Today is Good Friday, and we have arrived in Mark’s Gospel at a pivotal moment in the mission of Jesus – we have come to the Cross.
For three years, Jesus carried out his ministry in Galilee, traveling the countryside and visiting the small towns and villages that dotted the landscape. He taught with a wisdom that touched people at their core, he extended healing to those in pain, he attracted men and women who became his disciples and his followers and he lit a flame of hope in people’s hearts. His reputation grew, and word of this energetic, yet humble leader began to spread. The people living in these rural communities could not whip out there phones to call their relatives and friends there was no Facebook to tell them about this amazing Rabbi. No emails, no text messages, no blogs. Word spread slowly, from one person to the next, but eventually it reached the upper tier of religious and political power in the Holy City Jerusalem. These authorities were not best pleased with the stories being spread about Jesus, and so they sent delegations to investigate him and to challenge him in front of his followers. They invented trick questions to set traps for him, but Jesus skilfully with the use of scripture escaped each attempted ambush.
Then, the day and the time had come. It was time to go to Jerusalem to confront the authorities directly. He knew that his enemies would melt away in his presence, He know that was not going to happen. He knew his mission was explosive. Yet he had to do what he had to do. So he turned to God for strength, courage and the determination to carry out his mission, he set his face toward Jerusalem and began the journey to his and our destiny. When he came within a couple of miles of the Jerusalem, Jesus and his followers entered the small town of Bethany. He instructed his disciples to round up a donkey and bring it to him. Jesus wasn’t exhausted and needing a ride to make the final two miles of the trip. His was a symbolic gesture. He would neither walk into Jerusalem nor ride on a mighty stallion as a conquering hero. Instead, he would enter on the back of a lowly donkey. And when he did, the crowds went wild because they thought they realised what was happening. This was the fulfilment of Zechariah’s prophecy: Zechariah 9:9 ‘Rejoice greatly, Daughter Zion! Shout, Daughter Jerusalem! See, your king comes to you, righteous and victorious, lowly and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. “Lo, your king comes to you, triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.”’ The crowds were shouting and waving palm branches and throwing their cloaks on the ground, hailing him as their new king. Jesus was publicly defying the authorities.
Next stop? The Temple. Jesus upended the tables of the moneychangers and drove out those who were selling animals to be sacrificed. He was not attacking Judaism, but rather the religious leaders of his day. He was forcefully demonstrating God’s anger at religion gone cockeyed. As the prophets of ancient times had said before, God is not interested in empty rituals. God wants people to act with justice and mercy. And that is still the same today, God does not want empty actions he wants as to love and respect each other and to go that extra mile for others and to forgive each other and to forgive ourselves.
Both the religious and political authorities maintained their seats of power by cooperating with the Romans. As long as there were no uprisings, they held onto their positions and the Romans left them alone. But Jesus threatened to disrupt the calm and incite a riot, and so the religious and political leaders believed their only choice was to quell the voice of Jesus – permanently. Over the next few days they kept an eye out for the right opportunity and finally seized Jesus under the cover of darkness.
They took him to the chief priests and council where some delivered false testimony against him. They condemned Jesus for blasphemy and declared that he deserved to die. They dragged him to Pilate in our reading in verses 1-15 Pilate seemed reluctant to condemn Jesus. However, once the crowd screamed, “Crucify him!” Pilate granted their wish. In verse 15 we read “Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified”.
Pilate is afraid of the mob, he is scared, of upsetting the powerful men back in Roman, civil disobedience meant a loss of profit, so Pilate was afraid, and the one who was without dishonesty, without any sin, the one who opened the eyes of the blind, the one who showed the path to peace, the one who came so that all may have life, was sentenced to a flogging and to death by crucifixion.
For us today living in Havering, it is tempting for us to leap from the Palm Sunday parade from the exciment of Palm Sunday to the glory of Easter morning. It is tempting to bypass the dark and deadly days of Jesus arrest beatings so called trial, flogging and his crucifixion run straight to the celebration of the empty tomb.
However, the stunning truth of the gospel is that the path to new life is through the cross, As Tim Keller in his book King’s Cross puts it he says ‘ the final phrase “to give his life as a ransom for many” sums up the reason why Jesus had to die. Because God cares for each and every one of us. God loves us.
The crucifixion declares that God loves us with such passion that God refuses to avoid the pain and suffering of the world. If there were no cross, we might conclude that God is above it all and does not have to deal with the tragedy and the misery of this world. If there were no cross, we might believe that God is spared the cruelty and betrayal that we experience at the hands of others. If there were no cross, we might think that God is untouched by evil and suffering.
But the cross vetoes any such notions. God does not reside at a comfortable distance from the world. God is present in and around us. God is as near to us as our breath. And that means that God feels all the pain of the world. Fortunately, God does not do what we often do; place barriers around us to insulate ourselves from the suffering of the world.
Have you ever when reading the paper or your news app just scanned to stories that tell of man inhumanity to man, not wanting to really know about it found yourself going over them with merely a glance. The more depressing stories are for most of us met with indifference, I found myself thinking about this and then a realised that in doing that we are trying to pretend that the world is not broken. We’ve been trying to protect ourselves from the harsh realities that most of the world’s population must face every day.
The crucifixion reminds us that God is not insulated from the suffering and pain of our world. Each time there is a war, a suicide bomber, or act of terror. Jesus is being led to the cross once again. And Jesus hands and feet are nailed to the cross once again. Each time we say something without love, each time we point the finger at someone else, each time we do not forgive, each time we turn our back on the misery of this word, Jesus is taken to the cross.
The brutality of our world can make us cynical and the mindless violence can lead us to despair. But the cross reminds us that God is not detached from the world. Indeed God is in all the painful places where God is needed most.
The problem for most people is that they do not know that God is there with them in that moment, that God loves them, that he cares for them. My daughter when she was at school for a time was bullied, to the extent that when he one and only friend was of school she would go in to the lavatory to have her lunch, many years later she was receiving prayer when she had a picture of when she used to sit in that toilet all on her own eating her lunch and she see Jesus there with her, she was not no her own, but she did not know it.
In verses 16- 32 in short it tells of who mocked Jesus and how they crucified him. And in Luke’s gospel 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” Jesus said “Father, forgive them”. Forgive them, and what about us, Jesus is willing to forgive us is our response to turn our back on Jesus and in doing so continue say things without love, to point the finger at someone else, to not forgive others, to turn our back on the misery of this word, Jesus said in Matthew 25:40 ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
And the least of these brothers and sisters of Jesus is everybody. Jesus died for us he became human for us, he went through that death for us what is our response. And just in case anyone missed the point in verse 38 it says “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom”. That was the curtain that separated the holy of holies the place in the temple were God dwelt, that curtain was as thick as a man’s hand, and it was torn in two from the top, only God could have torn it from the top to the bottom, and the reason to tell us we can be with him in heaven that he is with us all of the time not just at special occasions. If we want him to be.
And then in verse 39 it says ‘And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”’ So a Roman soldier, a centurion came at that moment to understand that the evidence pointed to Jesus being God.
So in conclusion, some of you may remember a song from the musical Grease called “Hopelessly devoted to you” a song about love, a love sufficiently strong to overcome hurt and rejection in order to establish a lasting relationship.
The tittle of that song sums up the attitude of Jesus toward the whole of the human race, no were exhibited more so on the journey from palm Sunday to today Good Friday and Jesus on the cross for us, despite the hurt and rejection we have done to him. The cross of Jesus bears witness to the awesome love of Christ for us, humanly speaking that cross was the last place Jesus would have wanted to be, yet he went willing to the cross despite the cost to him, despite the emotional physical and spiritual trauma he endured, just as we would have endured those things, why quite simply because he loves us his devotion to us greater than any we might show him. That song could have been written about Jesus except for one thing his love was not hopeless, it was anything but , it has brought us all hope, joy and life. What we see today is something so wonderful, the one who is totally devoted to us.
So today we are reminded that Jesus did just accept death for our sake he chose it, he did not let things happen but he planned them in advance knowing what was going to happen and how it was going to happen, and he did it willingly, for our sake, for people like you and me for ever one.
And once again I ask what is our response, is it as Jesus said to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength and to ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Is it to forgive as we have been forgiven. Or are we going to walk out of here and still going to go about our lives without love for others, still pointing the finger at others, not forgiving, turning our back on the misery of this word and only doing Jesus on Sunday or Easter or Christmas.
Are we going to put another nail into Jesus on the cross? Let’s pray: Thank you Lord Jesus for your love for us that you should be willing to die for us such an awful death, Lord we pray send your Holy Spirit that we may be better disciples of yours and live our lives in a way that is fitting for the sacrifice you made for us, help us Lord to forgive others and to love our neighbours. Amen.