July 2019   
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Now, imagine yourself being there the day of the crucifixion.

It's Friday morning. The news is blazing across Jerusalem streets.
“The Nazarene is being executed.”
“Have you heard? They've got the Galilean. I knew He would go too far.”
“They've got Him. I don't believe it.”
“They say one of His own men turned Him in.”

In this scene:
•    Nicodemus is about to go AWOL.
•    Graves are about to pop open.
•    An earthquake is about to shake the city.
•    The temple curtains are about to be torn in two.
•    Shock, bewilderment, confusion are everywhere.
•    A few weep. A few smile.
•    A few walk up the hill to watch the spectacle.
•    A few are irritated that the sanctity of the Passover is being violated by a bunch of social activists.
•    Someone wonders aloud if this was the same man who was celebrated just a few days ago on a carpet of palm leaves.

Matthew 27:15-26 tells of the release of Barabbas in place of Jesus. One minute Barabbas was in his cell on death row. The next he was outside squinting at the bright sun.
            "You're free to go."
            Barabbas scratches his beard. "What?"
            "You're free. They took the Nazarene instead of you."

Barabbas is often compared to all humanity, and rightly so. He stands for us: a prisoner freed because someone unseen took his place. But I think Barabbas was probably smarter than we are. He took his sudden freedom for what it was, an undeserved gift. We hear about the gift of salvation and try to earn it, or diagnose it, or pay for it instead of simply saying "thank you" and accepting it.

Ironic as it may appear, one of the hardest things for people to do is to accept being saved by grace. Something in us reacts to God's free gift. We have some weird compulsion to create laws, systems, and regulations to make us "worthy" of our gift. Why do people do that? The only reason I can figure is pride.
•    To accept grace means to accept its necessity, and most don't like to do that.
•    To accept grace also means to realizes their despair, and most people aren't too keen on doing that either.

In Luke 23:35-37, of all the scenes around the cross, this one angers me the most. What kind of people, I ask myself, would mock a dying man? How low and perverted to sneer at one who is laced with pain? And then, in Luke 23:39, the criminal on cross number one throws his punch. There's nothing more painful than words that are meant to hurt. When they hurled their insults at Jesus, He did not retaliate. When He suffered, He made no threats. Instead, in Luke 23:46, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly. Did you see what Jesus did? He "entrusted" Himself to the Father, and showed His love for us! He demanded no apology. In verse 34, He spoke on their defense,
        Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing.

How Jesus, in pain, eyes blinded by His own blood and lungs yearning for air, could speak on behalf of some heartless thugs is beyond comprehension. Never have I seen such love.

Luke 23:40-43 is the classic case study on the value of a person. The second thief on the cross deserved to die.  
•    Maybe this criminal had heard Messiah speak. Or maybe not.
•    Maybe the only thing he knew about Messiah was what he now saw: a beaten, slashed, nail-suspended preacher, His face crimson with blood, His bones peeking through torn flesh, His body heaving for air.
•    Something told him that he had never been in better company.
•    And somehow he realized that even though all he had was a prayer, he had finally met the one to whom he should pray.
            Simple request: "Any chance that you could put in a good word for me?"
                    Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.
            Simple answer: "Consider it done."
                    Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."
Simple prayer. Simple answer. Simple faith. This is the way salvation happens.

Jesus did not say, “Sorry, you must be baptized first. And you must say certain words a certain number of times every day. And you must do so many tasks on my behalf before I answer your prayer.” No, in those few words He emphasized what He said so many times and is recorded in the Gospels:
         “It’s because of your faith . . . .”

Now why did Jesus do that? What could this crook ever offer in return? Jesus' love does not depend on what we do for Him. Not at all. In the eyes of the King, you have value simply because you are. You don't have to look nice or perform well. Your value is inborn. I know I don't deserve love like that. Even the purest of us deserve Heaven about as much as that crook did.

And it also makes me smile to think that there is a grinning ex-con walking the gold streets who knows more about grace than a thousand theologians. No one else would've given him a prayer. But in the end that is all he had. And in the end, that is all it took. No wonder they call Jesus the Savior.

In a familiar Old Testament scene, the priest receives the goat, the pure unspotted goat. As people witness, the priest makes this proclamation: "The sins of the people be upon you." The innocent animal receives the sins of the Israelites, becoming the scapegoat. He is then carried to the edge of the wilderness and released. "Run, goat, run."
            The people are relieved.
            Yahweh is appeased.
            The sinbearer is alone.
And now back at the cross, Jesus, the sinbearer is again alone. Every lie ever told, every object ever coveted, every promise ever broken is on His shoulders. He is sin. God turns away. "Run goat, run."

It is more than Jesus can take.
•    He withstood the beatings and remained strong at the mock trials.
•    He watched in silence as those He loved ran away.
•    He did not retaliate when the insults were hurled nor did He scream when the nails pierced His wrists.
•    But when God turned His head, that was more than He could handle.
In Matthew 27:46, the holy heart was broken. The sinbearer screams as He wanders in the eternal wasteland. Out of the silent sky come the words in the desert of loneliness: “Why have you forsaken me?"

Mark 11:15-17 tells about traders in the temple. What was a normal day in the temple became a one-man riot. The only thing that flew higher then the tables were doves flapping their way to freedom. An angry Messiah made His point. Just as His divinity is becoming unapproachable, just when His holiness is becoming untouchable, just at this perfection, we are reminded that He was both human and divine. Don't forget, He had flesh.

God, motivated by love and directed by divinity, surprised everyone. He became a Man. He became a carpenter and lived in a dusty Judean village. Determined to provide His love for His creation, He walked through His own world. His calloused hands touched wounds, and His compassionate tongue touched hearts. He became one of us so we could know Him.

Just at the right time, we are reminded that Jesus knows our feelings.
•    He knows temptation.
•    He has felt discouraged.
•    He has been hungry and sleepy and tired.
•    He nods in understanding when we pray in anger and frustration.
•    He smiles when we confess our weariness.

John 19:28 reads simply,
            "I'm thirsty."
That's the carpenter. And those are words of humanity in the midst of divinity. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords and the Word of Life. We are restored because God became flesh and dwelled among us (John 1:14). Our Master knew what it meant to be  a crucified carpenter who got thirsty.

Just when we had invented all those words like sanctification, justification, and purification. Just when we put our big golden cross on our big golden steeple, He reminds us that the Word became flesh. Jesus wants us to remember that He, too, was human. He wants us to know that He, too, knew the drone and the humdrum and the weariness that comes with long days. He wants us to remember that our Savior didn't wear bulletproof vests or rubber gloves or a suit of armor.

Stop and listen to John 19:30. Can you imagine the cry from the cross? The sky is dark. The other two victims are moaning. Then Jesus draws in a deep breath, pushes His feet down on the Roman nail, and cries,
             “It is finished."

What was finished?
•    The history-long plan of redeeming man was finished.
•    The message of God to man was finished.
•    The works done by Jesus as a man on earth were finished.
•    The work, the task of selecting and training disciples was finished.
•    The job was finished.
•    The blood had been poured.
•    The sacrifice had been made.
•    The sting of death had been removed.
•    It was over.
A cry of defeat? Hardly. It is a cry of completion. A cry of victory. A cry of fulfillment. Yes, even a cry of relief.

The fighter remained, and thank God that He did. Thank God He endured!

★    You can't depend on your own goodness to get to Heaven. We've all sinned  (Romans 3:23). Jesus paid the penalty for your sins with His death on the cross and His resurrection (John 3:16).
★    To be forgiven and be guaranteed a place in Heaven, you need to repent of sin, confess that you are a sinner, and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart (Acts 2:21).
★    You can use the following prayer or your own words, but you must actually believe in your heart that your prayer is real:
         Lord Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God. I confess that I have sinned against You in thought, word, and deed.
      Please forgive all my wrongdoing and let me live in relationship with You from now on.
      I receive You as my Savior and recognize that the work You accomplished once and for all on the cross was done on my behalf.
      Thank You for saving me. Help me to live a life that is pleasing to You.
                     In Your name I pray, Amen.

Rev. Dr. Nicholas J. Gray, Pastor   Broadway Baptist Church   Sedalia, Missouri   2015