Monday, March 28, 2016

Good Friday Sermon- Why did Jesus die?

I am a bit reluctant to post this sermon on line... as it is vey dependant on the work of Nicky Gumble and his wonderful alpha presentation 'Why did Jesus have to die?'  However I am sharing it as I share all my sermons on line for member of the St peter's congregation who may have missed it and people round the world who I hope it will help come to know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior...This by the way is my 501 post on my blog...

 Maximillian Kolbe was a polish Franciscan monk, who was ordained a catholic priest in 1918. When Germany invaded Poland in 1939, Maximillian, because of his father’s German heritage, was invites to sign a paper that would offer him the same rights as a German citizen if he acknowledged his German heritage, which in affect meant giving approval to the Nazi regime.  Maximillian refused to sign, rather he and his monks continued to run their monastery as a shelter for Polish refugees and in particular Polish Jews. In 1941 he was arrested for that and sent to Auschwitz concentration camp. On the last day of July 1941, an escape was reported and in reprisal the guards selected ten men to be put into a bunker and starved to death. As the ninth man was being pulled out of line he cried out in despair “my poor wife and my Children”. The diminutive spectacled figure of Maximillian Kolbe stepped forward and said to the guards that he was a catholic priest and was old had no family and asked if he could die in the man’s place. The guards agreed and Maximillian was placed in the bunker with nine other men. Normally in this situation the condemned would act like animals or cannibals and tear each other apart, but this time, led by Maximillian, while they had strength, they spent their time in prayer or reciting psalms. After two weeks Maximillian and three others were still alive, but the bunker was needed so on august 14th they were killed with an injection of carbolic acid.  

On 10th October 1982 , a crowd of 150,000 gathered as the catholic church pronounced Maximillian Kolbe a saint. In the crowd that day was the man Maximillian had saved Francis Gajowniczek with his family. The pope describing Maximillian’s death saying “this was a victory won over all the systems of contempt and hate in man- a victory like that won by our Lord Jesus Christ.’ When Francis Gajowniczek died at 94 his obituary read that he had spent the rest of his life after 1941 telling people what Maximillian Kolbe had done for him, dying in his place.” 

 We are gathered together today to remember another death. We are gathered together today to remember Jesus death on the cross: The event that along with the ressurection forms the centre of our faith.  It seems strange that an instrument of torture, the cross, which was so barbaric a means of execution, that the romans themselves outlawed it AD 337 should be the centre of religious worship, but it is because as Christians we believe that this death was for us. Like with the example we started with that because of Jesus death on the cross those who put their trust in Jesus have life: abundant eternal life.

Now usually on Good Friday I don’t preach but rather lead a reflection but today I want to change that and invite us again to look at why Jesus died? And what that means for us. To do that I am very dependent on Alpha presenter Nicky Gumbel’s book Questions of lIfe.

Gumble says’ The cross is a beautiful diamond, with many facets. From whichever angle you look at it you can see different colours and lights. The cross in a sense is a mystery; it’s something too profound for understanding. However from whichever angle you look at the cross you will never fathom its full depth and beauty.” Now theologians have tried to do that by tying it all down in what are called theories of the atonement but Gumble says rightly that  “In the New testament these angles are simply explored.”

The first is that to understand the cross we must look at it from the perspective of the love of God. John 3:16 says ‘That God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whoever believes in his would not perish but have everlasting life.”

In the shorter Westminster catechism it says that the chief end of man, the meaning of life was that we were made to know God and enjoy him always. But there is a problem, while we were made in God’s mage and made to know him intimately the bible says that we have sinned. Christianity sees humans as capable of great good and also acknowledges the reality that we are fallen, broken and do things that are wrong. Now it’s not always PC to talk about being sinners and most people would want to say that they lead an Ok life they never killed or robbed anyone.  Maybe they might not consider themselves amongst the great saints but they are definitely not down with the really bad people. But in Romans 3:23 Paul sets the bar very high he says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God”. The bar is not those we deem the height of human integrity but rather the sky  God himself. English novelist Somerset Maugham once wrote “ if I write down every thought I have ever thought and every deed I have ever done, people would call me a monster of depravity.”

Sin has marred that image of God in us, tarnished the great good we were called to do and be. In scripture it talks of it like pollution making us unclean. It holds power over us, it is like an addiction that can mess up our lives. Again in romans it says that sin has a penalty, it has affected all human beings’ The wages of sin is death. Not physical death, but rather a spiritual death, we become dead to God. That is the other thing that sin does, it separates us from God.

God’s response to that is love, to make a way for us to be reconciled with him. To be forgiven. He did it by sending his son to die that we might have life. Christians from an early time have seen the passage we started our service with this morning from Isaiah 53 speaking of Jesus. Though innocent He took our wrongdoing on himself. He died for our sins. People often ask how God can let evil and suffering carry on in the world and the answer is that in Jesus he came into its midst and took it and its consequences on himself.

One of the ways of looking at the cross is that in Jesus willingness to give up his life for us, he has won a victory over death and sin. In our reading from Luke’s gospel the crucifixion is not seen so much as a tragic death but rather a coronation. It is the one time in the gospel Jesus is acknowledged as the king of the Jews, ironically it is the criminal charge above his head. In the face of violence and injustice he offers forgiveness, to those who crucify him and to a repentant sinner next to him on the cross. They read like the pardoning of enemies when I new conqueror or king is appointed.  The centurion who would have been used to the swearing and vitriol of condemned criminals concluded that surely this was an innocent man. By doing that Jesus gives us an example of how to overcome sin with selfless love but also shows that in his death he has broken the power of sin and death not with the ways of man and empire but the ways of love and selfless sacrifice.

In the New Testament, they use four very common illustrations from the everyday life of first century Jews to explore the cross as well.

The first is the temple. The Jewish sacrificial system was set up to show people how serious sin was and the cost of being forgiven.  A repentant sinner would take an animal. The animal was to be as near perfect as possible.  The sinner would lay their hands on the animal and confess their sins. Thus the sins were seen to pass into the animal and it was then killed. It’s where we get our English term scapegoat from. The book of Hebrews in the New Testament says that it is impossible for the blood of bulls or goat to take away sins, rather it was a picture or a shadow of what was to come. That only the blood of Christ, our substitute could take away our sin. John the Baptist saw this when he said “look the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.” : An innocent pure sacrifice able to wash away the pollution of sin.

The New Testament also uses the image of the market place: In particular the idea of debt. In the ancient near east if you were in debt you could be sold into slavery and the only way to get out of it was for a rich relative to come and to pay that debt and then you would be free.  That is where we get the word redemption from… WE were caught in the power of sin, but Jesus has paid the ransom price to set us free.

The third comes from the law courts. There is a consequence for things we do wrong.  A punishment if we are found guilty. In Romans Paul, who is a lawyer,r uses the legal term justified  to explain what Christ has done for us. It
is a legal term which means that we are right before the law because the fine or sentence has been paid for us. A good illustration is two people who had grown up together and been best of friends. But as they had got older they had gone their different ways. One became a judge and the other for certain reasons ended up in his court room charged with a crime. The judge loved his friend but was a just judge and couldn’t just acquit him; that would not be right. So he declares his friend guilty and fines him what the law says he must. But then he steps down takes off his robes and pays the man’s fine, so he can go free, he no longer has a charge to answer.  Scripture says Jesus is both our judge and saviour and we are not having our punishment paid for by a separate innocent third party but by God himself. The poet Heinrich Hiene once said ‘God will forgive me because that’s his Job’ and we can take forgiveness for granted, and people often see it as cheap grace, but the cross shows us the costly price God was willing to pay for our forgiveness.

Lastly the picture of home… That God invites us back into relationship with him. In Luke’s gospel as Jesus dies the curtain in the temple is ripped in two from the top to the bottom. The curtain was placed in the temple to separate the holy of holies the place where the Jews believed that God presenced himself from humanity. It was too holy for people to enter and was only entered once a year by the high priest and then only after he had made many sacrifices. But the curtain being broken symbolised that Jesus death on the cross has dealt with the partition of sin, that separateness of from God…because of Jesus we are able to come back to know God as our heavenly father.  In an online discussion group someone wrote that they couldn’t accept the goodness of God because when they looked at The cross they saw God as a father who was into child sacrifice. But Paul says ‘God was in Christ’ we forget the oneness of God’ often in our Trinitarian thinking and at the cross I wonder if we don’t see the father in the parable of the prodigal son, who when he sees his son far off throws off any ide of dignity and runs to greet him and be reconciled, runs even to the point of death on the cross.

Last week we invited you to identify with the repentant sinner in Luke’s gospel by pinning your name or a drawing round your hand on the cross as a way of saying “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom,” and Identifying with his death for us. This morning I hope you encounter and know what Jesus has done for us on the cross. We are going to finish our service with the hymn ‘and can it be” which is Charles Wesley’s reflection on the Cross. It’s a very personal reflection because he sees what Jesus has done not just as an academic abstract or a doctrine or religious dogma… But something he has experienced that has transformed his life. He encountered that love of God, that cleansing of sin, that debt paid, that being justified and reconciled with God. As certainly and as concretely as Francis Gajowniczek knew he had life because Maximillian Kolbe died in his place. We too can know life because Jesus died for us. We too can know freedom and forgiveness because Jesus died for us. Sin and death are defeated because Jesus died for us. We can live life in relationship with God, abundant full eternal life, because Jesus died for us. 

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