You know, not that long ago I was watching an old TV show and this particular episode opened with the children in Sunday School. And the teacher was telling them about what an awful, horrible place hell was. How no one would ever, ever want to be there. Without being too graphic, she scared them quite a bit, which led to them asking the inevitable question, “Teacher, how do we make sure we don’t go to hell?”
“By following the ten commandments!”
Maybe for you that’s a facepalm moment. Maybe you know better. But really, out in the world, those who only know Christianity from pop culture… well that is what the answer is, right? Christianity is a system of rules designed to stop you from having any real fun and if you follow them (and just how often or how well you have to follow them is a little fuzzy), but if you follow them – the God rewards you with heaven… right?
I probably shouldn’t even ask that as a question. Because how many people who’ve never really looked into God actually think that? Too many. Too many who maybe feel scared for a bit about eternity at night when their mind is a little too quiet, but they calm themselves by saying, “No, I don’t have to worry. If there really is a God, I’m sure he’s a nice guy and I’m a pretty good person – I’m sure God will take me in if he exists.” That’s not just wishful thinking to many people, it’s what they really believe.
But… why? Why this perception of God? You and I know this is clearly not the case, God does not trade works for Heaven, at least not in the way we would make him out to do it. So why does this perception even exist? In fact, not just why does it exist…why is it the dominant thought of every person who doesn’t know Jesus for real? Why is it every false religion, even every erring branch of Christianity ends up with this notion that you must do something to be saved?
The fact is, it’s simply in our nature. Ever since the first humans betrayed God by reaching for that fruit in the garden. They were told they would be like God if they ate it. They wanted to be like God. They wanted to be in control of their own lives. We have not changed. Every single sin we commit comes back to this one basic principle: I want to be my own god. And that includes, if not saving myself directly, at least doing something to help or show that I’m worthy to be saved. It’s one of our strongest natural inclinations.
Can it work that way? Let’s look into history to see. Because there was a time when God made this deal with the people. It was pretty fair, all things considered. In fact, it was exactly the kind of deal that we want to hear. It was a list of rules, a list of conditions in order to remain in God’s good favor. Follow the rules, keep the law, and everything would be fine. God would be with you, he would protect you, and when the time came, he would take you to be with him forever.
Considering what God was offering, there shouldn’t have been anything he couldn’t ask of his people, and what God was asking wasn’t all that hard. If he was to be your God, then you had to give him the proper worship and honor as God and as far as relating to each other, it was all the sort of stuff anyone would consider basic human decency. Be nice, thoughtful, and fair. And if you messed up a bit here or there, not all hope was lost, you could make a repayment for your crime that would pay for the guilt of it. You would sacrifice something you had to pay for what you’d done. Something else could go in your place. All fair enough, really.
Except the problem was that for as “obvious” and “simple” as anyone would call these rules, nobody was able to keep them. Our society would call them basic human decency, and would say that anyone, properly educated, would be able to follow these rules that basically boil down to thinking about others first. But not one of them was able to do it. Nobody has managed to even go through one day without some selfish action or thought. And anyone who seriously understood how badly they’d failed this covenant would also understand that it was simply impossible to offer enough sacrifices for what they’d done wrong. Day and night they’ve have to be at the temple offering those penalties for breaking the law of God.
It couldn’t be done. No one could earn God’s favor.
And that has not changed in any group that claims there is something you can do to please God. It can’t be done. The demands can’t be met and the penance is never enough. And that was the point of the old covenant. This idea that something I do can make God happy with me; it comes from the depths of the sinful nature. The idea that God can be happy with what I do on my own is pure egotism. It is that old desire to replace God with the self. I can save myself, it says, I do not need God, I can be my own god. The Israelites and everyone since including you and me need to know and be convinced that I cannot make God happy on my own. God’s demands cannot be satisfied by us. The Old Covenant as this deal was called, the law, was never meant to save anyone, it was meant to teach us that we cannot save ourselves.
But that’s only part one of the overall lesson God wants to teach us. Because there is a new covenant, one that teaches us what we really need, what we’re ready for once we’ve learned that we can’t do this ourselves. The author to the Hebrews describes this for us in our reading this evening:
15The Holy Spirit also testifies in Scripture to us, for first he said: 16This is the covenant I will make with them after those days, says the Lord. I will put my laws on their hearts and I will write them on their mind. 17Then he adds: And I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer. 18Now where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin. 19Brothers, we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus. 20It is a new and living way he opened for us through the curtain, that is, his flesh. 21We also have a great priest over the house of God. 22So let us approach with a sincere heart, in the full confidence of faith, because our hearts have been sprinkled to take away a bad conscience, and our bodies have been washed with pure water. 23Let us hold on firmly to the confession of our hope without wavering, since he who promised is faithful. 24Let us also consider carefully how to spur each other on to love and good works. 25Let us not neglect meeting together, as some have the habit of doing. Rather, let us encourage each other, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
Here it is. “I will not remember their sins and their lawlessness any longer.” (v17) This is the entire basis of the new covenant. The old covenant was a deal: “Do this, and you will be rewarded. Don’t, and you’ll be punished.” We saw how well that turned out. God came with a new covenant. “I will do everything, and you will be rewarded.”
Now this isn’t just arbitrary. God can’t just erase what he’d already set up in the old covenant. The law had to be followed and where it wasn’t followed there had to be sacrifice, in blood. The difference is that now God says, never mind all that. I’ll do it. That is what Jesus is all about. He lived an innocent life completely in line with the law. And he grants you complete and full credit for that life. All the things you are supposed to do, all the things you were supposed to do – as far as God is concerned you’ve done them.
And the failures? The crimes? Again, a payment does need to be made. In blood. And that is the foundation of the new covenant, the blood that was poured out to pay for our crimes. Not just any blood this time, though. The blood of God himself. Poured out for us on the cross, just as we celebrate each time we come to the Lord’s table. This blood is the full sacrifice for all sins. The blood of animals didn’t actually accomplish anything, it was just a symbol for what was coming. The blood of God is valuable enough for all.
This is the new covenant that we enjoy. As the author says here, “Now where these sins are forgiven, there is no longer any sacrifice for sin.” (v18) There is nothing left to do. We cannot contribute anything to this covenant because it has all already been taken care of.
And the blessings it provides to us are immediate. It’s not just the promise of a future, better life. Yes, that will come. But it changes things here and now, too. By the blood of Jesus, we have the confidence to be able to enter into the Most Holy Place. That was the place of the temple where God’s presence dwelt. And by the law no one was allowed to approach except the high priest and then only once a year after special preparation. Sin divides us from God. But where sin has been forgiven, then there is nothing that stops us from approaching God. This point was driven home when Jesus poured out his blood to make this happen. We’ll see that tomorrow night as the curtain in the temple that separated the Most Holy Place was torn in two from top to bottom! Nothing separates us from our God now that the payment for sins has been made.
We can come before him now with our prayers and petitions, confident that we will be heard. We know that we don’t deserve to have our requests considered, we don’t even deserve to be given a hearing. But our God gives you 100% of his undivided attention whenever you approach him, because this new covenant has made it possible.
And this new covenant changes how we live now. As it’s written here, “I will put my laws on their hearts, and I will write them on their mind.” (v16) The law does not work like it used to. Before we had a heart full of sin and the law came to us from the outside, tried to browbeat us into submission out of fear of eternal death, but it never really changed the heart within. Now we have been cleansed from the inside out by our God and we are each a new creation. The new self that is holy at its core. This means the new self naturally does what God required in his law. Not because it is demanded of us, not because there is a threat if we don’t. The new self lives the law just because…that is who it is!
So as the author encourages us here, hold on to the hope that this new covenant brings. Don’t let anyone chain you back to the law and convince you that your actions are going to determine your salvation. As we grow individually weak, the fire of the group keeps your faith burning bright. Encourage each other to hold to the hope of Christ and let others be an encouragement for you. Keep up your meeting together to worship your Lord, not “because you always have,” or “because it’s what you’re ‘sposed to do,” but because of the benefits it brings your faith and your hope.
And as part of that ongoing building up and strengthening of your faith, celebrate the blood of that covenant that was poured out for you. Treat the supper with reverence, not taking it for granted or as some kind of rote formula you follow, but think about it! Treasure it! Celebrate it! Each time you come forward, let the blessings that God pours out to you through it continually strengthen and encourage you. Let it be another proof and reminder that God has done everything for you. The final day is approaching. Whether it is the last day of this world or the last day you set foot on it, let God prepare you, that your sure hope in eternity is built up and strengthened. This evening as we celebrate the institution of the Lord’s Supper, taste and see that the Lord is good. Rejoice in the new covenant he has made for you. Amen.
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?
Have you ever had one of those moments of sheer terror at being caught? I mean the total anxiety panic of knowing… there is no way out of this. If you know what I mean, it was probably when you were younger? Though maybe not, contrary to what we like to think of ourselves, the youth do not corner the market on stupid decisions.
Whatever it was you were doing or did, I’m sure it was very attractive. The thought of all you could gain from going down that path was irresistible. It was so simple, required so little effort, and the benefits, well, they were pretty amazing. I’m guessing that the thought of being caught or the consequences never actually entered your mind. Maybe you had to think about one or two ways to smartly keep it hidden, but the fact that it was just wrong never really was part of the decision-making process.
At least, until you were caught.
You were… not so clever as you thought. Or you over-reached out of greed and arrogance. And if you’re remembering that moment from your life right now just like I am, you can feel the panic. Feel the fear grip your heart as you face whatever might be coming.
And that might be the worst of it. You don’t know what might be coming. I suppose it depended on what it was, how old you were and the like? Maybe privileges would be taken away. Maybe it would just be the shame of letting someone else down. Maybe it would break a relationship. Maybe it would be legal action. But the fear of knowing you’d been caught and there was no getting out of it, that tightening of your heart… that’s what I’m talking about.
Now why… why would I make you relive something like that this evening? It’s bad enough when those memories haunt us at quiet moments during the day or night. Why drag them up on purpose?
Well because that is exactly the feeling I want you to think of when you picture what it’s like to stand before God almighty and try to justify yourself to him.
To better appreciate this evening, I’d like to walk you through… well it’s a metaphor. This isn’t really how things will happen at the end, not literally. But the truth of it holds. So, imagine with me. Imagine the moment comes. Your earthly life has ended, and you are waiting to see what happens next. You’ve heard that Heaven is the place to be and Hell, well not so much.
Though there is some nervous anticipation, you’re feeling – pretty good about what’s to come. You’re a good person. You were a good son or daughter, a good spouse or a good parent. You did right by the people around you. You worked your job, you went to church, you helped those in need. This should go well.
And the time comes that your name is called. You are escorted from a waiting area into a courtroom. There is no jury, only the judge. And there are no witnesses, only the judge. God. One look from his piercing stare and it all comes crashing down. The intensity of that gaze opens your own eyes and you know. You know, and you remember everything he knows about you.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way;
The façade of goodness that you wear becomes as flimsy and fragile as tissue paper. All the selfishness that backed all those “good” deeds. All the times that the cost of doing the right thing was a little too high for you so you just walked by on the other side of the street. The secret thoughts, the greed, the lust, the selfishness, the anger, and more than any of that all the times you just thought you knew better than God.
That’s the panic moment. You’re caught, there’s nowhere to go, and you are utterly guilty. You did all of it, thinking no one was looking, no one would notice, but he saw it. There’s nothing to say in your defense. Anything you could think of in your own mind falls so flat that you can’t even utter the words.
Is there nothing to be done? You survey the crowd. Surely someone could speak up on your behalf and ask for leniency, mercy, or just to ask the judge to let this one go? Someone some authority or power or charisma or money could maybe do something for you…
He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering.
Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.
A man does step forward. Not the one you were looking for. He is not wearing anything fancy. He has no regal bearing about him. You do not recognize him as anyone rich or influential. He instead looks like someone in as much need of help as you are. If you were not simply frozen by the terror of the moment you might motion for him to blend back into the crowd.
Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
He draws the judge’s attention. The man speaks.
“I did it.”
“Every charge you are about to read. That was me. I openly confess to every one of those crimes. I did it.”
“You are aware of the punishment?” the judge asks.
“I am. It was me.”
The confession is accepted. The man is bound and led away. What could you do? It might seem dishonorable to let him go in your place, but the terror of what waits at that end is too much to face. You let him go.
But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities;
You know what it means for that man. You know what you were expecting. The terror of hell itself. That the mercy and grace of God would be completely cut off from you. Absolutely lost in the outer darkness where there is no light and no hope and nothing but terror and pain forever. Maybe you didn’t grasp it before but you do now. That’s death. To be cut off from the source of life and creation is death.
It should’ve been you, but it wasn’t. What he suffers is of your making, no mistake. You earned and created the hell he is suffering now. You can’t help but stare at the door they led him through. It’s conflicting. You’re haunted by what he suffers in your place but there is still relief that it won’t be you.
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.
As you muse, the judge speaks again.
“The guilty party having confessed and punishment rendered, the accused is declared not guilty. With no outstanding accusations, you are free to enter the Kingdom of God.”
Dumbfounded, you step forward. Heaven? You started with confidence you had no right to. It was quickly crushed and for what seems like an eternity you stood there with no hope, trying to accept the fact that you were going to die. And now so quickly that has changed to heaven? It seems so impossibly unlikely, but it’s happened.
You walk to the exit of the courtroom and the entrance of the kingdom. The reward is not just a perfect kingdom, it’s a perfect you. The last remnants of evil within yourself are stripped away and now you not only live in a place that will never cause you pain – you yourself will not be the cause of your own pain anymore.
This is your end. The eternal, loving, unchangeable God as your perfect king. The one who cares for you perfectly. You, made perfect, and living the life you were meant to live from the beginning. All the things from before that gripped your heart with fear are just… gone. There absolutely cannot be a better end. And this is your end.
And what of that man that so boldly confessed to your crimes? The one that was led away to die in your place?
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore I will give him a portion among the great, and he will divide the spoils with the strong, because he poured out his life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.
He lives. He is your king. He is the judge. He is your God. He died. He lives. You live.
There was something wrong with the night.
I mean, they knew that, they had been told that, but even so, even if you didn’t know – it just felt… off.
Maybe it was a chill beyond the usual that settled on the desert when the sun dropped beyond the horizon. Maybe it was the way all the people in the homes around them were also rushing about to make their final preparations, to make sure nothing had been overlooked. People were just a little more frenzied than usual for the end of the day. Even if you hadn’t been paying attention, you’d notice – something was wrong.
And something was wrong, after all. Death was coming that night. Not that their lives were any picnic either. Slavery in the desert was all they knew. Many of them each day were worked to death before night ever fell. But this was different. This time, there was a statement from God. This night, the oldest male of each generation, the firstborn son would be struck dead before dawn. The threat, the warning of God hung in the air like a fog that refused to move. And so the Israelites faced down this evening of death on their last night in Egypt.
There is something wrong with your life.
Maybe you know that already, maybe you don’t. But if you don’t, I doubt hearing that really shocks you.
Even if you don’t know it as head-knowledge, you can probably feel it already, can’t you? Something about your life just feels… off.
Maybe it’s just a feeling, like something just out of the corner of your eye that you just can’t see.
Something ominous and looming out there in the shadows – dangerous, but it’s never there when you turn around. I don’t mean there’s something literally stalking you though, I just mean this sense that there’s something wrong, there’s some danger there just out of perception but you can never quite look at it.
In fact, maybe you could see it if you tried, if you turned and looked. But the truth is you’re terrified to. After all, who knows what it might really be. No, no better to ignore it, better to stay distracted by what you’re doing than try to figure that out. Focus on what you’re doing right now, on the job, the wife, the kids, the checkbook. It’s probably just a trick of your imagination anyway, stop thinking about it and it will go away. Or at least, if you concentrate hard enough on what you’re doing, you won’t notice it anymore.
But even that doesn’t quite work. Rolling up your sleeves and plunging in elbow-deep to the work in front of you, it works sometimes, but it really doesn’t. It’s still wrong. Something is still wrong! Why? All the promises made to you when you were a child never seem to come true. You work hard, you try your best, you have at least some of the things you were promised would make you complete, right? A family, a home or a few nice things… where’s the peace? Where’s the contentment? Why does it still feel wrong? Maybe you’re still missing part of the puzzle. You search for the one missing thing – each one you think, “this is it, now that I have this, I’ll be good and that feeling will go away.” A vacation, a nicer house, a new home theater, a stronger relationship, a better paying job with less stress, each time something else and this time it will work.
But it never works. I told you, there is something wrong with your life. A statement from God himself hangs over your life like a fog that refuses to move. Death is coming. And not just any death. Not just the end of this life, the end of your life forever. God has programmed into you this truth; those who do evil will be punished. Evil, huh? Well then why am I nervous? I’m not evil. Aren’t you? The world around may lie to you, tell you that’s not you, but the disquiet within you says otherwise. You would never really ask those closest to you “do you think I’m evil?”, but even if you did they would say “of course not.” That doesn’t mean they’re right.
But you know things they don’t know. You know there’s not a perfect record stretching back across your life. You’ve worked hard, done your best, but it’s not been perfect. There were moments when you gave in and did what you wanted and maybe the cost for you or someone you cared about was high. Maybe there didn’t seem to be any cost at all, but you could tell it wasn’t right. And now you drag the guilt of that behind you.
I invite you to stop shifting your eyes away from it, to stop seeing this just out of the corner of your eye and look square at this; our God describes for us exactly what it is. It is ugly and it is scary, but we cannot deal with it if we do not know what it is. There is something wrong with your life; there is a hole running through you, a tear in your very self that we call “sin”. That doesn’t really tell us enough though.
What is “sin”?
Sin is what God is not. Sin is shadow and darkness when God is light. God is good, God is perfect. Sin is not. God operates on one driving principle; selfless love. God seeks the good of everyone else above his own at all times, regardless of what it costs him. Sin is the opposite; sin is to grab for yourself regardless of what it costs others. I hope you see that you do not qualify on your own for holiness.
Maybe you like to think of yourself as a pretty selfless person; but have you been at all times to everyone? Don’t lie to yourself, it does no good. We are all of us, unholy. Sinful.
Now understand this. Holiness and sinfulness are not just choices or lifestyles. In a sense, they are like forces of nature, light and dark, magnetic poles and gravity. Sin cannot exist in the presence of the Holy. And that is where the fear comes from. God is Holy. You are not. This life will end, and God tells us that you will either be brought in to be with him or you will be thrown out to spend eternity without him.
If you are sinful, and if sin cannot exist in the presence of the holy, then which will it be for you? This is what is wrong with your life. A sentence of eternal death hangs in the air….and there is nothing you can do about it.
But the Israelites in Egypt were not panicked. Frenzied, hurried, maybe even a little fearful, sure. But not panicked. God told them, warned them what was coming. But he also told them exactly what was needed to escape the death that came that night. It would take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, one year old, spotless and without defect. The lamb would die instead, the blood was to be painted on the door frames of their houses. God would see the blood shed, and spare those inside.
So they did this. That night, as God promised, an angel of death passed over Egypt as by God’s decree, the firstborn son of each household was struck down in his sleep. But wherever there was the blood of the lamb, the angel stayed his hand. The angel saw the household through the blood, and they were spared. God had given the warning to all of Egypt, and he had given his directions just the same. Those who ignored the feeling that something was wrong; those who did not listen and did nothing about it – there was death in that house that night. Those who listened to God, who trusted his words of warning and deliverance were safe.
And so, I am not panicked either, and neither should you. Yes, there is something wrong with our lives.
We should feel the weight of how important this is. Yes, we should maybe even be a little fearful just because of the stakes involved. But truly afraid? No. God has warned us about this hole in our lives, about the holiness we are missing not to terrify us, but so that we pay attention, because of just how important this is. He shouts that this is life and death to get eyes on him. Because God tells us exactly what we need to escape the death that’s coming for us. It will take the blood of a lamb. A single ewe lamb, spotless and without defect. The lamb will die instead and his blood will cover you; and death will pass over you.
As a remembrance of what he had done for them, God commanded the Israelites to observe the Passover every year. At the same time of year, at the same day, at the same hour, each household would again sacrifice a single ewe lamb, one year old, without defect or blemish, to remember how God spared them from death. Then, over a thousand years after the first Passover, on Friday of that week, the day that the lamb was killed, just before the moment when the sound would resonate from the Temple informing everyone that now was the time to sacrifice the lamb; the following happened:
After this, knowing that everything had now been finished, and to fulfill the Scripture, Jesus said, “I thirst.” A jar full of sour wine was sitting there. So they put a sponge soaked in sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished!” Then, bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.
The time had come, the lamb was to be sacrificed. But not just any lamb. The real Lamb. The one who was intended all along. Everything that went before it was a show, foreshadowing. It had no real effect.
Only an equal sacrifice could count for you. It had to be another person. Yet if it was just another person, what good would that do? Even if that person didn’t need saving themselves, their sacrifice would only save you. But what if God himself were both a person and God? How could you ever tip the scale of human life to outweigh that? You can’t. The one sacrifice would pay for everyone. And the Lamb did just that.
You are not holy? Jesus is. You committed crimes against God? Jesus didn’t. The Lamb had no defect and no blemish. He is what you are not. He has what you lack. God was ready to pour out his justice against all the evil ever committed, all in one fell swoop. Jesus, his Son, the Lamb, stood up and took your place. He climbed on the cross and there he took everything that your sin earned. He became your sin, he became your curse. And when it was done, he uttered those words. “It is finished.”
One word really, and I’d like to render it a little differently tonight if you’ll permit me. “Complete.” That is what happened on the cross right then. God’s plan to stand in your place so you would not suffer was completed – he died in your place. The foreshadowing he’d been showing the world since the first Passover meal was completed – the Lamb was sacrificed so that death would pass over you. You, missing the holiness God requires to be in his presence forever, you are completed. At that one moment, everything was made complete, everything was made the way God intended from the beginning.
Look at the cross. Realize what the sacrifice there has done for you. There may have been something wrong with your life once, there may have been a hole, something missing, something terrifyingly wrong, but Jesus has filled that with his death. The blood of the lamb was shed for you and so death holds no power over you. You are complete with Jesus’ gift of himself. You are given what you once lacked. God the Father will gladly welcome you into his kingdom when this is all over. You are complete in him.
Tonight, we gather in reverent awe to pay our respects for the tremendous sacrifice our Lord went through on our behalf. There is sadness, yes, because when I look at him hanging to die I know it is my fault he is there. When his lifeless body is removed and placed in the grave, it is because of me that this happened. But we are not here to leave this evening morose and depressed. We know that God did this willingly, out of love for you, individually. He knew you. He knows who you are. He could’ve spared himself that much more suffering by not including you in his sacrifice, but he didn’t. He wanted to do it. And as we close the tomb and walk away tonight we needn’t pretend we don’t know what Sunday will bring. If Sunday did not bring what it does, then tonight would be meaningless. We may leave tonight somber and reverent, but we still leave with hope and joy in our hearts. We know what this night means for us. Jesus made us complete. In him, we are what we are meant to be forever.
I cannot tell you what will happen in your life in the days between now and the time you are called eternal rest in him. I can tell you that in Jesus and his sacrifice, it doesn’t matter. In him, your end is set and will not be changed. Your life is complete. In Jesus, your sins are paid for, the gift of holiness is given to you, heaven is yours. There is nothing else to chase after. There is nothing else to fear. There is nothing else wrong with your life. The Lamb has made you complete. Amen.
A Devotion Based on Luke 22:19-20
19 And Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me." 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you."
John pulled his tunic over his nose. It was a bit chilly outside the city. No walls to cover the wind and no trees to block its bitterness.
Well…not any living trees.
Before John stood a tree that had been transformed into a torture device. It was an instrument of execution. A terrifying spectacle that no one in the ancient Roman world wanted anything to do with.
On that cross hung someone very dear to John. Someone John looked up to. Someone John learned from. It was his mentor, his teacher, his friend.
It was Jesus.
John stood there in agony. With Jesus’ own mother, Mary clinging to his side. How awful it must be for her! His Lord was Mary’s Son. The One that she had brought into the world was leaving the world before her very eyes.
And in a cruel way! His body was broken. His skull had been broken open by the thorn. His hands were broken by a nail. His feet were broken by another nail. His lungs were breaking as his strength withered. Soon his heart would break and all that would be left was a broken, defeated, body.
And his Blood was poured out. It was pouring out of those holes in his head, pouring out of the holes in his right hand, pouring out of the hole in his left hand, pouring down the back of the cross from the wounds covering the back of Jesus…pouring from his feet and pouring from his mouth as his body began to shut down.
His poor friend. Jesus was broken. Jesus was poured out.
Wait…John had heard that somewhere before.
The night before John had joined the other disciples and Jesus for a traditional Passover meal. They had traditional bitter herbs to remember the bitter herbs of slavery in Egypt that their ancestors endured. They ate traditional unleavened bread as their ancestors had so they were ready to leave Egypt at a moment’s notice. They served traditional lamb as a reminder of the blood of a lamb that caused the angel of death to Passover those Israelites houses that night in Egypt.
It was a traditional meal, until Jesus did something untraditional.
Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.” (Lk. 22:19)
Strange. That wasn’t a normal part of the meal. That wasn’t a part of any Passover memory.
Then, Jesus took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.” (Lk. 22:20)
Stranger. This definitely wasn’t a part of the meal. Sure, they drank some traditional wine. Sure, the wine had some meaning, but that meaning reached back thousands of years to the Old Testament. The Passover was a remembrance of what happened in the past...not a glimpse ahead into the future?
And how could it be his body? His body was handing him the bread, not in the bread.
And how could it be his blood? Unless he had a blister from the rubbing of his sandals, there wasn’t a drop of blood on him.
This didn’t make any sense.
At least not then. But now…now as John stared at Jesus’ broken body and his dripping blood – the truth could not escape him. Jesus was right. His body was broken. His blood was shed. Jesus was the embodiment of that meal.
Which meant that they had been wrong about the Passover meal for thousands of years. It wasn’t just a link to the past, but for thousands of years it had been a predictor of the future. John the Baptist was right – Jesus was truly True Lamb of God.
Jesus was right, he had truly given up his body. He had truly shed his blood.
But if Jesus was right about that, maybe he was right about something else he said last night.
“This is my body…given for you. This is my blood….poured out for you.”
For you. For you.
John found it hard to believe; yet he was convinced that he needed it. John’s life had been filled with pride. He had even had the audacity to ask for a position at Jesus’ right hand. And he had been known to be argumentative, a Son of Thunder, selfishly attacking his fellow disciples.
And last night? Last night he had let Jesus get arrested. He had abandoned him. Sure, he had been at the trial. Sure he was there at the cross, but he was also doing nothing of consequence to stop what was happening to his friend.
He had sinned. He knew what the Old Testament sacrifices had taught. Sin deserved death. There was no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.
That truth did not escape him, he deserved sin’s consequence. He deserved to have his body broken. He deserved to have his blood shed. He deserved to die!
But Jesus…Jesus had said…Given for you. Poured out for you.
He had been right about it’s happening. Could he be right about it’s effect?
Friends, we’ve got the benefit of seeing what happens after his body is broken and laid to rest. We get the benefit of seeing what happens after all his blood is shed.
Jesus returns to life.
It is nothing less than proof that what Jesus said on the first Maundy Thursday was indefinitely, completely, and absolutely true.
Do you have sin just like John? Maybe you’ve got sin that burdens your conscience. Perhaps you’ve got guilt that bothers you to the core. Maybe you’ve got the unshakeable feeling that you can’t be forgiven.
Listen to Jesus’ words: My body broken for you. My blood shed for you.
Those words were recorded.
Those words contain eternal truth.
Those words don’t just talk about John.
They talk about you.
It means you have sin. You deserve death. You need a Savior.
It means Jesus took your sins. It means Jesus died. It means Jesus is your Savior.
In a moment, we will receive the Lord’s Supper. When you receive that Lord’s Supper, you will be receiving his body which was broken on the cross for you. You will be receiving his blood which was shed on the cross for you. You will be receiving true and complete forgiveness.
See Jesus. Trust Jesus. Believe Jesus. Amen.
This Sermon is based on Matthew 26:15-18, 20-22
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus[b] Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him.
20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed.
21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor.
“Barabbas,” they answered.
22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked.
They all answered, “Crucify him!
Pilate slipped into the tub & let the bubbles cover his body until they tickled his nose.
This was so much better.
Earlier that day he had averted disaster. An angry mob had been awaiting him at dawn. They had demanded the blood of this guy named Jesus. Pilate had interviewed him and, found him to be a bit crazy, but unworthy of the death sentence these Jewish people wanted to inflict upon him. Pilate had tried to release him, but the people would have none of it. They wanted blood and they weren’t leaving until they got it.
So…Pilate shirked his responsibility. He sent Jesus to his friend Herod. Herod was the one who was supposed to be in charge of the Jews anyways. Plus – Pilate didn’t like him that much. It made him smile to think of Herod dealing with all those awful people while he was letting the warmth of the tub soothe his muscles.
“Enter.” He told one of his servants as he lifted a glass of wine to his lips.
Umm…sir. They’re back. The Jews. With Jesus.
The wine came flying out of his mouth. Him?
I. The People’s Choice
After Pilate had re-robed, he made his way out toward the angry crowd.
15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd.
Similar to the Presidential pardoning of turkey, only instead of a turkey, each year the governor would pardon a criminal. He wouldn’t choose just any criminal. He wouldn’t choose one that was advantageous to him. He would let the people decide. It was a show of goodwill. A way to endear him to his people. A way to settle down the crowds.
So…The people chose the man to release, but he would choose the options.
16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So… Pilate asked the crowd, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas or Jesus…the Messiah?”
A little bit about Jesus Barabbas. John 18:40 calls him an “insurrectionist.” That means he had revolted against the government. He had caused civil unrest. He hated the current politics. And Mark 15:11 says he had “Committed murder.” That’s probably the actual charge that had gotten him thrown into prison. Murder. Probably during the insurrection.
Murder done in the name of politics.
Kinda sounds like a terrorist, huh?
In essence, this is the choice before the people. Do you want me to release Jesus the Terrorist OR Jesus the Savior of the world? Granted, Pilate didn’t view Jesus as the Savior. He viewed it more like Jesus the Terrorist versus Jesus the mild mannered, slightly off his rock, theologian.
Still…the choice was obvious wasn’t it?
For a moment, Pilate stood with his arms crossed. For a moment, he smiled a smug smile. For a moment, he outsmarted those pesky Jews. For a moment, he had saved an innocent man. For a moment, he had hopes of a relaxing luncheon. For a moment…
…then the crowd made their choice.
21b “Give us Barabbas!”
Pilate was in shock. “Are you serious? You want the terrorist? You want the murderer? You don’t mind that your families won’t be safe and the marketplace might be filled with discord. You don’t have a problem with another possible attack in the future? You’d rather get rid of this Jesus guy simply because you don’t want to have to deal with your sins?"
22 What do you want me to do with Jesus?
The answer was simple…and disgusting, “Crucify Him!”
II. Your Choice
Sometimes they make bad choices on the Oscars. Do you agree?
I remember a few years ago trying to watch every Oscar nominated film. Films that were described as “artsy;” "compelling” and “thought provoking.” After I had seen them, if anyone had asked me for a description of the film I would have used the adjectives: “boring, actionless & mind-numbing.”
Of course -- you’re talking to a guy who still doesn’t understand why Minions didn’t even get nominated, but…Do you get my point?
As bad a choice as they sometimes make in the Oscars, how much worse of a choice did that crowd make outside Pilate's palace!
Instead of someone who gives life, they chose someone who ended it.
Instead of someone who promotes peace, they chose someone who disrupted it.
Instead of someone who provides a heavenly kingdom, they chose someone who broke down earthly kingdoms.
But enough about them.
What about you?
Who did you choose?
Pastor, what are you talking about? I’m not 2,000 years old. I wasn’t there at the palace...I haven’t even been to Israel. I’ve never seen the Roman palace.
True. Your choice was probably not presented by a first century Roman governor.
Maybe it was presented by a friend…
…by an internet link.
...by a guy you met at the bar.
…by the group that likes to complain after church.
Who did you choose?
Jesus? Not always. Barabbas? No. Perhaps someone else. Someone with…
A name like PORN.
A name like GREED.
A name like RACISM.
A name like RAGE.
Names like ADDICTION, SEX BEFORE MARRIAGE, HOMOSEXUALITY, COMPLAINING, PRIDE, LUST, VITRIOL, DOUBT and SELFISHNESS.
Here’s the deal. We know how bad these things are. We know that PORN ruins families. We know that GREED ruins marriages. We know that COMPLAINING destroys the work of the church. We know that ADDICTIONS destroy the body. We know that IMMORALITY ruins our self worth. We know that PRIDE is intolerable to God.
And we know that Jesus is the Savior. He brings forgiveness. He brings eternal life. He brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Yet we still find ourselves struggling to choose Him!?!
Hebrews 6:4-6 says this, “Those who fall…are crucifying the Son of God all over again!” You are driving a nail into his hands. You are swinging the hammer with all their might. You are joining your voice with the crowd.
You are NOT choosing Jesus.
III. God’s Choice
I’ll tell you what:
My arms are tired. I’ve been swinging the hammer so often lately. I’ve been choosing my sins over Jesus. I’ve done wrong.
I…I…I am Barabbas.
I deserve punishment.
I deserve death.
I deserve the cross.
But…God won’t bring it. God provided a substitute.
Do you remember our Old Testament lesson? It was that section that talked about animal sacrifices. For those who are living in downtown Raleigh and are convinced that meat comes from a plastic wrapper at a local McDonalds – this sounds a bit disturbing. If you have ever lived on a farm, then you might understand the sacrifice that animals need to make for you to feed your belly and live.
But here’s where this section is still strange. The goat in the section we were talking about – was not to be eaten. It wasn’t being turned into a burger. It wouldn’t become a delicious slice of goat jerky. It would be killed. It’s blood collected and it was sprinkled…on the altar, on the ground, and on the people. Disturbing? It should be! Because that’s how disturbing our sinful choices are to God! Remember: “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
But look at why the animal was killed: "Sacrifice the Goat for a sin offering.” In other words – it would die in the place of the people. It would die for the people’s sins.
UNDERSTAND THIS: These animals didn’t actually take away the sins of the people; they were simply an illustration of one who would die and would take away the sins of the people.
Another substitute. An eternal one.
2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “God made him who had no sin…” That’s Jesus! He lived a perfect life. He chose God every chance he could. He never chose wrong. He never chose sin.
Then, God chose to sacrifice Him.
As bad as it might be picture an innocent animal dying, how much greater when the one dying is God’s eternal, perfect, Son?
But look at why it happened: God made him who had no sin, to be sin for us! Jesus was our substitute. God chose him to suffer. He chose you to live. It wasn’t just Barabbas who got to live because Jesus died.
It’s you. Grasp that.
It’s kind of like having the choice to get a new 2016 Lexus with chrome plating, auto driving capabilities, bluetooth hook up and even a mini bar in the back seat...AND a 1987 Chevy Lumina minivan – with exhaust problems, a missing tire, and a busted radio.
God chose the broken down minivan! He chose you.
Because He chose Jesus, because Jesus died for you, because Jesus rose again three days later conquering sin and death, God chooses to say to you, “You are forgiven. Believe me. Be saved.”
IV. What Now?
1. Relish God’s Choice.
Today is selection Sunday. Basketball teams across the nation will be waiting to see if they make the big 64 team tournament. Some are locks. Some are pretty sure and some are on the bubble.
For those on the bubble, when they find out that they are in, they’ll celebrate! They’ll take a moment and take it all in – to enjoy the confetti, try on tournament shirts and ball caps, and tweet to all their friends how excited they are.
You. Take the day. Take today. Take today and relish this: God chose you!
Because there are plenty of times that we aren’t chosen. Someone else is chosen for the job. Someone else is chosen for the date. Someone else is chosen for the promotion. Someone else is chosen for the part in the school play. Someone else is chosen first for the kickball team at recess…in fact, everyone else might be chosen first.
But today we are reminded that God chose you. He chose you over his Son. He gave up his perfect Son Jesus for you. I need you to write that down. “God chose me.” Write it down and place it somewhere you will read it. Hang it on your fridge. Place it on the dash in your car. Label an alarm on your phone to come up and remind you of that truth everyday!
This will give you strength to follow our section action point…
2) Choose Jesus.
As soon as the worship songs stop, as soon as I shake your hands and wish you a good week, as soon as you get out those doors, the devil will strike. “Choose complaining -- that person is cutting you off in the parking lot!” “Choose bitterness – those kids are running in the hallway.” "Choose gossip – Because it looks like that one lady has information about that other lady.”
Be ready for it. Be ready and choose something different.
Choosing Jesus is choosing to love.
It’s choosing to honor your wife.
It’s choosing to love your kids.
It’s choosing to obey your parents.
It’s choosing to do what it is Jesus did, when he chose us and gave his life up for us!
Choose Jesus and…
3) Avoid the Voter’s Booth Mentality
You aren’t supposed to talk politics with each other. As North Carolina has its primaries, you might be nervous to tell others who you voted for. You may just simply say “mm hmm," to whoever they ask if you vote for. It’d be a great way to avoid confrontation.
If you want to do that with politics, fine. I will. But when it comes to Jesus, don’t hide it. Don’t keep your choice to yourself. Make it obvious. Make it loud. Tell your coworkers your plans to worship Jesus this Easter. Tell your friends what an awesome message from God you heard today. Pass it on via Facebook. Pass it on via Twitter. Take an Easter invite – don’t throw it away – and (gasp) INVITE SOMEONE!
Let the fact that God chose you empower your choosing of him. To the Lord be glory forever and ever! Amen.
I. The Betrayal
Judas nervously chewed his lip.
As he waited in the candlelit hallway, a chill slipped down his spine. “Was he doing the right thing?”
For so long, he had thought Jesus to be his leader. He was kind. He was convincing. He had claimed to be the Messiah. He had promised to start a new kingdom. He had promised the treasures of God himself!
To Judas, that was appealing. He knew he would look great in an expensive, purple robe. He loved the idea of showing off his fine collection of art to the merchants of the area as they sat down listening to his hired harpists and sampled the finest wines from the outskirts of the Middle East. He longed for the moment that he would have more wealth on his fingers than his entire neighborhood had in their local bank.
But the wealth never came. Judas kicked at the dirt. The wealth never came.
To be fair -- It could have! Oh how it could have! People loved Jesus. They were excited about Jesus. They respected Jesus. After he had fed thousands of them with another one of his unexplainable miracles, the people were ready to make him king and they wouldn’t have been that hard to ask them to finance his political campaign.
But Jesus wasn’t interested in money. He was interested in “spiritual wealth.” He talked about giving to the poor and taking care of widows. He went from place to place – not knowing where he would sleep each night. Oh how he hated that feeling. As the group treasurer, he knew all too well that they didn’t have a lot. In fact, if Judas had not taken advantage of his position and snuck a coin here and a coin there, for his own pension…all of that time, years of his life, would have been a total waste!
Judas clenched his fist. That would have been ok. Except. Except…Jesus had contradicted himself. When a woman spent thousands of dollars to take a bottle of vintage, top shelf perfume as a gift to Jesus – a gift which she promptly wasted by pouring out onto his feet, Jesus – defended her! There she was dumping liquid gold – Judas’ ticket to easy street – on to the floor where it seeped into the dust and slowly evaporated into nothing. And Jesus didn’t scold here. He didn’t tell her to give to the poor.
He scolded Judas!
“APPROACH!” One of the guards motioned with his scabbard. “The chief priests will see you now.”
Judas nodded. Nodded as if the speed of his neck’s movements would increase the likelihood that he was in the right.
4 And Judas went to the chief priests and the officers of the temple guard and discussed with them how he might betray Jesus. 5 They were delighted and agreed to give him money. He consented, and watched for an opportunity to hand Jesus over to them when no crowd was present.
It’s crazy isn’t it? Gathered together as Christians one thing we can agree on is Jesus was awesome. He was a nice guy. He did miraculous things. Can you imagine one of his own disciples throwing his relationship away for a couple months’ wages?
See the story of Judas isn’t not about how crazy it is that Judas would betray his Savior. But how crazy, easy it is, for us to do the same.
Here’s the truth. If you look for fulfillment in things other than Jesus, you will inevitably betray him. It’s not a matter of if, but when. Your sinful heart will become too much and you will turn your back on your Savior.
Just like Judas. He found fulfillment in money, and wealth and the idea that the Messiah would bring him money and wealth. When it became clear that Jesus wouldn’t do that, Judas threw him away...
II. The Warning
It was as Judas was pondering that very thing when suddenly a gruff voice caused him to jerk in his seat.
"Do you want to get him?”
A few drops of sweat formed beneath Judas’ beard.
“I said, “Do you want a biscuit?”
Judas nodded vigorously in order to hide his nervousness from Bartholomew. “Sure.”
But that kind of thing had been happening all night. Did they know? Did they know it was him? Did they know he was planning on betraying Jesus?
Batholomew handed him a piece of warm flatbread. “Here you go.” He smiled and patted Judas on the back.
They didn’t know. He had been so secret about it. They didn’t know and they wouldn’t find out. He was safe. He was in the clear. He could remain a part of these close friends and still get his reward for betraying Jesus. No one would ever know!
Then – Jesus caught his attention.
Jesus was troubled in spirit and testified, “Very truly I tell you, one of you going to betray me.”
Judas gulped. How did Jesus know? Did he send spies? He couldn’t possible have done so? He had been so careful. He had been covering his tracks. This secret was his secret and his alone. Jesus didn’t know. “Breath deeply. I’m in the clear.”
Thankfully – his demeanor fit in with the mood of the room. The other disciples were nervous too. “Lord, who is it?” “It isn’t I, Lord.” “ I would never Lord.”
“It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.”
As the thick gravy seeped into the pores of the bread, It gave Judas a chance to think. Was this really the right thing? He could still stop it. Was betraying his friend and colleague really the right thing to do? He still had time to stop it. He still had time to tell the Pharisees no. He still had time to throw the silver back into their faces. He still had time to ask for forgiveness. He still had time to seek God’s mercy.
Then, Jesus gave the bread to Judas.
Back in college – I took Hebrew. Hebrew is not an easy subject. Because of that, I think to properly learn Hebrew you need a hard-nosed Hebrew Professor. One who requires hard work and demands that you pay attention. Professor Nass was definitely that. He assigned pages of memorization. It took hours to prepare for his class. AND...he had the OVERHEAD.
Do ya’ll remember overheads? You could put up pictures and outlines and word problems. Overheads were supposed to be used to guide learning They were the old school versions of Powerpoint.
My Professor used it for public shaming. He would turn on the overhead and slowly write down the number of A+’s, the number of A’s, the number of B’s, and so on and so forth.
I’ll never forget the time that my 70% was the only 70% in class. UGH. I felt like a fool.
When Jesus gives the bread to Judas, his goal is not Judas’ public humiliation. He isn’t getting some kind of joy in pointing out Judas’ heart.
This is Jesus is calling out to Judas. It is Jesus panged that He is losing one of his own. It is Jesus pleading with Judas to stop before it’s too late. To be saved from this sinful, path he was on!
If you’ve been betraying Jesus, understand this – God has been reaching out to you too!
A commandment that you suddenly remember. A Bible passage that scrolls across your screen on Twitter. A friend who mentions that they are concerned for you. That nervousness you get when talking to a pastor – “I hope he doesn’t mention. Please don’t mention it. Please let me get away with it.”
This sermon. Right now.
That’s God. He’s calling on you to do what’s right. He’s calling on you to repent.
Listen to Him! Stop betraying your Savior. Instead…betray your sinful heart. Betray your sinful desires. Betray the things that lead to death and hold onto your Savior who leads to life.
The Apostle Paul wrote this, “I strike blows to my body and make it my slave so that…I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” Meaning he didn’t let his sexual urges control him. He didn’t let his greed control him. He didn’t let his laziness or anger or jealousy or need to be liked control him.
He betrayed those desires in order to follow Jesus.
That’s what Paul did.
That’s what God wants you to do.
But that’s not what Judas did.
III. The Betrayal
With a small army behind him, Judas and his mob marched through the garden. This time there was no nervousness. They were armed with clubs, torches, and small swords. There would be no fight. They converged on Jesus’ favorite quiet place. They overtook Jesus and his small group. They surrounded the disciples. Tension built.
Judas approached out of the crowd – with façade of arrogance masking the fear in his heart. “Greetings Rabbi!” he said. He looked right into the eyes of Jesus. He smirked. Then, he kissed him – emphatically on the cheek.
But as wild-eyed with surprise the other disciples were, Jesus was at ease. He had been expecting them. “Friend, do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?” Then, seizing him, they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest.
Here’s the part that’s most incredible. After the interaction with Judas and the mob is surrounding him, Jesus asks them who they came for. When they say his name – Jesus simply says, “I am he.” He doesn’t run. He doesn’t hide. He doesn’t fight.
In fact, as He says that some kind of divine, supernatural force that knocks all of the soldiers to the ground. It’s a glimpse into the power and the strength that he could unleash at any time.
But Jesus didn’t unleash it. Instead? Instead he extended his arms, let the chains fasten around them, and he let them lead him away.
Isn’t it amazing? In spite the betrayal he endured from Judas and from you and from me, Jesus would not betray his mission. Jesus would not betray us. Jesus would not betray you. Scripture says, “When we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.”
That means If you have betrayed Jesus’, bow your head in shame, sure. But please lift it once more to see Jesus’ love. Watch as he holds out his hands. Listen as he quietly says, “Go ahead. Arrest me.” Cringe as he endures insults. Follow as he walks step after step after step through that dark night – knowing full well that a cross awaited him.
Rest assured. Rest assured knowing that Jesus went through this, because he knew that on the other side of this suffering was you. A perfect existence with you. A peaceful, perfect existence for you by faith in him. In Him. IN HIM.
Brothers and sisters, by faith in Jesus, your betrayals have been forgiven. You are at peace with God.
Don’t betray that truth. Trust in it. Trust in Jesus.
Judas didn’t do that. Instead, Judas had a terrible ending. His guilt was so great that he figured Jesus could never forgive him. He ran back to the Pharisees and threw his silver on the ground. Then, he threw his life away as he hung from a tree.
Don’t you do the same. It isn’t too late. Not for you. Not matter what you’ve done. It isn’t too late because Jesus did not betray you. Repent. Turn from sin. Turn to your Savior.
He will never betray you. Amen.
I’m sure it seemed like every other, run of the mill crucifixion.
As the Roman soldier adjusted his cincture and wiped his brow after hoisting the heavy cross under the hot Middle Eastern sun, he was prepared for things to go just as they normally did. There would be cries of pain and moan of agony from the convicted. There would be crowds of people gathering to watch, more for the sport of it, than out of compassion. There would be curses hurled at the criminals, blood splattering the dust, and a few tears from the loved ones of the condemned. Slowly, just as always, he would have a front row seat as he watched the life of another human being gradually drift away from him.
At first, it looked like every other crucifixion he had been a part of. But then, it became very different.
It started with the criminal. Usually they were no good, scum of he earth types. They would curse those who were cursing htem. They’d spit and spew forth insults as their dying breath enabled them.
But this guy, this Jesus, remained silent. He didn’t say much. He didn’t sweat. He didn’t insult. In fact, the first time he spoke, he said words of kindness.
“Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
This Jesus had a sign above his head. It was common for crimnals to have signs which explained their crimes. But the sign above Jesus didn’t say, “Murderer,” or “Adulterer.” It didn’t say, “Thief,” or even “Tax Evader.”
It said: “King.”
And the crowds. Never before had so many come to watch a crucifixion. The tone of this crowd was violent too. They vehemently hated this man. They despised him. It seemed that they couldn’t get enough of hurling insults at him.
But others…others loved him. As the soldier stood at his post, he couldn’t help but overhear some of the things they called him, “Savior,” “Redeemer,” “Messiah,”….”Friend.”
Then things got very strange. It was the middle of the day, the hottest part of the day, the part when the sun is the strongest.
That’s when it grew dark. Nighttime dark. Can’t see your hand in front of your face dark.
While the soldier couldn’t see; he could hear. He heard the voice of this JEsus. Strong. Convicting. Careful. Loving. The gentle words of this Jesus penetrated and haunted his brutal, Roman heart.
Then, Jesus cried out. He cried out and shouted, “It is finished.” With finality. With authority. With joy…almost.
Then, he spoke once more, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”
Then, he died.
And as he died, at that exact moment of his death, the One who controls earthquakes, seemed to respond. The earth began to shake. It trembled. It trembled a powerful tremble – and as the soldier braced himself against he foot of the cross – he saw rocks splitting into two.
Then, the earth calmed. The soldier thought. He thought about what had happened. He thought about who this Jesus was.
He came to a terrifying conclusion: “Surely this was the Son of God.”
Can you imagine the terror going through his mind? He had just participated in the killing God’s divine Son? He had killed the divine Savior. He had murdered God Himself!
I’m sure his mind began racing. “What have I done? How will I ever be forgiven? I won’t. I killed God’s son. He’ll come after me. The Lord of heaven and earth will come after me, find me, and obliterate me.”
The soldier beat his chest. This was a terrible realization.
But to be fair. This soldier was not alone in killing God’s Son. He wasn’t the reason Jesus had died. Nor was it the fault of the other soldiers, the crowd that chanted “Crucify,” Pontius Pilate who condemned Him, or even the chief priests who plotted this whole death months in advance.
These people didn’t killed Jesus.
Romans 4:25 says this, “Jesus was delivered over to death, for (or “because of”) our transgressions.”
Do you understand what that is saying? It says that the reason Jesus was up there, the reason Jesus died, The reason he hung on the cross was your sins. He hung as a substitute. He hung to take the brutal punishment that your sins deserved.
It really forces you to rethink sin, doesn’t it? It’s so easy for us to go through life and think of sin as “no big deal.” “I’m not perfect.” “Everybody sins.” “I’m not as bad others.”
But you are bad enough that your sins resulted in Jesus dying on the cross.
I don’t care what kind of sin it was either. Your sins led to this. Whether “big sins” like adultery, murder, or brutal violence – or “smaller sins” greed, a white lie, a little name calling, not really worshipping God with all your heart.
Sin is Sin. Sin caused Jesus to die. Sin killed Jesus. Your Sin killed Jesus. My sin killed Jesus.
Our sins killed God’s Son.
The soldiers was right. Surely this was God’s Son. It’s a terrifying thought.
But we are gathered here today, not because what happened thousands of years ago is terrifying. But because it is good. Good Friday.
Consider Romans 4:25 again, “He was delivered over to death for our sins.” He was the substitute. He took the brunt force of God’s wrath against sin and there is no force of wrath left for you.
It’s true that you deserved to be on that cross 2000 years ago, but it’s also true that Jesus died for you. The punishment that happened – is over. There is no punishment that remains.
How do you know it’s true for you? How do you know that it’s not just true for his followers – his really good followers – the people who haven’t done as much wrong as you?
Remember the words of the soldier: “Surely, this was the Son of God.”
Jesus’ life was no ordinary life. His death was no ordinary death. His blood was no ordinary blood.
Jesus’ death covers your sin. And your sin. And your sin. And your sin. It covers every last one of your sins.
It covers the big sins that haunt your heart. It covers the repeated sins that you struggle against.
It cover the sins that have ruined relationships. It covers the sins that have kept you from God.
The Son of God is powerful. Just as he had done miracles all his life, so he did miracles on that Good Friday. As he had cleansed men from leprosy, so he cleansed you from sin. As he cast out demons, so he cast out the devil. As he made the mute to speak, so he causes us to shout in joy. As he restored the health of the sick, so he restored our spiritual health. As he stopped storms, so he stopped death. As he brought people back to life from the dead, so he brought us back from the dead—he gave us spiritual AND eternal life.
I read the first part of Romans 4:25 earlier, “He was delivered over to death because of our sins.” Now…let me read the second part, “He was raised to life because of our justification.”
Keep this in the back of your mind. Jesus’ substitute worked. The Father looked down at his Son and said, “Well done.” He looked down at the world and said, “Be at peace.”
He looked down at you and said, “You are forgiven.” He said, "You are my child." He said, "One day, by faith in my Son, you will join me in heaven...forever escaped from the very things that made Good Friday so sad."
No more Sin. No more sadness. No more pain. No more sorrow.
No more death.
And Jesus? Don't worry about him. In fact if you look at the words of the soldier one last time there is reason to rejoice:
"Surely this is the Son of God."
"Surely death cannot hold him."
"Surely he will rise."
Please join us for Easter. Amen.
And this was before death row was 'humane.'
It wasn't a high dose of poison quickly inserted into the blood, but a long, drawn out, tortuous death.
Nails through the hands.
Thorns through the skull.
Lungs that slowly collapsed lacing each breath with the burn of a severe asthma attack.
It's so terrible that you'd think it would be reserved only for the worst of criminals. You'd certainly want to make certain that anyone who suffered such a death deserved it.
He was innocent on all counts. No crimes against the state. No crimes against the church. No crimes against God.
Would you believe that's because he was suffering what we deserved?
"He was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him and by his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5-6)
Meaning we aren't on eternal death row, but we await the glorious of heavenly living.
PRAYER: Dear Lord, Thank you so much for going through the painful death I deserved. Thank you for taking my place. Thank you for being my perfect substitute. Lord, please help me to appreciate that today as I ponder what you have done for me. In Jesus, Amen.