The Road to the Cross. A Story of Hope.
This morning I preached a sermon in a way I have never done before. We have been going through the book of John and we were scheduled to cover the crucifixion this week. So, instead of preaching a typical sermon, I wrote a story that was laced with scripture, paraphrase, thoughts from me and influences from other authors. Here is my manuscript. Except for the introductory words, I basically read it word for word. I feel God spoke to me through this. Its long, but I invite you to read. Its mostly scripture, so I don’t get much credit for it…
Last evening my wife and I watched the movie Finding Neverland. It’s a fantastic move really. If have you have not seen it, it is a movie that tells the story of how the play Peter Pan came into being.
The thing the movie does the most however, is invite you to imagine. That is what I am going to ask you to do this morning. Imagine. However, there is one difference. I’m inviting you to imagine reality. I’m inviting you to enter a story that is our story. The story of mankind. For some of you there may not be a difference between the Neverland that Peter Pan dreams up and the world that we are about to enter. For you, they are both imagined and concocted by creative minds. If that is you, I want to invite you to take another look. I believe you are in this story. I believe it to be true. I believe it to be transforming.
For the next 15 minutes I hope to take us on a journey.
I am going to pray, and then I am going to invite you to enter into a world. Not another world like Neverland. But our world. Our history. Our future.
In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not understood it.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the spirit of God was hovering over the waters.
And so God took five days and created light and darkness, day and night, land and sky. He created the stars, the sun and the moon. He created the fish of the sea and the birds of the air. Five days. He created animals of all kinds and it was good. And then God created man…
Then God said, let us make man in our own image, in our likeness, and let him rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth and over the creatures of the ground. So God created man in His own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
And man and woman were both naked and they felt no shame.
But this world would not continue…
Now the serpent was craftier than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘you must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and coverings for themselves.”
Sinful. Naked. Ashamed. The serpent was right. They knew good and evil. Perhaps the knowledge of Good and Evil best left to God.
And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil…so the Lord God banished him from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which He had been taken”
Therefore, sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people…
So begins the story of man. Each one would fall. Cain kills Able. And the story goes on and on…
But God would not let his people go. He would not let them destroy themselves. He created them in his own image. His love would win out. So he made a choice. He chose one through whom he would bless all…
The Lord said to Abram, leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you. I will make you a great nation and I will bless you. I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples of the earth will be blessed through you.
And the story of Israel continues. We look back with wonder as they struggle to hang onto this promise. They hang between doubt and faithfulness. They enter captivity. Over and over God rescues them in their desperate times of need. In one case, God releases them through a miraculous escape from Egyptian captivity that culminates in walking through the walls of the parted Red Sea. At this, they rejoice in His salvation:
They worship: “Who among the gods is like you, Lord? Who is like you— majestic in holiness, awesome in glory, working wonders?
You stretch out your right hand, and the earth swallows your enemies.
In your unfailing love you will lead the people you have redeemed. In your strength you will guide them to your holy dwelling.”
Israel’s story is one of doubt and hope, exile and deliverance, sin and redemption. But, mostly, it’s a story of hope. The hope for the promised messiah. The hope for the one who would come and be faithful to God’s ancient promise. That indeed, God would bless the world through them.
That He would act to bring to a climax the great story of exile and restoration that began when man was banished from the garden
This promise would be the ultimate divine rescue operation of a King who would bring the justice and the healing of creation as spoken of in the Prophets.
Isaiah prophesized: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him— the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord— and he will delight in the fear of the Lord.
He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears;
but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist.
The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear, their young will lie down together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
Infants will play near the hole of the cobra; young children will put their hands into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. (Isaiah 11:1-9)
Finally, with the coming of the Promised one, heaven and earth will come together and the world will again be created anew.
The virgin would be with child and would give birth to a son, and they would call his name Immanuel, which means “God with us.”
And Jesus enters into our world. We find Him in manger. Wrapped in cloths. Shoved into a stable. A humble beginning.
And the angel said to the shepherds, “Do not be afraid, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you, he is Christ the Lord.”
Great news of great joy. Do you hear it? Do you feel the anticipation of a nation and a world being met through this small child?!
The King. The Messiah. The Savior. The Promised One. The fulfillment of promises from long ago. The one who is the answer to a world that is longing for redemption.
God is with us. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.
He has come.
But why? What has he come to do? Has he come to establish an earthly throne? Has he come to wipe out Israel’s oppressors once and for all? Has he come to teach us how to obey the law in its fullness?
Or has he come for something more?
“I have come down from heaven not to do my will, but the will of the one who sent me.” (John 6:28)
“The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:20)
What is the will of the one who sent Him?
The cross? The humiliating death on the cross?
This was not the death of a hero, a rescuer or a redeemer. No, this was the death of a murder. A robber. A thief. His friends deserted and denied knowing him. He hung naked and beaten on a rugged tree. No, this was not the typical death of a hero. (Jungel, Ebhard)
Look at this man, does this look like a hero to you? (Pause……)
The one who was to be the rescuer of humanity was born in a lowly manger and hung on a humiliating cross.
Why? He didn’t establish a throne. The throne murdered him. He didn’t wipe out Israel’s oppressors. They wiped him out. He didn’t teach them to obey the law. He broke and redefined their laws.
A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When we had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”
It is finished. What was finished? His life? His pain? His suffering? Perhaps.
But something even greater was accomplished. Something more profound than our minds can even conceive. What was accomplished that was so awesome?
The sting of death was finished. In the moment of Jesus’ death, light shone in the darkness, and the darkness could not overcome it.
Evil was defeated. The death that began in the garden was defeated once and for all.
You see, at the cross it was not only our personal sin that was forgiven. It was not only our sins that nailed Jesus to the cross. It was death itself that nailed Jesus to the cross. And this death? This death was overcome and defeated. God himself faced death, suffered, and overcame it.
Death entered into the world through mankind’s sin in the garden. Death came to all men. Death reigned supreme…As for you? You were dead in your sins as you followed in the ways of the world and the ways of the ruler of this world.
But, Jesus said, when I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself…I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the father but through me.
As death entered the world through one man, through one man life entered the world. But God, in his abounding mercy, made us alive. God’s abundant provision of grace was made available to all men if they were united together with Christ at the cross.
I implore you on behalf of Christ: Be reconciled to God! He allowed Christ, who knew no sin, to become sin for you, so that in Him you might become the righteousness of God.
But what about this world? Is it still not broken? Through Christ, God reconciles all things to himself, on earth and in heaven. We were once enemies to God, now we are adopted as sons.
Yet still we eagerly await the future when our physical bodies will be mended and we will finally be united with Christ in his presence.
At the same time, the world, the whole creation groans and eagerly awaits for the day when all things will be made new. The day when heaven at last comes to earth and God dwells with his people. He will at last be with them, and he will be their God, and they will be His people.
So here we are. We sit on the brink of Christmas. The celebration of the incarnation of the Promised One. The celebration of the day that God, in Jesus Christ, came to dwell with us in the humble form of a needy infant. He came as the long awaited promise to deliver a nation and a world from sin and death.
We look forward to a death. A brutal death on the cross where sin and death are finally defeated. All men may look to that cross as their salvation. Their life. By being united with him, they may be freed from the slavery of sin and death. We look forward to a resurrection. Both of the Christ who died and the world for which he died.
So now what? Do we just sit and wait? Do we simply need to feel grateful for his work for us on the cross and respond to this work with singing worship songs each Sunday morning, while listening to a pastor preach sermons about this wonderful message?
Or does being alive mean more than that?
Perhaps more than that, being alive means that we are should not only aggressively resist sin, but we should be made new in all aspects of our lives and be rid of our former way of life and life a life worthy of the calling of Jesus Christ?
And finally, the love of Christ compels us. It compels us to die to ourselves and live for him. He who died for us and was raised again. Now that through Christ we are in him as new creations. It is through Him we are reconciled.
And he has given to us the ministry of reconciliation. Do you hear that? He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation! We are his representatives here on this earth as those who carry the good news of Jesus Christ to others. He is making his appeal to the world through us. This message of hope and good news has been entrusted to those it has touched most deeply.
Assuredly, this is a daunting task. One that cannot be taken lightly and one that cannot be set aside. It is our main vocation. It is our main reason for living. It is our means of taking part in a rebellion. A rebellion that is against sin and death and is for life and hope. In a world that is filled with death, we cannot set aside our call to proclaim freely and passionately a truth that is full of life and hope.
So we can’t just sit and wait. This is not an option. After all, He has given to us the ministry of reconciliation! So I implore you, be reconciled to God. And may we understand the daunting task that is before us as his adopted children. He has given to us the greatest task ever set before anyone. The ministry of reconciliation. So let us not waste time. Let us not sit still. Let us not be distracted. Let us devote ourselves to living a life worthy of the gospel. Lives of such radical love that people will ask, what is this hope that you have? And may we always be prepared to give them an answer to the hope that is in fact inside of us.
This is our story. This is our life. This is our future. I pray that imagination and reality have come together in the form of faith. Faith in being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see…
This is not Neverland. This is our world. This is our story. Enter into it. Let it rule your life…