Friday, June 5, 2009

STATIONS OF THE CROSS: 10th – Hill of Calvary

Message preached on Good Friday, April 10th.

Jesus was approaching the end of His stripped down time on earth. The Jewish officials along with the rabble had succeeded with their pressure tactics and forced Governor Pilate to order death by crucifixion for Jesus.

Nailed to the cross, the Lord expressed His feelings in seven utterances. What He said was not coined in the safe confines of a temple or a library or a schoolroom. They were said in the midst of life, no, while He was being tortured to death. Saying them didn’t come easily. It cost Him His life to affirm what He had advocated during His teaching ministry.

No Vengeance
Jesus had taught that people should not return evil for evil. Instead they should turn the other cheek, go the second mile and do good to those who ill-treat them (Matt.5:38-48).

Vengeance is never an option for anyone who follows Jesus. The Lord affirmed what God had said earlier: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay” (Dt.32:35). Those who believe in the sovereignty of God do leave things to Him. That’s what Jesus had preached when He was popular with the masses. But what would He do when the time for theory was over?

Greek mythology had stories of gods coming in disguise. They would often appear in the guise of beggars or similarly powerless persons. When they were taunted and tortured they would endure it for a while, but suddenly they would throw off their disguise and display all their majesty and power, and in one blast of power would destroy their erstwhile tormenters or in some way punish them for their indiscretions. Similarly in Hindu mythology the avatars came to destroy evil. Krishna said:

Arjuna, whenever there is decline of dharma (righteous duty), and unrighteousness is dominant, then I am reborn. For the protection of the virtuous, the destruction of evil-doers, and to re-establish righteousness, I am reborn from age to age (Bhagavad-Gita 4:7-8).
Christ Jesus was different from all other incarnations and avatars:
• Jesus didn’t put on a disguise and make-believe that He was human, while remaining insulated by His divinity.
• Jesus didn’t need to be incarnate again and again to clean up the world. Because He was God He needed to be incarnate just once.
• While other incarnations destroyed the wicked to rid the world of evil, Jesus came to rescue people. He was physically abused and humiliated. But while the nails were driven into His hands and feet, He prayed for those who crucified Him,

Forgive them, Father! They don’t know what they are doing (Lk.23:34, GNB)
Can’t Save Self
As Jesus hung on the cross helplessly, stripped of all power and dignity, people who found pleasure in watching others suffer added insult to injury. They taunted him mercilessly. They mocked His powerlessness. They defied Him to come down from the cross and persuade them to belief (Mk.15:29-32).

Jesus is God, but He didn’t help Himself. Though taunted, He felt no urge to show them what He could do. He didn’t feel that He had to prove anything to them.

What they said in taunt happened to be theologically correct. Jesus chose not to save Himself, because the salvation of all humanity depended on Jesus sacrificing Himself. Without Jesus giving up His life, the ransom price for our salvation would not have been paid, and without it being paid there would be no salvation for us. The Jewish teachers did get it right in part: Jesus saved others, but couldn’t save Himself. What they didn’t get right was the fact that He could save Himself, but chose not to. His death was not forced. It was a voluntary act of sacrifice to reconcile us to God.

At first, both of the criminals crucified with Jesus joined in the mockery (Mk.15:32). Later realising that the man in the middle was very different he told the other robber, that they deserved their punishment, but Jesus was innocent. Then, astonishingly he calling Jesus on a cross “Lord” he pleaded that he would be remembered favourably. Even though he had been mocked, Jesus doesn’t take offence but reassures the repentant robber that he would be with Jesus in the after-life (Lk.23:39-43). Even in that hour, Jesus demonstrated that He was willing to pay any price for the redemption of humankind. Even one who had despised Him so brazenly while in the throes of death, would never be rejected (Jn.6:37), for He never breaks off the bruised reed nor snuffs out the smoking wick (Matt.12:20).

Providing for Family

As the eldest son of a widowed mother, Jesus was concerned about how His mother would fare after He was gone. Seeing her weeping at the foot of His cross tore His heart. He saw that none of her other children were there. He saw that His disciple John was standing with His mother. With a sense of peace, Jesus told Mary that she could count on John as a son, and told John that from then on caring for His mother was John’s responsibility (Jn.19:26-27).

Jesus shared our human feelings and worries about how our death will affect the loved ones we leave behind. With death approaching, some wish for more time to fix things. If we do not prepare beforehand for the exit moment of our lives, we will never be ready when the time is up.

In 2001 when I was travelling every week from January to April, and then from September to November, to teach inductive Bible study at SIM’s Pastors’ Book Set Programme conferences and to speak about issues facing Indian Christians, I felt the need to draw up a will and execute a power of attorney delegating Roshini as the executor, so that in the event of anything fatal happening to me, she would have immediate access to anything that happened to be registered in my name.

On the other hand, I’ve known a few cases when a wife or a husband has not ensured joint operation of bank accounts or fixed deposits, and the surviving partner has had a hard time trying to access them.

Above all, there is a need to make sure that your family is not left in the lurch because of debts incurred. Don’t add to the burden of their lives with debts that you leave unsettled.

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another (Rom.13:8, NASU)
There are times when we feel that God doesn’t care for us. God seems far away from us. Our prayers don’t bring us the assurance that God has even heard us, let alone the knowledge that God will answer. Incredibly, Jesus shared this human experience too. He was in anguish as He shouted at heaven:

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? (Mk. 15:34, TM)
It will remain a mystery this side of eternity—maybe even in eternity it will remain incomprehensible. How could God forsake God? If the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are together the One Eternal, Triune God, how could Jesus experience such a separation? Martin Luther exclaimed in frustration, “God forsaken by God! Who can understand that?”

This was the ultimate pit in the descent of the Saviour. Jesus had stripped down to enter the world. From birth to death we see Him stripping down. In the final moments of His life on earth, Jesus goes down to the lowest and the worst possible human situation.

If nothing else moves us, this scene should bring us to our knees in awe and gratitude. Amazing love that goes so far to save someone like me! There’s no way I can pay for such grace and mercy. The only thing I can do is say so inadequately, “Thank You, Lord Jesus. I don’t deserve your love, but I am ever so grateful that you did. I can never repay you. Thank You, Lord.”

Hopelessly Helpless

Even when something is difficult little kids want to try and do it by themselves, like wanting to tie shoe laces when three years old. It is only when they realize that they can’t that they ask to be helped. But within a week, they may try again.

Being able to do basic stuff for yourself is essential to having a sense of dignity. That is why when we lie in a hospital bed needing a nurse’s help or become incontinent and have to wear adult diapers we feel hopelessness descending on us. Was there a moment in the life of our Lord when He shared such an experience and the feelings that arise from it?

As the Lord hung on the cross, after hours of torture, He felt fatigue, and above all a desperate thirst. With His hands and feet nailed to the cross He was a totally disabled person. He couldn’t do simple things for Himself. He had created the world and gave all creatures the ability to move around, and find food to eat. But that day, while on the cross, God couldn’t go and get Himself a drink. He had to rely on someone else coming to his aid. He groaned aloud (like a patient emerging from a state of unconsciousness does) to let people around Him know that He needed to quench His and they hear Him say: “I thirst” (Jn.19:18).

Joni was a teenager who enjoyed horse riding and swimming. In the summer of 1967, when she dived into shallow water, she broke her neck, paralyzing her body from the neck down. She was depressed, discouraged and in suicidal despair.

I was sick and tired of pious platitudes that well meaning friends often gave me...trivializing my plight... tired of advice and didn’t want any more counsel. I was numb emotionally, desperately alone, and so very, very frightened. Most of the questions I asked, in the early days of my paralysis, were questions voiced out of a clenched fist, an emotional release, an outburst of anger. I don’t know how sincere my questions really were. I was just angry. But after many months those clench fists questions became questions of a searching heart. I sincerely and honestly wanted to find answers...If God is supposed to be all loving and all powerful, then how, what has happened to me, be a demonstration of His love and power...if He’s all powerful, then surely He should have been powerful enough to stop my accident from happening? If He’s all loving then how in the world can permanent and lifelong paralysis be a part of His loving plan for my life?...I don’t see how this all loving and all powerful God is worthy of my trust and confidence.
Later on in her autobiography Joni she reminisced about her discovery of Christ sharing her experience and feelings:
I discovered that the Lord Jesus Christ could indeed empathize with my situation. On the cross for those agonizing horrible hours, waiting for death, he was immobilized, helpless, paralyzed. Jesus did know what it was like not be able to move, not to be able to scratch your nose, shift your weight, wipe your eyes. He was paralyzed on the cross. Christ knew exactly how I felt (p.81).
Life’s End
Everyone dies. We cannot go on living. Life has to end. However, many old people make desperate attempts to postpone death. Or, their families make herculean efforts to keep them lingering. There comes a time to say, “Enough! Let’s have some dignity and peace.”

To be ready to quit this life, one has to have a sense of having accomplished one’s mission. The Apostle John wrote that it was when Jesus knew that He had finished everything He had come to do that He turned His attention to His own personal need (Jn.19:28).

Life on earth is not going to go on endlessly. We need to be prepared to go anytime. Most of us while we are young and energetic think that we have plenty of time to get ready to meet our Maker. Meanwhile we pursue goals that are not compatible to a life of dedication to God. In fact, they take us further from Him. When the moment of our departure arrives we are still preoccupied with our agenda to reach our targets of position, power, possessions and privilege.

There once was a man who was doing so well in his profession that he knew he was on a wave that would take him even higher. He believed in living a planned life and so he began to make more and better plans. When he had finished drawing up his plan of action and knew that he was going to succeed, he spent a few moments revelling in his good fortune. In his euphoria he didn’t hear the whisper in his heart: “You fool! Your time is up. What good are your plans now, when your breath leaves your body?” (Lk.12:16-21).

In school we make plans about what branch of studies we will pursue in college. In college we plan our careers and homemaking. In our job situations we make plans for the settlement of our children and our retirement. What plans do we make for the moment that is far more important than all the big events of our lives?

The death of Jesus shows us that we can feel satisfied about our lives only when we can be sure that we have fulfilled all that we needed to do. Jesus shouted triumphantly, “Finished!” Sadly, English versions dilute the force of His shout by translating that shout into a weak announcement, “It is finished!” That sounds like someone saying, “Aw shucks. The light’s gone out.”

The moment of death need not be one of defeat. It can be the moment of the triumphant hero going home after the accomplishment of mission.

Going Home
That’s what Jesus taught about death. He said He was going home to His Father. If we are to believe Jesus, we’re not going on an unpleasant journey that will bring us to a destination of sorrow.

Just before leaving the examination room, a sick man said, “Doctor, I am afraid to die. Tell me what lies on the other side.” When the doctor said, “I don't know,” the patient got upset that though the doc was a Christian man, he didn't know what's on the other side? The doctor was holding the handle of the door. From the other side came a sound of scratching and whining, and as he opened the door, a dog sprang into the room, and leaped on him with an eager show of gladness. Turning to the patient, the doctor said, “Did you notice my dog? He's never been in this room before. He didn't know what was inside. He knew nothing except that his master was here and when the door opened, he sprang in without fear. I know little of what is on the other side of death, but I do know one thing...I know my Master is there and that is enough.”

Pray with Jesus, “Father into Your hands, I commend my spirit” (Lk.23:46). Every day, be prepared.

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