7 Words from the Cross

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Good Friday 2018
Selected Texts

Luke 23:34 This is a word of forgiveness.

I want you to think of someone who has wronged you. What they did was not right, what they did was hurtful, what they did was inexcusable. They shouldn’t have done what they did, but they did and now you’re hurt. So what do you do? Make them pay? Make them grovel? Make them feel at least some of the pain they made you feel? Hold it over their head?

Do you see what Jesus is doing here? He’s being ruthlessly nailed to the cross. And to the people who are doing it, to the people who knew that they were being terribly cruel, who knew that they were committing a terrible injustice, who knew that what they were doing was wrong, what does Jesus ask? Jesus asks that God forgive them. That their sins would be washed away and that they would one day enjoy through faith eternal life in heaven. That’s God’s forgiveness! And that’s His forgiveness for you.

You see, no matter what horrible things someone has done to us, it’s not even a blip or a speck compared with what you and I have done to our God. We’re the reason he’s here, we’re the reason he’s suffering. And what has he done? Forgiven you. Forgiven me. Wants nothing less than heaven for you and me. How can we not forgive from the heart? How can we not let go of that which will eat us up and kill us from the inside if we don’t? How can we not want heaven for others as Jesus does for us? Because we’ve been forgiven, we can forgive others fully and freely.

Luke 23:43 This is a word of grace.

I’ve had my fair share of driving through blizzards, snow storms and icy roads. It’s not the most enjoyable, in fact, the older I get, the more responsibility I have, the more cautious I am when driving. Have you ever had a terrible trip somewhere but in the end said, “Well, all that matters is that I got there safely, I arrived, I reached the goal.”

Here’s a thief, his trip through life was awful. He did terrible things. He lost his way. In fact, he became the scum of the earth, the worst of the worst, no one wanted him, all people wanted was to rid the earth of him, so now he’s in excruciating pain and at the lowest point in his life and what does he do? He looks in hope and faith to Jesus and says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He trusts in Jesus as His King and Savior. And what does Jesus tell him? “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

We might want an easy, pain-free life. But God knows that it’s so often in pain and difficulty and challenge when we look to him. Life is only temporary. The things of this life will all pass away. So whether you have a pain-free or pain-filled life, in the end what really matters is where you end up in the end. So we pray, “Jesus remember me.” And because Jesus died on the cross to pay for every sin, he looks at you and says, “I tell you the truth, you will be with me in paradise.” Amen.

John 19:26-27 This is a word of personal care.

So try to put yourselves in Jesus’ position at this moment. Yes, it’s impossible, but just think. The terrible physical pain he is in, the emotional pain of the worst kind of rejection, the spiritual pain of suffering the sins of the world. And in the midst of all that, what does Jesus take time to do? Make sure that his mom’s physical needs are taken care of.

That tells us something about Jesus. He cares. He cares for all of you. No, he doesn’t promise you a healthy, wealthy, and wise life, but he does promise to care for you. He will do what we need him to do. If he was willing to die for you and me, do you think he’ll be willing to get us through tomorrow? Do you think he will take care of that thing you fret about? Or that thing that keeps you up at night? Jesus not only died for you, but He cares for you. Amen.

Mark 15:34 This is a word of horror.

From noon to three the sky went black. Can you imagine? It went dark. Why? What happened on the earth was really a picture of what was happening deep within Jesus. The price of our sins is hell and when Jesus screams out “My God, my God why have your forsaken me?” He’s suffering hell.

Hell is described often in the Bible as the outer darkness, separation from the blessings of God. It’s eternal suffering. Now we might look at this and think, “Ok, well, Jesus just had to get through 3 hours of hell.” There’s no such thing as 3 hours of hell. You see, hell is eternal. And we can’t think in terms of eternity. The reason Jesus yelled out a terrorized scream was because he was suffering hell, he was literally suffering the ETERNAL suffering of hell, the combined total accumulation of hells that every person deserves.

He was in hell for you and for me. His punishment brought us peace. Because he was there, you never will be, you will never experience it, thank God for this word of horror. Amen.

John 19:28 – This is a word of fulfillment

Jesus was thirsty. The prophet David in Psalm 22 foretold that the Messiah’s strength would be dried up like a piece of pottery, his tongue stuck to the roof of his mouth. And so, in order to fulfill Scripture Jesus said, “My tongue is sticking to the roof of my mouth” “I’m thirsty”

Why would we be told this? I mean, with everything that’s going on, with everything that Jesus is suffering, why say he’s thirsty? What’s the big deal? It fulfilled Scripture. Over 1,000 years before it happened God had it prophesied that Jesus would be thirsty. Think about that- the most terrible and most tragic and most injust thing to ever happen in the world was happening and yet…there was a plan, God had already designed every thing. Do you think your life is out of control? It’s not out of God’s control. If God was in control then, he is certainly in control today.

John 19:30 – This is a word of full payment.

This word in the Greek is one little word “tetelesthai.”  It’s a word that could literally be translated “Paid in Full.”  What was paid in full?  Your sins, my sins, the sins of the world, paid in full.

Satan loves to accuse.  He loves to point the finger and say, “Look at all the horrible things you’ve done.  Look at all the horrible words you’ve spoken.  Look at your horrible mind full of anger, greed, lust, selfishness…do you really think you’ll end up in heaven?”

We get to respond with “it is finished” “paid in full.”  It may be little in length, but its huge in impact.  Nothing less than the FULL payment for ALL of the sin of ALL of the world.  And if the sins of ALL the world have been paid for, then your sins have been paid for.  In full.  It’s true now; it’s true forever!

Luke 23:46 – This is a word of peace.

Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death. That moment you will have to face if Jesus doesn’t return sooner: death. Frightening, if we were unsure about what came next. But for us its just a sleep. We know what Jesus did to death. So that we might have peace at our last moment Jesus spoke these words at his last moment. He didn’t need to speak. He could have whispered. No. He spoke to be heard. We’re told Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Why a loud voice? Why shout? Because He wanted us to know what He’s done to death. At your last hour, when the devil tries to point his bony little finger, tries to convince you that Jesus didn’t do enough for you, tries to convince you that Jesus didn’t pay all your sins, tries to insert a little doubt, remember Jesus’ words- spoken with a loud voice.

He suffered hell, he completed the full payment for all sins, he knew that paradise awaited him. And so that you might assured at your dying breath that heaven is your home, he called out in a loud voice, “Father into your hands I commit my spirit.”


The Ugly Beauty of the Cross

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4th Sunday in Lent
John 3:14-21

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ, Snakes. How do you feel about snakes? Perhaps you remember the line from the movie where the main character says, “Snakes, it just had to be snakes.” A few months ago, Katie and I watched the Indiana Jones movie where he’s just about fearless about anything and everything, except for snakes, and near the end of the movie he ends up in this pit and it’s just covered with snakes, snakes everywhere. How do you feel about snakes? When I was in my vicar year in TN one day Katie and I were going to grill and the town home we lived in had a patio in the back with a grill. I went out there took the cover off the grill was working on starting it and Katie is just going crazy just inside the patio door and I look at her so confused, trying to figure out what’s wrong and she couldn’t even say a word, eventually I looked down and right at my feet underneath the grill was this huge, probably like 5 foot long black snake curled up underneath the grill. I jumped and booked it inside and we decided not to grill. How do you feel about snakes? Some of you probably don’t mind them, but I’m going to guess that the majority of us are not very fond of snakes.

But I’m guessing that we don’t hate snakes as much as those Israelites whom we read about in our OT lesson. The Israelites had been wandering in the desert for almost 40 years; it was finally time for them to head towards the Promised Land. Bust as they were going, they grew impatient, complaining against Moses and against God: “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the desert? There is not bread! There is no water! And we detest this miserable food!” “Miserable food,” by the way, that’s the manna which God had faithfully and miraculously provided them to eat every day to sustain them for forty years. They were complaining about that! Can you imagine?

Well, we probably can, can’t we? “I’m so sick of these clothes; I have nothing to wear.” Really? Who made sure that we have those clothes? How many clothes do we have? “I just don’t like this food; I have nothing to eat.” Really? Who made sure that we have food to eat? How many times don’t we have many options of things to eat? “I’m so sick of this car, my spouse never does what I want them to do, I never have enough money, my children never listen.” Hmm…perhaps we can relate all too well to the Israelites?

So, what did God do? He confronted them. He confronted them with their sin. He sent poisonous snakes among them and those snakes bit many of them and many of them died. Can you imagine how they must have hated those snakes? Can you imagine how they must have feared those snakes? How do you keep a snake out of a tent? Can you imagine being a mother, how would you have been comfortable laying your child down for a nap? Snakes were everywhere! It must have been terrible! They must have hated those snakes.

Now, perhaps we’re thinking, “Wow! That was pretty terrible. Why would God do something so drastic?” But what we have to realize is that the complaining, the bickering, the dissatisfaction was a sign of something much deeper. It’s like a headache. If you have a headache every day for a week, you might say, “I just didn’t get good sleep, if I got better sleep it’d be fine.” But the headache could be a sign of something much worse, like a brain tumor that will kill you. You go to the hospital and the doctor could say, “Here’s some Tylenol, take these, you’ll feel better.” But that won’t deal with the real cause. Or, he may slap you in the hospital and do all these uncomfortable tests to get to the real problem that could kill you.

And that’s what God did with the snakes. The snakes were drastic, but they caused the Israelites to see their sin underneath their sin- the sin that was killing them. It caused the Israelites to see their sin, it caused them to see how far their hearts were from God, it caused them to see their dissatisfaction. And underneath their complaining was really a lack of trust in God and the goodness of God. The same is true for us. When we complain, whenever we’re dissatisfied with what we have or the situation we are in, it’s really an attack on God, we don’t trust that God has our best interests in mind, that he loves us so fully and so completely that He will only deal with us in a way that’s for our best. In fact, that’s exactly what happened in the Garden of Eden where it all started. Remember? Satan comes to Adam and Eve, “Do you have everything? Do you have everything you want? Can you do anything?” “Well, we have everything except we can’t eat from that one tree.” They’re in paradise! And Satan convinces them to be dissatisfied! “That tree is probably 100 times better than every other tree in the garden! You can be like God!” Underneath our dissatisfaction is a deeper issue of the heart: a lack of trust in the goodness and love of God.

So, what does God do? He confronts them with the sin underneath their sin and it works. Notice that they don’t say, “Oh this is so awful” or “Oh this is overkill.” But, “we’ve sinned.” That’s repentance. Repentance says, “Lord God, anything you send me to wake me up is justified. Anything, because that thing which is devouring me spiritually, my sin, is so serious that anything it takes to wake me up and to get healed is justified.” They went to Moses with repentant hearts and asked Moses to pray for them and take the snakes away.

God’s answer to Moses’ prayer was, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.” Really? The answer to a snakebite is…too look at a bronze snake, hung up on a pole?? What you loathe the most, what you hate, what causes all your pain, you have to look at an image of that thing in order to be healed? It doesn’t seem to make any sense! (Some commentators even suggest that the poisonous snakes were bronze colored and so the bronze snake on a pole would have been that much more striking to look at.) Can you imagine the people thinking, “A snake? Why did it have to be a snake?”

But it worked. When the people looked at that bronze snake, they were healed. Why? Because God’s promise was there. God promised that they’d be healed by looking at the snake and they were. It seemed crazy, but it worked. Looking at what they loathed, brought them life.

What is it that we ought to loathe more than anything else? What ought we to hate and despise more than anything else? It’s sin, isn’t it? Sin is at the root of everything bad in our world. Tension and difficulties and hard feelings in our relationships with other people has it’s root in sin. The pain and hurt we feel in our relationships has it’s root in sin, whether it’s unfaithfulness, anger, lies, selfishness. The challenges we face with health, whether it’s heart attacks, arthritis, diabetes, bad backs, failing eyesight, loss of hearing- we wouldn’t experience any of those things if it wasn’t for sin. The difficulties we face at work, the problems with fellow employees or customers or stress, it’s all a consequence of sin.

And the worst effect of sin? It’s death. The wages of sin is death. Not just temporal death, not just our last breath or heart beat, but eternal death. You see, it’s because of our sinfulness that we deserve nothing more than eternal death in hell. We deserve to be condemned, to have an eternity of suffering. That’s what our sin has earned us. What we ought to loathe and hate and despise more than anything is our sin.

So what does God do? He takes all of our sins- every sin of every person – and he places them upon one man. Jesus is declared to be the absolute worst sinner of all because all of the world’s sins are charged to his account. And then what happens? He’s lifted up! Just like the bronze serpent was hung up on a pole, so Jesus was hung up on a cross. He was crucified. Why? Because our sins were charged to his account. All that we loathe in life was placed on Him. He was crushed for our iniquities, pierced for our transgressions. Jesus dying on the cross is the most ugliest thing in the world.

And what does God want us to do? He wants us to look to him for healing! God wants us to look to the world’s biggest sinner for…healing. And the results? “That everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” Just like looking at the bronze snake, believing God’s promise, brought healing and life, so looking at Jesus, hung on that cross, brings us healing. The ugliest thing – Jesus on the cross – becomes the most beautiful thing in the world because it’s there where God gives us the eternal healing we need.

And so, it is thus, in this way that God so loved the world. So much so that he sent His One and Only Son, that everyone who believes in Him would never perish, but have life eternal. We see the love of God clearest as we see Jesus lifted up on a cross paying for the sins of the world.

Honestly, I don’t care much for snakes. I don’t think I’m ever going to have a snake for a pet. I don’t think I’m ever going to be comfortable with a snake. Perhaps you’re similar. Perhaps it’s because of what a snake represents, they could be poisonous, the could cause death, they aren’t very appealing to look at.

And similarly the cross isn’t appealing, it represents suffering, pain, and death. But it is precious to us. It’s precious to us because Jesus died on it. Jesus took our poison in Himself, took the punishment we deserved. He was hung up on the cross, not you, not me. And by doing so, He healed you, healed me, healed us forever. Amen.

The Centurion

4th Sunday of Lent
Matthew 27:54, Luke 24:47

Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, in the name of Jesus, God’s Son and our Savior, dear friends in Christ, have you ever been “in the right place at the right time”? It’s somewhat astounding to take a look back at your life and imagine all the different scenarios that could have taken place had you not been in the right place at the right time. It was the beginning of my Junior year in college and my roommate and some friends were going to go to the swimming pond at the local state park. They invited me to come along too, but I didn’t really feel like going, wasn’t that interested, so they left. But a little later on, for whatever reason, I decided to go and at that point I had to go by myself. But, wouldn’t you know, that it just so happened that a girl was there that I’d been interested in and we ended up talking for like over an hour and it was really after that that we started dating and that was the girl who would later become my wife. What if I didn’t go to the park that afternoon? Would school have become too crazy that we wouldn’t have ever connected? What if she hadn’t gone to the park that day? We were both in the right place at the right time. When has that happened to you?
Our text this evening tells us about at least one person who happened to be in the right place at the right time and it didn’t just impact his life, but his eternal life. Exactor mortis was the title of the one who was in command of the carrying out the crucifixion orders given to a criminal. Here we know that he was a Roman centurion (a commander of 100) and that he had a group of at least 4 soldiers with him because we are told that they divided Jesus’ clothes into four parts, one for each of them.
But try to think about what this Roman soldier has seen and heard up till now. The Roman governors made it their business to know what the people under their rule were talking about. It’s very clear from Scripture that Jesus was the topic of discussion buzzing around Jerusalem at the time of the Passover. There were tons of people talking about Jesus’ astounding miracles and his powerful preaching. There was the vehement opposition mounting from the religious rulers. There was Jesus’ fanfare and crowds singing his praises on Palm Sunday. Even the Emmaus disciples say that even a stranger in Jerusalem would know about Jesus.
It also seems likely that this Roman would have known why the Jews had brought Jesus to Pilate in the first place, because he claims to be “Christ, a king.” Did he also hear Jesus tell Pilate that his kingdom is not of this world and that he had come into this world? The Jews demanded that Jesus should die because he “claimed to be the Son of God.” Then the soldiers even caught on when they mocked Jesus for being the “Christ of God.”
Then, of all the Roman soldiers on duty, HE had to be the one to work on Friday afternoon. Was he complaining? Was he thinking he was in the wrong place at the wrong time? But then think about what he had witnessed from Jesus: No cursing, no resistance, no spitting at his mockers, instead? Amazing patience in excruciating pain. Instead of anger and rage, while they were nailing him to the cross, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” Then there’s this man dying on the cross caring for his mother and making sure she’s taken care of. Then he’s watching as this dying thief says, “Jesus, (which means Savior), remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And Jesus said, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Then he would have heard Jesus say in a loud voice, “It is finished,” that is, “Paid in full.” And then Jesus say, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” Every other death that this soldier had seen death came and overtook the person, but here, death came and it was overtaken by Jesus. Then there was an earthquake, rocks splitting, the darkness that had covered the earth for 3 hours.
But then came a beautiful confession of faith, perhaps weak, perhaps small, but none-the-less beautiful: Surely this was the Son of God! Surely this was a righteous man! And he praised God! What an amazing thing! This Roman soldier had become convinced that this Jesus, who was crucified as a criminal, was the innocent, righteous Son of God! He was in the right place at the right time and his life would never be the same. What did he talk about on the way home? What was going through his mind? Was he one of the 500 hundred who witnessed Jesus alive after his resurrection? Could be. Tradition says that he later was not only a Christian but actually became a bishop in the early church. But regardless, the fact is: He was in the right place at the right time – God made sure of it.
Perhaps there’s many times in our lives when we feel like we are in the exact wrong place at the wrong time. Things are going like we want them to. We never seem to be quite as fortunate as other people, other people seem to get all the luck, all the breaks. We feel like we just struggle on. Perhaps it makes us frustrated, upset, cynical, woe is me, etc. And why is that? Is it because we doubt that God’s power and ability to use us in our current situation? Is it because we doubt God’s love and care for us, for if he really loved us wouldn’t it feel like we were in the right place at the right time?
But think about this. Jesus was dying on the cross, yet he was in exactly the right place at the right time. Why? Because he was right where God the Father wanted God the Son to be. He was on that cross doing exactly what He came to do: pay for your sins, my sins, the sins of the world. Pay for every time we’ve been upset or cynical about life.
And think about this, just like He did for this Centurion, God further made sure that you were in the right place at the right time so that you were brought to faith in Jesus, the Son of God. And God further made sure that nothing prevented you from being here tonight in the right place at the right time to hear about your Savior once again.
And one more thing, through this unlikely messenger we’re once again assured of this comforting truth: this Jesus wasn’t just another man or another human, this is THE Son of God. And that’s vitally important for us to know. Why? Because only God himself, tearing open the heavens and coming down, stepping onto our planet and into our lives, becoming our Brother, can save us. Who but God alone could bear the weight of the world’s guilt in our place and still come out on the other side alive? Who but God alone could make his death count for every human being from Adam until the Last trumpet sounds? It is because Jesus’ death is at the same time the death of God himself that you need never doubt that the payment for sins was enough. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that the grave could not hold him. It is because Jesus is God that the grave won’t hold you or me either. It is because Jesus is the Son of God that a soldier’s heart melted into faith and it is because Jesus as the Son of God was in the right place at the right time that you too confess with your heart, “Surely he is the Son of God!” And since that’s true, since Jesus is the very Son of God, you have a right relationship with God and so no matter where you are in life or what time it is, with God as your Savior you are constantly in the right place at the right time. Amen.