READING: Luke 23:32-47
We’re going to carry that cross after we’re done here today. It’s a fair weight, but not full size.
We had a volunteer up on it last Friday. A young girl. It was about her size.
No nails. No ropes. She was just standing on the top of her chair with her hands in the right place and her feet where they would be resting on a platform – so that she could push herself up to breathe.
I asked her how she was feeling at the end of the reflection on the cross – and she said – “tired”.
Jesus’ cross would have been a bit bigger. About 7 to 9 feet tall (2,1m to 2,7m), and would have weighed up to 300 pounds (136kg)
- It had to bear his full weight – which would pull on those nails. (And you thought a thorn in your foot was bad.)
- His thorns were pressed down into his head.
What is your response to seeing Jesus on the cross?
- We heard a creative narrative describing Jesus’ Mother’s response.
- And the thoughts of the centurion.
What about us?
The cross was a horrible symbol of Roman power and control. if you had a relative or friend nailed on one, it would have acted as a warning to you and your family to behave and submit.
It would have been enough to give you nightmares and probably post-traumatic stress disorder.
- That horrible symbol of torture – we wear in shiny gold or silver.
- And as Christians we look at it with gratitude and hope, praise and thanksgiving.
Why? What happened with this one crucifixion amongst many thousands more – that made this possible? That this Friday should be called “Good”?
There are many ways to see the cross.
Like an orchestra with many parts, they all combine together in an amazing declaration of the love of God. Perhaps today a quintet is enough – just five of them:
- Perhaps foremost in our thinking is punishment for our sins. That Jesus did this in our place. Although this is understood better in cultures that favour crime and punishment. We sing songs these days about the wrath of God being satisfied. Some people struggle with this – trying to balance it with His love in John 3:16 and 17. Believing that His son being sent motivated by love and not vengeance. That he was sent to save the world (which means the people), and not to condemn them. Of course, we should not be surprised at God’s righteous anger. We share some of that at times, although our motives are not always clear.
Related to that is the broader question of justice. The difference in our human justice system is that the people who have been wronged are often angry about the outcome and often want convicted criminals to pay more. Whereas the judges are not emotional at all. They are all about the balance and proportion of justice. Parents have to be careful here that they don’t punish children out of anger. Our emotional anger is very different from God’s righteous anger.
- Shame and honour are another window on the cross. For some cultures, shame and honour are a bigger issue than punishment and wrath. When it comes to concepts like honour, many of us don’t understand honour cultures at all. Sin brings dishonour on us. And only Jesus can pay that debt. It’s an old theory of satisfaction for sin developed by an archbishop of Canterbury a thousand years ago. Jesus took our shame – it was a shameful business being pinned up there, and often naked too.
He was shamed for us – he takes our shame – and he removes our shame. The scripture speaks of our cleansing from sin and with that shame is removed. For example 1Peter 2:6 – For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”
- Forgiveness is part of the package. It goes without saying. Our sins are dealt with because he dies for them. We are reconciled with God – the blood of Jesus cleansing us from our sins – and we experience this amazing mercy through faith in Jesus. We don’t have to feel guilty any longer. With forgiveness, we become friends of God. Paul reminds in his important summary in 1 Corinthians 15:
1Co 15:3 For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scripture…
What scripture is he referring to here? Not just some proof texts, but the huge expectation in the Old Testament of someone coming who would deal with sin and bring forgiveness once and for all. Isaiah 53 gives us a glimpse of this:
Isa 53:5 But 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. Isa 53:6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
- Then there is simply the change that happens – we are transformed. Paul talks about this whole process in Romans – our sin has consequences – how Jesus has dealt with those – how we are justified by faith – how there is no condemnation for us who are in Christ Jesus– and then in chapter 12 he uses that important word “therefore”
Rom 12:1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Rom 12:2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.
We are transformed – changed to be like Jesus. And that is not just about us as individuals – it influences our community life.
- And so amongst other benefits of the cross and resurrection of Jesus is the creation of a new people. Last but not least. This is about us being here together today.
Most of us who are not Jewish, says Paul in Ephesians 2, were… without hope and without God in the world. Eph 2:13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.
He goes on:
Eph 2:14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, Eph 2:15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, Eph 2:16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.
When we live out all these benefits in a community of reconciliation, that community includes people that would have normally been separated from each other.
Paul also reminds us in Galatians 3:28 Gal 3:28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
And Jesus’ prayer for unity reinforces this: “My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. (John 17:2–21)
This is an essential part our witness today when we gather as one people.
OUR RESPONSE TODAY
There are many more consequences to this death on the cross. So many books written – so many aspects and angles. Like that huge pink diamond sold earlier this month in Hong Kong which took nearly two years to cut, it has many facets and surfaces.
Like Mary, the centurion, any other characters in that Easter event, and people through the ages – we all have to respond one way or the other.
There is no escaping the demands the cross of Christ makes on us – to take note and react – and to take action ourselves.
How amazing that this one death does all this.
What has made the difference?
Do we have to wait until Sunday to find out?
Well no. Had this been any other death, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. Unless we were tracing our family tree and found a relative who had been crucified, or some DNA connection that would make us think about our forefathers.
This is different – because of Sunday. The third day. The empty tomb.
The many appearances of Jesus to people. His eating food.
The fish barbeque on the beach.
The appearance of Jesus in locked rooms.
The holes in his hands and feet.
This is different – because of His unique position as the very first person to genuinely be resurrected. Yes, Lazarus and others were raised from the dead. They would have died from natural causes – probably in old age.
This Jesus – the author and finisher of our faith – is the first in the family – and we will follow. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1Co 15:20)
- We can’t speak about the cross without rejoicing in the resurrection.
- And we can’t think of new life, resurrection life, without marveling at the amazing love of Christ – shown on the cross.
Paul’s words in Romans 5 help us end today: Rom 5:7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. Rom 5:8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (NIV84)
We thank Him for the cross today. Words can barely express our gratitude for His love.
Family Service story – “The day Jesus died.” by Robin Palmer. (A story for children of all ages – with a kiwi flavour and idiom).
So they were having Passover supper – Jesus and his friends – remembering how Moses got their families way back in the day out of Egypt.
And they were eating away – and wondering when Jesus would become a real soldier kind of king and beat up the Romans who had just taken over their country…
And Jesus said – “this is the last time I will have this party with you – until the end of the world as we know it..”
“That’s no good” they said.
And then he told them that one of his friends would rat on him and get him arrested by those same horrible Romans.
“That’s no good” they said.
And they were looking at each other thinking: “I wonder who it is who is going to spill the beans and get Jesus into trouble…” What a rat.
The next thing they were arguing about who was more important in their group.
“That’s no good” he said.
“You have to be the ones who do the dirty work and slave away for others – not be their boss.” Said Jesus.
“That’s no good” they said.
And then Jesus had a little word with their leader, Peter – warning him to be strong – that things would be difficult – and that he would pretend not to know Jesus when he was arrested and locked up.
“That’s no good” said Peter. You know me. I’m not like that.
‘Yeah right” said Jesus. Let’s wait and see…
So they went out to the garden – because Jesus wanted to pray as he knew things were going to get tricky. “Please keep an eye out here” he said to them “and pray too that you will be strong”.
They fell asleep.
And when he came back and found them sleeping he said:
“That’s no good.”
Well then the one he said would rat on him came down the path leading a crowd of people – and kissed him like a brother.
Peter got mad and pulled out his sword and chopped off a man’s ear – actually he probably missed his head but you know Peter.
“That’s no good” said Jesus. And he fixed the man’s ear.
And they took Jesus away.
“That’s no good” they said.
And Peter was warming himself by a fire outside the jail – and some people said – “you’re with that Jesus in jail. You should be there too!”
“That’s no good” thought Peter.
“Jesus who?” he said to the people.
So they left him alone. Very alone. And a rooster crowed and he felt really bad. Extremely bad.
“That’s no good” said Peter.
So they brought him before the Roman chief called Pilate. They lied about him, saying that he did heaps of bad things. And that he was a king. And that he was causing trouble. And trying to overthrow the government.
“That’s no good” said people who knew the truth. He’s actually a good guy who makes people better.
Pilate heard he was from the area called Galilee.
“That’s no good” he said.
Herod looks after those people. He’s the king there. I’ll send him there and see if Herod can make this go away.
He did. He sent Jesus to king Herod. Herod was pretty pleased about this as he’d wanted to see Jesus and find out more about what people said he could do. Like magic stuff.
Jesus said nothing when Herod asked him heaps of questions.
“That’s no good” said Herod in an angry voice. Who do you think you are?
The soldiers dressed Jesus in fancy dress like a king and teased him badly.
Herod sent Jesus back to Pilate.
Pilate was fed-up. He didn’t think Jesus deserved to be killed. But he knew that if he didn’t sort this out there would be riots as the people had turned ugly. He would then be in trouble with his boss in Italy.
The mob kept crying for Jesus’ blood.
“That’s no good” he said.
So he set another evil man free – Abbas’ boy – who was a terrorist – he set HIM free to please the crowds – which he liked to do at Passover.
And Pilate sent Jesus to be killed. And his friends and family said;
‘That’s no good!”
So they made Jesus carry this heavy cross. He was already pretty messed up because they had whipped him till be bled.
And he stumbled and fell. And the Roman soldiers in charge said:
“That’s no good.” We’ll never get home for tea.
So they found a random bloke from Africa and made him carry the cross behind Jesus.
And they banged nails into his hands and feet and raised up his cross on the hill.
And it was hard for Jesus to breath – he had to push down on his feet to keep his lungs open.
And he looked at all those people he loved – the ones who nailed him, the one who ratted on him, the one who said “Jesus who?” and the ones who yelled out “kill Jesus!”
“That’s no good” He thought.
‘Father in heaven – forgive them because they have really lost it,” – he called out as he prayed.
He saw his mum there, tears streaming down her face. And his best friend he loved so much.
“That’s no good” he thought. This is terrible for them too.
“Mom” he called out “John can be your boy! John mate – look after mum like your mum! Please John!”
And the bad guys nailed up there on their crosses next to Jesus were wondering what this was all about. This was Jesus the good guy suffering and dying with them.
The one yelled at Jesus – “hey you could fix this mess!”
But the other said:
“That’s no good.”
He shouldn’t be here with us. Please remember me when you are a real king one day!
Righto – said Jesus. You’ll be there with me!
“Sweet as” said the man, wondering a bit how that would work – but pretty pleased to be included anyway. The other bad guy said: “that’s no good.”
So it got dark at midday – which was strange since the sun was usually really bright by then. Pitch dark – dark dark – for three hours.
Pretty spooky really.
And Jesus called out: “Father, I place my life into your hands!”
And he died.
And the people who loved him so, so much cried loudly: “That’s no good!”
And a kind and generous man with his friend wondered what they would do with his cold limp body. So they got permission to bury him in a new grave in the meantime. It was the day of rest as the sun went down. They could not clean him up – but they did wrap him in cloths – like his mum did when he was a baby.
So they did their best and put him in the grave – which was like a cave.
His other friends – with sore hearts – watched and waited.
This big boulder – a huge stone – was rolled in front of the door of the tomb.
And when they went home for the Sabbath celebration, he was dead and alone.
Until the Sunday morning.
God looked down on the cemetery and said to himself:
“That’s no good.”
Reading: Luke 19: 28-40
What an interesting name – Palm Sunday! Some have suggested PARADE SUNDAY! For good reason – Palms are not even mentioned in the account in Luke. Cloaks are – people lay them on the ground. It’s festive. Crowds shout out!
Today people are not that sure about what it means – hence the Palm Sundae picture above!
So what’s the most important thing today?
Kids love animals – so donkeys have featured on Palm Sunday services. There are some serious logistical problems about that when you have donkeys in church!
Palms are good – they are mentioned in three accounts! Not in our Luke reading though! Cloaks are also laid down.
Praise is good! Psalm 118 is quoted – a processional Psalm welcoming the one who comes “in the name of the Lord”.
Stones are referred to. People write whole sermons on the stones
Either way they work up to Easter!
So many options!
So for the sake of the Donkey watch this creative take on Palm Sunday:
Great questions –
- Why is this day so UNLIKE every other day!
- Why is Jesus so UNLIKE every other bloke!
Good questions! I loved the donkey’s ability to resist stopping at the burger king!
THE BEST NAME FOR THE EVENT IS THE TRIUMPHAL ENTRY
The name “Triumphal” entry is deceptive – it underscores the challenge of who wins in this story – of who has the real power.
Crowds cheer – in Luke disciples are praising Jesus. “Deeds of power” or miracles are the reason given for this celebration! His miracles and healings have impressed people. One has to ask – are people still looking for the wrong things (like the food he provided when he fed the 5000?).
The words “Blessed is he who comes” in Psalm 118 – which welcomed pilgrims – become in Luke’s account here: “Blessed is the King who comes…”. Jesus is more than a pilgrim here. He is a humble King fulfilling the prophecies of one riding in like this, on the colt of a donkey (Zechariah 9:9-10). On the other hand Pilate – when he came in to town – would have been on a horse – with soldiers – showing his power as a warning to the masses! Jesus is on a humble donkey’s foal.
One way or other JESUS PLANNED HIS OWN PARADE! He tells them where to go to get the foal. He has no problem with them putting him on it. And the parade begins! The disciples cry “Peace in heaven!” which is fascinating as at his birth the angels sang “peace on earth”! Why is the glory here in the highest heaven? There’s an old song we sing sometimes: “You are the king of glory” which includes the line “glory in the highest heaven – for Jesus the Messiah reigns”.
The focus is on heaven probably because this is not an earthly king or an earthly Kingdom! At an earthly level, from a human political point of view, they kill him! The real power is the power of the Kingdom – seen in the mighty deeds – which were healings and exorcisms mainly, restoring people’s bodies and minds! The real power will be seen on Easter Sunday – when he is raised from death.
So following our English donkey in the Donkey Cam video – he is unlike any other bloke!! He is unlike any other King!
What kind of king is this? Triumphant? – not really on the day. Certainly not on Good Friday. Definitely victorious on the third day when he is raised.The route he takes to his victory is profoundly challenging. Read Isaiah 53 to get a sense of what he went through as the suffering servant.
He is prince of peace – but his parade is not on a horse and has no soldiers. In fact Luke seems to de-politicise it by not referring to Palms and not even using the word “Hosanna” – they both had political connotations.
What kind of King do you want? (I’m referring to you today as you read this). Someone powerful who will vindicate your cause and change your circumstances, like those who wanted him to overthrow the oppressive regime of the Romans?
In the Easter events the efforts of Judas (to force Jesus’ hand?) and the violence of Peter when Jesus is arrested (drawing his sword and attacking someone) speak of the human ways of achieving power.
We get Jesus of Nazareth – someone so different – “Unlike every other bloke” – and we are to become like Him! Strength in weakness and humility are his way of dealing with his enemies.
A King unlike any other!
This King – Jesus of Nazareth – laments over the city. Read beyond the verses set for today and you will see this.
He does not weep for Himself, even though he knows he faces a certain death. He laments the fact that they miss out again on the opportunity that God gives them to find true peace.
He cleanses the temple! The real issue is not the political power, but the hearts of the people of God who had taken a wrong turn! He stops first at the religious establishment and tries to get them to refocus. Perhaps today he would do the same.
What is God’s word for us today in the light of these events?
There is something about Palm Sunday that warns us about offering Hosannas without counting the cost of the Jesus’ way! It’s easy to deride those same crowds who within a few days would be shouting “crucify”! But would we have been any different? Are we any different?
On that day the Pharisees tried to silence the praise. Jesus’ response to the Pharisees is profound: We read in Luke 19:38-39 ‘… saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, order your disciples to stop.” He answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.” (v40).
What was happening had consequences for the whole of creation.
Jesus was content to be declared King on that day. We as Christians should still be declaring him King today.
He rides into Jerusalem courageously. We have to be courageous too as we own him as King in our lives.
That is God’s challenge for us today!
The issue is Jesus is King! We have to say it! Declare it! The early Christians did (rather than Caesar is King) and died for their faith!
Say Jesus is King today and they will try to shut you down! To silence you like the Pharisees on that Palm Sunday. It’s the most challenging generation in which to really follow Jesus, put him first, and SAY blessed is the King!
Here is something to consider today: Where are the most difficult place for US to declare Jesus as King (and live it out?). Here are some of them I have thought of. You can add your own:
- Bridge club? Sports club?
Who will shut us down there? Who will say “you need to really top talking about this Jesus bloke. It’s not PC you know!” or words to that effect.
So as we end, we go back to our first outline.
What is the main thing today? Donkeys? Palms? Praises? Stones? Working up to Easter? People regard this Sunday as the “official” start of Holy week – which it is! We are however actually still in Lent – the last Sunday of self – reflection or introspection… the period of those “How am I doing” questions.
How am I doing when it comes to declaring Jesus as King in my life? Am I happy to shout “Hosanna” on Sunday and then be silent on Monday and the rest of the week?
Or am I a secret Christian? Self-appointed underground for God – just too deep underground?
Are we brave and courageous like Jesus on that Palm Sunday? Are we courageous enough to declare ourselves to be followers of Jesus in our lives each day? Or have we worked it all out so that we can remain silent?
May you find grace and strength to make Him Lord of every day. May this Holy week be a time when you discover that you have a story to tell about this Jesus who was “unlike every other bloke”and whose kingship changes our lives today.