Scripture Reading: John 19:16b-22
Have you ever had one of those days where you jump out of the bed in the morning thinking, “This is going to be the best day ever!” And for the most part, it tends to be true… that is until you end the day late at night in the Emergency Room of the hospital. Have you ever had one of those days?
Sadly, I have. I remember being on vacation a number of years ago and we were going to spend the day at the beach, we were going to visit friends, we were going out for a nice meal, all good things! And we did all those things too.
But then when we got back from the lovely day, I ended up needing to go to the ER because I had a kidney stone attack. From late in the afternoon the pain slowly increased until I couldn’t take it any more. At first I thought I had pulled a muscle or something like that because I had been throwing the kids in the water. But it was clear later, this was not the case. It kind of put a damper on all the great things we had spent the rest of the day doing.
Don’t worry, this isn’t going to be a message about the finer points of kidney stones, I just wanted to highlight the fact that days don’t always turn out like we hope when we spring out of bed in the morning.
In some ways, Palm Sunday is kind of like those days. We started our service by waving our palm branches, we sang praise to Jesus as he returns to Jerusalem, seemingly victorious as the crowd cheers his arrival. But how quickly in this hour to we go from a feeling of joy to one of… I’ll say darkness, for lack of a better word.
This morning, I think a bit about the teens who led marches all across the United States yesterday. I was able to find some time to watch some of it through the afternoon. I think about how those kids got up there and shared so passionately and driven to change the world so no other kids, no other families, no other schools will ever need to go through what they went through ever again.
I was so impressed with how well they spoke. These kids sounded much older, much more mature than we might have expected. But I suppose that’s what happens when you are forced to grow up and deal with things kids should never have to deal with.
I’m sure when they got out of bed on Valentine’s Day, it never crossed their minds that they would lose 17 friends in violence. And why should those thoughts even enter their minds.
But it happened, and now they are fighting back against the evil, they fight their nightmares, and they even fight their own government so no one else will need to fight.
A day which was once known as a day of love and romance has been forever changed to one of mourning and loss. All in the span of a couple of hours.
Days can change quickly from what we hope they will be.
Essentially, that’s been the day for Jesus too. Celebrated, revered, cheered, all these great and wonderful things happening as he enters the city. And then the next thing we know, he’s on his way to be crucified after a joke of a trial and a vicious beating.
Over the last few weeks we’ve been looking at what happened over the course of those few hours from the last supper leading right up to what we read this morning. Jesus, dragging his cross up the hillside and being crucified with common criminals, even though through cross-examination from various people, they found no crime for which they could charge him. Not a single thing.
We skipped over the first verses of John 19, but what happened was Jesus was beaten, and mocked. Pilate tried repeatedly to release Jesus because he saw him as innocent of any crime, yet the Jewish leaders wouldn’t have it. Every time Pilate brought Jesus back out in hopes of releasing him, they would shout back at Pilate to finish the job he started.
And so that brings us to this morning. Jesus is on the cross. It’s a few days early since we’re not quite at Good Friday, but this is an acknowledgment we make today. Despite our joy of starting the day with celebration, those cheers go eerily silent as Jesus makes his way to the cross.
And if we’re feeling a little uncomfortable this morning with the rapid transition from celebration to mourning… well maybe we should.
Jesus does not end up on the cross because he was a bad man. He’s not there because he broke the law. He’s not there because he’s a sinner. He’s far from it. Jesus is the only perfect human there has ever been. Yet, he’s paying the price for a crime he didn’t commit. How is this fair?
Well… it’s not. It’s not fair at all.
This was part of the plan, always. God was sending his Son, the Messiah, the Saviour, the one who would save people and bring them back into relationship with the Father. God sent Jesus into the world to do these things. But in order for it to be fulfilled, certain things needed to happen.
We can read about these things in the Bible. You might say, “Yes, we’ve been reading them here in church over the last few weeks!”
But it’s more than just what we read in the New Testament.
Let’s see what the prophet Isaiah has to say from a few verses of Isaiah 52-53.
See, my servant will act wisely;
he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted.
Just as there were many who were appalled at him—
his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being
and his form marred beyond human likeness—
so he will sprinkle many nations,
and kings will shut their mouths because of him. (Is 52:13-15)
He was despised and rejected by mankind,
a man of suffering, and familiar with pain.
Like one from whom people hide their faces
he was despised, and we held him in low esteem.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of us has turned to our own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed and afflicted,
yet he did not open his mouth;
he was led like a lamb to the slaughter,
and as a sheep before its shearers is silent,
so he did not open his mouth. (Isaiah 53:3-7)
Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer,
and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin,
he will see his offspring and prolong his days,
and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.
After he has suffered,
he will see the light of life and be satisfied;
by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,
and he will bear their iniquities.
Therefore I will give him a portion among the great,
and he will divide the spoils with the strong,
because he poured out his life unto death,
and was numbered with the transgressors.
For he bore the sin of many,
and made intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53:10-12)
And those are just a few examples from the Old Testament letting us know about the big plans God had in store for his Son. All of them pointing to Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross. A moment to be remembered, and most certainly to be reflected upon.
What’s interesting about our reading today is how Pilate posted the sign at the top of the cross. The sign said, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” And he wrote it in three different languages.
Pilate repeatedly referred to Jesus as King of the Jews. When he presented Jesus before the crowds, he referred to him as their king. And each time it inflamed the Jewish leaders to push back harder against Jesus.
One might wonder if Pilate was playing a game with them, or did he believe Jesus was the promised King they were waiting for?
What was it Pilate had been hearing? Clearly, as a Roman, he wasn’t looking for a Messiah, but it seems something about Jesus peaked some interest from Pilate.
Romans had their own gods, they had their king, Caesar, they controlled vast amounts of land and countries, they had no particular need for a Messiah, or a king for that matter.
Could it be Pilate was exercising some authority, maybe flexing the Roman muscle a bit showing how easy it is to take down a mere Jewish king? It’s possible.
No matter how you look at it, an innocent man is being punished not for his own sin, but for the sin of everyone else, for all time.
I don’t say this in order to place blame or to make you feel guilty. There is no shame in the cross. The cross is a place of freedom.
Think about it for a moment.
The cross is a sign of freedom. It’s not a sign of punishment. It’s not a sign of shame. It’s not to induce guilt.
Why do we wear our crosses? We wear them because the remind us of the sacrifice Jesus made on the cross… a sacrifice he made for our freedom.
Our sin, which is what keeps us from fully embracing the love of God in our lives, and fully understanding what he has in store for us, our sin should end in our death and our punishment.
But the cross changes all that. The cross takes that guilt, that shame, that brokenness and takes it all away. The cross turns it from pain into joy, because we become free from our sin when we realize Jesus went to the cross for us.
We didn’t send him there. We didn’t drive the nails into his hands. He accepted the job and took our sin away from us, without us even needing to ask. It was all part of the grand plan to free the world from influence from the devil.
How we receive this freedom is how we respond to the cross. Jesus paid it all, and through his death we receive new life in him. And when we accept this new life we receive freedom.
Pilate was right. Jesus is the king. But he’s not the king of the Jews. Well, not only the king of the Jews. He is the king of all the nations. He is ruler of all the earth. He is our king still today.
And as our king, he made the ultimate sacrifice for his people. He died so that we may be free!
How many kings and presidents, how many prime ministers would be willing today to give their lives for the people? Not too many I would think.
We are Canadians, and as such we live by the laws put in place by our governments. Which is right. Most of these laws make sense and keep us safe.
But as Christians, there is a whole other authority we follow. One that is greater than our man-made laws. It is an authority which has powers far beyond what our laws can touch. This is an authority which speaks to the hearts of men and women and changes lives.
This authority can heal broken lives. It can restore broken souls. This authority is from God and found in the person of Jesus Christ, his Son.
And through him we find freedom. We find new life.
Will you celebrate your freedom and walk with Jesus to the cross and beyond as we are set free by him?
Let us pray,
What a gift you have given to us. You have offered your life in the place of our own. You have taken our shame and our guilt and placed it on your own shoulders. And by doing so you have set us free.
Jesus, we ask you to share with us the joy we can receive by understanding we need no longer be slaves to our sin and how we are free to receive your love poured out on the cross.
May we live in this freedom with you, the Father and the Holy Spirit for all of our days, on this earth and beyond.
We pray in your most Holy Name. Amen and amen.