Friday, April 2, 2010

The King: Operation Cross

Preached on Good Friday, April 2, 2010
Scripture Readings: Psalm 31:9-16; Matthew 27:11-54

Was the cross the right place for Jesus to be? His friends were in the depths of sorrow because Jesus was on the cross. Their love for Jesus and all he stood for told them that Jesus should not be there. He was in the wrong place.

Those who feared Jesus, or hated him, or laughed at him thought the cross was exactly the right place for Jesus. It was the right place for Jesus because he was not what he claimed to be. He was not the King, the Messiah. He was not the Son of the living God. The fact that God allowed Jesus to be in that place on the cross, was proof that Jesus was a fraud. It was proof that Jesus and God had nothing to do with each other. If Jesus were who he claimed to be, then he should be riding at the head of an army, or seated on a throne in a palace.

Was Jesus in the right place or the wrong place?

Jesus was hanging from nails hammered through his hands and feet into the wood of the cross. He was bleeding. He was bleeding from the nails; and from the gashes of a crown of thorns that had been thrust upon his head, pressed deep into his scalp. He was bleeding because he had been scourged; whipped with a multi-lashed leather whip, tipped with bits of metal that had cut him to the bone: whipped the forty times minus one.

Jesus was dying, being executed as a convict who had committed capital crimes against the state and against the established religion: treason, for admitting he was a king (the Jewish Messiah); blasphemy, for claiming to be the Son of God. In truth, Jesus was being executed on the cross for being himself. Jesus was these things, and much more.

In an odd way, the Roman Governor and the high priests had been driven to insist on Jesus saying these things about himself. Jesus did not ordinarily make these claims about himself; although he was these things. He had always preferred that others trust him, and listen to him, and follow him, not because of who he said he was, but because of what they saw he was. He was what he was.

In himself, Jesus was a humble king, and a humble everlasting Son of God, who ruled by serving, and healing, and setting people free. He ruled not by placing himself at the head of an army. He ruled not by seating himself on a throne in a palace. Jesus ruled by placing himself with the poor, and the sick, and the weak, and the outcast, and those who lived in darkness, and in sorrow, and even with those who lived in sin and rebellion against God. The fact that Jesus was the special friend of such people made the self-righteous hate him.

And in claiming this as his proper place, and his rightful work, Jesus also claimed that this was his Father’s place and work. The Father and the Son always did the same work together. (John 5:19 and 8:28) The Son and his Father were one. (John 10:30)

The cross was a horrible place to be; a place of pain, abandonment, cruelty, mockery, despair, grief. It was so bad that even the sun in the heavens would not shine there. It was as if all the darkness, and the sin, and the evil of the whole the world, and of all time, had settled down in that one spot, on that small rocky knoll shaped like the bony dome of a skull.

Yes, it was definitely the right place for Jesus to be. And he had done his best to get there.

Jesus had been warning his disciples about this for weeks. He had planned the parade the week before, on Palm Sunday. Although he had ridden into the capital on a donkey, even the great Old Testament King David had ridden on a donkey. (2 Samuel 16:1-2) And the palm branches were the welcome banners just as they had been for the Maccabees, the Jewish dynasty that had ruled before the Roman conquest.

Jesus had marched into Jerusalem under the noses of the Roman guards. The crowd that marched with him would have seemed like a potential army, even though they were unarmed. Jesus had created a scene in the Temple. He had called the leaders of the Temple hypocrites and told parables about their judgment.

At the Passover meal Jesus made changes in the order of the feast. He shifted the story of the meal away from the story of the Exodus and the freedom God gave his people from slavery in Egypt. He replaced the old story with a new one. It became the story of the freedom that his people would receive through the sacrifice of his body and the shedding of his blood.

When the authorities arrested Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, his disciples tried to resist and save Jesus. The cross might not have happened.

But Jesus stopped them. He said: “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how, then, would the Scriptures be fulfilled, that say it must happen in this way?” (Matthew 26:52-56)

No, the cross was the way it was supposed to happen, according to Jesus. The cross was the right place. Jesus was God in the flesh, who had come to deal with evil, sin, and death; and he had come to destroy them not from the outside, but from the inside.

The whole mission of Jesus was a covert operation: from his birth as a baby in Bethlehem, to his childhood and apprenticeship under his foster-father Joseph in the carpenter’s shop, to his rag-tag ministry on the road, to the place of the cross. To most eyes, Jesus did not look like he was supposed to look, if he was what he was.

It was part of the mission; the operation. Jesus was a stealth Messiah.

It was “Operation Cross.” Operation Cross was God’s plan to break the power of evil, sin, and death, by meeting it personally; by letting it take him in, and swallow him up. Then the Lord, by the means of the power of his life, would blow them up from the inside. It’s true that evil, sin, and death still stand, but they are an empty shell, a defeated hulk, for those who live in Jesus.

Jesus, in his “Operation Cross” had to go inside the lies, the pride, the anger, the violence, and the abuse of sin and death, because we were inside them. He needed to go inside of pain, and sorrow, and fear, and defeat, in order to get us out of there.

Jesus comes to us when we find we are in the wrong place. Jesus comes to us when we are the most helpless, when we think we are most God-forsaken, when we know we are lost, when we feel too weary to go on, when we are most ashamed.

Jesus goes where he is needed. He went to the cross to show that he will come to us anywhere; and to show us that there is no place where he will not be there for us.
The cross was the name of the gate, the way into the enemy camp. And the empty tomb was the way out. When we trust in Jesus we die on the cross with him, and we also rise to new life in him.

Instead of being in our selves and of ourselves, we are in him because he is in us. This is how the gospel works. This is why the cross was the right place for Jesus. And his cross is the right place for us to live through him.

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