Do you know what it is to have to lie to your son… because you’re afraid to let him see who you really are?
We went to Jerusalem for Passover. You should have seen it. Sarah kept telling me to calm down. But I couldn’t help it. It was the first time going since she gave birth to Levi. Our son. He was only a few months old. I know, I know, we didn’t have to take him yet. She kept telling me he was too little. “Benjamin, calm down!” But I didn’t listen. This was my son, and I got to show him Passover! I insisted on carrying him most of the way. My arms would carry my son to Jerusalem! We got to Jerusalem and visited my uncle’s home, where we’d be staying. Uncle David.
I took little Levi out to pick out the lamb. The one we’d sacrifice and remember the first Passover. So we’d remember the lamb that was sacrificed so that our ancestors could live. The lamb that died instead of them. And little Levi… you should have seen his smiles. He loved all those lambs. The priests frowned that I brought a son so young, but I was so excited. I held Levi and took his little hand and placed it on the lamb’s head.
And Passover night – the first Passover, you know, those of us from the country celebrated a few days before everyone in the city just so there was room for everyone! – we ate the meal, just like my father did, and his father. And now I got to teach my son. Sarah told me he wouldn’t understand, but I didn’t care. And just like always, we opened the door to see if Elijah was there. We opened the door to find out if this year, if maybe this year, the one God promised was here, if the Christ was here to free us from slavery again. And that Passover night… it was golden.
But the next day. The next day… there was some sort of uproar in the city. I left Levi with Sarah and went with David to find out what was going on. My arms felt empty without him. I found myself outside the Roman governor’s palace. He presented a man – a man already badly beaten – and shouted. I couldn’t hear over the roar of the crowd. But a man next to me – a priest – he told me what was going on. This beaten man was Jesus from Nazareth. I’d heard of him, of course – who hadn’t? They said he did miracles, like Elijah did long ago. But then my neighbor said: “He says he’s equal with God.”
What? This man’s pride led him to claim equality with God? Equality with the God who rescued us out of slavery? Equality with God who chose Israel to be his special people? No one is equal to God! That’s… that’s blasphemy! And the crowd roared, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And their anger… it was righteous anger. No one can claim equality with God. And the punishment? It fit the crime. I raised my voice right with them. “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And the Roman governor sentenced him, just as we demanded. Justice was done. That afternoon, Jesus died. Executed, Crucified. Just as we demanded.
Just as I demanded.
Look, I know. No one is equal with God. But… but I felt like I had blood on my hands. When I got back to Uncle David’s home… Sarah offered to hand me Levi, but I didn’t take him. How can a man who has demanded the life of another hold his own child? How could I let Levi ever know who I really was? That I would… that I would demand someone’s life?
We went home. Passover done. Sarah carried Levi the entire way. And when we got home, I worked the fields. Harvest wasn’t far away. And soon, only fifty days later… it was time for Pentecost. The harvest festival. A time of joy. It was supposed to be a time of rejoicing. My favorite. Sarah carried Levi. “Don’t you want to hold him again?” she asked me. We got to Uncle David’s house in Jerusalem. He embraced me as always and saw my face. “Benjamin, come in. Sarah! Oh, how radiant! And look at Levi! How he’s grown! Are you expecting another yet? No? Why not?” He tried so hard.
And then the day of Pentecost came. I took the first cuttings from my harvest, and led Sarah and Levi up to the temple to present the offerings. The temple was such a rush of languages, like always. People trying to speak Aramaic like everyone else, but with those thick accents – people from Rome and Arabia and even Africa. But on our way back, we were blocked by a crowd. My heart thundered. Another crowd? No. I couldn’t do that again. But this crowd… wasn’t angry. It was.. confused. And soon I understood why: All the languages we heard at the temple? People were speaking them here. But… but they were being spoken by… by hicks! I mean, these were people from Galilee. People who live out in the country and don’t know a thing! How could they be speaking all these languages?
A man next to me leans over and mutters, “They gotta be drunk.”
Sarah takes my hand. “Come on, Benjamin. Let’s go.”
But then one of these Galileans gets up and addresses the crowd. “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you!” And though I’m about to turn away, though I want to heed Sarah, who holds our son, I stop to listen.
“These men aren’t drunk! It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what was spoken of by the prophet Joel: “In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophecy! And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
So.. he’s saying that everyone talking in other languages here.. these hicks that can barely speak Aramaic are speaking other languages perfectly! Like a miracle! It’s what Joel was talking about hundreds of years ago? As I ponder, the man up in front pauses, and all the other hicks – they translate what he’s saying into other languages! And the people from all over the world, they all understand – they all hear it in their own languages!
And the man up front continues: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know.”
No. I don’t want want to hear this. I don’t want to hear about this man. I know what happened to Jesus. I was there! And I knew about at least some of his miracles! I don’t want to hear it! I don’t want to be reminded of what I did! But the man up front keeps talking:
“This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross.”
Yes. That’s me. I put him to death. I look over at Levi in Sarah’s arms. How can I be a father if I put someone to death?
“But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. David said about him, “You will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay.”
Wait… this Jesus, this man that I am guilty for, he’s alive? This guy up here – he’s saying that we’re seeing a prophecy right now as everyone’s talking other languages, but that this Jesus – David, like King David, he wrote about Jesus? If he’s alive – if he’s alive, he must be angry at us. At all of us for killing him. Angry at me. Fine. Take it out on me if you’re going to. I’ve earned it.
“Seeing what was ahead, David spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay. God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. Exalted to the right hand of God, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear!”
Wait. Wait wait wait wait wait. This guy… he’s claiming that the Jesus. That the Jesus I wanted to die. That he’s the Christ? He’s the guy we’ve been waiting for? And I killed him?
“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
And… and it strikes like lightning. All the prophecies… I’d heard about all the miracles Jesus did. And… and he fit them. And I wanted him dead anyway. How can I be a dad to Levi if I killed God’s anointed one? The one we were waiting for? Sarah sees my face. She reaches out to me, but I step away. I spin to this guy. “What do I need to do? What should I do?” I scream it. How can I face my son? I can’t hide what I’ve done. I need… what do I need to do?
Admit what I’ve done. I turn to Sarah. “I was there, Sarah. I… I wanted him crucified. I killed Jesus!” And the tears… I can’t keep them back. I was wrong. I was wrong! I sinned!
“Repent and be baptized into the forgiveness of all your sins!”
For forgiveness? That’s it? What I’ve done… it’s just taken away? I don’t do anything?
“The promise is for you!”
For me? The promise of God… forgiveness… for me? I killed the Christ… and he offers me forgiveness? He… he’s like the lamb. Like the lamb at Passover, who died in our place. He’s… he’s the Lamb of God. He died for me.
“The promise is for you and your children!”
For Levi, too? For my son?
“Be saved from this twisted generation!”
And I was. I rushed forward. Sarah, too. And she carried our son. The man – he’d be standing by a well. Now they plunged buckets down into the well and hauled them up, streaming cool water, and these hicks, these people that knew Jesus – they began baptizing, splashing with water and baptizing just like the man up front said. And you’ve never heard laughter like that. People laughing… not to make fun of anyone, but because they were filled with that much joy. And then it’s our turn. We’ve made our way to the well, and a man in a soaked robe stands next to a jar full of water. And I turn… and I take Levi from Sarah. I hold my son. And we are baptized… together. The water drips from my hair into my beard and all over Levi. “I baptize you in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit!” And we, father and son, together, we are made… new. I am forgiven. Even me. My son is forgiven. Even him. Jesus died for us as the Lamb of God and he lives. And now… we are new.
Friends. Even here, even in the 21st century, the Holy Spirit continues to work.
We are not better than Benjamin. You know what it is to lie, because you don’t want another person to know what you really think, what you really did. But you cannot change the past. And you cannot change what you did. And you cannot take away your own guilt. Are you cut to the heart by what you’ve done? I know you have you been. I know you carry guilt that you try to shrug off or ignore. But the answer isn’t ignoring it. And the answer isn’t anything you do.
The answer is Jesus. He died in our place and he lives again.
He brings us Baptism. What a blessing. It’s not just for adults. It’s for us and our children and all whom God himself calls.
So if you know Jesus already, celebrate. You are forgiven. And if you’ve been baptized, celebrate that day! And if you’ve not received that blessing, let me share it with you. I want you to know the blessing of being claimed by Jesus, of having your sins washed away, of being a child of God.
Because forgiveness is yours… through Jesus. He holds your heart and heals it. He rejoices by giving you forgiveness. Forgiveness is yours.