Isn’t it funny how the cross has become a fashion statement. Its something, that people wear round their necks, in their ears, have it tattooed on their bodies. Amazing really that!
In Jesus day, the justice system was a little different to ours. You see, Jerusalem was under Roman rule, now the romans brought with them many good things, many amazing inventions that we are still thankful for today. But their power and their empires came about through a system of violence and terror. Whoa betide anyone who stood up to them. They were the best in the world in handing out punishment. And they took great delight in coming up with new and sophisticated ways in torturing people. But the best of the best, the ultimate method they devised was Crucifixion. The cross was the most gruesome form of execution known in human history. So barbaric that the Romans themselves decided it was too cruel so they ceased using it in 337 AD.
Amazing then, that people wear the cross on their person. You see, I’m sure you’d think I was a bit weird if I walked around with a set of Gallows tattooed on my arm or an electric chair on a chain round my neck! So whats happened to the symbol of the cross, why has it become so popular.
Lets have a look at the reading from Lukes gospel. Jesus is condemned to death, he is forced to carry his cross out of the city to a place known as Golgotha, the skull. Where Rock formations apparently make the appearance of a skull, hence the name and here he is nailed to the cross beam and tied down, then he is hoisted up until, the upright beam falls into the designated slot, when the whole thing then crashes down and locks into position, sending huge shack waves and jarring through his body, causing the nails to rip his flesh even further.
And its there that Jesus is left to hang, until his lungs slowly fill with liquid and he suffocates.
But whats it all about. Why is this Sunday known as Christ the king. When we think of a king or a queen, we think of people who are very important, people who are in a different position to ourselves. People who perhaps are slightly above the law even. (which of course their not) People in total authority. We don’t think of a person being tortured to death like this. And the sign above Jesus head reads ‘this is the king of the jews’ a mockery and an insult meant to heap even more abuse upon Jesus.
But here is Jesus, an innocent man, sentenced to death and taking the blame and the punishment for something he didn’t do. Now I’m sure if that was you or me, we wouldn’t say the words that Jesus comes out with.
Verse 34 ‘Father Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!’ He actually prays for his torturers. He prays for those who wish him harm, for those who are driving the nails into his flesh.
Now that’s a challenge and a half isn’t it!!!? Can you pray for those who annoy you, those people you don’t like? Can you not only pray for them, but wish gods blessing and forgiveness on them. You know if you can do that, something amazing happens in the process, Jesus changes the whole situation, he changes your heart, your feelings towards that person. And its from that point that things can change. Why don’t you try it!
So, the two men, either side of jesus, what of them? Well, the bible tells us they are criminals. We don’t know what they’ve done, but whatever it was, they were caught in the act and were now facing the punishment.
One, shouts out insults and curses towards Jesus, probably in fear, in pain, in rage, looking to vent the last bit of fight he has in his body at somebody. And Jesus gets it with both barrels.
And you know, isn’t that still the case today. You see, when things go disastrously wrong, when things happen for which there is no explanation. Who is it that gets the blame, God. How can a God of love let that happen? How can a God of love allow people to do such terrible things?
How can a god of love allow such evil?
Its quite a paradox isn’t it, then, when we look upon this scene. Because the same God of love, is allowing everything that is evil, wicked, cruel, sinful and bad in the world to murder his only son. You know, its no coincidence that jesus lived on this earth during a small window in history when he could be put to death in such an horrific way. It was planned from the beginning of time. You know I think sometimes, God must want to answer, those questions with, don’t you think I know all about it! Don’t you think I’ve experienced it first hand! And you know, isn’t that such a comfort, that when we go through things in life that are bad, moments in life that hurt, when everything seems to be out of control, take comfort that Jesus has been there, he knows all about life and what it can throw at us. He’s got the t-shirt! He knows what your going through.
But you know on that cross something else was happening. Jesus was taking the punishment for a world of sin. Everything we do wrong, everything the human race has ever done wrong, the bible calls sin. And we all sin everyday. Yes even me!!! Even Stephen Gerrard has sinned!
It might be something we do on purpose, something we think is big, or something we see as a little white lie. But it’s a sin and in God’s sight its wrong. You see, God is holy and pure and he cannot be near sin. And that’s why when man first sinned in the Garden of Eden, sorry when woman first sinned!!! Only joking. God separated himself. He cannot abide sin! And it says in the bible Romans 6:23 that the punishment for sin is death. You see if we were being judged as to whether we’ve lived a sin free life, a perfect life we all fall short. And therefore we are found guilty. And there is a penalty to pay, a sentence to be served when you are found are guilty. And the punishment for sin is death.
But on the Cross something amazing happens. You see Jesus is the Judge, he is God. and he finds us guilty as charged. But then, he comes down from the judges seat and stands in the dock himself and says he’ll take the punishment in our place. And only he can, because only he is perfect, only he had never sinned. As the words of the famous hymn say, Only he was good enough to pay the price of sin!
And so when he died, he died in my place, he died in your place, and he took the punishment for you and me. But what does that mean for us today.
You see something else happened on the cross. Even worse than death for Jesus. Jesus spoke another sentence on the cross, words that perhaps we don’t understand, he screamed out, ‘My God My God, why have you forsaken me’. You see, right there, for the only time in his life, right when he needed it most. God’s presence left him. He was alone. He was separated from the father. As the whole weight of the worlds sins, past, present and future was dumped on his shoulders. He became Sin. And in that moment took the punishment and the price of sin was paid. And through his death, we can be forgiven. We can know a relationship with God. The barrier of sin that separates us and God has been dealt with by Jesus’ death. And we can now have a personal relationship with God.
You know in the gospel accounts it states that at the exact time of Jesus death, the curtain in the temple was ripped from top to bottom. The thick curtain was the barrier between the inner court and the holy of holies, the place where the Jews believed Gods presence was. And only the high preist could enter once a year. No-one else was allowed into that relationship with God. When Jesus died, the curtain was torn apart meaning the way to God’s presence was open for everyone. There was no more barriers. Sin was dealt with.
The other criminal recognised exactly what was happening. Something enabled him to see clearly and he says to his friend at the point of death ‘verse 40 ‘Don’t you fear God, since we are under the same sentence. We are punished justly, but this man has done nothing wrong. Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom’.
And Jesus replied ‘Today you will be with me in paradise’.
And my challenge is a simple one. Which one of the two criminals are you like? The first one, wrapped up in your own world, refusing to recognise the truth of who Jesus is? Or are you like the second criminal. Do you recognise the king of Kings for who is truly is? Do you recognise that he paid the price for our sin? Do you accept the gospel truth because if you do, then you can say with confidence like that second Criminal ‘Jesus remember me, when you come into your kingdom’ and know that the same words he spoke to that criminal he says to you. ‘You will be with me in paradise’. Because Jesus is alive, he defeated the power of sin and death, he rose from the dead, and because of that we can dare to believe in his promise, that through his sacrifice we are forgiven and redeemed in his sight and that one day, he will take us to be with him for eternity. And that is why today we celebrate this Sunday known as Christ the king. Is he your king?
To finish I want us to listen to a clip. It’s a famous clip from a Amercian Pastor called Dr. S.M. Lockridge. He was attending a service in Detriot when he was asked to come forward and explain who Jesus was to the congregation gathered. This is his reponse. No preparation, no sermon notes. From the bottom of his heart.