Easter 2021: Skandalon


Hello everyone. My name is Layton Friesen. I am the Conference Pastor of the EMC.

I have a word for you today as we look forward to the crucified and risen Lord this coming week. It’s the Greek word the Apostle Paul uses in 1 Cor 1, and that is the word “Skandalon.” It’s the word from which we get our word scandal. It means offense or stumbling block. It seems that Jesus is revealed in the gospels as a Skandalon.

Let’s get a little glimpse of how this works. In the gospel of Mark, Jesus never really gets to Jerusalem until the very end of his ministry. And then, in the final chapters, Jesus seems to carry out a series of raids on the city of Jerusalem and the temple. When Jesus arrives for the very first time in Jerusalem, he’s riding on the back of a colt and people are singing and waving palm branches. It’s like God is exposing his son here for the very first time to the city of Jerusalem, daring the powers to strike back.

Jesus then retreats back to Bethany, and then the next day Jesus raids the city again and this time he enters the temple and kicks over the tables of the money changers. It’s like God is daring the powers of Jerusalem to come out—to be exposed—God is tempting the powers to show their hand. It’s like God is throwing down a stumbling stone—a skandalon—provoking the devil himself to come out of his lair and attack this son of David.

While Jesus is doing these daily raids on the city he tells some of his most outrageous parables.

Stories that the Scribes and the Pharisees simply cannot leave alone. They’re almost being forced to take offense at Jesus. And it’s not just his enemies who are offended. As Mark 11 moves on to Mark 14, we see that even his disciples begin to trip up on this stumbling stone. It’s like Jesus is sorting humanity—he’s parting the crowd. Jesus is behaving in such strange, bizarre ways that either you get it, and you realize an incredible hand of God at work here, or else you don’t get it, and this whole exercise just looks offensive and repugnant and needing to be violently repressed.

Well this I think becomes really poignant in chapter 14, where the woman in Bethany breaks open this expensive jar of perfume, anoints Jesus, and then Jesus says, “She gets it—she is preparing my body for burial.” That’s a huge stumbling stone because right in the next verse Judas Iscariot trips and he heads into the city to talk with chief priests.

Now, why is Jesus doing this? I think we need to see all of this through the lens of the resurrection. Jesus seems to have the intuition that if he could somehow just offend the powers—if he could somehow scandalize the whole system. If Jesus could somehow be the virus in in the intestines of the world, causing the world to retch and gag and try to throw him up—just bring the whole army of Satan down on his own head—the power of the devil would be exposed. It would be drained and it would be canceled. And then, when all of the power of the devil was exhausted—when the powers were sprawled on the ground in their attempts to kill Jesus—Jesus would rise from the dead victorious.

I think this is the profound reality; disturbing reality that we see before us. There’s a phrase in the New Testament that gets picked up from the Psalms, and it’s one of the most common phrases repeated in the New Testament. “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” The stumbling block—the offense—the skandalon—this has become the very foundation of the church.

And so, we see that Jesus conquers sin. He doesn’t conquer it head on. He doesn’t conquer it in any kind of violent way. He doesn’t conquer it by dominating it or by repressing it. Jesus conquers sin by provoking it to play its best hand—by being so offensive to the powers of Satan that Satan cannot help but destroy himself trying to destroy Jesus. And then the resurrection of Jesus over a vanquished, toothless power. Amen

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