Good Friday, 2021, and today we focus on the cross…
We see crosses on the top of churches and around people’s necks, but in 2021 we really have little concept of what the cross means. In Jesus’ time, no one would wear a cross as jewellery.
The cross was not a fun symbol at all, it was a symbol of unimaginable pain, incalculable shame and utter despair. Only criminals were executed on a cross, and to wear a cross around your neck 2000 years ago would be like wearing a hangman’s noose around your neck today!
1 Corinthians 1:18 (ESV Strong’s)
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The cross was a symbol of execution, of death, of shame, of folly and scorn. For us to understand it, I want to invite you to come with me back in time 2000 years and walk the road to the cross with Jesus.
So why do we even need a cross? The Bible tells us that all of us, if we sin, are destined for a lost eternity, separated from God forever in hell. Good and bad, black and white, gay and straight people, all of us deserve hell. The Bible says,
Romans 3:23 (ESV Strong’s)
for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
All of us have sinned… I have, you have, all of us have. Sins of commission, and sins of omission. Commission means we’ve committed sin… Ever got angry at someone? Ever been envious or selfish? Ever hurt someone or let them down, or spoken badly of another person? Or sins of omission, when we have failed to do what was right and just. Ever walked past someone in need without helping? Ever made a decision without asking God or not obeyed Him? We have all sinned.
Sin separates you and I from God. In the OT, under law, sacrifices were required for sin, to reconcile us back to God…
Hebrews 9:22 (ESV Strong’s)
under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
In the New Testament, it’s the same, only God supplied the sacrifice required to fulfil the law.
So why do we need the cross? Because rather than kill us and shed our blood for sin, of the blood of countless animals, Jesus became the perfect sacrifice, and His blood shed paid the price for us. He left His home in glory, and came to earth on a mission, with the express intent of dying in our place, setting His face like flint Isaiah says to fulfil His mission.
We all need the cross, and though the world hates it and thinks it foolish, we know it is salvation for every single one of us!
I should have been hanging on that cross, you should have been. But He chose to give His life for ours. He experienced what we should have experienced, to give us what we never deserved… a chance to be right with God.
Why? Because He loves us.
A holy and just God cannot simply excuse sin, because if He did, He would no longer be holy or just. Imagine what our society would look like if courts never punished anybody for crimes? It would be bedlam. If God just let everyone into heaven, heaven would be hell! A holy God cannot ignore or tolerate filthy sin.
But instead of excusing us, or condemning all of us to a lost eternity, God’s solution was to find us guilty, satisfying His justice, but then pay the price for us, exercising His mercy.
Imagine… We stand accused before the judge, the penalty is a million dollar fine or death, and we have no money to pay the fine. The gavel falls, our fate is sealed, but once sentence is pronounced, the judge Himself breaks out His wallet and pays the price, setting us free.
That is the motivation of the cross. God paid the penalty for our sin by sacrificing His own Son in our place.
Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
The Bible tells us that Jesus is God. He’s not a god, He’s not a created being, He was and is and forever will be God. Yet this glorious God chose to empty Himself and come as a servant, as a sacrifice, for you and I, to die in our place. God’s motive in sending His one and only Son was this… because He loves you..
A story is told of a drawbridge keeper on the Mississippi in 1937, who brought his 8 year old son to work one day. The draw bridge was raised as a train approached, and it was time to lower the bridge, but he saw his son had tripped and fallen into the gear assembly. He could see the child was hurt but trapped, but the Memphis express train was approaching, so the man faced a choice… save his son, and hundreds of people on the train plunge into the river, or sacrifice his son and the trainload of people live. He pushed the lever, the bridge began to lower and the train went over the bridge safely as he heard the screams of his dying little boy.
Make no mistake, nails did not hold Jesus to the cross, love did. He died in your place, because He loves you!
THE ROAD TO THE CROSS
The road to the cross showed us how Jesus can relate to all of us. Whatever we have been through, Jesus has been there and understands your pain.
And they spit on him and took the reed and struck him on the head. And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him and led him away to crucify him.
Jesus was betrayed by a close friend. Some of you here have experienced that, where a supposed friend has let you down or betrayed you. He understands how you feel because it happened to Him.
He was unjustly accused, and unjustly convicted. Many of you have been unjustly accused of something you have not done, and He understands because that is what happened to Him.
Jesus was abused horribly. Have you ever felt abused? Jesus gets it, because He experienced it too.
They whipped Him, they placed a crown of thorns on His head, with thorns longer than a man’s fingers, and mocked Him, driving those spikes into His head with blow after blow. They tore the beard from His face? They mocked and beat Him.
Jesus was beaten to within an inch of His life. The Bible says His back was like a plowed field. The Romans had refined cruelty and pain to the point of science. They called such a whipping the halfway death, and for a whip they used a cat of nine tails, with stone, bone and bits of metal embedded into the leather. When they struck the sharp objects would embed into His back, tearing it to pieces as they were pulled away.
Unbelievable pain, that He could have stopped at any moment… but He chose not to.
Why? Because He loves you!
Then He was taken away for the death sentence to be carried out. He was ordered to carry the crossbeam of the cross, a heavy and terrible burden after being so abused and beaten. Some of you here have been abused, and many of you here are carrying burdens even today that seems to heavy to bear. That’s why Jesus says,
Matthew 11:28-30 (ESV Strong’s)
Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
The pain, the fear, the loneliness, the loss, whatever burden you bear today you can give to Jesus.
Jesus will bear the burdens of life with you, because He knows and understands whatever you face right now. Why would He do this? Because He loves you!
THE WORK OF THE CROSS
And so He was beaten and driven to Golgotha, Skull Hill… and they crucified Him.
The cross wasn’t really on a hill faraway, it was the base of that hill, on a busy road which today is an Arab bus stop.
They laid the cross member down and secured it to the rest of the cross. They then held out His quivering hands and drove massive nails, much like what they secure railway sleepers with, through His wrists and ankles. If they went through His hands the flesh would tear, but through His wrists and ankles the body would be pinned in agony to the cross. Then they raised it up and dropped it into the socket in the ground. Imagine the jarring pain!
And there He hung in agony. He could have called down a legion of angels to remove Him from the cross, but Jesus chose not to. He hung there in agony for you.
Why? Because He loves you!
The cross wasn’t high at all, it was more or less at eye level or just above. People could almost look straight into the eyes of Jesus as He hung there in agony. People passing by mocked and insulted Him…
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him.
The soldiers offered Him wine mixed with gall, a pain killing drug, but Jesus even in intense agony refused the drugs. He could have dulled the pain, but He bore it all for us without pain relief.
The cross was an almost perfect instrument of torture. On the cross you die of suffocation. Jesus pushed His body up on the spikes, but the unbelievable pain drove Him into unconsciousness. He then slumped collapsing His lungs, but the need for oxygen revived Him and made Him push up again despite the unbearable pain to breathe.
The Latin word for crucifixion is CRUCIERE, from which we get the English word, excruciating, meaning intense, unbearable pain. Jesus suffered for 3 hours in this excruciating pain under the intense heat of a Palestinian sun before God said enough, and covered the world in a supernatural darkness.
Jesus continued to suffer for another 3 hours under darkness in ways we cannot begin to understand. He could have stopped the pain at any point, but He chose not to.
Why? Because He loves you!
THE END OF THE CROSS
After 6 tortuous, agonising hours, the Bible says,
Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
My God the Father, my God the Holy Spirit, why have you forsaken me?
At that point God turned away from His beloved Son. In those moments a holy God, who cannot look upon sin, saw your sin and my sin upon the shoulders of Jesus, and He turned away from Him. At that moment Jesus took our sin upon Himself, and as the Father rejected Him, Jesus experienced separation from God for us.
Then it says this…
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
John 19:30 (ESV)
When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus’ lasts words were “It is finished”, it is complete. These were the very words the high priest uttered as he performed the final Passover sacrifice at exactly this time, 6pm. Jesus said His mission was complete, finished, He had become the ultimate sacrifice for our sins.
He slumped, dead on that cross. Ultimately they didn’t take His life, He yielded it. He could have stopped it at any time, but Jesus yielded His life in unbelievable pain for your sin and my sin. Remember, nails did not hold Him to that cross, love did!
Because He loves us.
They took His body down from the cross and buried it in a fresh tomb.
At that exact moment the temple curtain, separating the most Holy place of the temple, was torn in two from top to bottom. At that moment God showed us that the way directly to Him was open. Graves burst forth. Here’s what Matthew reported…
Matthew 27:50-53 (ESV)
And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit.
And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many.
The result of the cross was that the penalty of our sin, separation from God for eternity in hell, was overcome. You can be assured of escaping hell and being with God in heaven for all eternity, starting right now. The Bible says,
Romans 10:9 (ESV)
if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
1 Peter 2:24-25 (ESV)
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
Today it is time you returned to the shepherd of your soul. If you’re not sure of where your life is going, today is the day to make sure. If you were to die tonight, where would you spend eternity, in heaven with God, or in hell, separated from God’s love forever. You don’t have to earn His love, you don’t have to meet minimum standards, dies t matter what you’ve done, or the life you’ve lived, you just have to accept His free gift, the one He paid so high a price for.
If you’ve never asked Jesus into your life, or have previously, but have wandered far from Him, you need to accept His free offer of salvation right now. This wondrous Son of God, who died in your place for your sin, and who paid the price for you to receive eternal life, this same one offers you salvation today, no matter what you’ve said or done. The opportunity to get right with God, the opportunity to turn your life around, the opportunity to be sure of your eternal destination.
Pray with me…
Prayer for salvation.
YOUR RESPONSE TO THE CROSS
Galatians 6:14 (ESV)
But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.
Isaac Watts wrote a beautiful hymn, When I survey the wondrous cross, on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt in all my pride. How will you respond this day to the cross?
There were 3 soldiers crucifying Jesus that day, and they had 3 responses to watching Jesus die.
One was a materialist. The Bible says they gambled for Jesus’ cloak. It was a rabbis coat, all one piece, the only seams being around the arms. It was valuable. This soldier just got what he wanted for himself… a good coat, nothing more.
The second was an angry violent soldier, who thrust his sword into the heart of Jesus, and ripped it out, causing a flow of blood and water, showing Jesus was truly dead. His experience was one of hatred and anger towards Jesus. Some of you here might be angry that God hasn’t done what you wanted. Maybe you blame God for the way your life has unfolded, even though you made all the decisions. Well, this man was angry, and he trampled the blood, the precious blood of Jesus underfoot.
Today across out nation, most of our people will be thinking about a day off, about hot cross buns and Easter eggs , and they will tread with contempt the precious blood of Jesus into the red soil.
But the third man was a centurion. A leader…
And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!”
So let me challenge you… What are you going to say this morning to this One who died for you? Are you out to get as much as you can from Him? Are you angry or upset at Him, or even ignoring Him? Today of all days, Don’t tread His precious blood underfoot this morning.
When you look at the cross, my question is, how will you respond this Good Friday? Remember, love held Him to the cross, not nails. Love for you held Him there. Today is the day to get right with Him, and make this Good Friday the best Friday ever.
Colossians 2:14-15 (ESV)
canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.
If you already know Him, and that’s most of us here today, I want you to think about your life. Let me ask you, what is your greatest burden is right now? What’s your greatest need, your greatest struggle or your greatest ongoing sin. Write it down, we are going to pray, give it totally to Jesus.
After we’ve prayed, I’m going to give you the chance to deal with it, to triumph over and disarm the spiritual rulers and authorities, and to come forward and nail it to the cross.
Stay in an attitude of prayer, and when you nail that sin or burden to the cross, let it forever…