cross-and-crown

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We live in a changing society and because of the changes that have taken place many of us do not understand the meaning of the day we call Resurrection Sunday. George Barna conducted a poll to try and find out how Americans view and understand Easter. Their findings are eye-opening.

Two out of every three Americans mention some type of religious connection with Easter. That number is misleading when you dig a little deeper and learn what they mean by a “religious connection.” Only 42% of those polled said that Easter is about the resurrection of Jesus. 2% of Americans said Easter is about the birth of Jesus. Another 2% said it is about the rebirth of Jesus. 1% said Easter is a celebration of the second coming of Jesus. One out of every fifty adults, 2%, said that Easter was the most important holiday of the Christian faith.

Thirteen percent of those polled said they weren’t sure how to describe Easter. Another 8% said the holiday means nothing to them or that they do not celebrate Easter. Some of the other answers people gave about the significance and meaning of Easter were “getting together with family and friends,” “Spring break,” “a symbol of new beginnings, rebirth, and renewal,” “a time to dye and hide eggs,” “an event for children to have fun,” and “the Easter bunny.”

I could spend the rest of our time bemoaning our current state of ignorance about the most important event that ever happened in human history, but instead I would rather spend our time examining that event so that no one who has taken the time to come here today will leave here not understanding the meaning of the Cross and Resurrection of Jesus.

Let’s begin just one week prior to today, on Palm Sunday. On Palm Sunday Jesus rode into the Jerusalem on the back of a donkey and the crowd cheered for Him, their voices could be heard all over Israel as they said, “Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” What most people do not know is that before Jesus and His disciples made their way up to Jerusalem, before the crowd ever saw Him approaching, Jesus huddled up with His disciples and spoke to them. Turn to Matthew 20:17-19 and read along with me.

17 Now as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside and said to them, 18 “We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death 19 and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:17-19 NIVO)

Jesus predicted His betrayal, His brutal beating and crucifixion, and His glorious resurrection. Jesus was not a victim overtaken by the evil intents of His adversaries. He was on a mission. He came to die, but He knew His Father would not leave Him in the grave. He would rise on the third day as the Victor over death and the grave, not only for Himself, but for all of those who will trust in Him.

Luke tells us in his Gospel that those who arrested Jesus took Him to Pilate. Pilate interrogated Jesus, but he didn’t find any reason to press charges against Jesus. The truth of the matter is that Pilate didn’t want to get involved. When Pilate learned that Jesus was a Galilean, Pilate found his out. The Galilee was under King Herod’s jurisdiction so Pilate sent Jesus to Herod who just happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. Herod was amused by Jesus, but not bothered in the least. Luke tells us, in Luke 23:11,

11 Then Herod and his soldiers ridiculed and mocked him. Dressing him in an elegant robe, they sent him back to Pilate. (Luke 23:11 NIVO)

Those who were in authority, Pilate and Herod, found no reason to punish Jesus. Once Herod sent Jesus, Pilate called together all of the Jewish authorities and let them know that Jesus had done nothing worthy of the punishment they wished to have him inflict on Jesus. Luke tells us,

13 Pilate called together the chief priests, the rulers and the people, 14 and said to them, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion. I have examined him in your presence and have found no basis for your charges against him. 15 Neither has Herod, for he sent him back to us; as you can see, he has done nothing to deserve death. 16 Therefore, I will punish him and then release him.” (Luke 23:13-16 NIVO)

The chief priests, the rulers, and the people rose up in defiance of Pilate and demanded that Jesus be crucified. Pilate, hoping to avoid having Jesus crucified, ordered that Jesus be flogged. Flogging was an experience that was beyond painful. The device that was used was a whip with at least three leather strands, up to three feet long, with small lead balls or pieces of bone tied to the ends. Flogging or scourging was intended to rip open the skin of the back of the one being punished. The punishment was so harsh and so degrading that according to the Porcian law, Roman law, no Roman citizen could be scourged. Only slaves and non-Roman citizens could be forced to endure the suffering of scourging.

There was a man named Eusebius who was born about 260 A.D. Eusebius was a Roman historian and follower of Jesus. He was a godly man and great teacher of the Word of God who became the Bishop of Caesarea. Eusebius also wrote ten volumes on the history of the Church. In book four of his work he wrote about the horrors of scourging. Listen to this.

For they say that the bystanders were struck with amazement when they saw them lacerated with scourges even to the innermost veins and arteries, so that the hidden inward parts of the body, both their bowels and their members, were exposed to view. (Ecclesiastical History, Book 4, chap. 15)

Pilate’s plan was to have Jesus humiliated at the hands of the man who would scourge Him and then release Him. John tells us, in John 19:1-3,

1 Then Pilate took Jesus and had him flogged. 2 The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe 3 and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. (John 19:1-3 NIVO)

Beaten and bloody. Jesus’ own blood streamed down His face and down His back as the metal and bone had sliced His flesh into ribbons, but it was not enough. Pilate wanted to release Jesus, but the crowd shouted, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” And Pilate granted their request. The Roman guards took Him away and Luke tells us what happened in Luke 23:33-46.

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals– one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots. 35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” 38 There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last. (Luke 23:33-46 NIVO)

Jesus breathed His last. Finished. Done. It was finally over. Now the people could go back to their wonderful lives and not have to worry about being bothered by Jesus any longer. No more sermons. No more confrontations. No more reminders of the waywardness of their hearts. No more. All but Jesus’ closest friends were elated to be done with Him. While the world rejoiced Jesus’ friends grieved, their sorrow came in waves. Jesus had told them that He would rise from the dead, but it seemed far too sensational for even Jesus’ friends to believe.

It was Friday when Jesus breathed His last. I can only imagine how long of a day Saturday must have been for Jesus’ family, the disciples, and His friends. Then Sunday came and some of the women went out to visit the garden tomb. Let’s read together from Luke 24:1-11.

1 On the first day of the week, very early in the morning, the women took the spices they had prepared and went to the tomb. 2 They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, 3 but when they entered, they did not find the body of the Lord Jesus. 4 While they were wondering about this, suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightning stood beside them. 5 In their fright the women bowed down with their faces to the ground, but the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? 6 He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee: 7 ‘The Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men, be crucified and on the third day be raised again.'” 8 Then they remembered his words. 9 When they came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. 10 It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. 11 But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. (Luke 24:1-11 NIVO)

Did you hear that? Jesus was alive…just as He said He would live, yet it was just too unbelievable to actually believe. Jesus was alive. As a matter of fact, after His resurrection from the grave Jesus spent the next 40 days appearing to different people, sometimes groups of people, and showing them that He had held true to His promise–the grave couldn’t hold Him! We’ve read Scripture from the Gospel of Luke, but I want to show you some Scripture from another book Luke wrote, the Book of Acts. Luke tells us what Jesus did during the forty days after His resurrection until He ascended into Heaven. Turn with me to Acts 1:1-3 with me.

1 In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach 2 until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. 3 After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. (Acts 1:1-3 NIVO)

Jesus appeared to over 500 people during those 40 days. He appeared to a group of His followers in a room, He appeared on the shore of the Sea of Galilee while the disciples were out fishing, He appeared to two men who were walking on the road to Emmaus, and in other settings as well. They were convinced and because they were convinced they told others that Jesus was alive, that His claims were true. If His claim that He would rise from the dead proved to be true then His claim that He was “the way, the truth, and the life–the only way to God” must be true as well. They told everyone they knew. They told people they didn’t know. When persecution came to Jerusalem and they were driven out with little more than the clothes on their back–they carried with them the Good News of Jesus’ saving power with them. They and their descendants carried the saving power of Jesus all over the world.

Just this past week I read an article in “The Local,” Denmark’s news in English. An amateur archeologist named Dennis Fabricius Holm discovered a little cross made out of thin gold wire. He didn’t think much of it at first, but now it has been identified as the earliest Christian relic ever found in Denmark. They are dating it some time pre 960 A.D. The article said that the cross will cause Danish history to be rewritten concerning when the Vikings converted to Christianity. No planes, no trains, no cars, no internet, email, or texting to spread the Word and yet they carried the Good News to every continent on the planet.

It’s a great story, a true story, but if I were to stop with simply telling you the story I would be doing you a disservice. We’ve got to go a step further and ask, “Why?” Why would Jesus die? Why would God raise Him from the dead? Why were His followers so taken by what had happened they were literally willing to die for the cause of carrying the message to others?

Why did Jesus die? That’s an important question. As I said earlier, He wasn’t a victim, He was on a mission. What was unclear to Jesus’ followers while He was alive became crystal clear to them after His death and resurrection. The Apostle Paul, a persecutor of Jesus’ followers, became a follower in one of the most radical conversion stories ever, wrote,

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation. (Romans 5:6-11 NIVO)

Why did Jesus die? Because we are sinners separated from the holy and righteous God. Not separated because of anything God has done, but separated because of our sin. Sin is not what we do, it is who we are, it is in our DNA. We weren’t taught to sin when we were children, we were born fully capable of rebelling. Our rebellion is ultimately aimed at God. But, as Paul said, God has reconciled us to Himself through the death of His Son Jesus. Now, that makes no sense to many, if not most people today. We may not understand how Jesus’ death reconciles us to God, but we do know that sin carries a cost. Let me give you an example.

Let me introduce you to my friends, “Couple X.” They married back in the 70’s in a big church wedding…deeply, madly in love with one another. They had their future all planned out and for many years things went according to plan. Then it happened. He had been having an affair for over a year and she never suspected anything. Even though she didn’t know he became increasingly eaten up with so much guilt and shame that he couldn’t bear it any longer. He came clean in a gut wrenching confession to his wife. He said he would do whatever she asked to restore her faith, her trust, in him…and he meant it. Truth is there was nothing he could do. He could have bought her a new car, taken her on an exotic vacation, lavished her with furs and jewelry, but none of those good deeds would ever restore what he had broken. If the brokenness would be mended, if the gulf would be bridged, it was going to be up to the one who had been betrayed.

She wrestled, grieved, stomped and fumed about the brokenness that had visited her home and her heart. Time passed, questions swirled, she battled her emotions and the betrayal, and eventually love and grace brought her to the place of forgiveness and restoration. Make no mistake about it she paid a heavy price for the sin committed against her. It was costly, but she was willing to pay the price. No cheap grace. No casual, “It’s no big deal.” She shouldn’t have had to pay the price, but she was willing. Wow! What an amazing story!

Yet, the story of God’s love for you and me is far greater than the story of the wife’s love for her husband. We have committed “adultery” again and again, we’ve turned away from the One True and Living God to the idols we’ve created with our own hands. Hebrews 9:22 says, “…without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness.” Like the wayward husband, there is nothing we can do to bridge the gulf, to compensate for our sin against God. All of the good things you and I could ever do would not be enough to restore the relationship that seemed irreparably, eternally broken, but God stepped in. God stepped in and before we even asked He offered His own Son who died on the Cross, who shed His blood for your forgiveness and mine. Paul said, “While we were sinners, Christ died for us.” The great Bible teacher, John Stott, wrote in his book, “The Cross of Christ,”

At the cross in holy love God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself. He bore the judgment we deserve in order to bring us the forgiveness we do not deserve. On the cross divine mercy and justice were equally expressed and eternally reconciled. (Stott, John. The Cross of Christ. pg. 91)

We sing “At The Cross” because that is the place where reconciliation took place for all of those who would trust in Jesus’ finished work of reconciling lost sinners to the One who loved them more than they could ever know. But the story didn’t end at the Cross because as we have learned three days later God raised Jesus from the dead, and if Jesus has been raised then we have the assurance that we, though we will most certainly die, yet shall we live.

This poses a huge problem for many people today who think Jesus’ resurrection defies logic and life as we know it. Skeptics say that Jesus’ followers wanted Him to be alive so they created the story of His resurrection. I would invite Paul to testify to us this morning before we leave here. Paul never knew Jesus while He was walking the hills of Israel. He was an enemy of Jesus’ followers as their influence began to spread until he was confronted with the Resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus. His life was forever changed and he wrote,

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men. 20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:12-20 NIVO)

Jesus is alive and because He lives I can face tomorrow, because He lives I can face every challenge that comes my way, because He lives the prospect of death does not paralyze me, because He lives I can live with my hope anchored in Him and not in the things of this world, because He lives Heaven is my home, because He lives my ambition is to make His glory and grace known. Because He lives!

I’ve got news for you the feel good religion that is so prevalent in our day will not suffice when you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, but in that dark valley the Cross will shine in all of its brilliance to lead you through to the other side. Many of you know that back in February Connie and I went to Fort Lauderdale to speak at Christ the Rock Community Church for their “Missions Month.” Four days before we were to leave I got word from Pastor Darrell Owens that his sister had died and his mother was in ICU, all at the hands of his brother. His brother had stabbed his sister 86 times and his mother somewhere between 25-30 times. Connie and I went to minister to a grieving church. Darrell went to Memphis to minister to his family and speak at his dear sister’s funeral. I’ve been in touch with Darrell and Tara since we left Fort Lauderdale. On Thursday morning, as I was writing this lesson, I got word that Darrell’s mother had gone home to be with the Lord. As we talked on the phone Darrell mentioned a verse that he had been clinging to and sharing with his own church. Let me read it to you.

13 Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. 14 We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. (1 Thessalonians 4:13-14 NIVO)

We grieve, but we don’t grieve like those who have no hope. Our hope is in Jesus who suffered, died, and rose from the dead so that people like you and me might be reconciled with God, led by God, walk with God, and know that our future is held securely in His hands. I pray that today you will open your eyes and your heart and surrender to the One who loves you with an everlasting love.

Mike Hays
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
March 27, 2016

The Cross and The Crown
Easter 2016