Theme: Why the cross? When we look at it on a divine level, it happened for us. Jesus suffered because God loves us.
This continues the sermon series “The Passion,” leading us through Lent and preparing our hearts and minds for the Easter celebration of the Resurrection of our Lord. The scripture texts match those of this year’s Lenten study groups, and is based upon “Journey to the Cross” written by Debbie Schmidt.
This series also helps us explore some of the issues brought up by the recent movie, “The Passion of the Christ.”
Let’s pray. Lord, you have heard from us as we praised you with hosannas, as we have confessed to you our inability to maintain your standards in our daily living, as we have welcomed your forgiveness. Help us now to focus on the message you would craft for each of us to grasp as we listen to your Word and learn more about the Passion of Christ. Amen.
The scripture lesson, on page 721 in the Bible on your pew rack, is from Mark 15. We are beginning with verse one. At this point Jesus has been arrested at Gethsemane and taken before the Sanhedrin, condemned by that ruling body as guilty of blasphemy. Under Roman jurisdiction this high court of the Jews could not impose the death penalty they desired; therefore they sought an audience with Pilate.
Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, reached a decision. They bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate. “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. The chief priests accused him of many things. So again Pilate asked him, “Aren’t you going to answer? See how many things they are accusing you of.”
But Jesus still made no reply, and Pilate was amazed. Now it was the custom at the Feast to release a prisoner whom the people requested. A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did. “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, knowing it was out of envy that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified. The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.
People are fickle. Whatever the latest fad is, just give it a little bit of time and a little bit of publicity and the crowd inevitably is going to move on to something new. Something they think is better or I guess I should say something that we think is better, because we are part of the crowd. Just a week before the events that we are reading about in Mark, Chapter 15, just a week before the palm branches, the ones that are strewn here under the communion table, the ones that you have in your hands. Those palm branches were raised in a victory parade celebrating the fact that Jesus was King of Israel, Savior of the World and now they are crushed under foot. What’s happening to Jesus? More importantly, why is this happening? All of the economies of the western world are based on the fact that we change our minds about things very quickly. The colors that were so spectacular in last year’s fashions, now that we think about it again this year, we realize that they really were not that good after all. These colors for this year are so much better. I have a good reliable computer. It’s fast. It does everything that I want it to do and yet that incredible computer can become a paperweight overnight. It can become a dinosaur. All that is necessary for that wonderful computer to become totally useless is for someone to invent one that is faster, that has better, bigger memory and comes in a cooler looking case and I don’t want the old one anymore.
The sports fan that praises you one minute, in the next minute can fluently curse you out. Depending on what we hear, depending on what our hopes are, depending on what our dreams and desires are, people can change loyalties in just a second. We do this spiritually. We can be this way with God too. The spiritual world is filled with meteors, shooting stars, people who brightly light up for a moment. We all see it. They make a big impression, but then they are gone and they disappear, and we wonder where they have gone. We could hardly tell that they had been there. They have moved on to other things. Far less common in the spiritual world are the stars. They might not be as exciting or flashy at the shooting stars, but they are there year after year shining faithfully in the darkness. But you know, even in these stable, faithful Christian lives, there is so much unfaithfulness. One minute we are filled with awe. We have this incredible sense that it is wonderful to be inside of the will of God, to know what God’s will is, to know that we are protected by God and that by hearing God’s Word and by acting on it, that we are in the core of what God wants to do for us. And that’s exactly where we want to be and we rejoice in that and give praise to God, and the next minute we face a temptation. Something all of a sudden aggravates us or perhaps something deeply, deeply attracts us, and so faced with that our loyalty to God evaporates and all the things that seem so clear in our minds just a minute ago, become foggy. And so in a little way or in a big way, we reject God and go our own way.
Now when we act like this it may surprise us, but it never surprises God. It never does. Long before we were ever born he gave a name to this, God calls it sin. We are in Chapter 15 of the Book of Mark. Why did all of this happen to Jesus? Well, on a human level, it happened because the crowd asked for it. The leaders in the crowd demanded this of Pilate. Crucify him and Pilate wanted to placate the crowd and so he did it. It’s easy for us to condemn the crowd. Are they the people that a week before were a part of the victory parade? What has happened? How can they change so quickly and if it is not them, where are the people who were in the parade? Why aren’t they standing up for Jesus? Where are Jesus’ supporters now? What has happened to the confidence and praise that we remember on Palm Sunday? It’s easy to condemn the crowd, but are we really that different? What does it take to make us drop our palm branches of praise and walk away from Jesus? Let’s hear more now from the Word of God.
“A certain man from Cyren, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha,(which means The Place of the Skull. Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get. It was the third hour when they crucified him. The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS. They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way, the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, ” but he can’t save himself! Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”
Here we are at the core of the Christian message. The cross of Jesus Christ. In these few moments in history that are played out in front of us in Chapter 15, we learn things about ourselves and about God that we would never understand otherwise. God could have done something, why doesn’t he? It’s not enough that Jesus was mocked, just moments before they gather around Jesus, they hit him. Who hit you huh? For a prophet you don’t seem very bright, you don’t know much, do you? Hey guys here, we got a king. A king needs a crown doesn’t he? Let’s make a crown for the king. This will never do. And all the time that this is going on, all the time that he is being made fun of, God is silent, and all that time Jesus could have commanded armies of angels and yet he submits. Jesus is mocked. Jesus is stripped naked and now he is nailed to a cross. Humanly speaking, there is no justice here because an innocent man is killed. Even the charge that is written against him, that’s nailed on the cross above Jesus’ head only reads, THE KING OF THE JEWS. There is no mercy here. There is nothing that is done to make it go any easier. Nothing to make it more humane, to end it quickly or less painfully, so why does God stand back and allow this to happen? For an answer to that, we don’t even have to look at another place in the New Testament. To get a good answer to what God is doing there, we need to go back 700 years in history before Jesus to the prophet Isaiah, where in Isaiah 53 God declares what He is doing in Jesus. I am going to read to you from Isaiah 53, from the contemporary English version. I won’t change any words.
“Has anyone believed us or seen the mighty power of the LORD in action? Like a young plant or root that sprouts in dry ground, the servant grew up obeying the LORD. He wasn’t some handsome king. Nothing about the way he looked made him attractive to us. He was hated and rejected; his life was filled with sorrow and terrible suffering. No one wanted to look at him. We despised him and said, ” He’s a nobody!.”
He suffered and endured great pain for us, but we thought his suffering was punishment from God. He was wounded and crushed because of our sins; by taking our punishment, he made us completely well. All of us were like sheep that had wandered off. We had each gone our own way, but the LORD gave him the punishment we deserved. He was painfully abused, but he did not complain. He was silent like a lamb being led to the butcher, as quiet as a sheep having its wool cut off. He was condemned to death without a fair trial. Who could have imagined what would have happened to him? His life was taken away because of the sinful things my people had done. He wasn’t dishonest or violent, but he was buried in a tomb of cruel and rich people. The Lord decided that his servant would suffer as a sacrifice to take away the sin and guilt of others. Now the servant will live to see his own descendants. He did everything the Lord had planned. By suffering, the servant will learn the true meaning of obeying the LORD, although he is innocent, he will take the punishment for the sin of others, so that many of them will no longer be guilty. The LORD will reward him with honor and power for sacrificing his life. Others thought he was a sinner,but he suffered for our sins and he asked God to forgive us. The words of Isaiah 53.
Why the cross? Why did it all happen? On a human level, because we are fickle people. We have no loyalty and we so easily turn against God and that is called sin. Why did it all happen? When we look at it on a divine level, it happened for us. It happened because God loves us. That’s how big our problem with sin is. This problem of hurtfulness and selfishness that the Bible calls sin is a huge problem that threatens to undo us for all eternity. It’s a big enough problem that Jesus, God in flesh, had to suffer and die so that it could be forgiven. If there were any other way to deal with this, don’t you think God would have taken it? If it were just a matter of teaching us something to obey or if it were training us to meditate or to think positive thoughts, God would have done that instead of the cross. But there was no other way. There is no other way. The cross is the only bridge that exists between us and a Holy God. It’s the only way our sin can ever be forgiven.
And so on this Palm Sunday, as we look ahead into Holy Week, I invite you to put aside whatever is standing in your way and come to Jesus. Come to the cross and know again or maybe know for the first time ever the incredible, encompassing, sacrificial love of God.
Let’s pray. Holy, Holy God, we ask that you now would help us as we approach you because of the things that you have done for us in Jesus Christ. God work deeply in our hearts so that we might respond to your incredible gift of grace in a way that not only brings us life, but makes us channels of life to others and brings glory to the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ in whose name we pray. Amen.