(from our midweek Lenten Series: Three Words of Truth)
On March 9, 2018, a judge sentenced Martin Shrkeli to seven years in Brooklyn’s Metropolitan Detention Center. Maybe you recall Shrkeli more as the pharmaceutical representative who hiked up the price of a life-saving medicine from $2 per pill to $750 per pill.
While unethical, Shrkeli did not stand trial for that; he stood trial for running a Ponzi scheme.
Now, those trials occasionally happen. Yet, what made Shrkeli’s trial different was his demeanor. When members of Congress were investigating his crime, he called them: “Imbeciles.” In the courtroom, he labeled the prosecution team: “Junior Varsity.” While on trial— he offered $5,000 for a single strand of Hillary Clinton’s hair. Every single day Shrkeli strutted into the courtroom with the most smug, most obnoxiously arrogant smirk stretching from ear to ear. It did not take long for him to earn the title: “America’s Most Hated Man.”
Prosecutors begged for a 15-year sentence; legal experts expected ten. Shrkeli received seven (which was a heavy sentence for his crime). So, why did Shrkeli get nearly as long? Well, John Coffee of Columbia law school told reporters: His behavior during the trial was arrogant, and he treated the judge as an irrelevancy. Every defense counsel I know, and I know a lot of them, instructs his client to be respectful and modest because ultimately the judge is going to sentence you. Your arrogance can cost you a very high price.” (https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/mar/09/martin-shkreli-sentence-jail-arrogance-sentencing-fraud?CMP=twt_gu) … And the judge made Shrkeli pay a high price.
You see, Martin Shrkeli believed he held higher status and more authority than the judge. He felt over the law. He felt answerable to no one. So, he acted however he wished because he did not think he would be sentenced. Yet, the judge shattered that proud illusion with just one hammer-blow.
Over-exaggerated self worth can leave you clinging to an authority that does not exist. Our hearts can think we control God. That we overrule his teachings. That he needs us. Jesus shatters that proud illusion with three words: I Am He who allows himself struck and who faithfully preserves the flock.
That becomes clear in the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas knew Jesus would be praying in the garden. After all, Jesus often met his disciples there. So Judas came to the grove, guiding a detachment of soldiers and some officials from the chief priests and Pharisees. They were carrying torches, lanterns and weapons. This mob makes sure Jesus will not slip away. I mean, Judas marches about 100 men towards Jesus. Some, Roman soldiers— dressed for battle. Steel armor covering the chest. Bronze helmet with its scarlet, feathery plume protecting the head. Dagger in hand— just in case Jesus lunges forward. Others, Jewish servants. Wooden clubs ready to swat, blazing torches in case Jesus hides. These numbers overwhelm Jesus’ band of eleven lightly armed men.
Yet, look beyond the weaponry; see the heart. This excessive show of force only reveals the inner attitude. The Jewish nation (and so many others) want Jesus out of their life forever.
What is in the heart comes out of the mouth. Just listen: Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them, “Who is it you want?” “Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. Can you hear it? They refuse to call Jesus: ‘Christ.’ They do not consider this man God’s long-promised Son. They do not believe this man will rescue them from slavery. He is most definitely not their rabbi, their divine teacher. This man is from Nazareth— that scummy, low-income village from which nothing good comes (John 1:46). So yes, this mob is not here to arrest the Son of God. No, they are here to arrest Jesus, the man who claimed to be God.
This is how the human heart treats God— as someone who thinks he is in control, but really is not. That’s why our hearts struggle to listen to his Word. We believe Jesus has no right to direct our life. We believe our desires are equally as valid as his. Jesus commands: “As I have loved you, so you must love one another” (John 13:34). Still, a part of us inside with arms folded, brow furrowed declares: “No. No, I will not do that. I will not show patience. I will not consider the unique needs of others. I will demand that others meet my demands. So, no, Jesus, I will not ‘love one another’ because I choose not to.” Jesus commands: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). Yet, the frightened heart beats: “No. No, I will not trust you. I am scared my life will not be pleasant in the future. I cannot trust that you will satisfy me the way I want to be satisfied. I do not think you will answer me in the way I want. So, no, Jesus, I will not trust you because I do not think you are reliable.” Jesus promises: “The LORD watches over you— he will neither slumber nor sleep” (Psalm 121:3-6). Yet, the proud ego assumes: “No, God, you do not watch over me. Society’s morals are crumbling. People stay out of church. Government and schools teach ungodly things. I have determined that you have failed. Otherwise, you would make sure Christianity is winning. So, no, God, you are wrong. You are not watching over me.” That puny, fist-sized heart can swell so arrogant that it believes it can tell the One who fills the universe how to act. That is called ‘pride.’ Pride thinks you hold final say as God. Pride thinks God must obey you. Pride thinks you are God.
Do you know what Jesus does with pride? He knocks it down. To a mob rejecting him as God, Jesus says: “I am he”… When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. Understand, the soldiers in front did not trip backwards. The mob did faint from fatigue. Three power-packed words knocked each man down.
Three power-packed words tells each man there: Jesus is God, meaning, he holds controls all things as God— including his arrest. The only reason Jesus remains is because he chooses to remain. After all, (1) Jesus knew what would take place; he could have run away. (2) He toppled each guard down once; he could blast them all away. Yet, Jesus remains because he chooses to remain. Jesus is He who allows to be struck.
He is. Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” “I told you that I am he,” Jesus answered. “If you are looking for me, then let these men go.” With those words Jesus faithfully preserves the flock..
Jesus of Nazareth steps forward. Yet, this is no mere man, this is the great ‘I AM’ (Exodus 3:14). This is the eternal God who appears to Moses in a fiery bush. Yes, the eternal God born of a woman so that he could place himself under his own commandments (Galatians 4:4). That requires Jesus demonstrating loving patience to disciples who fail him and religious leaders who reject him. That requires Jesus trusting his Father’s protection even though, now, in Gethsemane, he will be carried away to death. That requires Jesus clinging to victory over death— even though the wicked seem to win. Your Jesus, like you (and me), must have a heart held obedient to God’s commands— and it is.
The eternal God allows the disobedient to arrest him. The eternal God allows his creation to judge and sentence him. The eternal God allows nails driven through his hands. The eternal God allows insults to slice into his reputation. The eternal God allows death to cover him. The great ‘I AM’ falls under the status of his creation, under the demands of God’s commands, and under death itself.
Jesus held power over each one. Death could not hold him; he rose! His enemies wanted him dead, but the Father gives him life! Arrogance deserves death in hell, but Jesus has removed this penalty! This happened so that the words he had spoken would be fulfilled: “I have not lost one of those you gave me.” He has not. The blood of Jesus has washed away the stain of pride. The empty tomb declares pride ‘paid in full.’ The word of the Risen Jesus announces peace between you and God. That Word has hit your hearts and together with baptism has created faith— a faith that lumps you into his spiritual family, into his believing flock.
That is where you live— in his flock, under his Word. Jesus is your Good Shepherd. He leads you through this life with his Word. As you hear that Word and take it to heart, you nestle close to him. So, you love each other, living in patience, considering the physical needs of one another, working to bring each other closer to Christ— all this because Christ loved you and gave up his life for you. So, you trust Jesus— even when so much seems to be saying: “Don’t!” because Jesus kept his Word to defeat death, and he will keep his Word to give life.
When pride balloons, he will use that Word to knock us back. When doubt leads you to accuse God of negligence, he will remind that he is in control. When you tell God that you will no longer be patient, he will reveal your patience Savior. When lie broken because you cannot control world events, he will comfort you with a promise: I am with you always (Matthew 28:20). Jesus is He who faithfully preserves the flock.
What awesome news is that! Over-exaggerated self worth can leave you clinging to an authority that does not exist. None of us carries greater authority than the ‘I AM;’ none of us can purge our wrongs. Yet, Jesus can— and he has. Jesus sets us under his care, under his control, under his authority as the sheep we are—and he uses three words to do that: I Am He who allows himself struck and who faithfully preserves the flock.