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Saturday, 10 May 2014

Good Friday - Sermon Summary


 Pilate therefore took Jesus, and scourged him. And the soldiers platted a crown of thorns, and put it on his head, and they put on him a purple robe, and said, Hail, King of the Jews: and they smote him with their hands. Pilate therefore went forth again, and saith unto them, Behold, I bring him forth to you, that ye may know that I find no fault in him. Then came Jesus forth, wearing the crown of thorns, and the purple robe. And Pilate saith unto them, Behold the man! When the chief priests therefore and officers saw him, they cried out, saying, Crucify him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Take ye him, and crucify him: for I find no fault in him. The Jews answered him, We have a law, and by our law he ought to die, because he made himself the Son of God. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he was the more afraid; and went again into the judgement-hall, and saith unto Jesus, Whence art thou? But Jesus gave him no answer. Then saith Pilate unto him, Speakest thou not unto me? knowest thou not that I have power to crucify thee, and have power to release thee? Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above: therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin. And from thenceforth Pilate sought to release him: but the Jews cried out, saying, If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend: whosoever maketh himself a king speaketh against Caesar. When Pilate therefore heard that saying, he brought Jesus forth, and sat down in the judgement-seat, in a place that is called the Pavement, but in the Hebrew, Gabbatha. And it was the preparation of the passover, and about the sixth hour: and he saith unto the Jews, Behold your King! But they cried out, Away with him, away with him, crucify him. Pilate saith unto them, Shall I crucify your King? The chief priests answered, We have no king but Caesar. Then delivered he him therefore unto them to be crucified: and they took Jesus, and led him away. And he, bearing his cross, went forth into a place called the place of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew, Golgotha: where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus in the midst. And Pilate wrote a title, and put it on the cross; and the writing was, JESUS OF NAZARETH THE KING OF THE JEWS.
This title then read many of the Jews: for the place where Jesus was crucified was nigh to the city: and it was written in Hebrew, and Greek, and Latin. Then said the chief priests of the Jews to Pilate, Write not, The King of the Jews; but that he said, I am the King of the Jews. Pilate answered, What I have written, I have written. Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, took his garments, and made four parts, to every soldier a part; and also his coat: now the coat was without seam, woven from the top throughout. They said therefore among themselves, Let us not rend it, but cast lots for it, whose it shall be: that the Scripture might be fulfilled, which saith, They parted my raiment among them, and for my vesture they did cast lots. These things therefore the soldiers did. Now there stood by the cross of Jesus, his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Cleophas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus therefore saw his mother, and the disciple standing by, whom he loved, he saith unto his mother, Woman, behold thy son. Then saith he to the disciple, Behold thy mother. And from that hour that disciple took her unto his own home. After this, Jesus, knowing that all things were now accomplished, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, saith, I thirst. Now there was set a vessel full of vinegar: and they filled a spunge with vinegar, and put it upon hyssop, and put it to his mouth. When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost. The Jews therefore, because it was the preparation, that the bodies should not remain upon the cross on the sabbath-day, (for that sabbath-day was an high day,) besought Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. Then came the soldiers, and brake the legs of the first, and of the other which was crucified with him. But when they came to Jesus, and saw that he was dead already, they brake not his legs. But one of the soldiers with a spear pierced his side, and forthwith came there out blood and water. And he that saw it bare record, and his record is true: and he knoweth that he saith true, that ye might believe. For these things were done that the Scripture should be fulfilled, A bone of him shall not be broken. And again another Scripture saith, They shall look on him whom they pierced.

"[H]e, bearing his cross, went forth"

We too called upon to bear our cross, by Jesus himself "And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me" Matthew. 10:38. Whoever would follow him, must take up the cross. In the face of the terrifying reality of Christ's Crucifixion, this may seem an inconceivable task, a counsel of despair. Why does God ask so much of us? Has he not told us salvation is a free gift "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Romans 6:23? How can we do this?

The first step is to accept the reassurance of Christ himself, who said to his Apostles at the Last Supper, the very night before the Crucifixion "Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in me. ...If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him. ... Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you ... Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." John 14:1,27: Or as he put it more succinctly at another time: "Fear not. Only believe."

This trust in Christ's word leads to the ability to do what he wants because he has made his home in us. We are not alone, we do not bear our cross by ourselves. "Come unto me, all that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am gentle and humble in heart: and you shall find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." Matthew. 11:28-30 Of course, the yoke was not easy or the burden light for Him, as we remember today most especially, but precisely because of that, he makes it so for us.

So, that's the second step after letting go of fear: know and believe that "it is God at work in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure." Php. 2:13. He promises to give you sufficient strength for the task, if we follow the obedience of faith, and not to take you beyond your strength "There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it." 1 Co. 10:13.

The third step is not to try to guess the future, or the precise nature of your cross. We simply don't know enough of tomorrow to do this "Whereas ye know not what shall be on the morrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapour, that appeareth for a little time, and then vanisheth away." James 4:14. Many of the things we fear may happen never do, or God delivers us from the worst. We know the path of the cross will involve suffering, but we cannot know and do not need to know much beyond that. Don't waste mental and emotional energy on phantoms of what might or might not be. Take each day as it comes "Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." Matthew. 6:34.

The fourth step is to choose to complete the path, to persist till the end, looking forward to the empty tomb beyond, with the inner vision of the Cross of Christ our companion. Never give up. Remind yourself of his Sacrifice, which is your hope. We see this attitude in St Paul: "And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling.  For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. Do all things without murmurings and disputings:" Philippians. 2:8-14.

"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord: for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and do count them but refuse that I may win Christ, And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith:That I may know him, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, being made conformable unto his death; If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead. Not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect: but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus."

And this passage answers those earlier questions. 
Why does God ask so much of us?
Is not his salvation freely given? 
For we see here that it is in knowing Christ by faith that we receive the free gift of righteousness, but also that this knowledge is in fact unity with Christ, with his Cross and with his New Life. We do not take up our cross to be saved, we take up our cross because have already become one with He who walked the Via Dolorosa, the way of sorrows. 

But his journey did not end there, and neither does ours.

How shall we take up our cross? 
Let go of fears and fearful fantasies about the future, 
trust in the Gentle One who holds us up and bears our burden, 
and keep putting one foot in front of the other.  †

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