathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written, 'He gave them bread from heaven to eat'.” Unlike the Samaritan woman at the well, who first asked for the water of eternal life and then believed, these noble bread-seekers complain about Jesus when He says that He is the eternal Bread of Life.

They really don't like it when Jesus says that there is no side road to salvation. “Therefore I have said to you that no one can come to Me unless it has been granted to him by My Father.” One, that's offensive because it puts all the power in God's hands, not in man. Two, that's doubly offensive because birth and privilege don't matter – if the Father hasn't allowed access to the Messiah, you won't get it. No wonder many of the disciples turned around, leaving the original twelve astounded at the turn of events.

The text does not say this last bit. I'm just putting myself in their shoes, watching Jesus (a) wow the crowds with the food miracle and His dynamic words, (b) see Jesus evade their attempts to make Him their leader, (c) see the crowds have a very sharp and public debate with Jesus, and (d) see a whole crowd of seeming Jesus-followers melt away.

The only difficulty that I have with this book is the author's habit of doing what I just did – read meaning into the text. Sometimes it's difficult to spot the difference between the author's realistic imagination, and what the text actually says. It's good to read the book while flipping through to the noted chapter and its context.

Besides the clear rebuttals about Jesus being 'only' a good moral Teacher or political activist, the author clearly shows that the Pharisees were not the problem during Christ's time on earth. Man's sinful rebellion against God is the ultimate problem.  

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