+ In nomine Patris et Filii et Spiritus Sancti + Amen.
Text: John 19:17
Theme: Carrying His Own Cross
Dear followers to the cross,
The nails were driven, the cross was lifted, and His followers held their breath. Humanity was perched on the precipice of a dark abyss. But even in a state of shock one must exhale before breathing in again. The magnitude of the event at the time could have only been recognized by a select few. This scene, after all, had played out many times before. Crucifixion was a Roman tradition. But Jesus was no ordinary condemned criminal. Pilate was uneasy. His own wife had put him on edge. Herod, always one for theatrics, was probably hoping for some dramatic spectacle. The onlookers were ambivalent, agitated; full of scorn and doubt. His followers were dumbfounded; the closest ones were stunned and on the edge of despair. A large crowd followed Him up the incline of the hill called the Skull but only John and the Marys stayed near the cross.
Naked, bleeding, and broken the Son of God was driven through with nails securing him to that Roman instrument of torture known as a crucifix. The cross was lifted and the ensuing hours were gut-wrenching. The soldiers were familiar with the routine; so far, nothing was too much different. Jesus wasn’t even important enough to get His own show. Two criminals shared the macabre place of prominence. Sometimes crucifixions took many days. That suited the Roman ideal of public spectacles just fine. Today it was all over in a few hours. Jesus cried out to the Father from the cross. Around 3:00PM He breathed His last. It was finished. The sacrifice was completed. The earth shook. The sun had already gone black. The centurion suddenly took notice and made confession, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”1 Was, still is, and always shall be!
The crucifixion was not a tragedy of exploitation but a triumph of determination. Jesus did not cave in to humanly unimaginable pressure and thus compromise our salvation. He drank the cup of divine wrath destined to be poured out on the human race. He drank it down to the dregs. The deepest mystery of God’s intention is contained here. He gives up His holy, beloved Son that He might keep us sinners as His treasured possessions. The blessed exchange works out completely in our favour; our sins for His righteousness. He receives our punishment. We are freed to live in His forgiveness.
The darkness that descended on the land while Jesus hung from the cross was more than symbolic. The creation itself convulsed. The Scriptures themselves were in jeopardy of being falsified. What if God’s plan of salvation came to a tragic end? The enormity of that failure would dwarf all others. Humans would be left to their own resources. In complete spiritual darkness there is no light; no compass pointing the way. Think of the implications for a society where God is absent. Humans fumble around for answers and solutions which evade them because they desire to be blind. Rantings and ravings about bigotry and intolerance; confusing immorality with inequality; equivocating compassion for others with love of self; substituting recklessness for responsibility-such realities often characterize the public discourse in society. These problems are inevitable when human intellect is made the measure of all things.
When the highest authority to appeal to is human consensus, conflict will be the result. A black hole of understanding the very reason for existence begins to pull in all those artificial sources of light that twinkle in our self-constructed worlds. We may have more creature comforts than any period in history but we have no firmer grasp on our purpose or our future than any previous age did. Our technologies which facilitate social interaction are blessings which are easily used for evil too. They are windows into the human psyche. Technology is no substitute for significance. It does not fill the emptiness of the soul.
We’re well on our way to making idols of self-determination and skepticism. There’s nothing more foolish than believing that all propositions and opinions are equally valid. Black and white, sweet and sour, good and evil are not interchangeable. Apathy, uncertainty, and instability will be the inevitable consequences in our culture. Beauty may be in the eye of the beholder but truth is the lifeblood of conviction. Even the most skilled driver must have directions to reach the destination. Truth locates the destination in Jesus and nowhere else.
The cross topples all towers of human arrogance. It demolishes all fortresses of human pride. It does so through humility, not through coercion. People are not the measure of all things. Christians know we have a more reliable authority. The Scripture says, “He who sits in heaven laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.”2 The Almighty is not threatened. His grace will not be thwarted. The most hardened sinner finds forgiveness in Him. Calvary opens the door to Paradise.
Dear friends, we cannot go to the cross. A pilgrimage to Jerusalem (as meaningful as it might be) will not bring us any closer to the accomplishment that took place there. The benefits of the crucifixion come to us. God breaches time and space with His word. The Holy Spirit extends to us the blessings of His once-for-all sacrifice. The resurrection gives Jesus’ death on the cross unlimited relevance. It never becomes a relic of the past. It always remains the source of forgiveness. The baptized are freed from sin’s grip because the light of the resurrection floods over Satan’s dark dominion. Yes, we are still in the fray. We are not yet glorified. We battle. We struggle. We straggle. Sin’s influence doesn’t vanish as if it could be dispelled by waving a magic wand. But our God is the God of battlers, strugglers, and stragglers.
So, lent ends the way it began. The owner of your ashes is coming back to claim them. The infant of Bethlehem- the One sacrificed in Jerusalem- He is coming again in glory. He promises to clothe your flesh and blood with immortality. Our annual Lenten pilgrimage is nearly over but the Emmaus road lies ahead. The crucified Jesus continues to meet us here as the living Lord. We can breathe freely. We can breathe peacefully the pure air of Christ’s presence. In His most holy name, Amen.
+ In nomine Jesu +
25 March, 2016
Reverend Darrin L. Kohrt
1 Mark 16:39
2 Psalm 2:4