The Way of the Cross
7 Apr 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE WAY OF THE CROSS
I would like to take the opportunity to share with you this morning a special and extraordinary calendar of events - a procession of experiences that were to eventually lead to the Lord's death and subsequent resurrection.
As important as the life and teachings of Jesus were, we need to understand that His death and resurrection were to be even more important. We see this in the manner that His final journey, the way of the cross, is to be found dramatically and disproportionately portrayed in each of the Gospel stories. These events were placed there for our admonition, our understanding and our reflection on the Plan of Salvation. It is also interesting to find that about one third of the material in the four Gospels deals explicitly with the final Passover week leading to Christ's crucifixion and His resurrection. It is here that the cross establishes forever, the value of the human soul. It was believed to be on the hill called Calvary or Golgotha that the worth of human beings before God was forever revealed not only to the world, but also to the angels, and to the onlooking universe.
This eventful and memorable week often called 'The Passion Week' or 'The Week of Suffering' was to cover the final arrival of Jesus in Jerusalem on the Sunday before the Passover and was to extend to the following Sunday of His resurrection.
The real-life drama concerning this week and described in the Gospels was to highlight the irreconcilable differences between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. No series of events has so intensely revealed the anger of sinners towards a holy God and, in turn, the love that God had for angry sinners.
The year was AD 31.
It is here, culminated in this short week, that author Phillip Yancy says we find the '…might of the world, the most sophisticated religious system of its time allied with the most powerful political empire…' arraying itself against this one solitary figure of a man, the only perfect man to have ever lived (Yancy, 2000: 188).
While mocked by the powers of the earth and abandoned by His friends, the Gospels give the impression that Jesus himself is overseeing the whole long process. He sets His face for Jerusalem, knowing the fate that awaits Him. The cross has been His goal all along and now as death draws near, he begins to call everything into action (Ibid).
Many times in the past Jesus had foretold His death in Jerusalem and we read this in Matt 16: 21 where He says, 'I must go to Jerusalem and suffer much from the elders, the chief priests, and the teachers of the Law. I will be put to death, but three days later I will be raised to life' (GNB). Plainly, at this time, His disciples did not understand Him.
In accordance with the Lord's original instructions, the Passover Lamb was to be slain in the evening of the fourteenth day of the first month called Nisan, which came in the early spring (Ex 12: 1-6, 24: 18). It was to be at this time that the Lamb of God was also to be sacrificed on behalf of all humanity
We are told that the last week of Jesus' life was to be spent in and around Jerusalem.
It all begins on the Sunday, the ninth day of Nisan, often called 'Palm Sunday' when Jesus enters Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives. He is riding on a small donkey while a crowd of His disciples spread their coats on the ground before Him. Others cut branches from trees and spread them on the ground shouting out, 'Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!' (Matt 21: 1-11; Mark 11) This exuberant welcome, later acknowledged and affirmed by Jesus, was considered to be a prayer to God that salvation may come to Israel through the Messiah King.
However, the Roman soldiers and the religious leaders, thinking that the increasing crowd could possibly get out of hand commanded Jesus to silence them. Jesus calmly replied in Luke 19: 40 that '…if they keep quiet, the [very] stones will cry out.'
Luke 19: 41,42 then tells us that Jesus beheld the city and wept over it. He knew that most of its inhabitants had rejected God's message. Over the years, Jerusalem had continually rejected the prophets and even now was preparing to reject the Son of God. As Jesus looked down through the years he could see what the multitude could not. He could see the Roman armies encircle the doomed city and, through the depths of a broken heart, could see its residents perish.
Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem was one of the few times in His public ministry when He allowed His followers to honour Him as the Messiah and this was to become a partial fulfilment of the prophetic words uttered by Zechariah in Zech 9:9.
We are told that Jesus chose to draw attention to himself at this time and allowed this public demonstration, knowing that it would eventually lead Him to the Cross. Many more would now know of His death and resurrection than normally would have, had he maintained His previous low profile with the people. Jesus knew that before the week was over He would be abandoned by His friends, condemned by His enemies and then crucified. The crowds who were now singing Hosannas would, by the end of the week, be those who would shout those fatal words, 'Away with Him! Crucify Him!'
Entering Jerusalem, Jesus quietly surveyed the temple that more than ever resembled a cattle yard and stock exchange than a house of worship. However, unnoticed among the din of noise and confusion, he quietly withdrew to the peaceful village of Bethany.
On the Monday, after spending the night in prayer, He again made His way to the temple. On the way, the apostle Mark in Mark 11: 14 records His act of cursing a fig tree - a tree that gave much promise of well-developed fruit but its full leaf was deceptive. There was nothing but leaves, giving it pretentious foliage. It seems that the tree had every advantage but had no fruit. That barren tree was to be a symbol of the Jewish nation who, while fair in outward appearance with its temple, alters, priests and ceremonies, was lacking in love, humility and goodness. This parable was to be a warning, not only to the churches in later centuries, but also to Christians for all time.
We need to remember that no one can live the law of God without ministering to others
On entering the temple, Jesus for the second time was to exert His divine authority in cleansing it of unholy traffic that had converted His house of prayer into a den of thieves. (Matt 21: 12-16; Mark 11: 17) While the first cleansing of the temple took place in 28 AD, at the beginning of His ministry, the situation now seemed worse than ever before.
After expelling the Priests and traders Jesus remained to heal the sick, who for the very first time, had been brought into the temple for healing. The resulting praise from the children rang throughout the building which only moments before rang to the sound of bartering and trade (Matt 21: 14-16). At the end of the day, Jesus again retires to Bethany to spend the evening among friends.
Tuesday was to find Jesus back in the temple teaching parables. This was to bring Him, once again into conflict with the Jewish leaders as their authority is further challenged and undermined in the eyes of the people. It is in this context that Jesus tells a number of stories, continuing His dialogue with an outline of the Signs of the End of the Age as recorded in Matt 24 and ending with the parable of 'The Ten Virgins', the parable of the Talents, and the Judgement Scene in Matt 25.
While the gentiles are seeking Jesus on this very same day, we find that Judas Iscariot , one of the twelve, is preparing to betray Him.
Wednesday was to see Jesus again retiring to Bethany, while Thursday evening was to see Jesus and His Disciples come secretly to have a last meal together. This was to be conducted in the first-floor room of a Jerusalem house.
You could imagine the scene in that upper room. Couches were placed around the table, and the guests lay upon them, resting on the left arm keeping the right one free for eating. Their feet, being at the outer edge of the couch, could be washed by a person passing around the outside of the circle. Jesus is at the table on which the supper would be served. The unleavened cakes used at the Passover are before Him. The unfermented Passover wine is also on the table. These emblems Jesus now uses to represent his own unblemished sacrifice (1 Peter 1: 19, Desire of Ages: 652-653).
Then Jesus, speaking to His Disciples, says in John 13: 14,15,17…'If I then, your Lord and Master, have washed your feet; ye also ought to wash one another's feet. For I have given you an example that ye should do as I have done to you. If ye know these things, happy are ye if ye do them.' KJV
The whole life of Jesus had been one of unselfish service. As Matt 20: 28 says: 'Not to be ministered unto, but to minister'. It is only as we grasp whom Jesus really is, that we can even begin to realize what an incredible act of service this was.
With the introduction of 'The Lord's Supper', approximately 4000 years of types and ceremonies was to come to an end. The national Passover service of the Jews was to pass away forever. In its place Jesus was about to establish a new service to be observed by His followers in all lands and through all ages…(Desire of Ages 652-653).
After this, Jesus and the eleven disciples went out to the east side of Jerusalem to the Mount of Olives and then to the west slope where the garden of Gethsemane was located. This place of prayer where He was to anguish over the thought of His vicarious sacrifice is where Jesus was to be arrested and brought before Annas for a preliminary examination (Matt 26: 41;Matt 26: 36-56). He was then taken to Caiaphas and to the night trial before the Sanhedrin. All through these farcical procedures, through Peter's denial and the false witnesses who testified against Him, Jesus was able to maintain the dignity, love and compassion that marked His entire ministry.
On the Friday, after facing three religious trials, Jesus is now to face three political trials. One before Pilate, then Herod and then before Pilate again. Pilate is caught in a dilemma between justice and self-interest. Knowing that he cannot save both Jesus and himself, he determines to save himself (Matt 26: 57 -75; 27: 1-31).
Jesus is now led down the Via Dolorosa to the hill of Golgotha, the place of the skull, where He was to be crucified. This was the ultimate price He was to pay for our salvation (Matt 27: 32-56).
Jesus last words on the Cross, as recorded in the Gospels, give us some insight into the last moments before his death. Remember, this was on the Friday evening leading into the Sabbath rest.
The first words of Jesus we read in Luke 23: 34, 'Father Forgive them for they know not what they do'. This prayer, while referring to all successive generations until the end of time, makes particular reference to both those Romans and Jews who had been instrumental in plotting His death. However, in forgiving them, we need to recognise that His prayer does not remove their guilt.
It is interesting to note that while the Jewish leaders had made a deliberate decision in relation to Jesus death, it would seem they did not fully appreciate what they were doing within the context of the great universal battle between Christ and Satan.
Also the common people had little concept of what was taking place. Making jeers and taunts in ignorance, they were blindly following their leaders.
The Roman soldiers seemed to have even less understanding. Though, we read in the Scriptures that a glimmer of light was to pierce the heart of one of the Roman Centurions (Matt 27:54).
Jesus then says in Luke 23: 43, Verily I say unto thee today, Thou shalt be with me in Paradise'.
It was because of Jesus' presence on the cross that this assurance to the thief, dying beside Him, was made possible. The issue for this man was not when he would be in paradise but whether it was possible for him to get there at all.
John 19: 26,27 further records the following words of Jesus, which says: Woman, behold thy son…Behold thy Mother!
In His bodily pain and mental suffering Jesus did not forget His Mother. Jesus sees her great distress as she stands at the foot of the cross. He then commends her to the care of John the disciple who was to carry out the duties of a son to her.
Matt 27:46 later records the words: My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me? (Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani.)
No eye could pierce the gloom that surrounded the cross and it seemed like Jesus was passing through the uttermost depths as the world's sin fell on His heart.
John 19:28 then records two simple words reflecting Psalm 69: 21 and shows us the humanness of Jesus' physical suffering when He says 'I thirst'.
Finally, John 19: 30 tells us that Jesus was to cry out 'It is finished'. These are the words of a man who has completed His task. It is the victor's shout. It is the cry of one who has come out of the dark into the glory of the light. Jesus dies with a shout of triumph on His lips assuring the salvation of man.
Luke 23: 46 also records that Jesus died with the prayer of Psalm 31: 5 on His lips. 'Father, into Thy hands I commend My Spirit' Happy is the man or woman who falls asleep in the hands of God.
Because of what took place at the Cross we are told that one day the suffering and pain of humanity will all end. John the Revelator in Rev 21: 4 says that 'He [God] will wipe away all their tears and there will be no more death, neither will there be any more sorrow, crying or pain, The old order of things will be forever gone.'
We need to thank God for his sacrifice on Calvary and pray that this new day ending all sorrow and pain will come quickly.
Over the Sabbath Jesus was to rest in Joseph's new tomb (Matt 27: 57-66) and it was to be on Sunday that we see one of most powerful and awesome events to take place in recorded history (Matt 28: 1-10). This mighty act of God in the resurrection of Jesus was to display a power not seen since the creation of this world or even since the mighty acts and miracles that took place during the Exodus of Israel from Egypt.
The Apostle Paul, overwhelmed with his own insufficiencies, writes in Philippians 3: 10-11 that …'All I want is to know Christ and to experience the power of His resurrection, to share in His sufferings and become like Him in His death, (v 11) in the hope that I myself will be raised from death to life.'
Dear friends, the power of the resurrection of Jesus is very, very real.
Life after death for human beings was dependant upon Christ's resurrection from the dead and while His death made possible our reconciliation with God, His resurrection ensures our eternal salvation. Paul says in Romans 5:10 that '…we will be saved by His life'. Without His living intercession and vital saving ministry the benefits of His sacrifice on Calvary would have been lost.
In talking to the Corinthian believers, Paul also makes clear in 1 Cor 15:12-14 that '…since our message is that Christ has been raised from death, how can you say that the dead will not be raised to life? If that is true, it means that Christ was not raised, (v14) and if Christ has not been raised from death, then we have nothing to preach and you have nothing to believe.'
We also need to recognise that those believers who died before Calvary could not be raised to eternal life unless Christ had risen from the dead. Paul made it very clear in 1 Cor. 15: 18 that, in the absence of the resurrection, 'they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished'. This would mean that Job, Miriam, Abraham, Sara, Joseph, Daniel and a host of other Old Testament believers would remain for eternity in their graves if Christ had not risen.
We also need to understand that there would be no Christian Church if Jesus had remained in the tomb. The resurrection of Jesus was to turn apparent defeat into a major victory.
The power of Jesus' resurrection, which is found at the heart of the Christian faith, would now become the basis for the mighty acts of God to be evidenced in the lives of Christians since that time.
However, to understand a little of what took place in Jerusalem during this period, I would like to share with you one of the world's immortal short stories from the Scriptures in Luke 24: 13-35. These verses tells the story of Jesus' contact with two of His followers on the road to Emmaus and shares their reflections on the events of those past few days in Jerusalem and the events that took place that very morning.
Let us turn to Luke 24: 13-35 and we will be reading their words from the Good News Bible.
Luke 24: 13-35
V13-16 'On the same day two of Jesus' disciples were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem and they were talking about all the things that had happened. As they talked and discussed, Jesus himself drew near and walked along with them; they saw Him, but somehow did not recognise Him
These two followers seemed to have been well informed about the events that had taken place in Jerusalem after listening to the reports of other believers about the resurrection. They had not gone very far in their journey when Jesus caught up with them and remained with them for the latter part of their two-hour journey.
Preoccupied with their own gloomy thoughts they did not take much notice of who was with them, possibly thinking of Him as another pilgrim returning home. Apart from this preoccupation, Luke's words also tend to indicate that like Mary, earlier in the day, supernatural circumstances may have prevented them from recognising Him so as to give the opportunity to talk freely to them.
V17-24 'Jesus said to them: 'What are you talking about to each other, as you walk along. They stood still with sad faces. One of them named Cleopas, asked Him, 'Are you the only visitor in Jerusalem who doesn't know the things that have been happening here these past few days? What things? He asked.'The things that happened to Jesus of Nazareth', they answered. This man was a prophet and was considered by God and by all the people to be powerful in everything He said and did. Our chief priests and rulers handed Him over to be sentenced to death and He was crucified. And we hoped He would be the one to set Israel free! Besides all that, this is now the third day since it happened. Some of the women of our group surprised us; they went at dawn to the tomb, but could not find His body. They came back saying they had seen a vision of angels who told them that He is alive. Some of our group went to the tomb and found it exactly as the women had said, but they did not see Him.
The whole situation to these men seemed to have no explanation. Their hopes and dreams were shattered. The bewildered regret in their words 'We were hoping that He was the one who was going to rescue Israel' showed that their hopes seemed to be dead and buried. Jesus now takes the opportunity to remind them of the Old Testament prophecies regarding Himself, and to reprove them for the weakness of their faith.
V25 'Then Jesus said to them, 'How foolish you are, how slow you are to believe everything the prophets said! Was it not necessary for the Messiah to suffer these things and then enter His glory?' And Jesus explained to them what was said about Himself in the Scriptures, beginning with the books of Moses and the writings of all the prophets.
V28 As they came near the village to which they were going, Jesus acted as if He were going farther; but they held Him back, saying, 'Stay with us; the day is almost over and it is getting dark.' So He went in to stay with them. He sat down to eat with them, took the bread; and then said the blessing; then He broke the bread and gave it to them.
V31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognised Him, but He disappeared from their sight. They said to each other, 'wasn't it like a fire burning in us when He talked to us on the road and explained the Scripture to us?'
The disciples pressed Him to accept their hospitality because they were obviously wanting more of the wonderful instruction he had been giving them over the previous two hours. We need to learn this same lesson today that only those who hunger and thirst for a deeper understanding of the things of God can expect to be provided with it in an ample supply. It was because of their hospitality that they received a greater blessing than they would have had, dispelling the shadows of doubt and uncertainty that had previously clouded their minds.
It is only when Jesus sits with them to eat the evening meal that they recognise Him as He blessed and broke the bread and then He disappeared.
V33 They got up at once and went back to Jerusalem, where they found the eleven disciples gathered together with the others and saying, 'The Lord is risen indeed! He has appeared to Simon!'
V35 The two then explained to them what had happened on the road, and how they had recognised the Lord when He broke the bread.
It was to be a seven mile-tramp back to Jerusalem, but they could not keep the good news to themselves. We need to always remember that the Christian message is never fully ours until we have shared it with someone else.
It is also wonderful to recognise that Jesus should make one of His first appearances to the man who had denied him, ultimately giving him back his self respect. That wonderful gesture must remain one if the great untold stories of the world.
This eyewitness account confirming Jesus' appearance is further enhanced in verses 36-53 when He speaks to His terrified disciples in an upper room in Jerusalem. It was here that He showed them His nail-pierced hands and feet; it was here that he ate with them and shared the Scriptures that prophesied the events surrounding His death and resurrection.
It is significant to note that Christ's first work on earth after His resurrection was to convince His disciples of His undiminished love and tender regard for them.
He was to reveal to them that He had broken the fetters of the tomb, and could no longer be held by the enemy called death.
He was to reveal to them that He had the same heart of love as when He was with them as their beloved teacher.
Dear friends, the resurrection of Jesus is a miracle different from all other miracles.
His resurrection gave the disciples the convincing proof, which they needed, that He was the Son of God and that all His claims were true.
His resurrection was seen to be the seal of God the father on His work and teachings.
His resurrection was also to prove that redemption purchased on the cross of Calvary was of actual value and was to bring salvation to all who trust in His name as their Saviour. It proved that Salvation through faith in Jesus Christ actually saves.' (Richards, 1983: 25)
It is important that we remember this significant event because, like the Israelites of old when they remembered what God had done for them in the past, the power of that original action was reactivated in their lives.
There is power in the constant retelling of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ because it brings revival and reformation.
As we learn to share our faith, which is an essential part of the Christian experience, it has the ability to turn a formal religion for many into a living and powerful one.
It is my prayer for you this morning that the retelling of these events surrounding the way of the cross will make a difference in your life today.
Good News Bible (1976) The Bible Society in Australia, Printed in Korea
Richards, H.M.S. (1983) What the Resurrection means to me', These Times, Vol. 92, No. 12, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Hagerstown, USA
Yancy, P. (2000) The Jesus I Never Knew. Sydney: Strand Publishing
White, E. G. (1940) The Desire of Ages. Mountain View, California: Pacific Press Publishing Association.
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