Suffered, died and was buried

Sermon Date: 
9 Oct 2011
Bible Base: 
Romans 3: 21-26, Mark 10: 35-45

David Jeans

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Bishop Cyril’s joke
7 words ‘This man has nothing new to say’
8 words ‘This man still has nothing new to say’
3 words ‘I was right’
My last few sermons and the last Alpha talk I did are basically saying the same thing over and over again, as we look at the death of Jesus for us. I know I keep talking about ‘Les Miserables’, which is about the conflict between two men:- a man who has received forgiveness and offers forgiveness, and a man whose purpose in life is to make sure people get punished for what they have done. I know also that I keep using the Ernest Hemingway story about the father estranged from his son Paco who puts the advert in the Madrid paper saying ‘meet me at Cafe Montana 12 noon. All is forgiven. Papa’; and when he gets there the police are trying to control 800 Pacos who have all turned up to be forgiven by their father.
We often say, don’t we, “Don’t tell me, show me”. “Actions speak louder than words”.
Our first reading today was the wonderful passage at the heart of Paul’s letter to the Romans. It’s a letter in which Paul sets out how God resolves the conflict between the desire for justice, and the desire for forgiveness and reconciliation. It’s a letter which has justice and forgiveness at its heart. It’s also a letter which has the cross at its heart.
In the first part of the letter Paul is working towards the statement in verses 22 and 23. He has looked at the religious people (the Jews) and said to them you may think you know what’s right and wrong, but the problem is you can’t do it. And he has looked at the non-religious people (Gentiles) and said ‘even your limited understanding of right and wrong you can’t keep to’. There is no difference between you because all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. ‘Les Miserables’ in Victor Hugo’s story are the underclass of France, those looked down upon by the respectable, those who get sent to prison for 20 years by the respectable for stealing bread to feed their children. The Gospel says to both – you have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If that’s all it said it would not be a gospel – it would not be good news. But it also says – God loves you and God wants to forgive you.
In Paul’s letter to the Romans Paul uses the word ‘demonstrate’ three times; each time it is about the cross of Jesus, and about what the cross shows us by actions rather than words. In Romans 5:8 he says this:-‘God demonstrates his own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ How much does God love you? This much.
In the passage we have been looking at in Romans 3 Paul says that by the cross God demonstrates his justice and his willingness to forgive. (That’s what this word ‘justify’ means – it means that God wipes the slate clean by the cross, he makes just as if I’d never sinned)
The cross shows human sin for what it is – respectable religion and powerful government put Jesus on the cross – but so did our sin. The cross shows that we need to turn from our own way and follow God’s way; the cross demonstrates God’s passion for the world to be a place of true justice, where people do not harm each other. The other week in morning prayer we read some words from Zechariah 7: ‘Administer true justice; show mercy and compassion to one another. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, the foreigner or the poor. Do not plot evil against one another.’ The character Javert in ‘Les Miserables’ thought justice was about punishment. God’s true justice is about mercy and compassion, it is about putting things right.
The cross shows us God’s willingness to forgive. Through the cross God deals with all the things sin brings, which includes the huge chasm between us and God that it brings.
At the cross sin is seen for the destructive force that it is as its consequences of death and separation are visited upon Jesus – as God himself bears the consequences of our sins, as God in Jesus dies in our place. In our Gospel reading Jesus talks about being a servant, giving his life as a ransom for many. He is referring to an amazing prophecy about God’s servant who will bring salvation to the ends of the earth -
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
Don’t tell us, show us
On the cross God shows us that he loves us even though we constantly let him down and are often rebellious against him.
On the cross God shows us just how destructive sin really is.
On the cross God demonstrates his willingness to forgive us. It is like the advert the father put in the Madrid paper – meet me at noon, all is forgiven.
The arms of Jesus on the cross stretch wide to embrace all. The cross reaches up to the sky and down to the ground. You cannot put yourself beyond its reach. There is nothing that you can have done or that you can do that can put you beyond its reach – except rejecting it.
Does the cross work?
Well, first, it was followed three days later by the resurrection. The resurrection shows that all that evil, sin and death could throw at Jesus could not overcome his love for his Father and his love for us. He has been to the darkest place for us and overcome it. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it.
Second, the centrality of this service of Holy Communion in 2000 years of worship shows that it works. In this service we celebrate the death of Jesus. In this service we receive the symbols of his death for us – the body of Christ broken for you; the blood of Christ shed for you. And even when words don’t reach us, these concrete symbols that we take into our selves to say this isn’t just for the world, this is for me, they reach us. Don’t tell us, show us – that’s what God does through the actions of this service. They bring us peace and the assurance of God’s love and forgiveness. In this service we say we remember the death of Jesus. That means more than simply recalling the facts. It means bringing it into the present, making it effective for us here and now.
Don’t tell us, show us.
There is one more bit of showing rather than telling that we need to say today. The turning point for the character Jean Valjean in ‘Les Miserables’ is when he is shown grace, mercy and forgiveness by the bishop that he has wronged. Thereafter he shows forgiveness to others.
How do we show that the work of Christ on the cross brings us forgiveness? By spreading forgiveness around. That was clearly really important to Jesus. He told parables about people receiving mercy but not passing it on to others. At the centre of the prayer he taught us is ‘forgive us our sins, as we forgive others’.
The NZ Prayer book words of forgiveness that I like to use are ‘God forgives you; forgive others; forgive yourself, and be at peace with God’.
Show the effectiveness of the cross by receiving God’s forgiveness
Show the effectiveness of the cross by forgiving yourself and being at peace with God
Show the effectiveness of the cross by forgiving others as God in Christ has forgiven you.
Don’t just tell them, show them.