MESSAGE DELIVERED: MARCH 12, 2017
It seems like just a little while ago that we spent a month or so observing the Christmas Season, the Birth of our Lord. And as we did that it seemed like the whole world was concentrating on that tiny little Baby who was born in Bethlehem. And for MANY of those people was the AWESOME thought that, that tiny Baby was really GOD…JEHOVAH GOD ALMIGHTY, come to us, in human flesh.
But now the world has spun around a few times, and we are looking ahead to the EASTER Season. But with this season approaching, the world is now concentrating on a single Day…actually, one MORNING…EASTER Morning.
And we all get dressed UP in our BEST clothes, and walk into a beautifully decorated Church, because that’s what we DO on Easter, and we sit there for an hour, looking forward to going home to a huge meal, and then Easter is all over for another year.
And I always wonder WHY we spend so much more time on CHRISTMAS, than we do on EASTER? Is it because BABIES are BEAUTIFUL…soft and sweet, and maybe most important, babies are NONthreatening?
And then, it seems like everybody is in a good MOOD at Christmas time, smiling and giving each other gifts, singing carols…and remembering the stories about ANGELS and SHEPHERDS, and WISE MEN…and RUDOLPH!
But EASTER is a time for a DECISION! Easter says God gave His Son…and the Son gave His LIFE…and because of that Sacrifice, we have to make a decision.
It is a LOT easier to hang your stockings by the fireplace and pass out fruitcakes…than to face the fact that GOD DIED FOR YOU!…and NOW He expects YOU to DO something about it.
So the passage we just read is a great time for us to look ahead to the Cross…because that is what JESUS is doing. He’s looking forward in time…and anticipating the BLOWS He will receive, from the fists of PRIESTS, and the TEMPLE GUARD, and the ROMAN SOLDIERS…He’s anticipating the feel of the WHIP, as it TEARS His flesh, and SHREDS His muscles. He can feel the huge roman NAILS as they are HAMMERED Into, and through, His HANDS and FEET.
He looked ahead to Calvary, and said “Now My Soul is TROUBLED…” and he wonders if maybe He should ask His Father to SPARE Him from this trial. But just for a short time, and then He answers His own question, He says “This TRIAL is the very reason I CAME here, in the FIRST PLACE! This TRIAL is the reason for the BIRTH…the STABLE…EVERYTHING that went BEFORE this moment! I was BORN, in order to DIE, for sinful mankind!
And in obedience to the Father’s wishes, He does NOT turn His Face away from that Cross.
The journey that was begun in that small Judean village, would lead Him INEVITABLY HERE, to the CROSS of Calvary, And He KNEW that! He knew it before the first MOUNTAIN ever rose above the surface of the sea.
In Philippians 2:8, Paul writes that Jesus, when he finds Himself clothed in human flesh…”Humbled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the Cross.”
And history tells us that that particular FORM of death was the WORST, the most PAINFUL and AGONIZING death that the mind of sinful man had yet devised, at least, UP to that point of time.
And Jesus humbled Himself, in obedience to the Father…even to the point of refusing to pray for HIMSELF to be DELIVERED from the horrifying death…and instead, YIELDING Himself to the wishes of His Father.
Noted theologian William Barclay wrote concerning this passage…”Here, the HORROR of Death, met the fervent desire for Obedience…and obedience emerged victorious”.
So, what WAS the GREAT HOPE within the precious Heart of Jesus, as He prepared Himself for this JOURNEY that would lead ultimately to His AGONIZING Death? He stated that Hope Himself, in verse 32, when He said…”And I, if I be lifted up, will draw all men to Myself”.
Jesus was determined to endure the horrors of the Cross because He wanted, even MORE than His Own Life, He wanted to bring all peoples EVERYWHERE, to Himself, so they could be forgiven, and redeemed, and IN that state, He could then present them to His Father.
It’s sadly true that not everyone IN the world will BELIEVE in Him, but He WILL die FOR everyone in the world, so they COULD believe, if they CHOOSE to!
The APPEAL of the Sacrifice of God’s Son on the Cross of Calvary, will be UNIVERSAL! ALL people, EVERYWHERE, when they HEAR of this Sacrifice, will feel the TUG…the ATTRACTION…of God’s unbelievable Love FOR all mankind…which He demonstrated ON that Cross, when He ALLOWED Himself to BE “lifted up”!
Judaism, the Hebrew religion, offered God to man through an elaborate system of LAWS and RITUALS. But then JESUS came, and offered HIMSELF, obedient, loving, DYING! And by that Sacrifice, we become TOUCHED by the Cross…DRAWN to His Death…which we then must understand was for US!
And when we understand, we then become FREED, by His Death, into NEW life…accepted…forgiven…redeemed! Jesus said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all men to Myself”. So let me ask you: WHAT DRAWS YOU TO THE CRUCIFIED SAVIOUR?
When you look at that Cross, in your mind, are you touched by the AGONY that was ENDURED there?…with the SKIN and the FLESH of the Lord’s body FLAIDED and SHREDDED by the WHIP that lashed Him, over and over?
I want to bring this up because you either WILL hear, or already HAVE heard, that when Christ was SCOURGED, He was beaten with “40 lashes less one”. And that will be said because according to Jewish Law, to beat a man with 40 lashes might possibly KILL him, so they would always stop one stroke short of that, and YOU will be told THAT was how Christ was treated.
But that is NOT true! Christ wasn’t BEATEN under JEWISH Law, but according to ROMAN law…and THEY didn’t HAVE a “MERCY RULE” like that. He was beaten until His flesh was MUTILATED!…until His BLOOD ran down in STREAMS, and until His FLESH hung from His body in STRIPS!
Pilate, the Roman governor, didn’t want to make any trouble with the Jews, but he also didn’t think that Jesus was GUILTY of any CRIME, either. So it was his INTENTION to beat Jesus until His Body was LACERATED, and TORN, and BLOOD-SPATTERED!…so he could then PRESENT Him to that crowd, hoping when they saw Him, they would be moved with COMPASSION, and consider Him punished ENOUGH, and call for His release.
But it didn’t work. When they saw how SEVERELY Christ had been beaten, when Pilate placed Him before the crowd and cried “BEHOLD THE MAN!…they just yelled all the louder…”CRUCIFY HIM…CRUCIFY HIM”!
But that beating HAD been nearly enough to kill Him, and it was in that condition, that His Cross was placed on His LACERATED shoulders, and He was forced to walk the long and winding, steep path that led to Calvary. But that climb was so difficult that ANOTHER, a Cyrenian, was forced to come along side and HELP Him with that burden.
When they finally reached the execution site, Jesus was laid back on the rough, splintered wood of the Cross, the roughness further tearing His already shredded back, and then huge, cruel NAILS were driven into the flesh of His Hands and Feet…and in His MIND, He must have been trying DESPERATELY to hold ON to that VISION of God’s Great Love for man…the REASON He was ENDURING this torture.
And then, according to His OWN Words, He was LIFTED UP…the Cross was RAISED by the soldiers, and allowed to DROP into a HOLE that was there for that purpose…and can you IMAGINE what that must have FELT like, to suddenly have His entire WEIGHT DROPPED…to be just as suddenly CAUGHT by those NAILS driven through His Flesh?
I have a problem, like probably a lot of YOU do as well, of having some arthritis in my back, and sometimes, when it’s really bothering me, I can’t stand to have someone even BUMP into the chair I’m sitting in. I can’t IMAGINE what it must have felt like, when that CROSS was DROPPED into that hole…how His AGONY must have suddenly DOUBLED, with that jolt! That much PAIN is beyond my ability to even FATHOM!
And as bad as His WOUNDS were, the biggest PHYSICAL agony of the Cross, would have been the need for BREATH! With the entire weight of His Body suspended by the NAILS in His Hands, the muscles in the chest are drawn TIGHT, making it IMPOSSIBLE to draw a BREATH.
In order to do THAT, He would have to PUSH DOWN, against the nail in His FEET, to take the weight OFF His HANDS, and now He can BREATHE, but because of the unnatural position OF His feet, His LEGS would immediately begin to CRAMP, and to relieve THAT, He had to drop back DOWN, so His weight again was held by the nails in His HANDS, and that was how it would go…for unending HOURS…as His Life slowly ebbed away from Him.
You have to be able to see…in the face of that much agony, and that was just the PHYSICAL pain he had to endure…the SPIRITUAL pain of having ALL of God the Father’s Righteous Wrath poured on Him as well…YOU have to be able to see how DEATH, when it FINALLY came, would be seen as a blessed RELIEF, to end the agony!
When you look at the Cross, can you SEE the agony? Are you TOUCHED by what He endured, for YOU? And if so, then try to consider the SPIRITUAL pain He ALSO endured. Words can come a lot closer to describing His PHYSICAL pain…but HOW can we speak of the SPIRITUAL pain? He Who had NEVER known sin, to have ALL the sins, of ALL of mankind, poured unto Him?
On the One nailed to the Cross of Calvary, God poured the PENALTY for EVERY SIN ever committed…onto HIs Own SON!
Paul wrote, in 2nd Corinthians 5:21…”God has made Him Who knew no sin, to BECOME sin, for US!…that WE might be made the Righteousness of God, in HIM”!
In His entire existence…and He has ALWAYS existed!…but for ALL that time, Jesus had never known a single INSTANCE of isolation from the Father. But as He hung from the Cross…COVERED in the sins of man…MY sins…YOUR sins…God Who is forever HOLY, could not LOOK upon that MUCH sin, and was forced to TURN His BACK, on His SON…causing Jesus to CRY OUT in agony…”My GOD! WHY have You
Who can possibly illustrate for us, the unbearable LONLINESS and REJECTION that Jesus felt, for the NEVER-ENDING moment when OUR sins CUT Him OFF from the Father, with whom He had always enjoyed CLOSE COMMUNION?
We can’t begin to understand that, Some of YOU…wives who have lost your husbands…husbands who have lost your wives…lost those you loved so dearly…YOU might have an INKLING of that pain. But JUST an inkling, because no matter HOW close you were with your mates…and I have an idea about how close some of you were…you have still never experienced such closeness as God the Father had with God the Son!
And it was for OUR sakes that closeness was severed. Are you TOUCHED by the AGONY that Jesus experienced from the Cross? Are you DRAWN to Jesus by the suffering He endured there?
OR…are you maybe touched by the LOVE you see there? God has loved us with a love that held NOTHING back from us…not EVEN His Beloved Son!
God, in His Righteousness, has determined that the PRICE for SIN, is DEATH! That is the WAGE we receive, when we deliberately sin against God. And we have ALL sinned!
But then, God, in His love, stepped DOWN from Heaven…stepped DOWN, to OUR level…and He PAID that price, HIMSELF, for ALL of us!
And now, God has demanded a NEW BIRTH, a way of RE-ENTERING that state of INNOCENCE before Him, granted TO us, by the DEATH of His Son! It is now available to us, by God’s LOVE!
And beloved, LOVE will get through to us, when NOTHING else CAN! I once knew a guy, a BIG guy, a biker with the beard and the tattoos, muscles bulging all over him…an absolutely FEARLESS guy, who once when he was attacked by another biker with a knife…while that OTHER biker was slashing at him, this guy calmly reached into his own pocket, pulled out a folding knife of his own, and used it to send the attacker to the emergency room!
I saw THAT guy, reduced to a slobbering hulk, by his love for a woman! And how much MORE-so, should WE be touched, by GOD’S love for us? A man named Robert Moyer once wrote in a copy of Billy Graham’s “Decision” Magazine, “A man, a sinner, may go to hell unsaved, but NO one has ever gone to hell, UNLOVED”!
That’s because God’s love has been spread abroad on the earth, like a BLANKET! It covers EVERYone, but NOT everyone will RECIEVE it. But it still is AVAILABLE to everyone.
And in the eighth chapter of Romans, Paul wrote that absolutely NOTHING…on EARTH, in HEAVEN, or UNDER the Earth, can ever SEPERATE us, FROM that love. Yes, God loves us, though we may not understand WHY He does…Lord KNOWS we are most often not very lovable people!
But we KNOW that He DOES, and all you have to do, to KNOW that, is to look at the CROSS! Because it was THERE that God forever PROVED His love, when He allowed HIS SON, to DIE, in OUR place!
When you look at the Cross, are YOU TOUCHED by that love? Are YOU DRAWN TO Jesus, BY that love?
Or, when YOU look at the Cross, are you touched by the FORGIVENESS you see there? It isn’t easy for us to forgive someone who has caused us pain. But one of the surest signs that the Spirit of God is WITHIN another person, is their willingness to forgive others.
For us, that forgiveness isn’t easy, but when we look at the Cross, we can see the ULTIMATE example of forgiveness…and as Luke recorded for us, as Jesus was being nailed to that Cross, He lifted His eyes to God and asked that they be forgiven, because they didn’t know WHAT they were doing.
And as He hung there, as MINUTES turned to HOURS, and as the SKY turned dark, and as His BLOOD continued to drain into the ground, Jesus was still able to turn AWAY from His OWN agony, to hear the SINCERE PLEA of ANOTHER condemned man, and to FORGIVE him, and to PROMISE him that PARADISE would soon welcome BOTH of them.
And when the LAST SIN was finally atoned…when the LAST DROP of agony had been endured, Jesus was able to raise His eyes to Heaven, and SHOUT! Yes, I think He used the very LAST ounce of strength in His tormented Body, to SHOUT…“IT IS
Those three small words…a SINGLE word in Greek…”TETELESTAI”, the word on this BAND I wear on my wrist…that showed the perfect spirit of forgiveness, that refused to retaliate against those who were killing Him, UNJUSTLY!…and even though we all KNOW that there were, waiting just out of our sight, LEGIONS of FLAMING ANGELS, with SWORDS DRAWN, and READY to RESCUE Him, should He decide that WE are not WORTH the PAIN He has to face…were HE to have said the word, those angels would have attacked, and utterly destroyed ALL of those who were SNEERING and JEERING at him.
Jesus FORGAVE those who nailed Him to the Cross…He forgave the CRIMINAL that was dying with Him…and His SACRIFICIAL, ATONING Death, is SUFFICIENT to forgive ANY person, of ANY sin!
I’ve had people tell me, “Pastor, you don’t understand…you don’t KNOW what I’ve done. He will NEVER forgive me”! But that is simply NOT true! Actually, what that IS, is your attempt to make YOURSELF, BIGGER than GOD! And THAT will never happen. There is NOTHING you have done, that cannot be forgiven, IF you will just turn TO Him…and there is nothing you have ever done that will place you OUTSIDE of God’s LOVE for you.
When YOU hear the PROMISE of God in Christ, saying “Come unto ME, all ye who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give YOU rest…”, then you HAVE to know that you are LOVED, and ACCEPTED, and FORGIVEN, and you can be made BRAND NEW, if you’re willing!
The last two verses we read earlier, said “Walk while we have the Light, lest the DARKNESS overtake US”.
It is not enough for you to be touched by the HISTORICAL reality of Jesus’ Sacrifice…you HAVE to believe that it was for YOU that He died. And then make sure that you are walking in HIS LIGHT, before the DARKNESS that is the WORLD, overtakes you.
That darkness might be your attraction to the PLEASURES and AMUSEMENTS of the world…or even your feelings of UNWORTHINESS of the Sacrifice that was made for you…which is REALLY just PRIDE, saying “I’m DIFFERENT”!
Your invitation today is the words of Jesus Himself, where He said “If I be lifted up, I will draw all people to Me”…so His invitation is “Come to Me, and I’ll give you rest”.
I’m so grateful that I was given sufficient time, and enough chances, to finally put my stupid PRIDE aside, and RUN to the Cross…and receive my forgiveness…and now I’m praying that YOU will make the SAME decision while we are singing, and HE is waiting.