E100 The Cross of Christ

Sermon Date: 
13 Jan 2013
Bible Base: 
Rom 3: 21-26, Mark 15: 22-29

David Jeans

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At the beginning of the week that ended in his crucifixion Jesus said ‘When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself’. In the E100 readings this week we have been reading about those events that led to his crucifixion but then led to the triumph of the resurrection. In other parts of the New Testament attempts are made to explain the cross; down the centuries people have tried to explain the cross and how it changes our relationship with God. I am not going to do that today. Instead I am going to speculate how some witnesses of those events might have reflected upon them and so have been drawn to Jesus.
1) Simon of Cyrene
I had been so thrilled to get to Jerusalem that Passover; it was a long way from Cyrene in North Africa. The Jews in Jerusalem often seemed to us to take their city for granted, but we loved to come whenever we could. I had heard Jesus earlier in the week; he seemed to me to be a good man with lots of good things to say about God. I really liked the way he called God Father – it made me think, that did, about my own children Alexander and Rufus. If they thought God was like me would that help them or put them off! But it did make me think of how much I loved my sons – so God’s love for me must be like that ….or I suppose more than that. I’d never really thought about God’s love for me until I heard Jesus. He certainly helped me to see God in a new way.
So I was devastated when I heard that Jesus was going to be crucified. I couldn’t believe it. So I went out to that horrible hill to see for myself. And there he was – he’d been beaten and was dragging his cross behind him. I wanted to leave then – I hated to see his suffering. But then I thought that I owed him at least my support.
In the end it didn’t matter much what I wanted to do. The soldiers grabbed me and made me carry Jesus’ cross. That got me a whole lot closer to those awful events than I wanted to be. And yet they had a profound effect on me. I often talked about it later to Alexander and Rufus – and in the end they became followers of Jesus themselves and got to know that Paul. I became a Christian myself, eventually – and something that Paul said made a lot of sense to me. First of all, he said that although I had carried the burden of the cross for Jesus, really he had carried a much bigger burden for me that day. And secondly, Paul said that Jesus wanted us all to carry the cross daily, to pick up the burden of living for him day by day. I had done that physically on that Friday; and now I know two things – firstly, Jesus did far more for me than I did for him that day; and secondly, I want to take up my cross for him every day of the rest of my life.
2) The Centurion
I have to say that I’ve never enjoyed executions. They are a necessary part of our job – we have to uphold the law, and without the law the whole fabric of society would break down – especially out here in the colonies. Executions are necessary – but I have never been one of those twisted types who gets a kick out of them. I do them because I have to – but I’m pleased when they are over.
At first that execution was very much like any other – three criminals plus crowds. Some of the crowd mocking them, some of the crowd weeping for them. Actually, I’ve found very few who had no-one to weep for them …..
But Jesus was different. For a start he was clearly innocent. Not that strange of course; our justice system is good, but it’s not that good. But usually those being executed – whether innocent or guilty – curse us and hate us. Of course they do – I’m sure I would in their place. Jesus was extraordinary though – he didn’t curse us, he actually asked God to forgive us.
And another thing I noticed; most people are so wrapped up in their own suffering, that they don’t notice anyone else. Not Jesus – he made sure that his mother would be looked after by one of the other men; and he even had kind words for one of those being crucified alongside him. He wasn’t like anyone else.
But it was as he was dying that the really extraordinary thing happened. There was an earthquake first of all, and there was this tearing noise coming from the temple – I heard later that the curtain keeping people out of the holiest place had torn in two.
But there was something about the dying face of Jesus …that wounded, suffering, vulnerable face somehow seemed to me to be the face of God. Now I had always thought that God was like Caesar – remote, powerful, even capricious and unpredictable. But ever since then I’ve known different. But ever since then I’ve known different. I know now that God suffers with us, weeps with us and still loves us in spite of what we do to him or to each other.
In my fancies, I think I know what happened. The Jews always thought that the glory of the God lived in the holiest place in the temple where only the priests could go – it was too dangerous for anyone else because of their sins. When Jesus died and the curtain tore that glory came out– and dwelt on the dead face of Jesus. I don’t understand it, and I can’t explain it, but that is what happened. So when anyone speaks of God I think of that dying face – and I know that God’s love for me has overcome even that – and that one day I will be with him in paradise.
3) Peter
I still find it hard to recall that day – not least because it started with me betraying him. Oh I had been really brave before the event – told him that if everyone else left him I would never leave him. I had these delusions about being his best disciple. After all, hadn’t he said that I was the Rock on whom he would build his church. But I fell asleep in Gethsemane and then told those people at the High Priest’s house that I didn’t know him. And then on that dreadful afternoon like all the others (except John and the women) I fled, worried about my own skin. It had all ended, or so I thought.
But praise God, that wasn’t the end. I’m glad he appeared to the women first, because they were so faithful to him, even when he was dead. I saw the risen Lord several times – but the one I remember most is when he appeared to us when we had gone fishing. He asked me three times if I loved him. Three times to match the three times I had denied him, I guess. And the first time he asked me if I loved him more than the others did. But I had learned my lesson. I said I loved him, but I wasn’t going to claim to be a super-disciple. That’s when he said ‘feed my lambs’. He asked me who had let him down and denied him, to feed his lambs – to be a shepherd of his flock. I have often wondered why he asked me to be a shepherd. Maybe it was because I knew what it was like to fail my Lord, so I would be gentle with others who let him down. I had learned my lesson. Like I wrote in my first letter to the Christians in Asia ‘Clothe yourselves with humility towards one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. Jesus bore all our sins on the cross; we are all dependent upon his grace. There can be no boasting at the foot of the cross, because, as our brother Paul wrote we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. And there can be no holding of grudges among us, because Christ died for each one of us. Thinking about the cross keeps us humble.
It all started for me in those early days of Jesus’ ministry. When he said to me ‘follow me’ – that’s what I did. I don’t really remember why – for once I didn’t ask any questions about where to or what was going to happen. There was something about Jesus that when he said ‘follow’ – I just followed.
As Jesus’ ministry continued it became clearer and clearer that the people with the power weren’t really listening to him. They were so tied up with their religious certainties and their own status that they would not let him unsettle them. He said to me once ‘I’d rather have someone like you with all your doubts and questionings, because in the end your mind is open and I can reach you – that lot think that they know it all and have nothing new to learn or experience – I can’t get anywhere near them’.
The more simple disciples couldn’t see it of course – they were all for going to Jerusalem because they thought that Jesus would win over the people and triumph over the religious leaders. I knew of course that that was wishful thinking – but then I always did think too much. Mind you, even though I knew Jesus was heading for certain death – because I listened to what he actually said instead of what I wanted him to say – I would have followed him anywhere. I didn’t know why – then- but I remember saying ‘Let us go with him that we may die with him’.
I was right of course; the religious leaders were always going to win the political battles. Trumped up charges, the works – though I’m sure Jesus could have got out of it if he’d wanted to. Those were awful days – I can’t really bring myself to think about them now. Like the rest I ran away in the garden and only saw the beginning of the crucifixion from a distance before sneaking away. I couldn’t stand it – and I couldn’t understand it. How could they do that to him; and why didn’t he try to stop them? Why hadn’t God done something? Why do the wicked always seem to get away with it? As usual I was full of questions – but no answers. I just went out into the hills on my own and walked and pondered and wept.
I don’t really know what happened to that time. By the time I had got my head together again a couple of days had gone by. The only place I could think of going was the house where we’d had the Passover meal the night before Jesus died. I needed company – and they were the only company I could think of!
Well, when I got there I thought I’d gone into a madhouse. They were all so high – full of stories about Jesus being alive again and how he’d just appeared to them. It seemed like nonsense to me. He was dead – it was all over – that was all there was to it. I thought to myself – what have these gullible idiots come up with now? Why can’t they think for themselves rather than believing all this nonsense? Anyway, I told them what I thought – in too strong words really viewing it from where I am now. ‘I won’t believe it unless I can feel the nail marks in his hands and the wounds in his side’.
That’s what I said – and then I stormed off never wanting to see them again. Back to the hills I went – back to my walking and questioning. I couldn’t believe what they were telling me – and yet they’d been very close to me for 3 years. I loved them. Even if I did think they didn’t ask enough questions and accepted things too easily. In the end I thought I’d go back to them. I missed their love and friendship – and maybe I’d be able to help them to adjust to the trauma of losing Jesus, and maybe they’d be able to help me too.
They were still high when I met them – just laughed at my barbed humour about what wonders they had seen this week. And then it happened – Jesus suddenly was there! He’d not come through the door – I’d locked it myself to protect us from the authorities. I’m still trying to work out what happened – what sort of body had he got now? And where did he go between appearances if he hadn’t ascended yet? The others just laugh at me and say ‘Thomas, why can’t you just accept it?’ but you know what I’m like!
Anyway, there Jesus was – He greeted everyone and said ‘Peace be with you’. Then he looked at me – to be honest I don’t know what he said – I’m told he invited me to touch his wounds like I’d said the week before. I just looked and looked – and then all sorts of things went through my mind. As I looked at his wounds I remembered that passage he was always looking at:-
‘He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed’
- and somehow I knew that his death had bought my forgiveness; that somehow his death was in my place. I still don’t really understand it – but I know it’s true.
Then I remembered what he said to me and Philip at that last meal we had. I asked him how we could know the way and he said ‘I am the way, the truth and the life’; and Philip said ‘show us the Father’ – and he said ‘he who has seen me has seen the Father.’
And suddenly it clicked – suddenly I knew what he was saying. All my life I had tried to think my way to understanding God and what he was like. Now I know that as I looked at Jesus – with all his wounds and the love in his eyes – as I looked at Jesus, I was somehow looking at God. So I just fell down at his feet and said ‘My Lord and my God’.
And he just accepted it – He accepted it! If you’re not Jewish you won’t appreciate how mind-boggling that was – but he accepted my worship!
Now I’m still full of questions – and he’s said that’s OK. I mean – how was he with us and sustaining the Universe all the time? Did he always know that he was God? Why did he need to be filled with the Holy Spirit if he was the Son of God? How did he decide which people to heal? Lots of questions – but now I know that the important truth is personal. It’s him – he is the truth, and the way and the life. He’s certainly my life from now on. He said on that Sunday evening ‘Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.’ Right then I knew that’s why my life would be about telling those that haven’t seen Jesus about him – so that they might believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing they may have life – the life that I’ve found for myself – have you found it yet? It’s to be found in Jesus himself – don’t worry about all your questions – just look at the risen Lord with the wounds in his hands and side – and see in him your Lord and your God who has dealt with your sins and promises you life for ever with him. Let him draw you to himself.