Tuesday, November 22, 2016

The cross equals life in paradise. . .

Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year, Series C, preached by the Rev. Daniel Ulrich on Sunday, November 20, 2016.

    When we hear about Christ's crucifixion, there's one thing that can't go unnoticed...our Savior was mocked.  Jesus not only died the most inhumane form of capital punishment ever invented, He also had to endure verbal attacks during it.  Listening to this abuse can make us sick to our stomachs.  But no matter how sickening we find the cross, we can't turn from it, because Christ on the cross is the reason we're given everlasting life, the reason we're promised life in paradise.
    Jesus heard mocking from all around Him.  The Jewish leaders in the crowd jeered saying, "He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!" (Lk 23:35).  Ironically, with these words, they confessed they knew about Jesus' miracles.  They knew He healed paralytics, cleansed lepers, exercised demons, and even raised the dead.  All these miracles showed that He was God's Chosen One, and yet they stubbornly refused to believe.  They mocked Him, requiring one more miracle before they would believe. 
    Verbal assaults came from Roman soldiers at the foot of the cross.  With laughing voices they said, "If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!" (Lk 23:37).  When Jesus was brought before Pilate, He was falsely accused of inciting the people against the Roman government.  In response, Pilate bluntly asked, "Are you the King of the Jews?" (Lk 23:3).  Jesus answered, "You have said so" (Lk 23:3), affirming His kingship.  Hearing this the Roman soldiers laughed in disbelief.  In vindictive jest they called Jesus king and placed royal robes on Him...only then to beat Him.  They gave Him His very own crown made of thorns that pierced His head.  On the cross they offered Him cheap sour wine that no royalty would ever drink.  They cast lots for His clothes, leaving Him naked and exposed.  Even the placard that hung above Jesus' head that rightly identified Him as the King of the Jews was placed there to mock Him. 
    Jesus was also railed against by a man suffering the same fate as Him.  The unrepentant criminal said, "Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!" (Lk 23:39).  This criminal was putting Jesus to the test, telling Him to prove that He was the Christ by saving Himself and also the two next to Him. 
    All of this mocking came from unbelief.  The Jewish leaders, the Roman soldiers, and the unrepentant criminal didn't believe Jesus was God's Chosen One, the King of the Jews, the Christ, because Jesus wasn't what they expected and wanted.  One would expect the Savior to be strong and mighty, victorious on the battlefield.  No one wants a Savior who dies the humiliating death of a criminal.  And this is still true today.
    Christ on the cross is still mocked.  This message is a joke.  Unbelievers scoff and laugh at the cross.  It's ridiculous to believe that Jesus saves people from death with His death.  Unbelievers don't understand how Jesus' sacrifice is worth anything.  For them, all that matters is being a good person.
    This type of mockery is easy for us in the Church to see.  What's hard for us to see is how we mock Christ on the cross right here inside His Church. 
    We do this is by ignoring the cross completely.  The image of Jesus beaten and bloodied, dying on the cross is a hard image for us to see.  It's a gruesome sight, so we look away.  We look away because we see the death we justly deserve.  No one likes to admit they're a sinner, that sin is at our core.  No one likes to hear that we're responsible for what Jesus endured.  So we ignore the cross, pretending it isn't there.  Instead we focus on ourselves.  We look for ways to make ourselves feel better.  We look for ways to explain away or hide our sins.  And the easiest way to do this is by doing good to make up for them. 
    We selectively look at the good we do and ignore our sin.  We focus on the positives comforting ourselves with them.  Over time, we completely forget about sin and forget about Christ who hung on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.  Once we do this that's when we mock Him.  Ignoring Christ on the cross is the same as jeering at Him, it's the same thing as saying, "Your death is useless.  I don't need it, and I don't need you!"  But we do need Christ and we do need His death, because that's how He saves us.  Our good works count for nothing.  Only Jesus' death pays for our sins.   
    All of the mockery Jesus endured could've easily been avoided if Jesus would've just saved Himself.  Being fully God He could've easily come down from the cross...but He didn't because He knew the Father's plan for salvation required His death to pay for our sins.  Three times Jesus predicted His death (Lk 9:21-22; 9:43-45; 18:31-34).   
    God's plan of salvation required Jesus' death.  By not saving Himself Jesus saved you and me.  He saved you from eternal death and damnation.  With the shedding of His blood, you're forgiven.  He paid the price, the cross was the final sacrifice. 
    Paul tells us in Colossians that through the sacrifice of His Son, God the Father delivers "us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins" (Col 1:13-14).  This kingdom the second criminal speaks of in his repentant plea to Jesus. 
    Hearing the mocking of the first criminal, the second one rebuked him.  "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?  And we indeed justly, for we are receiving our due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong" (Lk 23:41).  This criminal recognized he was getting what he deserved, and in faith he repented from his sin.  He looked to Christ and said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom" (Lk 24:42).  Full of faith, trusting Jesus was the Christ, God's Chosen One, he asked for forgiveness. Christ absolved this repentant sinner and told him where he'd be.  "Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise" (Lk 24:43).  In Paradise this man would be free from all pain and suffering and would never have need again.  In Paradise he would be before Christ the King on His throne forever. 
    This everlasting life in Paradise awaits you too.  You too will experience all that this repentant criminal is experiencing now.  Because of Jesus redeeming blood, you're not called a criminal, a sinner.  Instead you're saints, God's adopted children through Baptism.  Right now you experience the pain and suffering of life here on earth.  Right now sin plagues you.  But all of this will pass and when our Lord calls you home to be with Him in Paradise.  There you'll feel no more pain, you won't need or desire anything, and you'll be completely free from all sin because you'll be with your King, face to face, forever. 
    The message of Christ crucified is a difficult message to hear.  The picture of Jesus dying is hard to look at, but we do look at it.  We gaze out our Savior on the cross just as the repentant criminal did.  We turn to Him with repentant hearts and faith, trusting in His death for our salvation.  With His innocent suffering and death He won for us forgiveness, life, and salvation.  When all the world mocks God on the cross we hold fast to Him; repenting of our sins, trusting in His promises, and looking forward to life in paradise.  Amen

1 comment:

John Joseph Flanagan said...

Unbelief is as rabid as ever, including on some Christian internet sites and Google plus, where I have read postings from agnostics and atheists who willfully seek out Christian blogs in order to blaspheme and mock the Lord of Glory. Sometimes one will see a verse of scripture shared as a note of encouragement, and then a comment from an unbelieving troll will be posted as well. It is a base form of Satanic activity when individuals decide to do all within their power to denigrate the name of Jesus and make every effort possible to persuade and influence others to join them on the road to perdition. Many television shows and movies include ridicule of Christ and Christians as part of their entertainment and dialogue. The purpose is simple. The want the viewer to join them in mocking and blaspheming the same God we worship and revere, who loves us and gave His only Son to redeem us. In these times, we need to affirm our faith strongly in our minds and hearts, be bold and courageous in the defense of it, and be prepared for the mockery coming our way.