“The Yul Brynner Rule”
March 25, 2016
By John Partridge*
Scripture: Isaiah 53:2-12 John 18:1 – 19:42 Hebrews 10:16-25
How many of you traveled in an airplane prior to September 11, 2001? The time before 9-11 was a more innocent age, I guess, but it used to be that as we boarded our airplanes, we could often catch glimpses of the pilots preparing for our journey by going through their “preflight checklist.” Occasionally, the pilots might even leave the cabin doors open and, if you were lucky enough to be near the front, you could watch them during take-off and occasionally sneak peeks through the cockpit window. In any case, we all know that the pilots have an extensive list of things to do before takeoff and every one of them can be vitally important. Forgetting even one of them, in the wrong circumstances, can mean the difference between life and death and so the pilot and co-pilot have pre-written checklists that they work through, together, so that nothing gets forgotten.
With that image in your head, now imagine a checklist with more authority behind it than the airplane manufacturer, or even more than the Federal Aviation Administration. Imagine a checklist from the President of the United States or a soldier receiving a checklist with orders from his commanding general. For those of you who are old enough to remember, or who have seen it on Netflix, think about the Ten Commandments movie that starred Charlton Heston. As I read the stories of Good Friday in Isaiah 53 and John 18 and 19, I couldn’t help but recall several scenes from the Ten Commandments where the Pharaoh, played by the unforgettable Yul Brynner, issued a decree and immediately proclaimed, “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
This is the story that we see unfold on Good Friday and it is a dialog, a checklist, that goes back and forth between eight hundred years of history from Isaiah to John. All through Isaiah, it is as if we hear God saying the words that we heard from Yul Brynner, “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
We don’t have the time to read through all of these stories tonight, but I hope that in your quiet time this week, or next, that you might read them for yourselves. But tonight we can still have a taste, a sampling, of that interchange.
We already know that throughout his life, Jesus was constantly fulfilling ancient prophecies about the messiah. From the moment of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem, to the arrival of the wise men, to his ministry and his miracles, the events of Jesus’ life could often be seen as the fulfillment of the prophecies of many written by the Old Testament prophets. But during Easter week, and especially from Good Friday onward, those moments begin to more and more frequent.
Isaiah 53:3-6 says this:
3 He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
4 Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
We are told that the messiah would be despised and rejected by mankind, and what else can we see as the entire community calls out for the release of Barabbas instead of Jesus? What else can we see as Peter and Jesus’ closest friends abandon him?
Isaiah tells us that the messiah would be a man of suffering, and we see that almost immediately in the torment and torture that Jesus endures at the hands of the Roman soldiers.
The messiah was considered to be accursed, despised, and punished by God. And none of us can doubt that being hung, naked, on a cross, the very symbol of humiliation, accomplishes all of these things.
Throughout these passages, the same thing happens verse after verse.
7 He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
And we hear in John,
8 When Pilate heard this, he was even more afraid, 9 and he went back inside the palace. “Where do you come from?” he asked Jesus, but Jesus gave him no answer. 10 “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate said. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:8-10)
8 By oppression and judgment he was taken away.
Yet who of his generation protested?
And then John tells us of the corrupt officials that convict Jesus in a kangaroo court.
9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked,
and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence,
nor was any deceit in his mouth.
And John tells us how Jesus was crucified alongside criminals and buried in a rich man’s borrowed tomb.
Isaiah tells of how the messiah will pour “out his life unto death” and that he would be “numbered with the transgressors” and again we recall how John describes Jesus’ humiliating death on a cross so that everyone would assume that he was just another common criminal.
Over and over again we can read Isaiah and many other prophets as they prepare a checklist for Jesus, and as we read John’s story of the trial, crucifixion and death of Jesus we can almost hear God saying, “So let it be written, so let it be done.”
Isaiah told us that God said these things had to happen and John tells us, one event after another, everything unfolded exactly the way that God said that it would.
Why did Jesus have to be arrested? Why was he tried on trumped up charges in a kangaroo court? Why did everyone abandon him in his hour of need? Why did he have to suffer such indescribable suffering and torment? Why did Jesus have to die?
And we find the answer in the book of Hebrews (10:16-25) where we remember a few other words recorded by the ancient prophets:
16 “This is the covenant I will make with them
after that time, says the Lord.
I will put my laws in their hearts,
and I will write them on their minds.”
17 Then he adds:
“Their sins and lawless acts
I will remember no more.”
18 And where these have been forgiven, sacrifice for sin is no longer necessary.
19 Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
And suddenly everything begins to come into focus.
God didn’t just proclaim that the messiah should suffer and die so that prophecy could be fulfilled or because God is some kind of horrible sadist that engineered the horror of Good Friday for his own amusement. After all, we remember that it is “Good” Friday so there must be some good purpose. And that purpose in found in those words written in the book of Hebrews.
Jesus suffered and died so that God could make a new covenant with his people.
Jesus endured the events of Good Friday so that our sins could be forgotten.
Jesus shed his blood so that the curtain could be opened, a new path could be created, and access could be given to each and every one of us to enter the Holy Place and meet God face to face.
We may not completely understand why God needed to do things the way that he did them, but the writer of Hebrews wanted to be sure that we all understand that everything comes down to a single purpose.
Jesus suffered and died because of his love for God but suffering and death were not the purpose. The purpose of Jesus’ suffering was so that we could be saved but also…
…so that we could love others.
So that we could love others.
And again, while some of us might imagine it in Yul Brynner’s voice we can hear the voice of God echoing through the ages saying…
“So let it be written, so let it be done.”
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