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LIKELY SUSPECTS

The Whole Bible in One Mystery

40 minutes Through the Bible


SUMMARY

This dramatic presentation takes people through the Bible story—looking back from the “scene of the crime,” the cross of Christ.It’s a mystery story focusing on why Jesus had to die.

A hardboiled detective, Sammy Slade, imagines he can solve this “cold case” once and for all.  He throws the spotlight on Likely Suspects—enemies of the Messiah, the biggest villains of Scripture. To get into their heads he must imagine them as real characters in our world. The turf-protecting Philistine becomes Hillbilly Lester, the brutal Assyrian Sennacherib becomes a city street Tough Guy, the stuffy Pharisee becomes British Officer Montague.

The presentation reaches a climax when the detective realizes that the likeliest suspect is hidden deep in each one of our hearts.

Likely Suspects gives the audience a new appreciation of our need for the gracious forgiveness
that comes from the One rejected and despised by humanity.

 

THROUGH THE BIBLE HIGHLIGHTS

Hardboiled detective Sammy Slade, a retro character out of film noir, is complaining about the case that landed on his desk:

“Of all the murders, of all the poor suckers, in all the low places, I had to get stuck on this one. Talk about a Cold Case. Body’s long gone—if they ever had one. Perps are ancient history. But people keep wanting to re-open the case. New investigation. Talk about the crime scene one more time.”

Sammy, however, gets the idea he just might be the old-school type to finally wrap this case up, nail down the big cheeses behind Jesus’ death---and at last put the clamps on all this religious yapping about the cross. He’s about as skeptical as they come:

“Some poor sap felt so bad about my sins he up and got crucified and now I can jolly well go to heaven if I please. Sorry but I don’t have near enough on my rap sheet for all that agony and bloodshed.”

Soon Sammy realizes he’ll have to go way back to uncover what led up to the crucifixion. He decides to spotlight the likely suspects, the biggest enemies of the Messiah, the worst villains in Scripture. But in order to understand them as perps, he has to see these figures as a certain type of person you might run into today. Take the Philistines:

“The first bad guys, running around the hill country of Canaan. Holding tight to their old ways in secret groves and hilltop shrines. Reminds me somehow of folks making moonshine.”

Philistine Lester appears for his interrogation. Straw hat, buck teeth, ragged overalls, and a heap of hillbilly twang:

“Blasted Israelites on a mission from God? It’s our land! Outtatowners comin’ in here. Think they’s big city folk cause they seen the dadgum pyramids. That’s a myth; no such thing. Everybody knows there ain’t no pyramids. And the Red Sea didn’t swaller up no Gyptians. My huntin’ dog could wade across Red Sea.”

After Freddie’s appearance, Sammy begins to thinks he’s come across a prime suspect: human ignorance. That could have killed the Messiah. The ignorance that’s intensely jealous of anything better; wants no part of it.

But then Sammy spots another likely suspect in the story.
Often it was the kings of Israel who betrayed their nation’s best hopes and turned their backs on their own God. Who were these people who gave in to the popular demand for idol rites? Sammy thinks he knows the type: the girlie-man king..

King Ahaz appears for his interrogation. A flighty creature who loves his colorful robes, hates making decisions.

“So I’m like, yuhooo, Tiglath-pileser, over here big boy to the rescue, (Syria had just invaded. They’re so rude!!)  Well, you have to pay the help. Hello. So I had to send over a few gold and silver things from the temple. Quite a few things actually. Tiglath-pileser has expensive tastes. And, of course, Judah had to become an Assyrian tributary. I had to make an appearance in Damascus as his vassal. Hate that word. Vassal! We’re just friends.”

Sammy decides that a long line of pushover Hebrew kings points to human weakness as a very likely suspect. Jesus died because people are spineless. They don’t stand up to evil. Maybe that’s the real issue. But then another suspect pops up in the story. Israel is supposed to keep a light on the One God of Heaven—and they keep getting run over. So who bears the greater blame? The conquered or those doing the conquering? What about those other kings of Assyria and Babylon, boasting of captives skinned alive? Maybe human cruelty, violent aggression, is at the heart of the matter. Sammy knows the type well.

King Sennacherib takes the spotlight, as The Tough Guy, a greasy, leather-jacketed, wise-cracking dude off the streets. His armies are besieging Jerusalem.

“Sos I was ya know, had my crew all the way round the place. These Hebs keep talkin’ about their big temple. We got bigger. We got ziguratt’s in Ninevah make your eyes roll back in your head. Sos I tell my boys let’s parlay you know. Give this woos Hezekeeeah, a chance to do it the easy way. Anyway you can only conquer so many cities for it starts getting a little, ya know, flat. We wanted to go home. So I says to ‘im, I don’t see no white flag here. You think Egypt’s gonna come help you? Pharaoh folds every time we go head to head.”

Sammy is sure he’s nailed the likeliest suspect, and now turns the spotlight on the victim and his surroundings. Who was most out to get the Messiah? Sammy’s got an eye out for the biggest bully in Galilee. But then a new suspect arrives on the scene to turn his case upside down. All this time he’s been looking at heavies out to destroy Israel and their faith.  What if religion itself is the problem? The Pharisees were the ones plotting most fiercely against Jesus.
Again, Sammy thinks he’s met the type.

Pharisee Phillip takes the spotlight as a stuffy, retired British colonel, chortling about tradition. He’s there to question people who claim they were healed by Jesus.

”Lazarus, my boy, isn’t it time to admit that if you’re indeed dead, it’s quite impossible to know you’re dead. You have no way of knowing. Asleep perhaps.  How can you say you were in a tomb four days? Kept checking the time did we?  Preposterous. Is it not possible that in the coolness of the tomb, you revived? You came out of a coma perhaps. Everyone says you were quite dead? Well isn’t that just dandy! Now see here. We can’t have people just popping willy nilly out of their graves now can we. These things must be planned.”

Sammy finds himself taking another look at Jesus. “If these stuffed shirts were after the guy, maybe he wasn’t so bad after all.” He looks at a few exhibits from Christ’s ministry and is impressed by the Man’s gracious touch.

“I’ve spent my life looking for clues, signs of guilt. The way a voice may waver, a twitch in the elbow, the wrong word at the right time—any little thing that might uncover a crime. He looks for one little flicker of faith in a darkened life and grabs hold of that and turns it into a life.”

Sammy approaches the scene of the crime with a new resolve, ready to seal the case against the Pharisees. But just when their mocking voices confirm all his suspicions, all the other suspects reappear. Ignorance, cruelty, weakness. All there at the scene. Different time, different races and cultures. Same old characters.

Philistine Lester, the ignorant hillbilly, is now a member of the Jerusalem mob outside Pilate’s palace.

“Pilate’s got two fellas up there. Oh that’s Barabbas. There’s a wild man. From the moment his momma dropped him I tell you. Fightin boy. Just between you and me, he showed the Romans a thing or two. Took out mor’n a few of them soldiers. We supposed to choose. Jesus or Barabbas. The Galilee rabbi, Sermon on the Mount, healin’ folk & all that---or murderin’ varmit Barabbas.
Hmm. This here’s a trick question. They tryin’ to get one up on us.”

Human cruelty, the tough guy Sennacherib, reappears as a Roman soldier at the scene.

“So who’s dis King of the Jews anyways? Who would want the job? Hey, religion makes people crazy. Here’s the deal; these people have to fear us. A few get chewed up along the way. You find another way to rule the world, you let me know.”

Human weakness, aka the flighty, effeminate King Ahaz, reappears as Pilate, questioning a gaggle of priests after hearing rumors of a resurrection.

“Look gents I did you a favor----yes let’s pretend it’s all about disloyalty to Caesar.  Well now look what’s happened. So your manly men soldiers swear the disciples came and stole the body.  Isn’t that special. How could this have happened? Because they were all sleeping? Oh that’s precious. Imagine their eye-witness testimony. Your honor we saw them take the body—while we were sleeping. Zeus give me strength.”

Looking over the scene of the crime, Sammy realizes that all the suspects participated. Ignorance, cruelty, weakness, oppressive religion, yes they all killed Jesus. But something else has hit Sammy, a sobering thought.
Jesus had to die because we couldn’t stand to have him around. Those big villains out there, linger deep in here---in the human heart.
 
“Why are we always shoved into destroying the best among us? What is this thing that wars against the good we admire? We gossip down the great. So high and mighty, they are. Jesus appears here and there, sneaking up on us in the unexpectedly pure, the strangely innocent. And he barely survives. Barely survives high school. Barely tolerated in the neighborhood. Shunned at work. We can’t stand righteousness. It rubs us the wrong way. We may salute; we may say all the right words about ideals and virtues. But it just doesn’t sit right in our gut. As we bow down, our fists are clenched. As we smile, our jaw is set.”

After his moment of truth, Sammy slowly lays aside the clues that point to other perps, removes his detective overcoat, and declares himself the likeliest of suspects, finally ready for the pardon that comes so graciously from the cross.

 Likely Suspects, a journey through the Bible that propels one of the most cynical, skeptical people you can imagine---to the foot of the cross.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
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