Category Archives: Easter

Matthew 28: Easter Sunday: Come and See! Go and tell!

I love the makeover episodes of The Biggest Loser. When the remaining contestants get a makeover, put on their goal outfits, and revealed to an audience. What I love is the looks on the faces of the audience when the NEW, SLIM contestant walks past the huge poster of the OLD, OVERWEIGHT contestant.

Their jaws drop, their eyes open wide. They almost can’t believe what they’re looking at. They look again to check it’s the same person as the poster. And then, when they it finally sinks in that it’s the same person – at least on the INSIDE- they scream or squeal, or start whistling or cheering wildly.

It’s an incredible news! The best sort of surprise!

I wonder if that’s how the two Marys reacted when they got to the tomb that first Easter Sunday morning. They’d gone at dawn, barely a soul about. It was quiet and calm. No one to disturb their grieving.

But as they approach the tomb, their eyes widen and their jaws drop. Things aren’t the way they remembered them on Friday evening.

Imagine the scene. There’d been another earthquake, and an angel had come and rolled the stone away and was sitting on it. The guards are all lying about comatose, babbling and shivering like idiots.

The women would do a double-take. There’d be stunned silence. And probably FEAR, if the angel’s first words are anything to go by. V5.

“DO NOT BE AFRAID, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. 6 He is not here; he has risen, just as he said.

The women had GONE there expecting mourning and solitude, tears and grief. But instead they’re confronted with the unbelievable news that Jesus isn’t THERE anymore. Not only that, but that he isn’t DEAD anymore!

But they’d SEEN it. The one they loved, the one they’d followed and cared for all the way from Galilee – the one they’d witnessed LIFELESS. Broken, bruised and bleeding. Then wrapped up, placed in the cave tomb, and sealed behind a stone door. They’d SEEN IT ALL.

And anyway, dead men don’t RISE. Everyone knew THAT!

I think we sometimes forget that the incredible news of that first Easter was just as mind-blowing for Jesus’ FOLLOWERS as it was for everyone ELSE. THEY weren’t expecting it EITHER.

Although they SHOULD have. Jesus had WARNED them often enough. Which is just what the angel REMINDS them. “He’s RISEN, just as he SAID.”

Even the JEWISH LEADERS had picked up on THAT message. That’s why they’d asked for a guard outside the tomb. Back at the end of Ch 27.

63 “Sir,” they said, “we remember that while he was still alive THAT DECEIVER SAID, ‘AFTER THREE DAYS I WILL RISE AGAIN.’

They didn’t BELIEVE it. But they’d HEARD it.

And these WOMEN had heard it too. But rather than just make them take his word for it, the angel says to them, “COME AND SEE for yourself!”

It’s one of the things that separates Christianity from the other world religions. It makes HISTORICAL claims. Claims that, while they can’t be PROVED, can certainly be DISPROVED.

Christianity puts its head on the chopping block in a way no other religion DOES. If Jesus’ body were found, then Christianity would FALL. Paul says in 1 Cor 15, “If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is futile, and you are still in your sins.”

It all rests on THAT HISTORICAL FACT.

It’s not faith OR reason. That’s what MOST people think. Christian faith is about using REASON to investigate, then asking the question whether it’s CREDIBLE to trust the evidence.

The angel says, “Come and See!”

Christianity says, “Check out the evidence for yourself!”

The claims Christianity makes are no different from ANY historical claims. They ALL require faith. Nothing in history can be PROVED. But in terms of there being intellectually credible evidence for the truth of the historical events around the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As much as ANY history can be proved, it’s more historically reliable than almost ANYTHING in history.

Come and see, go and tell

“Come and see!” says the angel. But that’s not ALL. They don’t just WITNESS the empty tomb. They’re called to TESTIFY. Come and see. GO AND TELL.

COME AND SEE the place where he lay. 7 Then GO QUICKLY AND TELL his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

That’s the thing about life-altering news. It’s no good just KNOWING it. You’ve got to SHARE it.

It’s the problem police are having at the moment with the bikie gang shootings going on around Sydney. Plenty of people who SEE the action. But no one who wants to SPEAK about it.

Because they’re scared of what might happen if they DO.

And I guess that’s what keeps US silent TOO. Those of us who know the power Jesus has over sin and death and guilt. We’ve COME AND SEEN. We’ve experienced the change it’s made in OUR lives. But the question is whether we GO AND TELL.

We’re scared of upsetting the status quo. Of the awkward conversation. Of people thinking we’re judging them, or better than them.

Or we’re not convinced that people NEED Jesus. They seem happy enough.

Or we’re scared of messing it up.

All sorts of REASONS that are nothing more than EXCUSES.

When the reality is when we’ve got good news to share about SOMETHING ELSE, we can’t WAIT to share it.

Some of you know Lachlan and I have bought a new camera we’re having fun with. And Mike Turner, who’s a keen photographer was telling me about a fantastic specialised lens he bought. It’s cheap, it’s easy to use, and it takes fantastic portraits and low-light photos.

So I bought one with some birthday money!

When Mike was thinking about telling me, he COULD have felt nervous. Uncertain about whether to offer his opinion. Perhaps I wouldn’t agree. Or perhaps I’d reject him. OR make fun of him. Or argue with him.

But he didn’t. He couldn’t WAIT to tell me.

Or I could have got defensive. And proud. Stuck to my guns that I knew best. But I couldn’t WAIT to find out some news that would improve my photography experience.

And that’s the way we should think about sharing what we know about Jesus. D.T Niles famously wrote that evangelism is simply “one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.” That simple!

And the WOMEN do JUST THAT. V8.

8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, AFRAID YET FILLED WITH JOY, and ran to tell his disciples.

It’s a funny combination, don’t you think? “Afraid yet filled with joy?”

What would they be AFRAID of? Not THE GUARDS – they’re comatose on the ground. Or they’ve run off back to Jerusalem to report to the chief priests.

Not THE ANGEL – he’s COMFORTED them, they’ve checked out the tomb, and now they’re on their way.

Perhaps they’re afraid of the reaction of the DISCIPLES. That they won’t be believed.

I wonder if it’s simply THE FEAR OF THE UNKNOWN. Their world is a very different place from the one they went to sleep in the night before. Eternity has broken into the present. The kingdom of God has shattered the complacency and blindness of the world.

EVERYTHING’S changed. But they’re not really sure HOW yet. And they’re not sure what that means for them EITHER. Fear and joy.

It’s like you’ve landed in a foreign city. Perhaps your first time overseas. You don’t know what to expect. You step out of the airport doors, and you’re assaulted by a whole new set of experiences and sensations. New smells and sounds and sights. New languages and ways of doing things. There’s EXCITEMENT, but there’s also FEAR. Because you’re not sure about how you’re going to fit into this new world.

Whatever the REASON the women were scared, Jesus KNOWS about it. Because he suddenly appears to COMFORT them. V9. They fall at his feet and WORSHIP him.

10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”

He’s with them PHYSICALLY. At least FOR A MOMENT. Comforting and strengthening them for the task. But he’s going to do ever BETTER than that. He promises that the rest of the disciples will see him in Galilee. When he meets them there he promises to be with THEM, TOO. And to be with them ALWAYS, in the person of his Spirit, TO THE VERY END OF THE AGE. Forever, wherever they’ve spread.

That’s a promise not just to THE WOMEN, or to the disciples. It’s a promise to US, TOO. When OUR excitement at what Jesus has done is mixed with FEAR. Fear of the unknown. Or of rejection. Or ridicule.

So take that as COMFORT AND STRENGTHENING. “Don’t be afraid,” says Jesus. “And go and tell about what you’ve come and seen.”

Re-writing history (11-15)

And while Luke and John’s gospels focus on Jesus’ appearances to the disciples in Jerusalem, Matthew skips over those. And, instead, looks at a DIFFERENT meeting in Jerusalem. While the women hurry off to find the disciples. Matthew’s interest is in the soldiers, who hurry off to find the chief priests.

And he tells the story of their efforts at RE-WRITING HISTORY.

Matthew’s responding to the excuse non-Christians of his day made rather than deal with the resurrection. People still bring it up TODAY. “Yeah, but the disciples just STOLE the body! That’s the obvious explanation!”

So Matthew carefully records what ACTUALLY went on.

Even though the chief priests heard from soldiers what had ACTUALLY happened. (They knew the TRUTH). But they STILL didn’t believe.

And they bribe the soldiers to take the fall. To admit falling asleep. And that the disciples had just come and rolled the stone away, and stolen the body, without waking them up.

And if anyone tries to bring the soldiers to TASK over their dereliction of duty, then the chief priests will stick up for them. And presumably grease a few more palms along the way.

And Matthew finishes, “The false story’s still being circulated to this day” as he writes it all down. Perhaps 40 years later.

Back to Galilee, then out to the world (16-20)

And, for SOME reason, Matthew jumps over the women actually passing on the message to the disciples. And he jumps over all the Jerusalem appearances of Jesus. And he fast forwards to the Galilee meeting.

Perhaps it’s because of WHERE THE MEETING IS. V16. Only Matthew mentions this – we’re told the disciples went to Galilee, TO THE MOUNTAIN where Jesus had told them to go.

Matthew’s got a thing about MOUNTAINS. Perhaps it’s his JEWISH background. Comparing Jesus to MOSES, who received God’s law, and saw God up on a MOUNTAIN.

But it’s only Matthew who points out that it was on a MOUNTAIN that Satan tempts Jesus with all the kingdoms of the world in Ch 4.

In Ch 5, it’s on A MOUNTAIN that Jesus delivers the Sermon on the Mount, Perhaps the same one he’s now meeting the disciples on.

It may ALSO be the same mountain Jesus goes up onto by himself to pray after he’s fed the 5000. He comes DOWN the mountain and walks on the water.

Peter, James and John see Jesus TRANSFIGURED up on a mountain. When he met with Elijah and Moses. Both prophets – experts at meeting with God on a mountain.

And now, it’s Jesus inviting his disciples to meet with HIM on a mountain. Just like the women had been invited by the angel, “Come and see.” So Jesus invites THE DISCIPLES, “Come and see!”

And v17. They COME, and they SEE Jesus. And then they WORSHIP him. Just like the women had.

But that’s not all. The angel had told the women to go and tell. (“Come and see, GO AND TELL”). And that’s exactly what Jesus commands his disciples too. V18.

18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore GO and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and TEACHING them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Familiar words. But let’s break them down a bit.

First up, the CONTEXT for the going and telling. All authority in heaven and on earth has been GIVEN to Jesus.

It’s BECAUSE Jesus endured the cross, because he bore God’s wrath, and won redemption for the world, that God VINDICATED him by raising him. By CROWNING him, seating him at his right hand.

It’s the victory scene from Daniel 7. It’s what Jesus was looking forward to. Remember as he was accused before the Sanhedrin? He said (26:64),

“But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man SITTING AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MIGHTY ONE and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

And now God’s DONE it.

And a few short weeks later, Peter stood before the crowds in Jerusalem at Pentecost. And DECLARES that FACT. Acts 2:32

32 God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of the fact. 33 EXALTED TO THE RIGHT HAND OF GOD, he has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear. … ‘  36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: GOD HAS MADE THIS JESUS, WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED, BOTH LORD AND CHRIST.”

That’s the crucial bit of information that sets the context for everything else. It’s BECAUSE Jesus is king that he commands the disciples to GO. See the logic there at the start of v19? (All authority has been given to me) THEREFORE go and make disciples.

But some might object. “It doesn’t LOOK like Jesus has been given all authority. If he really HAS. If the resurrection really DOES make that much of a difference. Then why is the world still so stuffed up? Things don’t LOOK that much different than BEFORE.

But God’s kingdom is a different SORT of kingdom. Jesus’ rule has BEGUN. And it’s GROWING. And SOME people recognise it at the moment. But it won’t be complete until Jesus returns. Jesus HAS won the victory over sin and death. But that VICTORY ANNOUNCEMENT IS STILL GETTING OUT.

And here’s a shock. It’s in the “going and telling” of his followers that Jesus grows his kingdom. That it becomes more real and powerful in the world.

It’s BECAUSE Jesus has been given all authority that we go and tell that news. And it’s AS we go and tell, and as people RESPOND to that news, that the AUTHORITY Jesus HAS becomes more real and experienced and observed. As more people choose to LIVE with Jesus as their king. As the Kingdom of God grows.

Jesus is at work, through his Spirit AND THROUGH HIS CHURCH, to take his world from where it was – under the rule not only of death, but of corruption, greed and every type of wickedness – and TO BRING IT ALL UNDER HIS RULE.

Tom Wright says, “Those who believe in Jesus, who are witnesses to his resurrection, are given the responsibility to go and MAKE REAL IN THE WORLD THE AUTHORITY WHICH HE ALREADY HAS.”

Is that what YOU’RE doing? Have you COME and SEEN? That’s the FIRST step. If not, I’d LOVE to help you do that. To investigate the claims and life of Jesus in more detail.

But most of us have already DONE that. So the next question is, Are you GOING AND TELLING?

Are you making disciples? Are you baptising and teaching?

And if like the women, you’re afraid, take to heart and dwell on Jesus’ FINAL promise. A wonderful way to finish the book.

“SURELY I am WITH you. ALWAYS. To the very END of the age.”

Matthew BEGAN his gospel with Jesus’ birth. A birth that fulfilled the words of Isaiah, “The virgin will be with child and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel, which means GOD WITH US.”

And now he closes with a promise for ALL Jesus’ disciples to the end of the age. That the risen, powerful conquering King JESUS will be with us. ALWAYS.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 27:26-66: Good Friday: Your Kingdom Come

Queen Elizabeth celebrates her diamond jubilee this year. Sixty years as queen of England! She’s seen THIRTEEN British Prime Ministers come and go during her reign! What an incredible effort!

Her coronation in 1953 was the first ever broadcast on television. She’s seen marriages and divorces, deaths and births all around her. And that’s just in her family.

The world she lives in TODAY is very different from the one she was crowned in. She’s seen wars and revolutions. She’s seen nations rise and fall. She’s seen floods and droughts, famines, earthquakes and tsunamis. She’s seen the hole in the Ozone layer grow, and the Greenhouse effect become more significant. She’s seen the fall of Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall.

And through it all, she’s been the ruler of the British Empire. The Commonwealth. Still wearing her hats and sensible shoes, carrying her generous handbags, and walking her corgis.

From start to finish, it’s a story about HER REIGN.

Just like the story of Jesus here in Matthew’s Gospel. From start to finish it’s about JESUS THE KING. The one who brings in the Kingdom of God.

The story BEGAN – the very first verse of Matthew – with the introduction “A record of the genealogy of Jesus Christ THE SON OF DAVID.” That’s KING David.

And then the Magi came looking for Jesus, THE ONE BORN KING OF THE JEWS.

And Matthew BEGINS Jesus’ ministry with the announcement at 4:17

17 From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the KINGDOM OF HEAVEN is near.”

And Jesus’ whole ministry – his teaching and his miracles – were about showing what that KINGDOM was like. What it means for Jesus to be KING.

It’s what the SERMON ON THE MOUNT is all about. Living in the kingdom. How to be GREAT in the kingdom.

And at the END of that first section of Matthew, we get the summary statement. 9:35

35 Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, PREACHING THE GOOD NEWS OF THE KINGDOM and healing every disease and sickness.

And as we’ve moved into these LAST chapters of Matthew, we’ve seen what an important theme it is. The contrast between the kingdoms of THIS world, and the Kingdom of God.

His disciples see EARTHLY influence and power. But Jesus sees a SERVANT king. Who takes up A CROSS, and demands that everyone who follows him DO THE SAME.

The crowd wants to make him King, so he’ll lead an uprising and drive out the Romans. But he comes ambling into town riding on a DONKEY.

And instead of military conquest, and riding in glory straight into Pilate’s palace. Jesus heads straight for the TEMPLE. To crack some skulls. Because God’s no longer the centre there.

Jesus’ eyes are on A DIFFERENT kingdom. A kingdom that will NEVER end. NEVER be overthrown. He can see the Son of Man coming on the clouds into HEAVEN’S throne room. And being crowned by GOD with all glory and authority and power. Not just over ONE nation, but over EVERY NATION.

And if we jump over TODAY’S story to the END of Matthew. We see Jesus RESURRECTED. Vindicated. Victorious. About to return to heaven. The kingdom of heaven has begun.

And he’s sending his disciples out into the world, equipped with the truth that ALL AUTHORITY ON HEAVEN AND EARTH HAS BEEN GIVEN TO HIM. In other words, He’s KING!

From start to finish, Matthew’s biography is a story about Jesus as KING.

And it’s a theme that keeps popping up in today’s verses TOO.

Turning the other cheek (27-31)

First up. Turning the other cheek. V27 of Ch 27. Jesus has been sentenced to death. And the Roman soldiers take him down to the barracks for some fun.

Just goes to show that bullying in the armed services isn’t a new thing.

They think it’s hilarious that this weak, abandoned, silent man is sentenced to death as THE KING OF THE JEWS. He’s the best this miserable nation can come up with.

The whole garrison gathers. They strip him, find a scarlet robe to drape across his bare shoulders. Then someone finds a thorn branch. They twist it into a rough crown, and jam it down on his bowed head. They find a broom handle to put in his hand as a royal sceptre.

Then the fun begins. They kneel before him. And ridicule him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” They spit on him, and take the staff off him and hit him on the head with it.

But he won’t play along. He’s no fun. He just TAKES it. Turns the other cheek.

He BEARS the shame and the insults precisely because he IS the king of the Jews. Just a different SORT of king. He’s the SERVANT king. The heavenly Son of Man who looks for acclaim from ANOTHER source.

When the soldiers get bored, and work out he won’t react. They dress him in his own clothes again. And lead him out to crucify him.

Your Kingdom Come (32-56)

He’s too weak to carry his cross, so they grab Simon from Cyrene to carry it FOR him.

And Matthew picks up details that remind us of the TYPE of kingdom Jesus is bringing in. Back in the Sermon on the Mount – Ch 5 – Jesus said that whoever obeyed his teaching would be GREAT IN THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. And then he taught (v39).

38 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’  39 But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. IF SOMEONE STRIKES YOU ON THE RIGHT CHEEK, TURN TO HIM THE OTHER ALSO. 40 AND IF SOMEONE WANTS TO SUE YOU AND TAKE YOUR TUNIC, LET HIM HAVE YOUR CLOAK AS WELL. 41 IF SOMEONE FORCES YOU TO GO ONE MILE, GO WITH HIM TWO MILES.

And here we have Jesus PRACTISING what he preaches. Turning the other cheek. Giving up his tunic and cloak. And then being forced to go two miles. Because that’s the way to live in the kingdom of the Servant King.

They come to Skull Hill. Golgotha (v33). He’s crucified there. Lifted up in front of them. But not in honour and exaltation. The passing crowds slow down just long enough to hurl INSULTS at him.

And the soldiers sit at his feet. Not in submission to his rule, but to gamble for his clothes.

And his offsiders, one on his right and one on his left, are not his loyal counsellors, his right hand men, rewarded for their faithful service. But two CRIMINALS, meeting the same shameful fate as him. And they’re ridiculing him TOO!

While his TRUE disciples are nowhere to be seen.

And over it all, the ironic sign above his head (v37). The crime he’s executed for. “This is Jesus: The KING of the Jews.”

 

Ironic, because it was meant by Pilate as AN INSULT. Not just to Jesus. But to the whole Jewish race. To keep them in their place.

 

Yet it speaks better than he knows. Because Jesus IS the KING of the Jews. King of THE kingdom. And they WON’T stop him  simply because they’ve murdered him.

 

And do you notice the taunts of the crowd? (v40) “IF you’re the son of God, come down from the cross!” The same from the leaders (v43).

43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I AM THE SON OF GOD.'”

 

In other words, “What sort of a FATHER just leaves his Son to die like THAT!?”

 

And yet keen-eyed readers of Matthew will know that’s EXACTLY what’s going on here. Because Jesus IS God’s son. Back in ch 3, John the Baptist is baptising Jesus, and heaven opened, and the Spirit of God descended on Jesus like a dove. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love, with him I’m well pleased!”

 

And straight after (Ch 4), Jesus is lead into the desert where Satan tempts him for 40 days and nights. When he’s hungry, Satan says, “IF YOU’RE THE SON OF GOD, tell these stones to become bread.”

 

Then he took him to the top of the temple. “IF YOU’RE THE SON OF GOD, throw yourself down, and God’s angels will protect you!”

 

And finally, in Ch 4, the theme of KINGS AND KINGDOMS. Satan offers to give him ALL THE KINGDOMS OF THE WORLD. And all their splendour if Jesus worships him.

 

But it doesn’t interest Jesus. Because he marches to a different drum. A different kingdom. A different Master.

 

So, back in Ch 27, when the crowd are teasing him as he hangs on the cross, “If you’re the Son of God, let God rescue you,” that’s the very reason he WON’T be rescued. He WILL bear it – drink the cup of suffering to the bottom – because he IS the Son of God. The Son who always does the will of his Father.

 

And that’s ALSO the reason God WON’T abandon him. Jesus can bear the agony of the cross because he knows that God’s PLEASED with him. And that, in time, God WILL rescue him. Vindicate him. Just not this side of DEATH.

 

Which is coming up soon. V45. From midday to 3pm there’s darkness over the whole land. The sun fades because THE SON is fading.

 

Jesus quotes from Ps 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not because he’s asking A QUESTION. But he’s pointing to the experience of the Psalmist who WROTE it. He felt abandoned by God. Surrounded by dogs who pierce his hands and feet.

 

But then he sees God’s RESCUE. The Psalmist looks forward to being able to praise God with the rest of his congregation.

23 You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!  24 For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.

 

And in the end, the Psalmist is able to proclaim

27 All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, AND ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE NATIONS WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM, 28 FOR DOMINION BELONGS TO THE LORD AND HE RULES OVER THE NATIONS.

 

Ps 22, God’s kingdom WILL ultimately triumph. Despite appearances. Despite the short term. In the LONG term, God always wins.

 

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” It’s not a cry of despair or faithlessness. It’s a cry of TRUST. Trust in the face of the worst sort of physical and spiritual suffering. Trust that his Father will bring him through it. And bring victory out of defeat. And that HIS kingdom will prove victorious over all OTHER kingdoms.

 

He doesn’t last much longer. V50. One final cry. Then he GIVES UP HIS SPIRIT. Even THAT seems to be an act of his will.

 

And as the Son of God dies, it seems like his whole Creation begins to mourn. Everything was made BY him, and everything holds together BECAUSE of him. Now, at his death, it’s like creation begins to fall apart.

 

It’s not there in the NIV, but v51 begins with “And behold!” Sights eyewitnesses would never see again. The sky is already dark. But then the earth shakes, and rocks split.

 

They’re A SIGN OF THINGS TO COME.

 

When Jesus dies, in a sense, all the kingdoms of this world die WITH him. They’re superseded. Outdated. And the kingdom of God begins. Kingdoms that threatened with fear and death. Kingdoms that come and go. That rise and fall. Another kingdom taking their place.

 

Jesus brings in, instead, a kingdom that will NEVER fall. That death CAN’T end.

 

It begins NOW as we live WITHIN those earthly, fading, temporary kingdoms. With eyes fixed on God’s ETERNAL, death-conquering kingdom instead.

 

And those earth-shattering events are a sign of things to come in OUR FUTURE, TOO. One day God will bring this rotting, festering world to an end. And bring in a perfect, restored new heaven and earth. And it will all happen because of what Jesus is doing on the cross.

 

But that’s not the ONLY signs of things to come. V51.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

 

Completely destroyed! The sign of things to come. Jesus had PREDICTED it. Pronounced JUDGMENT on it. A rotten, corrupt, broken system. Headed for the scrapheap.

 

And now, in Jesus’ broken body, all the animal sacrifices of the temple become obsolete. Sin punished ONCE, and FOR ALL.

 

And before long, the REST of the temple will follow. To this day, never rebuilt. Outdated and superseded.

 

But they’re not the ONLY signs of things to come. V51. Not mentioned anywhere else in the Bible.

52 The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus’ resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

 

The sign of things to come IN THE SHORT TERM. The first little mention that Jesus will be resurrected. Matthew can hardly wait to tell us that it’s not the end for Jesus.

 

But not only HIM. An entrée of better things to come for all who FOLLOW him. Jesus defeats sin and death by his willing sacrifice. And so death is wound back for many holy people around Jerusalem.

 

And what do HOLY people do? They find somewhere HOLY to go. They go to the HOLY CITY after Jesus’ resurrection. And plenty of people SEE them.

 

Presumably they go on to die AGAIN. But they’re a foretaste of what will, one day, happen for ALL of us. When Jesus returns we’ll ALL be raised. THIS time for ETERNITY. Whether Christian or not. And ALL given eternal bodies. Some raised for judgment. Others raised for acquittal. All depending on our attitude to Jesus.

 

Amazing events. Look at how the very soldiers who’d been ridiculing Jesus respond NOW (v54).

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

 

The crowd and the leaders had been MOCKING when they said it. But they were RIGHT!

 

Answering all objections (57-66)

And witnessing it all (v55), MANY WOMEN. (More about them on Sunday)

 

And then Joseph of Arimathea comes and takes Jesus’ body. And the women are watching all this too (v61).

 

Matthew’s including all the details needed for retelling the story for the next generation to believe. We know after Jesus’ resurrection various false stories surfaced about what had happened to Jesus’ body. The disciples stole it. Jesus wasn’t’ really dead. The women went to the wrong tomb. Or it was a different body.

 

But Matthew’s account answers all the objections. The women follow from the cross to the tomb. No mistake there. They’ve got the right tomb.

 

And it’s a new tomb. No other bodies sharing the space.

 

And it’s sealed with a large stone. Even guarded by Roman guards. No sneaking in and out with the body.

 

It may be HARD TO BELIEVE. But there’s no easier alternative.

 

And Matthew and the others re-told the story in the months and years that followed. They found that people BELIEVED the story. The lies the Jewish leaders spread DIDN’T hold water.

 

And instead of staying in Jerusalem, history tells us that people would flock to a DIFFERENT hill. Not to the temple mount. The broken, superseded meeting place with God.

 

But to a hill OUTSIDE the city instead. To Golgotha. To a Servant King. Who died in our place. To bow in grateful worship. To say, along with the centurion, “Surely he WAS the Son of God!”

 

And while the earth shakes and rocks split, Jesus shake things up LITERALLY. But before long, he’ll shake the world METAPHORICALLY.

 

The message of Jesus’ defeat of sin and death spreads from one end of the world to the other. He’s changed the world like NOTHING ELSE.

 

A simple carpenter who never wrote a book, and never travelled more than 300km from his birth place. But to quote from James Allan’s story, One Solitary Life,

Nineteen centuries have come and gone. And today Jesus is the central figure of the human race and the leader of mankind’s progress. All the armies that have ever marched, All the navies that have ever sailed, All the parliaments that have ever sat, All the kings that ever reigned put together Have not affected the life of mankind on earth As powerfully as THAT ONE SOLITARY LIFE

 

And it reaches its CLIMAX. TODAY. On Skull Hill, with a barbaric and unjust murder. And then the conclusion three days later.

 

As YOU’VE witnessed the events around that first Easter. How have YOU responded?

 

Will you stand with Jesus, like those women?

Will you honour and worship him, like the Roman centurion. “Truly this WAS the Son of God?”

 

Is Jesus’ death shaking YOUR world?

Is it rocking YOUR pretensions and self-sufficiency?

Is it rattling the cages of your ambition, and your comfort and your pride and your plans?

 

Is his death making a difference in your work, and your family? In your relationships and your priorities?

 

Or are you RESISTING him?

Is there something ELSE driving your world?

Is it all too DIFFICULT? Is it easier – less scary – just keeping your OWN hands on the wheel. Trying to contain and manage your own world? Solve your own problems?

 

But that’s the original sin of mankind. Thinking they know better than God. But it’s FOOLISHNESS. Because you CAN’T control ANYTHING about your world. You can’t even control your world enough to stop yourself catching a cold!

 

Why not hand it all over to Jesus. Let HIM shake your world up.

 

Is the death of Jesus making a difference in YOUR life – LIKE it has IN THE WORLD?

 

Bow before him. Honour him as the King of God’s kingdom. Worship and serve and FOLLOW him. That’s the way to respond to the Servant King.

Mark 16:1-8: The Great Omission

Let me give you a friendly warning. Don’t ask A.M. what she thinks of “The Lord of the Rings” movie. It’s not too flattering! I’ve rarely seen Amy get so animated as she did describing how ANNOYED the movie made her.

The book might be a literary masterpiece. Voted one of the greatest books of the twentieth century. But when it comes to the movie which is only based on PART ONE of the book (with two more parts to go). The movie just doesn’t SATISFY. Because it FINISHES when we’re only one third of the way through the story.

Which is okay if you KNOW that that’s what’s going to happen. But poor old Amy didn’t realise that the movie was going to finish with Frodo and Sam just STARTING the next part of the journey on their own.

It’s the sort of ending that’s BOUND to cause a response when you see it. Some people can’t WAIT to see the next movie. Others, like Amy, are frustrated that there’s no resolution. No finish.

And it’s the same range of responses that people have with the end of Mark’s story. Because it finishes quite suddenly.

Luke’s gospel finishes with lots of appearances of Jesus, and with the ascension. John finishes with Jesus appearing to Doubting Thomas, catching and cooking breakfast for the disciples, and then reinstating Peter to look after the church.

Then there’s MATTHEW’S Gospel. It finishes with the Great Commission. Jesus’ command to the disciples to go and tell everyone the good news. But there’s none of that in Mark. If you like, it’s the great OMISSION. The last thing we read/ is that the women said NOTHING to ANYONE because they were so afraid.

And lots of people think that it CAN’T be the end that Mark wrote. Because it doesn’t FIT the way WE would finish a story.

And so they decide that, somewhere along the line, we must have lost the last page, or something like that. And so, someone decided to WRITE another ending. One that ROUNDED THINGS OFF a bit better. And that’s the bit you’ve got in your bibles from verses 9 to 20. As far as we can work out, that probably happened sometime around 300 or 400 AD.

But WHO ARE WE to say that Mark’s done it the wrong way?

The BEST way to read the Bible is with a firm commitment that it’s just the way God wants. Complete with what WE might think are mistakes. And then to work hard to understand WHY God’s caused things to be written the way they are.

And that’s what we’re going to do today. WHY does Mark’s story finish in such an unusual way? What message is he sending his readers?

The plan is/ we’ll start off looking at what Mark says about Jesus’ resurrection. And then we’ll think about two questions that his ending raises. Two reactions we have as we read it.

1. An empty tomb!

But, first, let’s look at what happened that Sunday morning. At the empty tomb. And the first thing to notice is that Mark actually takes up the story the night before. On Saturday evening. Verse 1. “When the Sabbath was over”. That is, after sunset, Saturday night.

And the women who’ve been at the centre of everything since Jesus crucifixion are still active. They were WATCHING when Jesus was CRUCIFIED. They were WATCHING when he DIED. And they were watching when he was put in the TOMB. And here, at the first available moment, they go and buy spices for Jesus’ body.

And then they go home until the next morning. Because it’s too late to do anything now. And then Verse 2, They’re up bright and early. As soon as there’s enough light to see. They’re off to the tomb.

But as sometimes happens when you make an early start, you forget things. “Hang on a minute! Who’s going to roll that whopping great stone out of the way?”

I once had to preach at an early church service. 8 am traditional. And we were staying about 45 minutes drive away. So I packed the car the night before, and left my sermon notes near the front door, so they wouldn’t get packed at the bottom of the boot.

Well, we packed everyone in the car, and made it on the road in time. And we were about 15 minutes down the road, when I had this awful feeling. My stomach dropped. I’d left my notes at the front door.

We were on the Gold Coast freeway heading north to Brisbane. There were no exits, and nowhere to turn around, and go back.

Thank goodness for mobile phones! Our friends had found the notes as soon as we left. And taken off after us. We got in touch by mobiles. And we stopped by the side of the road for the pick-up.

It’s quite funny now, looking back. But it wasn’t too funny at the time.

Early starts can make you forget things. And it seems like that’s what these women had done. But they needn’t have worried. Because look at what happens when they arrive at the tomb. Verse 4.

(Mark 16:4 NIV)  But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.

The whole thing was designed so that the stone could be rolled down into a channel fairly easily. But once it was there, it was almost impossible to budge. But SOMEONE had moved it.

And straight away the women find out who. Look at v5.

(Mark 16:5 NIV)  As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed.

For some reason Mark doesn’t call him an ANGEL. He’s just a young man dressed in a white robe. But an ANGEL is obviously what he is. Because the women respond the way people do when they come in contact with the things of heaven. They’re ALARMED. AMAZED. Jaw-droppingly, hair-raisingly ASTONISHED.

He’s come from heaven. Because he’s got a message from God. Verse 6.

(Mark 16:6 NIV)  “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him.

He tells them NOT to be alarmed! And then he gives them the most ASTOUNDING news break ever. There’s probably never BEEN news that’s MORE alarming. Amazing. Astonishing?

He says not to be alarmed. But there’s NO WAY his message is going to calm their nerves. Because if they were astonished at a stone rolled away. And a young guy dressed in white. Then his news is going to KNOCK THEIR SOCKS OFF.

“You’re looking for Jesus. Yes, the Nazarene. Yes, the one who was crucified. You’ve got the right bloke. And yes, you’ve come to the right place. Because here’s where he lay.  But he’s been RAISED. RESURRECTED. Brought back to life. And he’s not hanging around here anymore. He’s had QUITE ENOUGH of death.”

That’s the news. And then he adds a COMMAND. What they’re to DO with the news. Verse 7.

(Mark 16:7 NIV)  But go, tell his disciples and Peter, ‘He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.'”

“The one who was dead. But isn’t anymore. Is going home. And he wants the disciples to follow him back to Galilee. And make sure you tell Peter. Just in case he thinks he’s not included.”

That’s the message. The angel’s done his job. And now it’s up to the women. But do they do their part? Hardly. Look at v8.

(Mark 16:8 NIV)  Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.

The angel told them not to be ALARMED. So they’re trembling and bewildered instead. Shaking like leaves. Shocked. Not knowing WHAT to do.

And so they run. But not to tell the disciples. To get as far away from the tomb as quickly as they can. And Mark finishes by saying, “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”. The last sentence in the greatest ever story. “They said nothing to anyone because they were afraid”.

I don’t know about you. But I have a sort of “Amy Moore/ Lord of the Rings” reaction to that finish.

How can FEAR be the final emotion? What about JOY? And cheering?

And where’s the PROOF? Noone actually SAW Jesus. All they see is a young man who SAYS he’s risen.

And how come they didn’t say anything to anyone? What sort of a finish is that? What chance is there of ANYONE finding out about Jesus if THIS is the best the women can do?

It’s all very unsatisying for the reader. Half-baked and unfinished. We expect to turn over the page, looking for part 2 to start.

But let me suggest that that’s EXACTLY what Mark WANTS us to think. Because he even SAYS that he’s only writing part 1. Look back at the start of the book. The very first verse. Mark Ch 1 v1.

(Mark 1:1 NIV)  The BEGINNING of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

Mark’s story is only the BEGINNING. The story CONTINUES. The story of Jesus continues FAR BEYOND his life and death and resurrection. It continues through the life of the church. The group of people who take on his name. Christian. And who keep telling each other the stories of Jesus. It continues in the lives of people who walk WITH Jesus every day/ through his Spirit.

Let me suggest Mark’s designed the end JUST THE WAY IT IS. To UNSETTLE us. And force us to ask these sorts of questions.

And there are two questions in particular we’re going to think about.

1. Is the MESSAGE of Jesus enough? And

2. Is the METHOD of Jesus enough?

2. Is the message of Jesus enough?

Firstly. Is the MESSAGE of Jesus enough?

One thing that’s not satisfying for me is that there’s no actual SIGHTING of Jesus. No PROOF. No eyewitnesses. Just the word of a young man.

And PROOF’s what I’d like to be able to give people. “Believe in Jesus. See, here’s the PROOF he rose from the dead.”

But Mark’s message is “That’s not the way it works. Whether it’s Mark’s FIRST hearers. In about 60 AD. Or today. Here in Doonside. We’ve got to take SOMEONE’s WORD for it. We have to TRUST the message.

Perhaps there were people in Mark’s time who were saying, “We can’t PROVE it. There’s noone left who actually SAW Jesus after he rose. How can I be SURE it happened?”

But whether it be 60 AD, or 2002 AD. That’s not the way Christian faith works. It’s not the way God designed it. We can’t PROVE anything. Faith involves TRUSTING something you CAN’T SEE. Clinging to something you’re FAIRLY SURE is there. And that’s not easy. If it was so easy – everyone would be doing it.

Don’t get me wrong. That doesn’t mean Christian faith is BRAINLESS faith. There are valid, rational reasons for believing. But ultimately, we need to TRUST the message. And the messengers, And, most importantly, we need to trust THE ONE THE MESSAGE IS ABOUT. Does what we read about Jesus ring true? Is he the sort of person I’m willing to trust my life to? The sort of person I’d risk DEATH for?

When we start to wonder “Is the message of Jesus enough?” we need to remember that it was enough for the Apostles. They met with the risen Jesus, and they told others. And the message changed their lives. And the lives of those they told. And the lives of those THEY told. And the lives of you and me.

The message of Jesus is STILL enough. The gospel still changes hearts. It doesn’t need to be ADDED to by multi-media presentations. Or slick advertising campaigns. Or the need to speak in tongues, or acts of healing. Or lives where nothing ever goes wrong.

Here’s the message. “Jesus lived to show us the Father. He died to pay for your sin. He rose from the dead, and defeated death for you. He’s gone home to wait for us”. That’s the message. And it’s still ENOUGH to change the world.

3. Is the method of Jesus enough?

The second question we might have is/ Is the METHOD of Jesus enough?

It seems a very dodgy strategy to leave the future of salvation in the hands of women who are too scared to say anything to anyone. Will the whole thing end with a whimper, rather than a bang? Who will tell the good news?

Yet, even though they were scared. Fear and amazement are the APPROPRIATE RESPONSES whenever human beings catch a hint of heavenly things. All through Mark’s gospel, that’s how people have reacted whenever they’ve glimpsed the transcendent, heavenly Jesus. Something beyond the normal, human everyday Jesus. And so it makes sense here at the END.

In Ch 2:12 Jesus heals paralysed legs. And the crowd are AMAZED.

In Ch 4:41, he calms the storm. And the disciples are TERRIFIED.

In Ch 5:15, he casts demons into pigs, and the crowd are AFRAID, and beg Jesus to leave.

In Ch 5:42 he raises a 12 yr old girl to life, and they’re ASTONISHED.

In Ch 6:50 Jesus walks on water, and the disciples are TERRIFIED.

In Ch 9:6 Jesus is transfigured into his gleaming, heavenly appearance, and the disciples are so FRIGHTENED, they babble like idiots.

And so when the women hear about the resurrected Jesus, and they’re too afraid, and alarmed, and trembling to tell anyone, it’s NOT THAT UNUSUAL. In fact, fear and awesome wonder is a perfectly appropriate response to glimpsing heaven.

Is that something YOU’VE experienced? Has a glimpse of Jesus affected YOU like that?

I can imagine those FIRST hearers of Mark’s gospel. Perhaps meeting in secret. Fearing Roman persection. Being thrown to the lions. Listening to Mark’s story being read.

“But if the women were too scared to say anything to anyone, what will happen to the message?” But then they looked around at each other. And the light gradually dawns. “Hang on a minute, we’re here today. That must mean the message DID get out.”

“They MUST have got over their fear. And told SOMEONE. Who told someone ELSE. And that’s how we got here today. And if THEY managed to get over THEIR fear. Then I can get over MY fear TOO. I can speak boldly. And pass the message on to someone else.”

And it’s exactly the same for us today. The message spread so far, it’s even made it to DOONSIDE. That’s a lot of people who spoke up, despite the fear.

Who told YOU about Jesus? Parent? Friend? Neighbour? Workmate? Someone swallowed their fear long enough to tell you the good news about Jesus! Thank GOD for them! Who will you do the same for?

Perhaps Jesus’ method wasn’t such a bad idea after all. It certainly DOES seem risky. But that’s the way he’s chosen to do things. Through US. We are his body. His means of working in the world. We SPEAK for him. On his behalf. We COMFORT, and HEAL, and SUPPORT, and PREACH, and ENCOURAGE, and REBUKE the world ON HIS BEHALF.

Jesus’s method for reaching the world is US. And it IS enough.

Mark finishes his story the way he does. Because his story is only PART ONE of the story. The BEGINNING of the good news of Jesus. We are part TWO. Where will it END? How will it end?

It’s up to US to write the rest of the story.

Mark 14:43-72: Questions & Answers

Questions. There are OBVIOUS questions. “What time does the 10:29 bus arrive?” And TRICKY questions. “Have you stopped beating your wife yet?” And there are just plain DUMB questions. “So Thorpy, how does it feel to be the Olympic champion?”

SOME questions can pin a person to the wall. Any good CURRENT AFFAIRS HOST knows how to ask the DIFFICULT question. The SHARP question. The one that gets right to the heart of the problem. That make the politician, or the dodgy businessman, squirm. And we think, “I’m glad it’s not ME who has to clash with them!”

People like Kerry O’Brien, or Helen Wellings, or Mike Munroe.

But they don’t have to be HARD and TOUGH to be good. Some people manage to do a BRILLIANT job asking questions/ by being NICE. These people somehow manage to get celebrities to reveal their deepest secrets with a smile and a wink. People like Michael Parkinson. Or Rove McManus.

I heard Rove interviewing Helena Bonham Carter, the actress, about her new movie. And he somehow managed to convince her to explain how she’d broken wind to ease the tension before shoooting an embarrassing scene. And then when I thought he’d gone too far, he got her describe the noise! And she did it! And she loved it!

People who ask good questions can be very impressive.

And then there’s the opposite. People who ask questions that are SO STUPID they’re funny. Norman Gunston and Dame Edna Everage were the pioneers. Maybe that says something about Australians?

They were the first to master the art of asking a celebrity the ridiculous question with a straight face. The movie star, or musician just has no idea how to take it all. They either join in the gag, or get more and more annoyed. Which makes for great television, and is just what we want to see.

And recently, in England, Ali G, and the Kumars at No. 42, have come on the scene. Doing the same sorts of things.

And while the GOOD interviewers show you HOW IMPRESSIVE they are with their brilliant questions. All that Ali G, or Norman Gunston, manage to do/ is show you how mind-numbingly STUPID, and BLATANTLY IGNORANT, they are. I just want to cringe, and hide my head under a pillow when I hear interviews from these sorts of people.

Questions don’t just tell you something about the person who’s being ASKED the question. We can also learn a lot about the person who’s ASKING the question.

And “questions” is what we’ve got in the passage today. Questions FROM Jesus. And questions TO Jesus. And even questions to Peter ABOUT Jesus.

And we can learn a lot about the people who are ASKING the questions. And about the people who are BEING ASKED. And we learn about JESUS as we look at these questions. And about what it means to follow him.

1. Questions FROM Jesus – Who am I, and what is my kingdom like? (43-52)

Let’s look at the first section. Remember, we’re in the Garden of Gethsemene. And Jesus has just announced that THE HOUR HAS COME. The hour he’d just prayed might pass from him.

But, in the end he gives in to his Father’s will. And His Father says “Time’s up. The hour’s here. Time for the kingdom of God to arrive”.

All the CONFLICT and DISAGREEMENTS and DEBATES have come to a head. It’s the authorities versus Jesus. They’ve been looking for their chance. And now they’ve seen it, and they’re grabbing it with both hands. It’s time for the showdown.

Jesus can hear the crowd as it comes up the hill. He can hear their angry, excited voices. Perhaps he can see the torches. Hear the clank of metal, and the heavy thump of solid wooden clubs.

But it seems like EVERYONE has got things wrong. Everyone EXCEPT Jesus/ sees a rebel leader stirring up a rebellion. And the rebel needs to be squashed. Or perhaps lifted to the throne. Depending who’s side you’re on.

And so the religious leaders send a mob. The crowd bring their weapons. Even the disciples take swords.

And even Judas seems to be expecting trouble. Because he arranges a secret signal, so Jesus can be arrested quickly and quietly. Without fuss. Or violence. Look at v44.

(Mark 14:44-46 NIV)  Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him and lead him away under guard.” {45} Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Rabbi!” and kissed him. {46} The men seized Jesus and arrested him.

The priests had wanted to get Jesus out of the way – quickly and quietly. Without starting a riot. And it looks like they’ve done it.

Until Peter steps up to the plate. He’s brought his sword. And when he sees Jesus being arrested, he takes a swipe at whoever’s closest. And someone loses an ear.

But everyone’s got it all wrong. Got JESUS wrong. He’s a DIFFERENT sort of King. And so Jesus asks the question. It’s a question that cuts right through the darkness of people’s misunderstanding and lack of faith/ like a piercing bright spotlight. It’s a Mike Munroe, or a Kerry O’Brien question. Look at v48.

(Mark 14:48 NIV)  “Am I leading a rebellion,” said Jesus, “that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me?

In other words “Is that REALLY what you think I’m on about? After all this time? You’ve heard me preaching”.

I’ve come to bring PEACE, not WAR. FORGIVENESS not HATRED. My kingdom’s about HUMILITY, and CHILDLIKE FAITH, and SERVANTHOOD. Not military might, or riches, or bosses, or authority”.

(Mark 8:34-35 NIV)  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. {35} For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me and for the gospel will save it.

His followers were to take up their cross. But Peter had taken up his sword, instead. They saw it as a battle to be won. But, for Jesus, the mob, and the Garden, and the kiss/ were just a means to an end. One step further along the road to his death. And it was all to happen just like God had planned. And just like he’d revealed it in the Scriptures. That’s what he says in v 49.

And once people realise what Jesus’ attitude is/ they see the game’s up. There’s not going to be any battle. It’s no use standing behind Jesus if he’s going to give up without a fight. And so look at what they do. Verse 50. Everyone deserts him, and flees. Just like he said they would. Back in Ch 13.

Jesus has said that everything’s going to happen just as the Scriptures have said. God’s got it in control. In fact, he even said, back in ch 13, that they would all flee.

But his followers can’t see God’s controlling hand. They can only see a wild mob. The flash of swords. The angry shout of soldiers. Anarchy, not order. Betrayal, not faithfulness. A kingdom CRUMBLING, not a kingdom BUILDING.

And that’s often the way with US, isn’t it? God rules. Despite the way life sometimes looks. He’s got every minute of every day scripted. The ultimate running sheet.

People seem impressed that I put approximate times on the little orders of service I give people who are doing something in church. But it’s NOTHING compared to what God’s got. For everyone of us.

Every mistake we make. Every wrong turn we take. Every chance happening. God’s planned it. And he’s got a purpose in it. And it’s for our ultimate GOOD.

He’s got it all organised. But we run around like chooks with our heads cut off. As if the world’s falling apart. Instead of it happening JUST LIKE God designed it.

2. Questions FOR Jesus  – Who are you? (53-65)

Back to Jesus. The mob take him to the High Priest. He’s been waiting back at his house. And now it’s time for some questions FOR JESUS. Because the High Priest’s assembled a kangaroo court. There’s the Sanhedrin – perhaps 70 of the religious leaders. Pharisees, priests, and teachers.

And there’s also the guards. They’re not Roman soldiers. They’re Jewish. And they look after the high priest.

And then there’s THE FALSE WITNESSES. People who’ve been paid to lie about Jesus. But the problem is, they haven’t even got their stories straight. Because when they’re questioned one by one, their stories don’t even agree.

And then, we see what a TRAVESTY of a trial it is. Because the High Priest – the one who’s supposed to be the impartial JUDGE – stands up to QUESTION Jesus. It’s a Norman Gunston question. Because rather than the spotlight shining onto Jesus, the question only shows how guilty the High Priest is. Verse 60.

(Mark 14:60 NIV)  …”Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?”

“Defend yourself. Like a normal trial”

But it WASN’T a normal trial. Because the verdict’s already been decided. And so Jesus remains silent.

But the High Priest pushes the point. More questions. “Are you the Christ. The Messiah? The Son of the Blessed One?”

And NOW Jesus answers. Because the High Priest has actually hit the nail on the head. He’s got Jesus right. He IS the Messiah. He IS God’s Son. Look at v62. “I AM the Christ. And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Remember where Jesus is quoting from? Daniel 7. And he’s already told HIS DISCIPLES that this is what will happen. Back in Ch 13. When the kingdom comes/ God will appoint his Son to sit at his right hand in glory. In other words, Jesus is saying “You might be asking who I am NOW, but pretty soon you’ll know FOR SURE”. And it’s coming so soon, YOU’LL see it!

When the kingdom comes. When God raises me from the dead. You’ll see who I really am. And then you won’t need to ask the question.

And it’s not quite what the High Priests was wanting to hear. Verse 63. More Norman Gunston questions. This time to the rest of his cronies.

(Mark 14:63-64 NIV)  The high priest tore his clothes. “Why do we need any more witnesses?” he asked. {64} “You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

And the questions do their work. They show the leaders for what they are. They all condemn him as worthy of death. Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, “Prophesy!” And the guards took him and beat him.

They mockingly command him to prophesy. But they’re so blind they can’t see that he already has. “You will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

3. Questions ABOUT Jesus – Are you with the Nazarene? (66-72)

That’s the second set of questions. We’ve seen questions FROM Jesus. We’ve seen questions TO Jesus. And in this next section we see questions ABOUT Jesus.

And the spotlight turns on Peter. While all this has been going on, we’ve sort of forgotten about Peter. Peter gets a lot of bad press. But at least when everyone else fled. Peter followed Jesus. Sure, it was at a distance. But at least he followed. And back in v 54, it says he followed Jesus RIGHT INTO THE COUTYARD of the High Priest. So close to Jesus, he could almost TOUCH him.

But does he side with Jesus? Does he sit down with his master? NO! Verses 54. He sits down with THE GUARDS.

And while the travesty of a trial is going on upstairs, Peter is having some problems of his own. Look at v66. A servant girl recognises him. And asks the QUESTION. The hard-hitting question. The Mike Munroe question. “Weren’t you with Jesus?”

But Peter denies it. And backs away. But the girl persists. Follows after him. Like Helen Wellings on the trail of a shonky builder. Microphone shoved into his face. “You’re one of them!”

Again Peter denies it. Then some others join in. “Of course you are. We can tell by your accent!”

And Peter realises that he’d better put on a good show. Make up in bluster and bravado/ what he lacks in credibility. He calls down curses on himself, and SWEARS to them. “I swear I don’t know him”

And just then the rooster crows. It’s sometime around 3 am. And immediately Peter remembers Jesus’ words. “Before the rooster crows you will disown me three times”. And Peter breaks down and weeps.

Jesus called on Peter to take up a CROSS. But he’d taken up a SWORD INSTEAD. He called on Peter to DENY HIMSELF, and Peter had denied JESUS instead.

It seems like the end of the road. But it’s not. The hour still hasn’t come.

The questions have been asked. And the answers have been given. And things are clearer. The religious leaders and the mob have got Jesus wrong. They see a blasphemer, or a revolutionary. Peter has got Jesus wrong. He expected a certain type of strength, and is ashamed when Jesus seems to give in.

But it’s still not the end. Jesus has announced that the hour has come. The process has begun. But it’s not here yet.

Back in chapter 13 he warned the disciples that tough times were ahead. The toughest times EVER. Times when it would seem like MEN were in control, rather than God. And his message was TO KEEP WATCH. Because noone knew when it would come.

It might be in the evening. But evening’s gone. That was at the Last Supper. It might be at midnight. But midnight’s come. That was in the Garden. It might even be when the rooster crows. But that’s past too.

And the hour still hasn’t arrived.

And though Peter’s in despair. It’s not the finish. Perhaps the hour will come at DAWN.

The hour when the kingdom will arrive. When the Son of Man will come. When the King will be crowned. But it will be a coronation like no other. A desolation. An abomination. A despicable horror like no other.

King Jesus will be crowned on a CROSS. Dying the shameful death of a criminal.

But it’s a victorious death. Not the death of a revolutionary – the end of a movement. It’s The death of a Saviour. The Saviour of the world.

The questions in this section have shown Jesus for who he really is. A king like no other. A Saviour like no other. A lord who demands that we follow him That we take up a cross. Not a sword. Who demands that we deny ourselves. Not deny him.

How do YOU measure up in the light of these questions? Do you see who Jesus is? And will you SHOW that by taking up your cross? And by denying yourself?

Mark 15:21-47: The Death of Jesus

So this is it! The culmination of Jesus’ ministry on earth! All the talking and preparation is over! The miracles and healings have been done.

This is where the rubber meets the road, where we find out if Jesus is a simply a man of words, or a man of action!

All the purposes of the world are about to be fulfilled! Every event before and after find their meaning and purpose here!

The concert is about to begin! The rehearsals are over, the instruments are tuned, the PA is warmed up and ready to roar, the stadium is full, and the crowd is pumped. Everyone is ready! Ready for the superstar of the show to perform his explosive opening number. Everyone waits with expectation!

The hour has come for the miracle man!

He’s the one who made water into wine, who miraculously fed thousands,  calmed storms, healed the sick, the lame and the blind, raised the dead –

The hour has come!

But things have started to go wrong! This ruler of the wind and waves has been betrayed and captured. This mighty healer and miracle-worker has been accused and convicted, and left all alone. His disciples have fled in fear of their lives.

Puny, insignificant and spiteful little men pass a sentence of death on the Son of God.- the one who was with God in the beginning!

And Jesus just let’s all this happen! The hour has come?! What’s going on? What sort of hour is it anyway that has come?

1. Whose murder? (16-32)

The thing which strikes me most in these verses is the sheer ordinariness of them. Jesus seems to be a helpless passenger in the events which unfold.

He seems to be simply a piece of flotsam bobbing around as the powerful torrent of rushing floodwater sweeps him along. The powerful miracle-worker seems to be gone. In fact, Jesus, whose been the centre of the action for 15 chapters, is strangely absent in these verses. His name isn’t mentioned at all between v 15 and v 34! Jesus becomes simply “him” or “he”

These verses show us Jesus – by himself – against the world!

Jesus’ death is a case of

a. Murder by numbers:

(Mark 15:16 NIV)  “The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers.”

The writer doesn’t say “and called together some soldiers”

or “a suitable group of soldiers”. The whole company of soldiers was needed for this dangerous prisoner!

A Roman company was 600 soldiers! Perhaps it may have been a smaller detachment – say 100. Even if it was only 100, what a tragedy that Jesus, who went willingly to the cross, needed 100 men to crucify him!

Jesus against the world!

These courageous soldiers needed a whole company to crucify Jesus. They were nothing more than puny, insignificant school-yard bullies – nameless and faceless without identity

But it wasn’t just the soldiers either! Look at v29.

(Mark 15:29-32 NIV)  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} come down from the cross and save yourself!” {31} In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! {32} Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

“Those who passed by” seems fair enough. It was almost expected of them. And it’s no surprise that the chief priests and teachers of the law are in on the act! They’ve been out to get Jesus since the beginning. But “those crucified with him”?! That really takes the cake doesn’t it!

Can you imagine the scene? These two criminals aren’t far off death themselves. You’d think if there was ever a time to be introspective and worried about your own problems, this would be it!

You’re pinned to a cross like a butterfly on a pinboard. You’re on display next to a main road- up high so that everyone passing by can see you. The aim is to humiliate you, then kill you – painfully. You’re naked, you’re in excruciating pain, and will be dead in a few hours. How weird that you would be paying out the one next to you whose in the same position. It’s quite a bizarre picture!

What’s this picture tell us?

By focussing in on the two thieves, Mark shows us how inappropriate the behaviour of everyone was. It shows the blindness and sinfulness of the whole crowd. It shows the sheer lunacy of mocking one dying, when you’re only a hop and a skip behind him.

But are those we walk past in the street any different? How far are we all from death? Is it any less foolish for us to thumb our noses at Jesus when death could be waiting for us around the next corner?

There’s another reason Mark mentions the two thieves.

(Mark 15:27 NIV)  “They crucified two robbers with him, one on his right and one on his left.”

Mark even goes so far as to specify where the two thieves were in relation to Jesus. Do the positions of on the right and left of Jesus remind you of anything?

(Mark 10:35-40 NIV)  “Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” {36} “What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. {37} They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” {38} “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” {39} “We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, {40} but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.””

I think Mark’s point is that the disciples themselves were no different to the crowd. They misunderstood what Jesus’ kingdom was about as much as these criminals. Jesus’ glory is a strange glory! It’s certainly not what James and John expected!

It’s glory seen in shame. It’s kingship seen in servanthood. It’s authority seen in defeat. It’s success seen in failure. It’s power seen in submission. It’s victory seen in death

James and John wanted to follow Jesus into a wonderful new and powerful earthly kingdom. Yet to be on Jesus’ left and right in his glory means to be crucified with him.

To follow Jesus is to take the cup of suffering he takes and every day to take up the cross he takes up.

This is the Jesus who calls you to follow him. To follow Jesus is the only true way of life, but it’s not an easy way.

Obedience is harder than disobedience.

Listening to Jesus is harder than listening to the world

Submission is harder than standing up for your rights.

Being different to the world is harder than comformity

Defending truth is harder than tolerance

If you choose to follow him, do it because Jesus is the truth, not because the Christian life is an easy one.

One of the themes then has been “Murder by numbers”. Jesus – all alone – misunderstood and abandoned – against the world.

Another theme in this section is of

b. Accidental Fulfilments:

Throughout the account there are several important details which we may miss on first reading. Many of them seem accidental or even insignificant but to those of us “in the know”, with the benefit of hindsight, they are fascinating jewels.

The first real character we meet in this account is Simon of Cyrene

(Mark 15:21 NIV)  “A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross.”

Simon was from Nth Africa. He was a long way from home. He’d stumbled onto the crucifixion march, and someone managed to end up carrying Jesus’ cross! He was the country hick in the wrong place at the wrong time.

It seems accidental, but to those of us who understand more of Jesus’ mission, it’s important!

Remember,

(Mark 8:34 NIV)  “Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.”

All of Jesus’ followers have deserted him! They expected an earthly throne,

not a tomb! The only one left who follows Jesus truly does so by accident!! How ironic!**

Secondly, we read

(Mark 15:24 NIV)  “And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.”

This tragic display emphasises the attitude the soldiers have towards human life. They are more interested in Jesus’ meagre belongings than in his life.

It reminds me how during WW2 the Germans in the death camps would take gold fillings out of Jews before they were gassed.

But even in this pitiful scene, we see God’s hand. We see what it means to be a true king of Israel. For this scene echoes one found in Ps 22.

Ps 22 is a Psalm of King David – the great King of Israel – God’s chosen one – His Messiah -and the one from whom Jesus was descended.

Ps 22 doesn’t speak of glorious thrones and palaces. It speaks of David’s humiliation and helplessness at the hands of enemies. Among other things it says,

(Psa 22:12-18 NIV)  “Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me. {13} Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me. {14} I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. {15} My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death. {16} Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. {17} I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. {18} They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”

Jesus is achieving the plans of God. His kingdom is not about an earthly victory.

There is a bigger picture than the one we are seeing!

The rejection and helplessness felt by King David echoes and mirrors that felt by the greater King from David’s line – Jesus!

The soldiers have accidentally fulfilled God’s plans! How ironic that in their mockery and selfishness, the soldiers point to Jesus.

To Jesus, as the Messiah who fulfills God’s kingly purposes!

Thirdly we read,

(Mark 15:29-31 NIV)  “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} come down from the cross and save yourself!” {31} In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself!”

The crowd mock him as he hangs there with his broken and bruised body, for boldly claiming to destroy and rebuild the temple. How ironic that as they watch, his body, the temple, is being destroyed, and that when he is raised from death, the temple is rebuilt!

The priests criticise him for his lack of saving ability – That in his impotence on the cross he can’t even save himself. How ironic that it’s in this very action – of refusing to save himself – that he is effecting the salvation of the world! Jesus’ salvation is heralded by those who mock him!

How ironic!***

These situations involved unwitting and accidental incidents. Yet these incidents assumed greater significance. They were all part of God’s greater plan. God is the hands-on director of life’s movie

Mark has enabled us to see history through the director’s eye – “the director’s cut”!

What men see as their decisions we are able to see as all part of the eternal plan of God. A plan which spans all of these puny plans.

How should this affect the way we approach the events of our life? Are we conscious of God’s purposes? It’s often easy to see them as we look back on our life. Do we look for God’s plans in events as they happen?

Do we consider how God may want to use each circumstance that we find ourselves in? Or are we too busy setting our own agenda, and steering our own course?

Is our life a novel where the plot is guided and planned by the Author. Or a choose-your-own-adventure, where we do whatever we feel like?

c. A Right Royal Mess:

Another theme through this section is that of royalty. The Jews were expecting a King from David’s line who would bring about a new glorious kingdom.

This desire had been strengthened by the Roman oppression.

Rome, on the other hand, was keen to keep a lid on this nationalistic fervour. Any new king would threaten their rule.

The Roman mockery of Jesus as “King of the Jews” was poking fun not just at Jesus but at the insignificant hopes of the tin-pot nation Israel. “Is this the best you can do?”

The notice above Jesus’ head, “THE KING OF THE JEWS”, serves a similar purpose.

“He’s your king – next time you think about rebelling against Rome, just remember what happened to your last king” – is the message being sent

Yet again, we see how Mark uses these events with a sense of irony. It is his action on the cross which shows his glory, and achieves his victory over sin and death.

How ironic that Rome’s mocking charge identifies Jesus more accurately than most of the Jews!

In the first section, Jesus has been conspicuous by his absence – “who’s murder?”. In the second section, we answer the question, it’s

2. Jesus’ murder! (33-39)

It almost appears that Jesus has been forgotten. In this section the focus returns to Jesus, as we zoom in on him.

a) An earth-shattering event

The first thing we see is that nature is more receptive to what’s going on than the people!

(Mark 15:33 NIV)  “At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.”

The whole land was dark from midday to 3 pm! The enormous significance of Jesus’ death is seen in this darkness.

It was common for momentous earthly events to be proclaimed by cataclysmic heavenly events. Remember that Jesus’ birth had been heralded by the star in the sky.

And Jesus had foretold of these events in Ch 13

(Mark 13:24-26 NIV)  “”But in those days, following that distress, “‘the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light; {25} the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.’ {26} “At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory.”

This was no run of the mill crucifixion! What was happening beside this dusty road, among dozens of similar crosses, in a backwater of the Roman empire, was re-shaping the whole of creation.

This event gives significance and explanation to every event before and after it. It explains why God deals with the human race. It explains his purposes in creation.

The people have missed the importance, but the creation recognises the true significance!

The darkness is also a sign of God’s curse just as the plague of darkness was on Egypt and Pharoah in Exodus. God’s curse is on his only Son Jesus!

The darkness shows what Jesus reveals in his cry in the following verse – that God has abandoned him.

b) Abandoned

In v 34, Jesus’ name is mentioned for the first time since v 15

(Mark 15:34 NIV)  “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”–which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?””

Now these words of Jesus are also taken from Ps 22. They’re also King David’s cry as he is surrounded by his enemies, and feels that God has deserted him.

Perhaps Jesus had seen the soldiers gambling for his clothes, and this reminded him of Ps 22? My guess is that it was nothing as rational as this.

The darkness had shown God’s curse on him. At his death, God had placed on his shoulders the guilt of the sin of the world.

God turned his face from his only son and for the first time in all eternity, Jesus felt the incredible pain of separation from his Father.

It was pain he knew was coming, and which he longed to avoid

(Mark 14:33-36 NIV)  “He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. {34} “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them. “Stay here and keep watch.” {35} Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. {36} “Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.””

Jesus knew that his role was to pay a price. This was what was meant by giving his life as a ransom. That’s what he said back in Ch 10. V45. A ransom is a price paid to buy someone back. Jesus paid with his life for us. He took the punishment we deserved

And for this act, his Father rejected him. For his obedience, his Father turned his back on him. When your father doesn’t acknowledge you, it hurts!

Some men go through their whole lives looking for the approval of their father.

My Dad is quite stern, and compliments and approval don’t come easily. I try hard to win Dad’s approval. Even now, it’s important to me what Dad thinks of the things I do. Imagine how Jesus felt to be rejected by the Father with whom he’d been one since all eternity!

Yet, in obedience, he went to the cross!

(Mark 14:36 NIV)  “”Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.””

Jesus was willing to endure the cup of suffering because of his great love for us.

c) The Demolition Expert:

So, as an act of obedience, Jesus dies.

(Mark 15:37-39 NIV)  “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. {38} The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. {39} And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!””

I’d never noticed this before, but it was the way Jesus died that caused the centurion to exclaim, “Surely this man was the Son of God”

I’d always assumed that it was because of the way Jesus lived, or perhaps the way he went to his death. But it was Jesus’ loud cry – a sign of the strength he still had – which surprised this seasoned veteran.

It caused him to recognise that Jesus was in control of the situation, and that death was his decision. Jesus wasn’t defeated and overcome by death, he submitted to it as an act of his will, and an act of obedience to his father.

The effect of Jesus’ death was that the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. Now, there were two curtains in the temple. One was inner and the other outer. One curtain was inside the inner sanctuary, and separated the Holy Place from the Holy of holies.

If this curtain had been torn, only a few priests would have seen it, and it’s destruction would have been easy to hide.

The second curtain separated the inner sanctuary from the forecourt. It was visible from the forecourt when the temple doors were opened. If this curtain had been torn, it would have been a public sign – like the darkened sky.

I feel that this is more likely.

The tearing of the temple curtain represents that – in spiritual terms – the temple is now old-hat, superceded, a runout model. Jesus has done the spring clean on the temple when he cleared it. He has replaced it! He is the new and improved model.

He is the means by which man and God can now relate. It is no longer through the temple which man approaches God.

(Heb 9:12-14 NIV)  “Jesus did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. {13} The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. {14} How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!”

Do you know God? Do you feel clean? Do you feel that you are no longer guilty before God!

Are you confident that it is because of what Jesus has done that you have been put right with God?

It is only through this act of Jesus that God can declare us to be friends with him. This is the most important act in the history of the world! What will you do in response to it?

3. Witnesses for the Crown: (40-47)

The last section I’ll cover only very briefly. It really sets up the next section. It tells the story of those women who witnessed Jesus’ death and his burial, and his resurrection.

In Mark’s account, it is these women who are the eyewitnesses to the events of Jesus’ glory! It is these women who are the foundation of the new church built on the events of these few days.

They say that if you want someone to stick at a job, you get a woman to do it! The right man for the job is a woman!

(Mark 15:40-47 NIV)  “Some women were watching from a distance. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. {41} In Galilee these women had followed him and cared for his needs. Many other women who had come up with him to Jerusalem were also there. {42} It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath). So as evening approached, {43} Joseph of Arimathea, a prominent member of the Council, who was himself waiting for the kingdom of God, went boldly to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. {44} Pilate was surprised to hear that he was already dead. Summoning the centurion, he asked him if Jesus had already died. {45} When he learned from the centurion that it was so, he gave the body to Joseph. {46} So Joseph bought some linen cloth, took down the body, wrapped it in the linen, and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Then he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. {47} Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.”

We are here today because of the testimony of these women.

But there is more to our connection with these women. The next generation of the church will only exist because we testify to what we know of Jesus’ death, burial and resurrection.

Will you be witnesses for the crown?

Mark 15: The King of the Jews

It could come at any day now. He’s been waiting and waiting. His whole life has been lived for this moment. The moment when his kingdom arrives. The day he’ll finally get the crown.

 

And poor old PRINCE CHARLES could be waiting a while longer.

 

His mother Queen Elizabeth seems as strong as an ox. And if she lives anywhere NEAR as long as her MUM did, Charles is in for a long wait.

 

And if his CORONATION is anywhere near as BIZARRE as his LIFE, it will be a strange sort of ceremony.

 

Did you know he finished his schooling in Australia? It’s quite IRONIC that the English send their future king to Australia for finishing. When Aussies and Americans send their young girls to ENGLAND for finishing at posh schools.

And it’s IRONIC, that someone who, arguably, hasn’t done an honest day’s work his entire life, will suddenly become one of the richest men in England. Go figure!

 

And it’s quite IRONIC that an adulterer, with more interest in architecture and new age mumbo jumbo will become the head of the Church of England.

 

IRONY, according to the Pocket Oxford Dictionary, is the expression of one’s meaning by language of OPPOSITE or DIFFERENT tendency especially the mock adoption of another’s views or tone. When you deliberately say things are ONE WAY, when they’re actually THE OPPOSITE.

 

It’s been pouring rain for a week. And what do people say to each other? “Lovely weather we’re having”. IRONY.

 

And IRONY is what Mk Ch 15 is full of. It’s about the coronation of ANOTHER king. King Jesus. And it’s FAR, FAR stranger than Prince Charles’ crowning will be.

 

And it’s going to be the strangest kingship ceremony ever. An upside-down ceremony for an upside-down king. Because it’s at the hands of those who HATE him, rather than his loyal citizens.

 

Those who are SUPPOSED to be loyal to him are nowhere to be found. And his robe and crown are there, but they’re not QUITE what you’d expect.

 

And he’s UP THERE FOR ALL TO SEE, but it’s not in a royal carriage, and then up a red carpet, and onto a royal throne. It’s stumbling, beaten and bleeding, along a narrow, dusty street. Then pinned, naked, to a wooden beam by iron spikes, and hoisted up for everyone to see.

 

And the crowds aren’t CHEERING. They’re jeering. And mocking. And calling for his blood.

 

And there’s IRONY in the title that Pilate uses for Jesus. The king of the Jews. Because Pilate doesn’t believe it. And neither do the soldiers who mock him. They’re using irony to mock Jesus. And to mock the Jewish people.

 

And there’s IRONY in the taunts of the people to Jesus on the cross.

 

But there’s also a DOUBLE IRONY. Because behind THEIR irony, Their mocking. Is TRUTH. They’re speaking TRUTH and they don’t even REALISE it. And that’s IRONIC.

 

And those of us who read the story, can SEE the irony. And so the mocking turns FROM Jesus. Onto those who DO the mocking.

 

1. The king outside the palace

So let’s look at this IRONIC story of the King of the Jews. Let’s start at Verse 1 of Ch 15. It’s very early in the morning. Perhaps six am. The end of a very long night. And it’s Scene 1. The king outside the palace.

 

The Jewish leaders have found Jesus guilty. Now it’s the turn of the Romans. They take him to Pilate. Whenever Pilate came to Jerusalem, he stayed at the old palace built by Herod the Great. And that was where all the Roman soldiers lived as well. No doubt Pilate got the best parts to live in.

 

And Pilate comes out to meet them. His first case of the day. And while the Jews accused him of being the MESSIAH. By the time it gets to Pilate/ the title has changed from a RELIGIOUS one, to a POLITICAL one – THE KING OF THE JEWS. A contender for Caesar. A rebellious upstart. And that’s the question Pilate puts to Jesus. Verse 2.

(Mark 15:2 NIV)  “Are you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate.

 

And it really is a question worth wondering about. Because Pilate means something different from the Jewish leaders. And they have a different idea from Jesus himself.

 

But Jesus doesn’t really help clear things up. Because he doesn’t actually give a clear answer. He literally answers “YOU SAY” Which could mean “Yes, it is as you say” like our translation, or something like “That’s what YOU say” like some other translations.

 

Perhaps Jesus even MEANT it to be unclear. And it’s the question we have to consider as the chapter unfolds. Is Jesus the King of the Jews? And what does that mean anyway?

 

For the Jewish leaders. It was just a means to getting him killed. A loose translation of “Messiah” that suited their purposes. For the Romans, it was a REBEL’S title. Someone like Barabbas. Anyone other than Caesar who called himself KING deserved death.

 

And it’s IRONIC because even though both groups mean something DIFFERENT, they’ve got Jesus RIGHT. He IS the King of the Jews. The one sent by God to bring in God’s new KINGDOM. The kingdom won by his DEATH.

 

But DESPITE the Jewish leaders best efforts, Pilate sees there’s no case. Jesus is no criminal. It’s just some petty Jewish squabble. So he tries to set Jesus free. Look at v9.

(Mark 15:9-10 NIV)  “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, {10} KNOWING IT WAS OUT OF ENVY THAT THE CHIEF PRIESTS HAD HANDED JESUS OVER TO HIM.

 

Pilate knows Jesus is no rebel. He’s just got the priests’ big noses out of joint. But he still doesn’t mind rubbing those big noses in it a bit. Notice he still calls Jesus ‘the king of the Jews’? There’s that kingship theme again.

 

But rather than a PRETEND rebel released, they’d rather have a REAL rebel released. And so Pilate releases the murderer, Barabbas, instead. And the innocent one is handed over to be killed.

 

2. The king in the palace

And now the Roman soldiers take over. And it’s scene 2. The king in the palace. Look at v16.

(Mark 15:16-17 NIV)  The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. {17} They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him.

 

The praetorium was the name for the soldiers quarters. But Mark doesn’t call it that. He says the soldiers took Jesus into the PALACE. And technically, he’s right. Because it’s Herod the Great’s palace that they’re staying in. But Mark’s point is to show the IRONY. And so they go into the palace.

 

It’s ironic/ that even though they’re going to give him a good beating. They’ve taken him to the RIGHT PLACE and given him the RIGHT CLOTHING. The king deserves king’s clothes, and he deserves to be in the king’s palace.

 

And they mock him. They give him the acclaim reserved only for Caesar. Not “Hail, Caesar!” but “Hail, King of the Jews!” But the mocking turns on them. Because the DOUBLE irony is that he IS what they call him.

 

3. The king in procession

That’s the soldiers. Their turn’s over. And now it’s the turn of the CROWD. Scene 3. The king in procession.

 

I imagine Prince Charles will proceed to his crowning in a royal carriage. In all its finery. Gold. Fine horses. Imagine how HONOURED someone would be to be chosen to ride on the royal carriage. To open the royal door, or wipe the royal door handle. Or even clean up after the royal horses.

 

But for Jesus, there are NONE of his followers lining the route. Noone to help with the procession. In fact, when Jesus becomes too weak from the beating to carry the cross, they drag out a STRANGER to do the job. Verse 21. Simon from Cyrene.

 

How ironic! That a STRANGER would help the King in his royal procession.

 

And when they make it to Golgotha, they offer him the King’s Cup. But it’s not a drink of CELEBRATION. Fine wine to heighten the senses, and gladden the heart. It’s wine mixed with MYRRH. A narcotic. To deaden the pain of what’s coming. How ironic!

 

4. The king is lifted up

And next we get to scene 4. The king is lifted up. Everyone gets to see him.

 

But rather than see his splendid, rich clothing. His fine crown. His royal array. It’s all gone. He’s there NAKED. In SHAME. And rather than sitting on a THRONE. He’s hanging on a cross.

 

He’s probably close to the city wall. So everyone can get a good look. Prime position. And they don’t hold back either. They’re not DISINTERESTED observers. They let Jesus know what they think. Verse 29.

(Mark 15:29-32 NIV)  Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, {30} come down from the cross and save yourself!” {31} In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! {32} Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

 

EVERYONE joined in. Even the criminals on his right and left. How bizarre! How ironic! You’d have thought that if you were being crucified, you’d have other things to worry about than mocking someone else.

 

Like someone who follows the North Queensland Cowboys teasing the South Sydney Rabbitohs about how badly they did in the comp. They’re hardly in the position to be pointing fingers!

 

And look at what they actually SAY to Jesus. Because they’re ironic as well. Jesus HAD said he’d destroy the temple in three days, and rebuilt it. In fact, it’s exactly what he’s DOING on the cross. He’s making the temple OBSOLETE. Outdated. Old-hat.

 

But the irony is/ they think he CAN’t do it. And so they mock him.

 

And the priests call Jesus to COME DOWN. Coming down will make them believe he’s the King. But the irony is/ that it’s only by STAYING there that he can become king.

 

It’s only by enduring the cross/ that he can defeat sin and death. And reign as king. And save people like the priests.

 

5. The king is dead – long live the king!

And that’s what he’s going to do. Even if it KILLS him. In fact, it WILL kill him. And that’s scene 5. The king is dead.

 

Everyone else has missed the irony. That the death of this imposter is actually the coronation of a king. But CREATION ITSELF can recognise it. Creation itself can see how monumentally significant these events are. How profound.

 

While everyone else is busy mocking and ridiculing. The king’s creation has a few comments of its own to make. Look at v 33.

(Mark 15:33 NIV)  At the sixth hour darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour.

 

Midday until 3 pm. Creation mourns the DEATH of the One who was LIFE.

 

For 3 hours, creation reflects (1) the blackness of the sin that King Jesus is dying for. (2) The blackness of the wrath that God is heaping onto his son. (3) The blackness of the loneliness the Son of God feels. Separated for the first time in eternity from his father.

 

And at the end of those three horrific, black, hours. Jesus cries out in anguish, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Where have you gone? Why have you abandoned me?

 

And then, in verse 37, Jesus breathes his last. He’s achieved his purpose. He’s drunk the cup. He’s finished his mission.

 

And in the middle of all the irony. The mocking. The misundersanding. The pain. The blackness. There are three bright beams of light. Three brilliant moments of clarity. And, true to form, they’re IRONIC. The OPPOSITE of what we’d expect.

 

The first is the very first Christian confession. But it doesn’t come from a close follower – a disciple. It doesn’t even come from a Jew. It comes from the Roman centurion.

 

Perhaps he’d been there all day. Seen how Jesus had acted from the start. But look at his assessment of King Jesus at the moment of his death. He gets Jesus RIGHT. The truth that puts the rest of the lies to shame. Verse 39. “Surely this man was the Son of God.” The Messiah. The King. God’s chosen one.

 

The centurion. This ROMan executioner. Is the first to WORSHIP the crowned King Jesus.

 

And he’s not alone. Verse 40 tells us that SOME WOMEN were watching from a distance. They’re the second bright light. They’re WITNESSES to the coronation. Taking it all in.

 

And once again, it’s IRONIC. It’s not APOSTLES who are there. Or leaders. In fact it’s not even Jewish MEN. It’s women. But Jewish law says WOMEN weren’t legally able to appear as witnesses. Not even good enough for a Jewish trial. But here they are. WITNESSES to the coronation. The greatest event in history.

 

And the third bright light comes in v42. The brave request of Joseph. He asks for Jesus’ body. And Pilate agrees. And Joseph buries Jesus.

 

And it’s ironic, once again. Why? Because he’s one of the Council. The SANHEDRIN. The very one’s who’re responsible for Jesus’ death.

 

And why does he do it? Verse 43 tells us he was WAITING FOR THE KINGDOM. He’d been waiting for Jesus to be crowned. Looking for it. Hoping for it. Longing to see God’s victory. And now he’d seen it.

 

Three bright lights. Three UNLIKELY heroes. The Centurion who WORSHIPS. The women who WITNESS. And the Council member who’s WAITING.

 

And WE can do the same. We can WORSHIP King Jesus. And WITNESS to him. And we can WAIT EXPECTANTLY for him.

 

Why? How is it that we’re allowed to join in?

 

There’s one other detail I haven’t mentioned. And it’s the key to the whole thing. It explains WHY the death of Jesus is actually his CROWNING glory. His coronation. It’s in v38.

(Mark 15:38 NIV)  The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.

 

The barrier between God and the people had been destroyed. The curtain between the Most Holy Place where GOD was. And the rest of the temple. Where people were. And the curtain stood between them. Stopping any lasting relationship. Any real friendship.

 

But now it had been torn out of the way. And GOD had done it. It had started at the TOP. And went all the way to the bottom. Jesus’ death was VICTORY because he’d achieved peace between God and man. A NEW peace. Unknown since the very first moment mankind had been created.

 

The writer to the Hebrews talks about that act. And he tells us what we should do in response to it. Heb 10 verse 19. It’s there in your outlines.

(Heb 10:19-20 NIV)  Therefore, brothers, since WE have CONFIDENCE to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, {20} by a NEW/ and LIVING way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body,

 

Notice the difference? The High Priest used to go into the Most Holy Place once a year. And he’d go with a rope tied around his ankle. So that if God struck him dead. They could drag him out. Not much confidence there!

 

But WE can enter into God’s presence CONFIDENTLY.

 

And HOW can we do that? Through the curtain. WHICH IS JESUS’ BODY. It’s a NEW way. It’s a LIVING way. Not dead. Not superceded. Living, effective.

 

And listen to what the writer goes on to say. Verse 22.

(Heb 10:22-23 NIV)  (Since we are confident) let us DRAW NEAR TO GOD with a SINCERE heart in FULL ASSURANCE OF FAITH,

 

Draw near to God. That’s PRAYER language. We can pray for the things we want. And we’re to do it with a SINCERE heart. One that’s UNDIVIDED. Full-on. Not one that’s half-scared. Or half-committed. Or half-confident.

 

We can come to God SINCERELY in full assurance of faith. We can know FOR SURE that God’s on our side. He’s our loving heavenly Father. Because of what King Jesus won for us on the cross. In that upside-down coronation.

 

And we can join with the centurion. And WORSHIP King Jesus. And we can join with the women. And WITNESS to him. Declare to whoever will listen that Jesus is King.

 

And we can join with Joseph of Arimathea. And wait for the King. Because Jesus WILL return one day. And it WILL be soon. And we need to be ready. And when he DOES return. He will TRULY be revealed for the King he is. Without IRONY. Without mockery. Or misunderstandings.

 

And when that happens, we’ll join with every creature from every age, and in every place, in praising King Jesus. Let me finish with these words from Phil 2.

(Phil 2:8-11 NIV)  Jesus humbled himself and became obedient to death– even death on a cross! {9} Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, {10} that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, {11} and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (KING), to the glory of God the Father.

Luke 22:39-71: A Father’s Will

It’s hard to imagine, as we look at how adorable Elisabeth Cain is. But there will quite probably come a time when Gordon will WANT to cause her PAIN.

When it becomes necessary for Elisabeth to put up with GRIEF so that she might experience BENEFIT. Pain before the GAIN.

Let me give you a of examples of how it might happen for Elisabeth.

Lachlan was at the Eye Clinic at the Children’s Hospital the other day, and there was a little boy who’d been hit in the eye, the same as Lachlan. He was screaming with fear because he was about to go into the consulting room for an examination. I don’t think he was having anything done that was going to HURT him. But even if there WAS a bit of discomfort, it was only to make his eye BETTER. No-one WANTED to hurt him, just to HEAL him.

But, as his mother held onto him, there was this look of BEWILDERMENT on the boy’s face. How could his Mum and the doctors POSSIBLY want to HURT him? To scare him. Why would they DO such a thing? It was just BEYOND his understanding.

But sometimes children have to go through some short-term pain, so that they can GET BETTER in the LONG-TERM.

Another example. When it comes to swimming, our kids grew up varying between being SCARED of water, and being OVER-confident. TOO eager to jump in the water, even though they couldn’t swim a stroke.

A of years ago, Elyse thought she was grown up enough to go swimming without her bubble on. And she wouldn’t listen to Dad.

So, I let her try. She took off her bubble, and with me not far away, she jumped into the pool. And sank straight to the bottom.

The look on her face was of confusion and fear. She was mystified. “Why am I sinking? And, more importantly, why did Dad LET me sink?”

I pulled her out of the water about a second later, coughing and spluttering. But she’d learned her lesson. She COULDN’T swim. And Dad DID know what he was talking about. She always wore her bubble after that.

Sometimes a father WANTS his child to experience some PAIN so that there might be GAIN. Short-term RISK/ for long-term PROTECTION.

I’m not quite sure what God’s got in store for Elisabeth. But I’d be surprised if there wasn’t a similar situation for HER. A time when Gordon would want to cause her PAIN. So that, ultimately, she would BENEFIT. Sometimes that’s what a FATHER has to do.

And there’s a similar situation in today’s passage. The almost INCONCEIVABLE state of affairs. That God the Father would WANT to cause his only Son PAIN. In this case, the ULTIMATE pain – a humiliating and tortuous .

And yet that’s what we’re presented with. Have a look at the situation. V39. Jesus goes, as usual, to the Mount of Olives. It’s where he goes when he wants to pray. To spend time with his heavenly Father. To wrestle through problems.

And you can see what the problem is. He tells his disciples to pray as well. Then, in v42 he prays TOO.

42 “Father, if you are WILLING, TAKE THIS CUP FROM ME; yet not MY will, but YOURS be done.”

The cup he’s talking about is the cup of SUFFERING he’s about to drink. His PASSION. His betrayal, arrest, and .

And he prays that if his Father’s WILLING/ to take the cup away. That he find SOME OTHER WAY. A plan without the PAIN.

Do you see what Jesus is saying about his Father in that prayer? That it’s God who’s BEHIND the coming events. That it’s his FATHER’S WILL that he be caused this pain.

God is no impotent bystander, watching helplessly as powerful men put their ous plans into action. He’s the One bringing these events to pass. And who has the power to bring a DIFFERENT set of events about if he WANTED to.

It’s almost impossible to understand. Yet, there it is! God’s WILL is for the painful of his Son.

And Jesus prays firstly. That there might BE some other way.

But at the same time, he’s willing, if there IS no other way/ to see the plan through. “Yet not MY will, but YOURS be done.”

And so he PRAYS. Prays for the strength and courage to see the plan through. Prays that HIS will would be moulded into the shape of his Father’s.

And, even though God’s MIND is DECIDED, he does answer Jesus’ prayer. V43.

43 An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. 44 And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of falling to the ground.

The anguish of a son wrestling with the will of a Father to cause him pain. Yet, a Father who’s concerned enough to provide comfort and strength to help him see it through.

Why?

And the obvious question to ask is… WHY?

The same question the boy was asking at eye clinic. “Why would Mum let the doctors DO this to me?” The same question Elyse was asking from the bottom of the pool. “Why would Dad let this HAPPEN to me?”

Why would God allow this to happen to his only Son, Jesus?

Let’s rule out some possibilities.

The first thing to say is that it’s not because Jesus DESERVES IT. This is no act of discipline from a harsh Father. To correct, or punish a wayward child. The testimony of Scripture is that God the Father is overwhelmingly PLEASED with his son.

Flip back to Luke 3 v21 (p726). The best part of three years earlier. As Jesus was BEGINNING his public ministry. He went down to be baptised. And look at what he heard.

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

God the Father expressing his LOVE and PLEASURE in his Son. Just like Gordon felt this morning at ELISABETH’S baptism.

And nothing changed in the REST of Jesus’ ministry. The Book of Hebrews tells us that Jesus was like us in every way, but NEVER SINNED. The only human being EVER who was PERFECT.

Every thought and motivation. Every action and desire. Always perfectly aligned with his Father’s.

So, whatever the reason, it wasn’t because Jesus DESERVED it.

Does that mean that God was being UNJUST? If Jesus never did anything wrong, and he was crucified by his father’s WILL, then does this take the prize as THE GREATEST INJUSTICE IN HISTORY? The biggest miscarriage of justice?

No it doesn’t. God is still being perfectly JUST. Take my word for it at the moment. But give me a bit of rope – I’ll come back to the question in a few moments.

The second thing to say, is that this scheme is no “Plan B”. It’s no last minute second-best proposal to cope with some unexpected outcome. It’s NOT that God’s been caught on the hop. And has to make things up as he goes along. That’s not it at all. It’s been his plan since the beginning of time.

Let’s look for example at Isaiah 53 (p523). A prophecy God gave to his servant Isaiah in about 700 BC. A prophecy about his Son Jesus. Predicting what he’d accomplish. Written seven centuries before Jesus was even born.

Look, for example, at v5.

5 But he (that’s Jesus) 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. 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.

And then down to v9

9 He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his , though he had done no , nor was any deceit in his mouth. 10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,

Despite having done nothing wrong, it was God’s will that Jesus suffer. God’s purpose RIGHT BACK AT THE TIME of ISAIAH. And even BEFORE. It had ALWAYS been the plan.

The Great Reversal

But it’s these verses that start to give us some of the pieces to the puzzle. Why it’s NOT the greatest injustice in history. I said I’d come back to it.

See up there in v6. Jesus might have done nothing wrong. But that’s not the case WITH US. Every human being has done wrong. We’ve turned our own way, followed our own path. Like stupid sheep wandering all over the mountain side, rather than following our Shepherd.

It’s a basic attitude of REBELLION. Of thinking we know better than God. It’s what the Bible calls SIN, And it’s an attitude that demands God’s JUSTICE. His punishment. , and eternal separation from him.

That’s what we all DESERVE.

But it’s not what we all RECEIVE. Because v5 talks about SOMEONE ELSE who receives it INSTEAD. JESUS was pierced for our transgressions. Crushed for our iniquities. The punishment that brought us peace was upon him. It’s THE GREAT REVERSAL.

God’s justice demanded for our rebellion. But instead of our / God chose to offer the only acceptable substitute in our place. The only human EVER who didn’t DESERVE to die for his rebellion. Jesus Christ.

And God chose to accept the of his Son/ as just punishment for OUR sin. In our place. Pierced FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS. Crushed FOR OUR INIQUITIES.

Through HIS PUNISHMENT comes OUR FORGIVENESS. God replaces our dirt and guilt/ with the purity of Jesus. And punishes Jesus as if he was as guilty as us. The great reversal.

And that’s the REASON God wanted his Son to die.

But it still doesn’t really answer WHY? Why would God chose US/ over HIS ONLY SON?

Two points. The first part of the answer is because it WAS ONLY TEMPORARY. God knew that the of his Son was only a stepping-stone. Not the END.

There in Isaiah 53 in v10. Have a look at it.

10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, HE WILL SEE HIS OFFSPRING AND PROLONG HIS DAYS, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. 11 After the suffering of his soul, HE WILL SEE THE LIGHT [OF LIFE] AND BE SATISFIED

God was promising that wouldn’t be the end for Jesus. In fact, by his he DEFEATED . Resurrected in glory. To live into eternity. And he sees his offspring – that’s US. The ones his guilt offering has paid for.

And so, God the Father, and ultimately Jesus as well, was prepared to go through the SHORT-TERM pain of and separation, for the ETERNAL GAIN of glory and freedom and life. He gave his Son up, because he knew he would get him back again.

Perhaps Jesus even spent time thinking about these verses in the Garden on that final night. As he wrestled through his fears and temptations. These promises of Victory, and life, and Success. And offspring and Restoration.

But it still doesn’t really answer “Why US?”

For that we turn to one of my favourite Bible verses. Probably one of the most well-known, too. John 3:16. just listen to the incredible declaration in this sentence. It’s printed there in your outline.

16 “For God so LOVED THE WORLD that he GAVE his ONE AND ONLY SON, that whoever BELIEVES in him shall not PERISH but have ETERNAL LIFE.

Why did God give his only son for the sake of the world? Because he LOVED us. Yes, you heard right! He LOVED us – even when we wanted nothing to DO with him, he loved us enough. To send his Son to rescue us.

That’s the wonderful news of Easter. It’s why we can call the day of Jesus’ / GOOD Friday.

But, for Jesus that’s still more than 12 hours away. And for us, the best part of a week.

So, for now, I want to turn your attention onto what all this means for us. To ask the question, SO WHAT?

And the first thing to say is/ that if God the Father went to such great lengths to deal with your sin. Then your sin must be pretty serious.

We’re often quick to judge other people. But when it comes to our own sin, we’re surprisingly slow to recognise its seriousness.

I was driving down to Goulburn the other week on the Hume Highway. And some idiot zoomed past me at about 140 km/h. I shook my head, and wondered why there never was a policeman around when you needed one. Until I looked at my OWN speed. And found I was doing 120 km/h. At which point I was GLAD there wasn’t a policeman.

We don’t think our sin is as bad as it really is. But the reality is/ we ALL live our lives in rebellion against God. The things we do may not seem that bad.  Certainly not compared with other people. But in God’s eyes, they’re so serious they deserve .

Your sin is serious.

2. But, on the other hand, you’re VALUABLE. God didn’t just leave us in the lurch, unable to do anything about our future. He provided a RESCUE. Because he LOVES US.

As floodwaters swirl around your home, you go to great lengths to rescue the things you VALUE. And God went to the greatest lengths OF ALL to rescue us because we’re VALUABLE to him. He gave his SON.

3. The third thing to say is that you’ve been given a gift – ACCEPT it.

God has offered you a gift. A gift you didn’t earn – that you CAN’T earn. The gift of his Son – the gift of forgiveness. The gift of LIFE.

But, like ANY gift, it has to be ACCEPTED before it’s YOURS.

Our Mobile phone company recently decided to offer us all new phones. FREE phones. Replacing our old ones. A straight swap. A FANCY phone with all the bells and whistles, for our OLD ONES. No strings attached – not that I’ve worked out yet anyway! I haven’t got a bill yet!

But they promised we’d have our gifts within a week. Sure enough, three days later, I got home, and there was a card in the mailbox. “The Courier was here to deliver a parcel. There was no-one to sign for it. You can pick it up after 4:30 pm from the PO in Blacktown. Bring ID.”

The gift had been GIVEN. But I wasn’t there to COLLECT it. Did I HAVE my new phone? Could I make calls on it? No. I needed to COLLECT it. Which is what I did.

And it’s the same with the gift of FORGIVENESS God offers to US. The gift is available to ALL. The card’s been delivered to everyone who’s ever heard the message of Easter. “Your gift is waiting for collection. All you need to do is COLLECT it.”

And Christians are the ONLY ones who’ve bothered to COLLECT it. Who’ve ACCEPTED the gift. Most people HAVEN’T. The card is still sitting in their letterbox.

And you can see how to COLLECT YOUR GIFT in John 3:16.

whoever BELIEVES in him/ shall not perish but have eternal life.

To BELIEVE in Jesus is the key to receiving the gift of eternal life. But to BELIEVE means more than recognise that he EXISTED. (Like saying you BELIEVE in Santa Claus or the tooth fairy).

A better word is TRUST. We need to TRUST Jesus. TRUST that we NEED forgiving. TRUST that his is effective at washing away our sin. TRUST that God has forgiven us.

And then, to SHOW that trust by living our lives with Jesus as our King. The one who we give our allegiance and our lives to.

We accept God’s gift by TELLING him that. “Thank you God for the gift of your Son. I need forgiving. I’ve sinned. Please forgive me. I trust the work of Jesus, and your promise of forgiveness. Help me to live trusting Jesus as my King.”

That’s all a Christian is.

Many of you have already done that. And ARE DOING that. But perhaps today is the day for you to do that for the FIRST time. I’d love to talk to you if that’s something YOU want to do.

And I think there’s at least one more “SO WHAT?” that comes out of these verses.

4. Fourthly, WHEN TOUGH TIMES COME, REMEMBER YOU HAVE A PURPOSE.

Because if we ARE going to follow Jesus as our king. Then, these events show us we shouldn’t be surprised when PAIN and temptations and trials come OUR way. God never promises being a Christian will mean life is a bed of roses.

In fact, in MANY parts of the world, becoming a Christian will very quickly make your life a WHOLE LOT TOUGHER.

But, if that happens, then remember this. If God had a plan for the tough times his Son went through, then he’s probably got a plan for US TOO.

Evil men can do whatever they want to us. Circumstances might seem to be against us. But the events of Easter remind us that God IS in control. He’s our loving Father who was prepared to put his Son through short-term pain, to see the GAIN.

And who might just want to do the same WITH US.

Your sin is serious. But you’re incredibly valuable. Your heavenly Father is in control of your life. Working all things for your good.

Trust him, honour him. Live for him.

Luke 22:54-23:49: Friday’s Failure?

Poor old Frank Farina. He’s the coach of the Socceroos. And before last year’s World Cup soccer qualifier against Uruguay, he was ON TOP OF THE WORLD. Or at least on top of Australia.

His team was full of some of the highest paid athletes in the world. Harry Kewell, Mark Viduka, Paul Okon. He had the confidence of Australia, and more importantly – the confidence of the players.

They won all their lead-up matches convincingly. Including a tournament win over the world Cup champions France. And all Australia said, “We’ll stand by you. Through thick and thin.”

And the last hurdle was to beat Uruguay. It was a double-header. One game in Australia, and one in Uruguay. The Socceroos won the first game 1-0 at the MCG.

The following morning they flew out to Montevideo, and five days later, they played the second match. The game started at 6am Monday morning Australian-time. And it seemed like half the country was watching. Instant soccer fans. Because everyone loves a winner.

Uruguay scored the first goal. No matter – the OVERALL scores were still level. All they needed was a goal. But try as they might, no goal came.

And then Uruguay scored two late goals. And Australia had missed the World Cup again. The players, and Frank Farina, were distraught. We saw the pictures of Tony Vidmar, still on the field, crying.

In fact, all over Australia, people were upset. What a terrible way to start a Monday morning! And NOONE was a soccer fan anymore.

And T-shirt makers were left with thousands of commemorative soccer shirts that noone wanted to buy. Because noone likes a loser.

The calls for Farina’s sacking started even before he arrived home. The press were after his head. He was appointed to take Australia to the World Cup. And he’d failed. He had to go.

Australians have got no time for failures.

We love WINNERS. Doesn’t matter whether they’re sportsmen, or singers, or actors, or even Winter Olympic Games gold-medallists. If they WIN/ we LOVE them. But we’re abandon them faster than rats jumping off a sinking ship/ once they lose. Or fail.

My guess is/ The Apostle Peter would qualify as an honorary Australian.

He loved the SUCCESSFUL Jesus. The one who healed people, and forgave sins, and who promised to bring in a new kingdom.

And it wasn’t like he didn’t KNOW who Jesus WAS. Back in Lk 9 when Jesus asks who Peter thinks Jesus is. Peter answers, “You are the Christ. The Son of the Living God”

And straight away, Jesus tells him that he’s going to suffer. Be rejected. Killed. And then raised to life on the third day.

And then, he tells Peter what that means for HIM.

(Luke 9:23-26 NIV)  “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. …{26} If anyone is ASHAMED of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and in the glory of the Father and of the holy angels.

So Peter KNEW. He knew what was in store for Jesus. And he knew what HE must do. He knew what the consequences were if he DIDN’T stick by Jesus.

And he even SAID he’d stick by Jesus. Typical big mouth. Lk 22. Jesus warns him, and Peter comes back, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to .”

But in the end. For whatever reason. Peter denied Jesus. At the moment when Jesus’ failure looked inevitable. Peter turned his back. Pretended he didn’t know him. Not once, but three times.

And he even did it IN THE SIGHT OF JESUS. Did you notice v61 of Ch 22? I’ll read from v59.

(Luke 22:59-62 NIV)  About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.” {60} Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. {61} THE LORD TURNED AND LOOKED STRAIGHT AT PETER. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” {62} And he went outside and wept bitterly.

Luke’s the only Gospel that mentions it. Jesus was WATCHING Peter as he denied him. As he was ashamed of him. Imagine that!

Perhaps Peter was even watching Jesus as the words came out of his mouth. Perhaps he was watching/ as the guards mocked Jesus. As they beat him, and spat on him.

And with each blow, Peter’s resolve drains away.

He’d promised that he’d even DIE for Jesus. He’d been the only disciple who’d followed this far. Right into the courtyard of the high priest. He’d been the bravest of them all.

But in the end/ it all counted for nothing. Because when it mattered/ Peter’s courage deserted him. He was ashamed of what looked like Jesus’ failure.

And so Peter failed too. A terrible start to the most terrible day in history. And as Jesus watched/ Peter’s words would have wounded him just as badly as any whip, or punch, or thorn.

If you’re anything like me, these verses cut you like a knife. Because you’ve done exactly what Peter did.

Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. {61} THE LORD TURNED AND LOOKED STRAIGHT AT PETER. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: …{62} And he went outside and wept bitterly.

You’ve denied Jesus. You’ve either SAID as much. Or perhaps it’s what you HAVEN’T said. Someone puts down Jesus, and you keep quiet. Same thing, really.

Or else/ you’ve said it by your ACTIONS. You’ve KNOWN how Jesus wants you to live. But you’ve deliberately turned your back on him. You’ve done EXACTLY what YOU want to do. Knowing that Jesus is looking straight at you. Knowing that He’s Lord of the Universe, you refuse to let him be Lord of You.

How can I be so confident that YOU’VE done that? Because EVERYONE’s done it. We’re ALL failures. We’re ALL Peters. We’re ALL Frank Farinas. Rom 3:23 says, “All are failures. All have sinned, and fallen short of God’s glory”.

Which is pretty depressing news, isn’t it?

Except that’s not all! That’s not the end of the story. And it’s not the end of Peter’s story either.

It’s not the end for PETER. Because it wasn’t the end for JESUS.

Despite the events of that most terrible day in history. Despite the farce of a trial. Despite the betrayal and the injustice. Despite the hatred, and the beating, and the mocking smugness of the religious and political leaders.

Despite the piercing pain of thorns and whips, the agony of nails smashed through bone and flesh. Despite the dull ache of exhaustion and breathlessness as Jesus hung on the cross, and finally gave up his Spirit.

Despite ALL of the events of that day. IT WAS NO FAILURE. It wasn’t the FINISH. It was EXACTLY what Jesus knew was GOING to happen. It was exactly what His Father had planned from before the creation of the world.

Jesus chose to hang there on the cross because he LOVED Peter. DESPITE what he’d done. Jesus chose to be killed like a sacrificial lamb to take the guilt of the world upon himself. To take all its failures, and blackness, and rebellion, and to wipe them away. Peters, and yours, and mine.

John the Baptist knew it. He said about Jesus the first time he saw him. “There goes Jesus. The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”

Jesus’ that day/ was EXACTLY what Peter-the-failure needed. Jesus’ is exactly what WE need. David-the-failure, Robert-the-failure.

Geoff Bullock-the-failure. Geoff Bullock is probably the most successful Christian song-writer in Australia. His songs are sung in churches around the world. His CD’s have reached gold and platinum status. He started “Hillsong” music festival.

But at the height of popularity/ his life fell apart. He failed. He sinned. His church drew back from him. His marriage fell apart. He was devastated. He withdrew from public life.

He said recently in an interview with Gordon Moyes: “I struggled with a sense of failure for years. The higher I climbed, the lower my self-esteem. The greater the success, the more profound the cloud of failure. My life finally shattered around me. The success had gone. I had fallen from the heights. I was publicly exposed as having failed. I WAS a failure. I was sure that everyone knew. If they didn’t, they were certainly going to find out.

Jesus faithfully walked with me while I searched for a way to resolve the crisis. I searched with all the strength I could find. I received A+ for effort. I was convinced the only way was to try harder. I worked harder to believe what I should believe. But none of it worked. I failed again.

What happened? Did I find Him? Wrong! wrong, wrong! HE FOUND ME.”

Geoff finally understood that the work of the Christian life is GOD’s work, not his. All his striving to get to God was actually in the opposite direction. Because no matter how hard he tried, he always failed. Geoff had finally understood GRACE.

He wrote the song “O the mercy of God” about this time.

Oh the mercy of God, the glory of grace –

that you chose to redeem us. To forgive and restore.

And you call us your children, chosen in Him

to be holy and blameless to the glory of God.

Oh the riches of grace, the depths of his love

In him is redemption the forgiveness of sin

You called us as righteous – predestined in him.

For the praise of his glory included in Christ.

Geoff finally understood that when it comes to Christians, FAILURES ONLY NEED APPLY.

Many employers have PERFORMANCE-BASED INCENTIVES for staff. “Sell 3 million washers, and you’ll earn a trip to Hawaii”. “Sell 150 widgets, and we’ll give you shares in the company”

But there’s no performance-based scheme in following Jesus. He hasn’t come to scout and sign up the talent – the best-looking, best-behaved, best-connected. In Mk 2 he says that just like a doctor, he’s got no interest in healthy people. He hasn’t come to call the righteous, but sinners.

In Lk 19, he says to Zacchaeus that he has come to seek and save …the LOST.

And that’s just as well for Peter. And for you. And for me.

In the end Peter DID recover. He didn’t continue to FAIL. Because of the of Jesus the Lamb/ God forgave his failure, and restored him again.

After His resurrection Jesus asked Peter three times, “Do your love me?” As Peter answered each question, one of the failures was wiped out.

Then Jesus challenged him afresh, “Well, feed my sheep.” The failure was forgotten and the fresh challenge was given.

And Peter rose to the challenge. He became one of the boldest of witnesses for Jesus in the brand new church. He was actually the ROCK on which Jesus built the church.

In fact/ on Sunday we’ll look at one of his sermons about Easter. From Acts Ch 2.

So take heart. If you saw YOURSELF in that courtyard that Friday morning. Denying Jesus – even while he looked at you. Take heart. Because he dealt with our failures. Because of his , God will forgive your failure. Just like he did for Peter.

And that’s what’s so GOOD about Good Friday!

Luke 22:66-23:46: The Passion of the Christ

Passion. It’s a word that certainly gets people’s attention.  The way we use it these days, it means “a powerful emotion”. Like the Mills and Boon quote. “It was a night of STEAMY PASSION!”

Or your legal defense might be based on your crime being “a CRIME of passion”. In other words, it wasn’t pre-meditated, but your EMOTION was SO GREAT, you couldn’t control yourself. You weren’t RESPONSIBLE for your actions.

And do you remember how the word was used around the time of the Rugby World Cup last year? PASSION. The Wallabies weren’t doing too well. And some commentators were accusing them of LACKING PASSION. Lacking PRIDE in the Australian jersey. Lacking the INTENSITY that comes from playing for your country.

And George Gregan, the Wallabies captain, came back with a comment I bet he regrets. I THINK he was trying to say that EMOTION could be a obstacle on the field. That you needed to be calculating and focused, and not let the EMOTION of the occasion get the better of you. Because that’s when you might make MISTAKES, instead of making good decisions.

But what he said instead was that there was NO PLACE FOR PASSION ON THE FIELD. And that in rugby “PASSION IS A NONSENSE”.

And, boy, did THAT provoke a response. The Sydney Morning Herald’s Peter FitzSimons – a former Wallaby himself – had this to say. “Whatever the reality of the way rugby is played these days, the rugby public’s view is that if you pull on a Wallabies jersey and it doesn’t make you MIST UP and POUR PASSION FROM EVERY PORE, there’s a problem.”

“You can treat rugby as warfare, as art, as romance or as tribalism but the ‘passion is a nonsense’ line from George gave the impression he treats rugby as a science, which is absolute ‘death at the box-office’.”

Passion. Extreme emotion. For us Aussies, SPORT is often where we see MOST passion.

But there’s another meaning of PASSION. It means SUFFERING. Apparently it’s from Latin. And, in particular, it’s applied to the sufferings of JESUS. His arrest, trial, punishment, and ultimate .

And it’s THAT meaning that everyone’s talking about at the moment. With Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Christ”. A movie based on those last hours of Jesus’ life.

And BOY, does it focus on those SUFFERINGS! There’s enough to warrant an R-rating in America. And plenty of people who couldn’t sit through the whole movie.

Now, the LAST thing I want to do/ is say that Jesus DIDN’T suffer those things. HE DID. I firmly believe they’re historical FACT. And that the movie gets the story pretty-well straight.

But, like ANY movie, it’s NEVER AS GOOD AS THE ORIGINAL BOOK – The Bible.

And the Bible tells us that there’s MORE TO THE PASSION THAN AGONY AND PAIN.

You see, the whole Bible is BUILT around those three days. Everything in the Bible GETS ITS SIGNIFICANCE because of those events. (Jesus’ arrest, trial and , and ultimately his resurrection). The REST of the Bible either LOOKS FORWARD to those events, or is INFLUENCED by them.

So ly, the Bible has quite a lot to say about their significance.

And I want to summarise some of those things with three questions. WHO? WHY? AND SO?

Who?

Firstly, who? Who crucified Jesus?

ANOTHER controversial question. In the build-up to the movie, the press was full of debate over whether Mel Gibson was anti-Jewish. Because he was accused of blaming the JEWS for Jesus’ . And whether that’s true or not/ is beside the point. Because the Bible says that SOMEONE ELSE was behind these events.

The staggering answer to the question “Who crucified Jesus?” was NOT the Jews. Or the Romans. Ultimately, it was God. The Father of Jesus.

1. The Passion was planned:

The message of the Bible is that the Passion WAS PLANNED. It happened EXACTLY the way God intended it. Peter, one of Jesus’ closest followers, said this about Jesus’ to the Jewish leaders. Acts Ch 2 v23. (It’s printed there for you in the outline)

(Acts 2:23 NIV)  This man was handed over to you BY GOD’S SET PURPOSE AND FOREKNOWLEDGE; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to by nailing him to the cross.

It was according to God’s PURPOSE and PLAN that Jesus was put to . God the Father worked situations, and engineered history, in such a way that he put his OWN Son on a cross. KILLED him.

Now that doesn’t mean the people involved were INNOCENT. (Without excuse). God wasn’t moving them around like CHESS PIECES. Peter says, (look at it), that THEY, with the help of wicked men – that’s the Romans – PUT JESUS TO . Human beings were still guilty.

And yet, in some strange way that we can’t understand, when they CHOSE to do what they DID, from cruel and wicked motives, they were ONLY doing EXACTLY what God INTENDED to happen.

And, by means of wicked men, great good has come to the world.

It was God who crucified Jesus.

2. The Passion is obedience

But there’s another aspect to the “Who?” question. And that’s “What part did Jesus play?”

The unbelievable, yet unmistakable answer of the Bible is that Jesus went to the cross WILLINGLY. He was OBEDIENT to his Father’s will. At any time during those last 12 hours, he could have pulled out of it. Overpowered his attackers. Ran away. He calmed STORMS – a few dozen SOLDIERS would have been no match!

And yet he didn’t.

A lady told me about a time she worked as a volunteer at a hospital,

She got to know a 3 yr old named Liz who was suffering from a rare and serious disease. Her only chance of recovery appeared to be a transfusion from her 5-year old brother. Miraculously, he’d survived the same disease and had developed the antibodies needed to fight the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to her little brother, and asked the little boy if he would be willing to give his to his sister.

The lady saw him hesitate for only a moment before taking a deep breath and saying, “Yes, I’ll do it if it will save her..”

As the transfusion progressed, he lay in the bed next to his sister and smiled, seeing the colour returning to her cheeks.

Then his face grew pale and his smile faded.  He looked up at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice, “Will I start to die right away?”

The little boy had misunderstood the doctor; he thought he was going to have to give his sister ALL of his in order to save her. He thought that he had been asked to give up HIS life for that of his younger sister.

And yet he DID it. With barely a MOMENT to think about it. And, with the same choice before him, Jesus ALSO chose .

And he too, like the boy, had a moment of doubt. On the night of his arrest, he prayed

(Matt 26:39 NIV)  “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me…. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He LONGED for there to be some other way. A plan B. But he knew there wasn’t. And so he was obeyed his father.

The author, John Piper, is to-the-point. “The controversy about WHO killed Jesus is MARGINAL. He CHOSE to die. His Father ordained it. He embraced it”. (The Passion of Jesus Christ, p13)

And so, instead of “Who?”, the question becomes WHY?

Why?

What were the reasons BEHIND it. Because if God PLANNED it, then he must have had REASONS. If Jesus was obedient to , there must have been a pretty strong motivation.

3. The Passion is justice and love

And the first reason is God’s JUSTICE. The Passion is about JUSTICE.

God is JUST. He will ALWAYS deal JUSTLY. No bribes. No corruption. God’s actions are always RIGHT. Which is GOOD NEWS if you KEEP the law. But BAD NEWS if you BREAK IT.

And God’s most IMPORTANT law says this. It’s the summary. Or the SOURCE of the rest.

(Deut 6:5 NIV)  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.

It’s what he DESIGNED and MADE people FOR. To love him more than anything. Because he is of more WORTH than anything else.

And yet, fools that we are, we’ve all loved OTHER things MORE. At the root of it/ that’s what SIN is. Dishonouring God by preferring other things over him. And then ACTING on those preferences. Romans 3:23 says.

(Rom 3:23 NIV)  ALL have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

And this is NO SMALL MATTER. It’s not jay-walking. It’s THE CREATOR OF THE UNIVERSE we’ve offended. Failing to love God isn’t TRIVIAL, it’s TREASON.

And because God is JUST, he must PUNISH law-breakers. Romans 6.23 tells us what that just punishment IS.

(Rom 6:23 NIV)  For the wages of sin is .

The message of the Bible is that that’s the fate waiting for everyone of US. Rebels, who deserve nothing less than .

And yet there’s ONE PERSON who DIDN’T deserve . Jesus. Hebrews 4:15 says that Jesus was

(Heb 4:15 NIV)  …tempted in every way, just as we are–YET WAS WITHOUT SIN.

The only PERFECT HUMAN BEING.

And yet God gave him the punishment that SINNERS deserve. How can this be? How is this JUSTICE? That the ONE MAN in the history of the world who DIDN’T deserve was PUNISHED with . by the JUST GOD?

And the answer is that God places OUR guilt onto an innocent man. And then punishes that innocent man instead.

God CANNOT overLOOK sin. (Pretend it didn’t happen). That wouldn’t be JUST. Justice demands that sin be punished.

And so God chose to punish his Son INSTEAD. The criminal’s that WE deserved/ went to his Son instead. And so, our crime is paid for. JUSTICE is DONE. And our slate is wiped clean.

Imagine that Jason/ (Melanie) was in trouble at school. He/ (she) was on his/ (her) last warning. The file of infringements was getting bigger and bigger.

And so the Principal calls Mum into school. “I’m afraid Mrs Kal/ (Wilson). We have no alternative but to suspend your son/ (daughter). Look at how full his/ (her) file is.”

And THEN imagine that Judy/ (Sue) said this. “Well, What about ME? How big is MY file?”

The principal goes to his filing cabinet, and pulls out her folder. “Well, it’s EMPTY!”

“Can you take all of Jason’s/ (Melanie’s) records, and put them in MY FILE? And then SUSPEND ME.

And so the principal DOES it. Jason/ (Melanie) goes back to class. Because his/(her) record is empty. A clean slate.

But Mum gets suspended because her file is full.

Justice is done. The guilty has been punished.

That’s A LITTLE bit like what happens with God. But in the case of Jesus, God makes his OWN offer of a swap.

HE transfers OUR files into Jesus’ folder. And then punishes Jesus for OUR SIN. The of his own son took the wrath which WE deserved.

And with the punishment paid (with justice satisfied), the slate can be wiped clean. The record of wrong can be removed.

So, when you see, and read, of the sufferings of Jesus. Recognise how SERIOUSLY God TAKES sin. How seriously he takes YOUR sin. Because it’s THAT SORT OF PUNISHMENT that JUSTICE demands. .

But perhaps you might ask, “Why on earth would God DO that for me?

4. The Passion is love

And the answer is because God LOVES you. The Passion is JUSTICE. But it’s also LOVE. If God were merely JUST, then there would be no need for the cross. ALL mankind would DIE. That would be just. And God would shrug his shoulders, and move on.

But he is ALSO LOVING. And so, he did something ELSE. Another of Jesus’ disciples, John, had this to say about what motivated God. Jn 3:16

(John 3:16 NIV)  “For God so LOVED the world that he GAVE his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It was because God LOVED you that he arranged the SWAP. The transfer of guilt from YOU onto JESUS.

It was because God LOVED you that he wanted to SPARE you the punishment he was prepared to put his only son through.

I can’t imagine the sort of motivation which would force me to sacrifice my own son. And yet God did it. Because he loved you.

So when you look at the sufferings of Jesus/ recognise LOVE. Love FOR YOU. Love that was prepared to see God’s Son suffer and die/ So that you didn’t have to.

So?

5. The Passion demands a response

“Well, so what?” perhaps you’re saying. “What’s it all got to do with me?”

The final thing I want to say about the Passion, is that the Passion DEMANDS A RESPONSE.

You must make a choice. The events of that first Easter are God’s loving gift. A gift that’s offered TO YOU. And whether you like it, or not, a response is required.

Even if you turn your back, and walk away. That’s a response. You’ve made a choice. It’s saying NO to the gift. To the offer of friendship with God. Of him wiping the slate clean.

And yet, with the movie, it seems like many people are choosing a DIFFERENT RESPONSE.

Associated Press reports that a man in Texas CONFESSED TO A after seeing The Passion of the Christ movie.

Dan Leach’s viewing of the movie, along with the discussion with a family friend, led him to walk into the Fort Bend County, Texas sheriff’s department earlier in March, and confess to Ashley Nicole Wilson, Det. Mike Kubricht said.

A coroner had ruled her by hanging a . The 19-year-old had gone off anti-depressant medications because she was pregnant.

The pregnancy apparently was the motive, Kubricht said, because Leach believed he was responsible and did not want to raise a child. Leach, 21, wore gloves and left none of his own DNA behind. It was very well-planned and well executed,” Kubricht said.

“Something (the adviser) said, between that and the movie, he felt that in order for him to have REDEMPTION he would have to confess his sin and do his time,” Kubricht said.

Leach faces up to life in prison if convicted.

That’s the most EXTREME response I’ve heard to the movie. But plenty of other people report being deeply affected. Of re-evaluating their life. Of recognising the love of God in a fresh way.

And it’s that sort of response that God WANTS us to make. Because a gift isn’t a gift until it’s ACCEPTED.

And if you look at that last verse, you can see what it means to ACCEPT the gift. Whoever BELIEVES in him won’t perish, but will have eternal life.

The RIGHT response to God’s gift is BELIEF.

But belief is more than acknowledging that someone exists. Recognising that a certain event HAPPENED. I might BELIEVE in fairies. I might BELIEF that man landed on the moon. But that’s not what the BIBLE means by belief.

Belief means CONFIDENCE. TRUST. Trust that Jesus has DEALT with your sin. Trust that God HAS swapped your files into Jesus’ folder. And then punished him. Instead of YOU.

Trust that God is telling the TRUTH when he offers you forgiveness. And the GIFT OF FRIENDSHIP with him.

To accept God’s gift is as simple as TELLING him. And if that’s something YOU’D like to do, you can do it RIGHT NOW.

There’s a simple prayer printed there in the outlines. There’s nothing special about the words. But it’s saying the sort of thing you need to say.

Have a look at it. If it’s saying something YOU want to say, then repeat it in your own head after I say it.

Dear God. Thank you that you LOVE me. And that you punished Jesus instead of me. Thank you that you offer me the gift of forgiveness and friendship. Forgive me for my sin. Help me to live TRUSTING your PROMISE. Amen.

Luke 22:66-23:49: A King Among Thieves

Aslan, Lucy and Susan climbed the hill on which the Stone Table stood. When they got to the last tree, Aslan stopped and said, “Oh, children, children. Here you must stop. And whatever happens, do not let yourselves be seen. Farewell.”

And both the girls cried bitterly (though they hardly knew why) and clung to the Lion and kissed his mane and his nose and his paws and his great, sad eyes. Then he turned from them and walked out onto the top of the hill. And Lucy and Susan, crouching in the bushes, looked after him and this is what they saw.

A great crowd of people were standing all round the Stone Table and though the moon was shining, many of them carried torches which burned with evil-looking red flames and black smoke. But such people! Ogres with monstrous teeth, and wolves, and bull-headed men; spirits of evil trees and poisonous plants; and other creatures whom I won’t describe because if I did the grown-ups would probably not let you read this book.

In fact here were all those who were on the Witch’s side. And right in the middle, standing by the Table, was the Witch herself.

A howl and a gibber of dismay went up from the creatures when they first saw the great Lion pacing toward them, and for a moment even the Witch herself seemed to be struck with fear. Then she recovered herself and gave a wild, fierce laugh.

“The fool!” she cried. “The fool has come. Bind him fast.”

Lucy and Susan held their breaths waiting for Aslan’s roar and his spring upon his enemies. But it never came. Four Hags, grinning and leering, yet also (at first) hanging back and half afraid of what they had to do, had approached him. “Bind him, I say!” repeated the White Witch. The Hags made a dart at him and shrieked with triumph when they found that he made no resistance at all. Then others-evil dwarfs and apes-rushed in to help them, and between them they rolled the huge Lion over on his back and tied all his four paws together, shouting and cheering as if they had done something brave, though, had the Lion chosen, one of those paws could have been the death of them all. But he made no noise, even when the enemies, straining and tugging, pulled the cords so tight that they cut into his flesh. Then they began to drag him toward the Stone Table.

    “Stop!” said the Witch. “Let him first be shaved.”

    Another roar of mean laughter went up from her followers as an ogre with a pair of shears came forward and squatted down by Aslan’s head. Snip-snip-snip went the shears and masses of curling gold began to fall to the ground.

    “Why, he’s only a great cat after all!” cried one.

    “Is that what we were afraid of?” said another.

    And they surged round Aslan, jeering at him, saying things like “Puss, Puss! Poor Pussy,” and “How many mice have you caught today, Cat?”

    “Oh, how can they?” said Lucy, tears streaming down her cheeks. “The brutes, the brutes!” for now that the first shock was over, the shorn face of Aslan looked to her braver, and more beautiful, and more patient than ever.

    Everyone was at him now. Those who had been afraid to come near him, even after he was bound, began to find their courage, and for a few minutes the two girls could not even see him-so thickly was he surrounded by the whole crowd of creatures kicking him, hitting him, spitting on him, jeering at him.

    At last the rabble had had enough of this. They began to drag the bound and muzzled Lion to the Stone Table, some pulling and some pushing. He was so huge that even when they got him there it took all their efforts to hoist him onto the surface of it.

    When once Aslan had been tied on the flat stone, a hush fell on the crowd. The Witch bared her arms Then she began to sharpen her knife.

    She stood by Aslan’s head. He looked up at the sky, still quiet, neither angry nor afraid, but a little sad.

Then, just before she gave the blow, she stooped down and said in a quivering voice,

    “And now, who has won? Fool, did you think that by all of this you would save the human traitor? Now I will kill you instead of him as your pact was and so the Deep Magic will be appeased. But when you are dead what will prevent me from killing him as well? And who will take him out of my hand then? Understand that you have given me Narnia forever, you have lost your own life and you have not saved his. In that knowledge, despair and die.”

The children did not see the actual moment of the killing. They couldn’t bear to look and had covered their eyes.

That’s probably the most powerful scene from my favourite kids book of all time, The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

It’s tragic. A scene of sacrifice and waste. Of senseless destruction. Of justice being overturned. Of wickedness and evil defeating purity and good. Of thieves and murderers triumphing over royalty. And it’s the same picture we’re presented with here in Luke’s gospel. Which this story was written as a picture of, of course. Of little men, temple guards and Roman soldiers – cruel bullies, mocking the King of creation, who was there when the Universe began. The One who possessed more power in his little finger than the combined might of the entire Roman Army. Of Jewish leaders – the very people Jesus came to SAVE – sitting in JUDGMENT against him. Determined to destroy him. Common Priests standing in condemnation against the GREAT High Priest. Petty rulers, both Roman and Jewish, sitting in judgment over the supreme King of Creation. The one infinitely more worthy of wearing a crown than they were. All such little, insignificant, powerless men. Yet Jesus just TOOK IT ALL. Never raised his voice in anger. Never raised a fist in retaliation. He just TOOK IT. It’s a picture of complete obedience and submission. Of sacrifice.

And while we contemplate the horror of this picture, Jesus endures it because of ANOTHER picture he has in mind. A picture of honour, of glory. Of splendour and eternal majesty. Of dominion and power and might. It was because Jesus knew who he was, where he’d come from, and where he was returning to. That he could LOWER himself. Allow himself to descend to the depths he did. Have a look at how he answered the Jewish leaders. Ch 22 v67. They ask him if he’s the Christ. And look at how he answers;

“If I tell you, you will not believe me, 68 and if I asked you, you would not answer.   69 BUT FROM NOW ON, THE SON OF MAN WILL BE SEATED AT THE RIGHT HAND OF THE MIGHTY GOD.”

He’s thinking of the book of Daniel. Ch 7 v13. Daniel saw it into the future in a vision. But it was about Jesus. And the situation he’d be returning to. Listen to what Daniel saw.

13 “In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was ONE LIKE A SON OF MAN, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days (that’s God himself) and was led into his presence. 14 He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshiped him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

If you read the WHOLE of Daniel’s vision, the FIRST part is about rulers of THIS WORLD – animals of terrifying power and wickedness. But all with a rule that has LIMITS – that comes to an end. That’s finite and temporary. The sort of rule those who are torturing Jesus will have. They’re the animals!

But Jesus himself will receive EVERLASTING power. All from his Heavenly Father who welcomes him home. Back to the place he’d been BEFORE. It’s that promise of power IN THE FUTURE that motivates Jesus to endure the suffering and shame IN THE PRESENT. Jesus knows it. But not too many OTHER people are seeing it clearly. Notice how many people are ASKING him about being King. Questions about his identity.

The Jewish Council ask if he’s the Christ – God’s promised King (v67). Or the Son of God (v70). Pilate asks if he’s the king of the Jews (Ch 23 v3). Herod wants to see some magic tricks (v8), but isn’t too interested in the power that can win forgiveness for the human race.

Herod thinks it’s funny he’s accused of being a KING. And so, he dresses him in his own robe, and sends him back to Pilate as a practical joke, laughing as he does it. That’s v 11 of Ch 23. But the one with everlasting dominion just holds his tongue, and bides his time. Because the time of his TRUE coronation is nearly here.

And, even though he’d done nothing wrong. The guilty verdict is delivered. The crowd joins in on the act. Only a few days earlier, the same crowd had been CHEERING. Now, they’re JEERING. Baying for his blood. V23.

23 But with loud shouts they insistently demanded that he be crucified, and their shouts prevailed. 24 So Pilate decided to grant their demand. 25 He released the man who had been thrown into prison for insurrection and murder, the one they asked for, and surrendered Jesus to their will.

Some Unlikely Followers

And Jesus is led off to be executed. But as the procession begins, we see SOME UNLIKELY FOLLOWERS. The experts in the law, who knew exactly what the Messiah would do, have CONDEMNED him. HIS DISCIPLES have all abandoned him. Even Peter, the only one game enough to follow into the High Priest’s courtyard, has denied Jesus three times.

But, instead, it’s a STRANGE group of people who recognize their king. First up, Simon from Cyrene – which is in Northern Africa. As far from the events of Jesus’ ministry as anyone in the known world. We’re not told SPECIFICALLY that he’s a follower of Jesus. But the fact that he CARRIES THE CROSS is a strong hint. Because it’s the picture of carrying the cross Jesus uses in Luke 9:23 to describe DISCIPLESHIP. Following Jesus. And in Mark’s gospel we’re told he’s the father of Alexander and Rufus, who were probably Christians known to the readers. So, it seems an AFRICAN recognizes Jesus as King.

And a bit further on, we see it’s WOMEN who are following. The MEN are too scared. But the women are there, weeping and wailing. That’s there in v27. And, down in v49, at the foot of the cross, it’s the women again, who’ve followed from Galilee. And they pop up again at the tomb in v55. Same group. But, again, no sign of the men. And then, at the start of Ch 24. It’s the women who are there on Sunday morning bright and early at the tomb. The first witnesses to the resurrection. The crowning of the King of Creation. And the women have RECOGNISED it. Not the royal attendants we’d EXPECT. For a victorious and powerful king.

Then there’s THE CRIMINAL. Hanging right next to Jesus. The LEAST worthy of earning eternal life according to HIS DEEDS. But he recognizes ENOUGH to be guaranteed paradise by Jesus! We’ll come back to him in a moment.

Or what about the centurion? There in v47. The godless Roman oppressor. But he identifies more of Jesus than nearly anyone else. 47 The centurion, seeing what had happened, PRAISED GOD and said, “SURELY THIS WAS A RIGHTEOUS MAN.” Was his sight clear enough for saving faith? We don’t know, but he SPOKE true enough! Better than those who should have known better. An unlikely collection of followers, indeed.

And, even today, it’s a strange assortment of disciples who recognize King Jesus. Just take a look around this morning. We’re not the brightest, or best-looking. We’re not the most religious, or best-connected. And we’re not the wealthiest. But in 1 Corinthians 1, God says he chooses a strange collection of disciples. People the world might consider weak and foolish, so that we’d put our confidence in GOD, rather than in ourselves. And not boast.

So, when you look around, and are tempted to get discouraged by the lack of numbers, or how unlikely we are to do much, remember that God LOVES to show his strength through WEAKNESS, so that he might get the glory. So, as we seek to live for him, in weakness, let’s pray that HE might receive the glory, that he’d HUMBLE us, and USE us to grow his kingdom.

A King Among Thieves

But let’s go back to the criminal for a moment. In v33, we see that two criminals are crucified with him. One on his right and one on his left. A King among thieves. Just the way Jesus predicted it would go/ back in Ch 22 v37 “and he was numbered with the transgressors.” So, there we are, Jesus at the center. With the whole crowd, including the soldiers, abusing and ridiculing him. Even one of the criminals joined in. v39. One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  He’s completely helpless. Convicted and being punished. Hours away from death. Yet all he can do is look for someone else to blame. It’s Jesus’ fault he’s stuck up on the cross! There’s no recognition that he’s done anything wrong that DESERVES punishment.

It’s the same attitude many people have today. Failing to recognize any responsibility in their own problems. Refusing to recognize their own sin. Or its consequences. But at the same time refusing to recognize that Jesus can do something about it. Wanting to BLAME God for life. Yet refusing to give him the allegiance that might lead to a change.

That’s ONE criminal. But Jesus finds an ally in an unlikely place. THE OTHER criminal. Look at what he says to the first criminal from v40. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Notice the two things he does. First, he recognizes HIMSELF. That he’s done wrong, and is being punished JUSTLY. Secondly, he recognizes Jesus. “This man has done nothing wrong”. And then, in the next verse. “Remember me WHEN YOU COME INTO YOUR KINGDOM.” He’s got the eyes of faith that can see past the broken, bloodied body. Past the black eyes and swollen lips. Past the pierced hands and feet. To the glorious Son of Man. Coming with the clouds of heaven. To the one who’d be seated at the right hand of the Ancient of Days. Whose kingdom was coming. To the One all peoples, nations and men of every language worship. To the one with everlasting dominion whose kingdom will never be destroyed. THAT’S who the thief saw when he looked at Jesus. That’s who the thief asked to REMEMBER HIM. In other words, that he’d be KNOWN and RECOGNISED. ACCEPTED AS A FRIEND.  Like a doorman at the popular new nightclub. Everyone wants to get in. But if you’re his BEST FRIEND. Then he’ll REMEMBER you. And you’ll come straight to the front of the line, and ushered straight in. And the thief’s asking for the same sort of acceptance. Favourable treatment when it matters most. At the judgment seat of God.

And what I love about this story is Jesus’ answer. I love it because it tells me there’s NO-ONE who’s beyond a second chance. No-one who’s so far gone that they’re hopeless. No-one who’s left it too late to turn over a new leaf.

Because Jesus answers “TODAY YOU WILL BE WITH ME IN PARADISE. The sweetest words anyone is ever likely to hear.

And music in the ears of this criminal. A criminal who recognized a king when he saw one. This king among thieves.

A king who gave himself as a willing sacrifice for subjects who hated him.

And whether you’ve done this BEFORE, or perhaps this is the FIRST time. FOLLOW the example of THIS thief. Don’t follow the rebellion and mockery and blindness of the FIRST thief.

And throw yourself at the feet of your king. The king who saves you. The king who’s bought you with his own blood. And join with all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipping him. Because his dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.