“THE PROCESS OF THE CROSS”
Preached at West End Baptist Church of Newport, Tennessee on Sunday Morning, March 25, 2012. It is the third in a series of five messages under the general title: "The Via Dolorosa - The Way of the Cross".
My dad was a volunteer firefighter back in the days when Robert Tucker was the chief; and as they got closer and closer to the fire, the adrenalin would begin to kick in.
Firefighters run into a burning building when it is only natural to run out of it. Law enforcement and emergency personnel face horrendous problems when it is only natural to try to avoid them.
In much the same way, as our Lord traveled the “way of the cross”, His soul was increasingly more and more troubled with every step. As Cal-vary loomed up ahead, the natural instinct was to run away or fight it; but Jesus did not turn away:
(Philippians 2:8) – “And being found in fashion as a man, He hum-bled Himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross”.
Notice the word, “even the death of the cross” which should read “even the cross death”; which was well-known as the most brutal, agoniz-ing, intolerable, insufferable, unbearable, excruciating form of capital pun-ishment known to man – described simply as “the cross death”.
Luke notes that Jesus refused to pray for deliverance from “the cross death” when He was challenged by on the thieves:
(Luke 23:39-43) – “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on Him, saying, If you are The Christ, save yourself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Do you not fear God, seeing that you are in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but This Man has done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when You come into your kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto you, Today you shall be with me in paradise”.
Not only did He refuse to pray for deliverance; but He yielded to the express purposes of His Heavenly Father for this hour:
(John 12:27) – “Now is my soul troubled; and what shall I say? ‘Fa-ther, save me from this hour’: but for this cause I came unto this hour”.
At Calvary, the horror of death met headlong against the honor of obedience!
Jesus had already settled in His Mind what He was to do when He ex-pressed with a great amount of deep settled conviction:
(John 12:32) – “And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me”.
Jesus was going to Calvary because He loved us more than He loved His own life; and He wanted to pay the price of bringing every man, woman, boy and girl into a vibrant, living, throbbing relationship with Himself – and present His Followers as forgiven and redeemed to God the Father:
Not everyone would come to believe in Him; but He was dying for everyone so that could believe in Him!
The appeal was to be universal; and everyone could feel the tug of His Love for them as was demonstrated on the cross on which He was lifted up.
Author William Hull wrote: “Judaism offered men a national shrine, a racial circumcision, and a sectarian religious law”; but Jesus offered Himself – obedient, gracious, loving, dying – and in that sacrifice of His own life, we are drawn to Him to be released into a life more abundant and accepted, full, forgiven and free, rich and redeemed.
The message this morning concerns the process or procedure of the cross. What happened up there on the knarly and knuckled, contorted and distorted hillside outside the city walls of Jerusalem?
I. THE AGONY.
Luke 23:33 describes how they crucified Jesus in the “place of dishon-or” – the center position:
(Luke 23:33) – “And when they were come to the place, which is called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the malefactors, one of the right hand, and the other on the left”.
Reckoning Him to be the worst criminal of the three, they put Him be-tween the other two. They heaped upon Him the utmost scorn which they could give to a malefactor; and in so doing they unconsciously honored Him. Jesus always deserves the chief place wherever He is. In all things He must have the pre-eminence. He is the “King of Sufferers” as well as the “King of Saints”.
With His back torn to shreds by the flying whip with its nine leather thongs imbedded by pieces of metal and sharp rocks as it administered blow after blow; He was thrown brutally on the rough splintery wooden surface of the cross.
His Head was encircled with a crown of interwoven huge, sharp, tough thorns which was roughly jammed painfully down until it dug into His brow and scalp.
The rusty nails were expertly driven into the flesh and muscle tissue of His wrists and feet to hold Him to the cross with wave after wave of pulsing, excruciating pain. They were carefully placed to miss the major arteries; but to damage the extensive nerve clusters that can be found there. Every movement against those nails was tremendous pain to the Savior.
The cross was lifted into position and dropped into its socket in the rocky mountain surface, tearing His flesh still further.
As He hung by His hands, He could not breathe. His diaphragm was so distorted that no air could enter His lungs. The only relief afforded Him was to push against the nail in His feet to relief the pressure on His arms which were elongated by as much as two inches in each of the three joints (wrist, elbow, and shoulder).
When in His Humanity, He could stand that pain no longer, He fell back on His arms and pressed His back against the rough wood of the tree to begin the excruciating cycle all over again.
But the physical agony which we can somehow picture to a small de-cree was actually nothing but a small part of the sum total when we try to examine the spiritual agony – which our finite, sinful, carnal minds cannot comprehend.
There is a program on television called “Dirtiest Jobs” in which the host shows how people perform the most disgusting duties in the most loathsome of environments. I haven’t even watched a complete program because of the vileness presented.
In the same way, Jesus had never known sin in His own life; and now He was covered with the most horrendous, repulsive, foul sin ever known.
(2 Corinthians 5:21) – “For He (God the Father) hath made Him (God the Son) to be sin for us, Who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him (God the Son).
Jesus Christ, God’s Son, our Savior had never known one second of time apart from the Father; never experience one moment of isolation from Almighty God - cried out:
(Mark 15:34) – “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?’ which is, being interpreted, ‘My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?’”
Those of us who have lost a dear loved one can begin to understand what anguish Jesus was enduring when He was separated from His Heavenly Father. He was “cut off” from the Holy, Heavenly Father by sin which He did not, had not, and never would commit – our sins.
He was offered there – once for all:
(Romans 5:8) – “But God commended his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us”.
II. THE LOVE.
God is the great physician; and He has written a prescription for us that is exactly what we need.
For our sin of unbelief, He prescribed a liberal application of the blood of His Son’s Sacrifice. For our daily sins of omission and commission, He prescribed an acceptance of His Love and Forgiveness. Nothing gets through to us like His Love.
Robert Moyer wrote, “A sinner may go to hell unsaved; but he cannot go there unloved”.
Calvary is a public display of the remarkable Love of Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe towards us while we are still in our sins.
III. THE FORGIVENESS.
It is not easy to forgive; as we can all attest; but we have a perfect example in the events of Calvary.
Luke says that Jesus implored the Father to forgive those who had taken Him to Calvary and in mockery, hung Him there to die:
(Luke 23:34) – “Then said Jesus, Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do. And they parted His raiment, and cast lots”.
Jesus did not say one word in His own defense. He very well could have prayed, “Father, notice what they are doing to me; and judge them harshly for that”; but that is not what He prayed. Isaiah had written:
Isaiah 53:12B) – “ … He was numbered with the transgressors; and He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgres-sors”; and that prophecy is here fulfilled as Jesus plead for His murderers: “Father, forgive them”.
He did not utter a single word of rebuke: “Why are you doing this to Me, the One who loves you, feeds you, wants to bless you?” No; nothing like that: “Father, forgive them”.
He had laid aside His majesty to be fastened to the cross; and there-fore He took the humble position of a servant and a sacrificial victim, rather than the more lofty place of one who had power to forgive.
Though we were not there, and we did not actually put Jesus to death, yet we really caused His death, and we, too, crucified the Lord of glory; and His prayer for us was, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.
They did not ask for forgiveness for themselves, Jesus asked for for-giveness for them. Their hands were imbrued in His blood; and it was then, even then, that He prayed for them. Let us think of the great love wherewith He loved us, even while we were yet sinners; even then, He prayed for us:
(Romans 5:6) – “For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly”.
He prayed for you when you did not pray for yourself. He prayed for you when you were crucifying him.
Notice: “Father, forgive them”. He was the Son of God, and He put His divine Sonship on the scale on our behalf. He seems to say, "Father, as I am Your Son; grant me this request, and pardon these rebels. Father, for-give them”.
His rights as The Son were very great. He was the Son of the Highest. "Light of light, very God of very God", the second Person in the Divine Trini-ty; and he puts that Sonship here before God and says, "Father, Father, forgive them”!
While He is wounded and dying in agony; He says, "Father, Father, grant my one request; O Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do;" and the great Father in Heaven bows His head, in token that the petition is granted.
Notice that the Son asked the Father to “Forgive them” or “grant them full absolution” – “grant the guilty ones full pardon” – “grant My enemies full forgiveness” – “Do not punish them; forgive them. Do not remember their sin; forgive it, blot it out; throw it into the depths of the sea. Mention it not against them any more forever. Father, forgive them”.
What a wonderful prayer from the Son of God! The forgiveness of God is so much more broad and deep than the forgiveness from man. When man forgives, he leaves the remembrance of the wrong behind; but when God pardons, he says, "I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more”. This is what The Christ was requesting for you and me long before we had any repentance, or any faith; and in answer to that prayer, we were brought to feel our sin, we were brought to confess it, and to believe in him; and now, we can bless Him for having pleaded for us, and obtained the forgiveness of all our sins.
How startled those rough, tough Roman soldiers must have been to hear such words from one who was about to be put to death for a supposed crime! The men that drove the nails, the men that lifted up the tree, must have been shocked and surprised back with amazement when they heard Jesus talk to God as his Father, and pray for them: "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do”.
Had they ever heard such words before? No! They were so distinctly and diametrically opposed to the whole spirit of Rome. They believed in blow for blow, retaliation, reprisal, retribution, measure for meas-ure, tit for tat, give and take, eye for eye, repayment in spades, get even with, pay off the old scores, take revenge, having a bone to pick, harboring a grudge, and being relentlessly vindictive – only in the case of Jesus they gave blows where none had been received. The crushing cruelty of the Roman must have been startled indeed at such words as these, "Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do."
In His moments of utmost darkest darkness, He took the time to hear a penitent sinner cry out to Him. He personally assured him that they would be together at the end of the day – and for ever after:
(Luke 23:43) – “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To-day shall thou be with me in paradise”.
In His final word, “Tetellesti”, He refused to retaliate in anger against those who were doing this:
(John 19:30) – “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar, He said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost”.
He yielded his life. He did not die, as we have to do, because our ap-pointed time has come, but willingly the great Sacrifice parted with His life: "He gave up the ghost." He was a willing sacrifice for guilty men.
He did not give up the ghost, and then bow His head, because He was dead; but He bowed his head as though in the act of worship, or as leaning it down upon His Father's bosom, and then gave up the ghost.
Jesus forgave those who took Him, nailed Him, and watched Him on the cross. He pardoned and forgave the guilty criminal on His right; and completed the task of providing salvation and forgiveness. His message of “It is finished” had taken Him all the way to remove each and every sin of each and every person in each and every part of the world.