In His Steps: Painful Steps to the Cross – Rev. Alex Moir – Sermon – 28 March 2021

WELCOME

Good morning First Baptist. We welcome you to worship this morning. Be sure to remember your brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the week as you pray for them, and as the Holy Spirit brings their faces to your mind. Be sure to also connect with them in the ways that are possible. And if you have any questions or would like to talk to someone, please don’t hesitate to contact the church through the church telephone and leave a message. (519-733-4144)

Call to Worship

”Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion!  Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem!  Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey.” 

— Zechariah 9:9

Prayer

As we enter worship this day, gracious Father, we might begin by begging Your pardon for missing Your truth around us that happens in such quiet and humble ways.  We confess that sometimes we miss even Your presence.  So, open our eyes and ears anew to the remarkable truth that came during this week many centuries ago.  We pray so because Your Son encouraged us … amen.

Song

Today's Message

Scripture Reading: Mark 15:21-32

The Crucifixion of Jesus

21 A certain man from Cyrene, Simon, the father of Alexander and Rufus, was passing by on his way in from the country, and they forced him to carry the cross. 22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.

25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: the king of the jews.

27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.

Today we begin the final week in the life of Jesus, that which we call Holy Week.  To be sure, it begins somewhat optimistically as He is greeted in the holy city by mobs of admirers … but the euphoria is hard to explain and doesn’t last long.  I call this instalment in our series of messages “painful steps” … but what kind of pain is it?

Pain of Crucifixion – We cannot gloss over this part of the Jesus story.  The Roman authorities condemned Jesus to the type of execution reserved for the worst criminals within the empire.  They used it to stem uprisings that might threaten the stranglehold they held over the lands they occupied … so it had to be brutal and it had to be public, to act as a deterrent to others who might be considering any misbehaviour.  As painful as the nails driven into unprotected flesh must have been, this initial punishment did not bring death to the victim … the final breath would come laboriously through suffocation.  In Jesus’ case this final step in His agony had been preceded by a brutal flogging which, on its own, frequently brought death to the victim.  There is nothing pretty about the steps Jesus takes during His “unholy” treatment at the hands of his accusers … it is, indeed, hard to watch.

Pain of Restraint – Fairly early in life we realize that we simply cannot articulate every thought which pops into our minds or act out everything we feel led to do … restraint is part of the reality of life.  Linda’s dad had a speech he would share with his three daughters when they were visiting in another family’s home which went something like, “Don’t tell everything you know!”  Jesus seems to be employing something like this as He faces the authorities after His arrest … He is remarkably silent, when a simple word of clarification from Him might have saved His life.  Yet He stands stoic, content to let His actions speak for Him.

As painful as this picture may be, if we’re honest with ourselves we’ve seen the effectiveness of this demeanour played out through the years.  Jackie Robinson, the first Black baseball player in the major leagues was counselled to restrain himself, though he would not be treated kindly in his first year breaking what would be known as the “colour line.”  Martin Luther King Jr. insisted on peaceful protest as he led the civil rights movement in the 1960’s.  Both leaders paid the price for their peaceful responses to the hatred they were shown … but both movements paved the way for improvements in western society that have continued until our own day.  An old saying might be instructive here … “credit you give yourself is not worth having.” 

Pain of Perception – Perhaps the words hardest for us to hear are those uttered by the ones gathered around Jesus’ cross while watching Him die;

Those who passed by hurled insults at him,
Shaking their heads and saying,
“So!  You who are going to destroy the temple
and build it in three days,
come down from the cross and save yourself!”
In the same way the chief priests
And the teachers of the law
mocked him among themselves.
“He saved others,” they said,
“but he can’t save himself!”
“Let this Christ, this King of Israel,
come down now from the cross,
that we may see and believe.”
Those crucified with him
also heaped insults on him.
(Mark 15:29-32)

Talk about adding insult to injury!  Not only were these remarks painful to hear they would have had the added impact of suggesting that Jesus’ ministry was of no value due to the type of death He was dying.  Paul gets at this a little in the early Corinthian correspondence when he suggests how difficult the topic of the cross was in the early Christian mission;

“but we preach Christ crucified:
A stumbling block to Jews
and foolishness to Gentiles.”
(I Corinthians 1:23)

If there had been a modern-day marketing department in the early church, we can be well assured that the crucifixion, and the prominent role it played in early Christian theology, would have been at least softened and possibly eliminated from the core message of the early evangelists.  The Jews could not countenance a Messiah who had died the death of a criminal … and the Gentile world, in the grip as it was to Platonic idealism, would have blanched at the idea of a flesh and blood son of God.  Of course, our primary concern at this point was the unnecessary suffering of our friend Jesus … but the impact of this type of death on the legitimacy of the Christian movement is undeniable.  Jesus would have been viewed by many in His day as a failure.

Then, we must ask, if all this is true … why did it happen?  Why did the Father, apparently, will this type of death?  And why did Jesus accept it?  Let us consider two possible answers to these questions;

Impact on Individuals – We remember a popular old hymn from the Christian worship book …

“Would you be free from the burden of sin?
There’s power in the blood …”

Yes, we would be free from sin’s burden, because it immobilizes us and prevents us from living life in the moment.  There is something about the cross that does just that and allows us to live life in spite of what has happened in the past.  Once again, our great theologian the apostle Paul, quoting the Psalmist, says it just right;

“Happy are they,” David says,
whose lawless deeds are forgiven,
whose sins are buried away …”
(Romans 4:7)

If God refuses to remember, and has forgiven these times of embarrassment for us, (when we were living life with the Father at arms’ length) then why should we bring them to mind?  The scriptures teach that, because of the cross, the Father chooses not to look upon our days of rebellion … a wonderful encouragement for us, to simply get on with life in His loving presence.

Impact on the Church – Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross also has an effect on church life as well … and we’ve seen it played out time after time through the centuries.  One of the most notable examples happened in 2015 when a lone gunman, visiting a mid-week Bible study at a church in Charleston South Carolina, brandished his concealed weapon to kill nine of those in attendance at an African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church.  The response by the various pundits and media outlets was what you might expect from an episode like this, tinged as it was with white supremacy and racism.  The response from the church was remarkable, with expressions of healthy grief and sadness but also extending unconditional forgiveness as well to the young perpetrator.  It was such a wonderful example of the power in the blood … treating with grace and magnanimity not only those who deserve our pity but those who, by the usual societal standards, do not.  And this is, perhaps more than any other reason, why Jesus took those painful steps on our behalf.  We can look at others who have harmed us through the Father’s eyes … and behave in a way that inspires the world.  Thanks be to the Father … and the Son!

Prayer

Once again, our gracious Father, we mark the painful steps Jesus took to assure our deliverance, not just from an uncertain eternity but from lives of quiet desperation. We are struck with the purposefulness, both in Your planning and in Your son’s service and we note that nothing in the coming days of the first holy week happened by accident. Your careful design continues even to this day, as we k now that we are in this place in life by Your good intention … and we thank You for it.

Like the principals in the drama of Jesus’ final days, we sometimes fail to see the wisdom in Your way. We are impatient like Judas; threatened by the implications of Your Son’s teaching like the religious leaders; and, like the Roman authorities, we often cannot see beyond our carefully ordered routines. We pray that You will forgive us for our lack of insight and restore in us the desire to “see thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, follow thee more nearly, day by day.”

Finally, as is our custom in prayer, we bring before You those about whom we are most concerned. The precious ones we pray for are struggling with problems so diverse … yet we know You have the power, through Your Spirit, to address every need in its uniqueness. How we give thanks for the scripture that reminds us that we may cast our cares upon You. For we pray in the strong name of Jesus … amen.

Song

Benediction

“Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past.  See, I am doing a new thing!  I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland.”