A little something different today as we celebrate Good Friday. Here’s some of what I’ll be sharing with my congregation this evening as we reflect on the power and importance of the cross. Thanks for listening and sharing.
The crucifixion of Jesus was the greatest injustice ever perpetrated on the earth. Jesus died a totally innocent man because of our sin. Listen to how it all unfolded.
“Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. The soldiers also twisted together a crown of thorns, put it on his head, and clothed him in a purple robe. And they kept coming up to him and saying, ‘Hail, king of the Jews!’ and were slapping his face. Pilate went outside again and said to them, ‘Look, I’m bringing him out to you to let you know I find no grounds for charging him.’ Then Jesus came out wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, ‘Here is the man!’
“When the chief priests and the temple servants saw him, they shouted, Crucify! Crucify!’ Pilate responded, ‘Take him and crucify him yourselves, since I find no grounds for charging him.’ ‘We have a law,’ the Jews replied to him, ‘and according to that law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God.’ When Pilate heard this statement, he was more afraid than ever. He went back into the headquarters and asked Jesus, ‘Where are you from?’ But Jesus did not give him an answer. So Pilate said to him, ‘Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you know that I have the authority to release you and the authority to crucify you?’ ‘You would have no authority over me at all,’ Jesus answered him, ‘if it hadn’t been given you from above. This is why the one who handed me over has the greater sin.’
“From that moment Pilate kept trying to release him. But the Jews shouted, ‘If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Anyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar!’ When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus outside. He sat down on the judge’s seat in a place called the Stone Pavement (but in Aramaic, Gabbatha). It was the preparation day for the Passover, and it was about noon. Then he told the Jews, ‘Here is your king!’ They shouted, ‘Take him away! Take him away! Crucify him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Should I crucify your king?’ ‘We have no king but Caesar!’ the chief priests answered. Then he handed him over to be crucified.
“Then they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called Place of the Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him and two others with him, one on either side, with Jesus in the middle. Pilate also had a sign made and put on the cross. It said: ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.’
“. . . After this, when Jesus knew that everything was now finished that the Scripture might be fulfilled, he said, ‘I’m thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was sitting there; so they fixed a sponge full of sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it up to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then bowing his head, he gave up his spirit.”
Sin is ugly stuff.
Yet how could it be so ugly to demand such a scene as that one to deal with it? Absent that scene, how is it that sin—even one tiny, little sin—could demand eternal punishment? We all agree it should have some consequence, but a consequence like that? That’s hard to stomach.
Well, here’s the thing about sin: it’s never just one, single, little-bitty sin that’s the problem. It’s a whole lifetime of sin. Furthermore, our reference point is skewed. When we talk about big versus small sins, what we are doing is comparing ourselves to the people around us. We are comparing ourselves to the “big sinners” of history. If we don’t consider what we did to be on the same scale as history’s greatest moral monsters, then it’s a small sin. If the impact of our sin was fairly limited and no one was significantly hurt by it that we can tell, then it’s a small sin. As long as we are generally making better decisions than the people around us, our sin is small by comparison. And as long as we are playing the comparison game like that, we can always find a way to come out ahead in our final estimation. Yet when it comes to evaluating sin, the sin of other people becomes utterly irrelevant. They aren’t the standard by which we are measured. Making it to the top of the list of least-worst sinners still means that we are sinners. No, the standard to which we are held is God’s holiness. If we have fallen short of His level of absolute moral perfection, then we don’t make the cut.
There’s something else here too that makes all of this even harder for us. When we actively commit a sin, while the thing we actually do is a problem, it’s not the first problem. The first problem is that we decided God isn’t really the one who gets to decide what counts as right and wrong. We determined that He is not in charge of us, but rather that we are in charge of ourselves and can make our own moral decisions independent of what He thinks or wants. Now, we may only vary from what He wants by a little bit, but any variance at all fundamentally rests on the assumption that He’s not the final authority over our lives. Instead, we are. His ways may seem mostly good to us and so we adopt them in most instances, but we are the ones with the final authority to do that.
Now listen closely here, because this next part is really important. Imagine with me for a second that you were convinced in your heart and mind that you were the manager of a particular franchise business. You knew that you had the power and authority to make decisions regarding the shape and scope of how things operated. You could hire and fire at will. You were in charge. But then the parent company sends a manager to that business to operate over you. This new manager has authority from the company itself and sets about running the business as she sees fit. Be really honest here for a second: Would you be happy continuing to work for that company? Would you be willing to invest in a nice, long career there knowing that you were never going to be recognized as the authority you believed yourself to be? No, you wouldn’t, would you? You’d quit and go work somewhere else where you could be in charge. Furthermore, if you were made to stay there for some reason, you would be absolutely miserable.
If you have ever committed a sin before, you decided in that moment that you were God and God was not. You decided that you were the final authority over your life. And, again, while you might have determined a great deal of God’s standards for living to be acceptable, that was your decision to make…because you were God. So then, no matter how small you might have determined your sin to be, the real problem is not the size of the sin, it’s the rebellion of the sinner. Having convinced yourself that you are in charge, and with the ability that you have in this present age to live like you are in charge, if you were made to live in God’s kingdom where He is indisputably in charge and you have to do what He says in every single instance, would you be happy there? No, you wouldn’t. You would be miserable. And God’s not in the business of inflicting misery on people for no good reason. He won’t force you to live under His authority. Yet when the day arrives on which His authority is made absolute over this world, the only option for those folks who have persisted in their refusal to recognize His authority is to go to a place where He is not at all. There’s a name for such a place. It’s called Hell.
That’s the hard news of the Gospel. The good news, though, is that God doesn’t want for anyone to be there. He is so committed to that, in fact, that He was willing to go to some pretty incredible lengths to help us avoid it. This is a day for reflecting on just how incredible those lengths were. As you marvel at the cross and its display of the love of God in Christ for sinners like you and me, may you know its power and hope as you prepare for the great celebration coming on the third day.