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.