Sunday, October 09, 2011

Sermon: Mark 15: 22-39 The Cross of Christ

‘I believe in... Jesus Christ... He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried. He descended to the dead.’ It’s the one thing that most people probably know about Jesus, even if they’ve never darkened the door of a church. Jesus was crucified - died on a cross. After all, it’s there in each of the four gospels, with so much detail about how it all happened.

Backlit Cross

If you’ve ever read a biography of someone famous, there’ll be a lot of material on their life, relationships, achievements, work, and perhaps a short chapter at the very end on how they died. But if you think of the gospels, there is nearly as much about Jesus’ last week, his last hours, as there is about the whole 33 years leading up to that week. Matthew has 28 chapters, with the last 7 about Holy Week. Luke has 24 chapters, and by chapter 9, he’s already on his way up to Jerusalem. By John 12, (of 21) Jesus is in Bethany six days before the Passover; while in Mark, of his 16 chapters, 6 are set in Jerusalem in Jesus’ final week. Why such emphasis on Jesus’ last week and his death?

Let’s be clear straight away. Jesus’ death was not a tragic accident, happening too soon; a young life cut down in his prime. Nor was it that he was playing with fire and got caught, the religious leaders and Romans being too powerful or too crafty for him. No, the reason the gospels spend so much time detailing Jesus’ death is because it was for this very reason he came into the world.

This morning we’re going to look at three short sayings around the cross, which will, I hope, show us just why Jesus had to die. We’ll also see what it means for us. You’ll find them all in Mark 15, on page 51.

The Creed reminds us that Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate. We find his verdict of Jesus in verse 14. Jesus has been brought by the Jewish leaders to be tried, but Pilate finds nothing wrong with Jesus. In Matthew’s gospel he declares that he finds him innocent. Jesus Christ has done no wrong, yet Pilate is in a tricky position. There’s a riot kicking off in his front yard, so he tries to pacify the crowd by offering a choice - Barrabas or Jesus. Who would they like to be freed? A scheming murderer and rebel; or the blameless Jesus?

They choose Barrabas - what should Pilate do with Jesus? ‘Crucify him!’ Verse 14: ‘Why, what evil has he done?’ No one can convict Jesus of any wrong, yet the shouts grow louder ‘Crucify him!’

Jesus, the sinless one, is crucified. He does not deserve it. As if that wasn’t enough, though, the chief priests and the scribes (the religious leaders) come to watch him die, mocking him as he hangs on the cross. Let’s see what they said, what the Lord endured: ‘He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Messiah, the King of Israel, come down from the cross now, so that we may see and believe.’

These leaders speak better than they know - in their mockery they actually speak the truth. Jesus could have come down from the cross. Remember in the garden Jesus says to Peter he could call on twelve legions of angels to rescue him - but had he escaped the cross, he could not save anyone else. In order to save others, he could not save himself. What wonderful love of the Saviour to go to the cross, willingly, in order to save us!

He saves others precisely because he did not save himself. He willingly gave his life for us. I’m reminded of the gallantry of William McFadzean in the first World War. His regiment were in the trenches preparing to go over the top on 1st July 1916. A box of grenades were being opened, when they spilled, and some of the pins came out. William immediately jumped on top of the box, covering the bombs and taking the full blast, saving the rest of the men in the trench. He gave himself to save his comrades. His sacrifice, in a small way points to what Jesus has done.

But you might be thinking - why did Jesus have to die to save us? Why can’t God just forgive sins without the death of his Son? Remember that we’ve already seen that Jesus us innocent, has done nothing wrong; and in order to save us, he could not save himself.

Ever since the Garden of Eden, we have been separated from God because of our sin. Adam and Eve walked in the garden, but once they sinned, they hid from God, and were banished from the garden. In order to bring us near to God, reconcile us to God, Jesus had to deal with our sin, bearing the punishment of separation (death) we deserved.

We find our last saying in verse 34: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Do you hear the force of those words? The one who existed in perfect relationship with the Father before time began is cut off, separated, forsaken. All because he bears our sin - it’s as if the Father can’t bear to look at him, God turns his back.

In that moment, Jesus is forsaken, in order to save us. But how can we be sure his death was effective? How can we be sure that our sins can now be forgiven because of the cross? The answer comes in the most amazing thing that happens at that very moment. And it’s so important that Matthew and Luke and Mark all record it. But it doesn’t happen at the cross - if it were a film, the scene would move from the cross to the other side of town, to the temple, where something amazing and terrifying is happening: ‘And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.’

This wasn’t just a curtain in one of the windows, a piece of interior design. Nor was it a bargain offer from Harry Corry in a floral print. This was the curtain standing at the entrance of the Most Holy Place, where God’s presence was in the heart of the temple.

The curtain was 60 feet high, and four inches thick. The message is clear: Keep out! No entry! You are too sinful to enter God’s presence! You are separated from God! Only the high priest, and only once a year, and only bringing blood could enter - on the Day of Atonement. Suddenly, as Jesus dies, the curtain is torn in two, and we have access to God; we can boldly come through the death of Jesus.

There’s a song which goes like this: ‘I’m forgiven because you were forsaken. I’m accepted, you were condemned. I’m alive and well, your Spirit is within me, because you died and rose again. Amazing love, how can it be, that you, my King, should die for me!’

It’s fitting that we share in the Communion today, as we rejoice in Jesus’ death, and what that means for us. We are no longer separated; our sins are forgiven; we can draw near. We trust not in our own achievements; only in the cross of Jesus.

Perhaps you’ve never experienced this forgiveness - you know that you’re separated from God, your sins are against you. You can come, even today; accept that what Jesus has done on the cross is for you - your sins on his shoulders, and find forgiveness and peace and reconciliation. Things will never be the same again!

Perhaps you’re a Christian, but you find that you still sin - come again to the cross, and find forgiveness for all sins.

This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 9th October 2011.

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