CROSS/PEACE Sermon

Test: Luke 23:26-33

Theme: NAILED

March 18, 2020

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

The text for our consideration, for this the fourth week in Lent, is written in St. Luke’s Gospel, chapter 23, beginning with verse 26.

As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus.  A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him.  Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.  For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ “ . . . Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.  When they came to the place called The Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. (Luke 23:26-29, 32-33)

The piece you have received this evening for your CROSS/PEACE display is a nail.  A nail is a common thing.  A single nail is almost an insignificant thing.  There are thousands and thousands of nails in this building.  The nails hold this building together.  If you pulled out a single nail probably nothing would happen.  Even two or three wouldn’t make much difference.  You would probably have to pull out quite a few nails before anything significant would come undone.  Yet, under peculiar circumstances, even a single nail can make a dramatic difference.  You’ve heard the old ditty about a nail:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost,

For want of a shoe the horse was lost,

For want of a horse the rider was lost,

For want of a rider the battle was lost,

For want of a battle the war was lost,

For want of a war the cause was lost,

The cause was lost and all for the want of a nail!

Under the right circumstances, a single nail, or even a few nails, can be terribly important.  Such is the case in our text for tonight.  In our text, Jesus is nailed to the cross.  The nails used in His crucifixion are important and the whole nailing process is probably one of the most dramatic facets of the passion history.

Just the thought of nails being driven through human flesh is enough to send chills running up and down a person’s spine.  Take your nail for a moment tonight.  Press the point into your palm . . . don’t break the skin, but press it hard; make it hurt . . . feel the pain which the nail causes . . . now pull the nail away and gratefully you feel the pain go away.

For Jesus, though, the pain didn’t go away.  The nails pierced His flesh.  Accounts from history tell us that the nails used for crucifying were about the size of railroad spikes, and they were probably pounded through the tender flesh with a wooden mallet.  The nails of Jesus’ crucifixion must have caused terrible pain.  Crucifixion was a brutal way to die.

And yet as important as the nails were, Luke says nothing about them in his account of the crucifixion.  As a matter of fact, Luke says very little about any of the actual agonies a person goes through as they die on a cross.  And Luke is not alone in this regard.  Matthew, Mark, and John don’t devote significant space either to describing the agonies and pains of the crucifixion.  Instead, these Gospel writers are all concerned with why Jesus died.  And Jesus didn’t die because He was a masochist who loved pain.  Neither did Jesus end up on the cross because He was overpowered by the Roman soldiers.  Jesus died because He permitted the soldiers to nail Him to the crucifixion tree.  Jesus was God in human form and it was only His permission which allowed the crucifixion to happen.  Jesus was committed to us and He knew that He must suffer the pain of the crucifixion to pay the price of our sin.  Jesus died so that we may have forgiveness of sins and peace with God the Father, Jesus died on the cross and He died there for you and He died there for me.

There’s a story about Abraham Lincoln—after his death.  Lincoln was assassinated shortly after the Civil War ended by a southern sympathizer named John Wilkes Booth.  After the state funeral in Washington, D.C., his casket was loaded on a special train which would take it to Springfield, Illinois, for burial.  The funeral train made many stops along the way and mourners were permitted to board the train, file past the casket, and take one last view of the body.  At one small Ohio town a black mother came aboard the train with her young son.  As they gazed upon the face of the Great Emancipator, she said to the boy, “Take a good look, child.  That man died for you.”

This, too, is the way we need to look at the crucifixion.  You and I need to take a good look at Jesus Christ because He is the man that died for us.  Tonight as we look at the crucifixion, we might especially take note of the nails.  Even though Luke doesn’t specifically mention them, those nails used to pin Jesus to the cross can symbolize something for us, and that something is commitment.  For Jesus, the nails represented commitment to a task which wouldn’t be pleasant, but a task which He would have to do.  When those nails were pounded through His flesh, there was no turning back for our Lord.

Jesus may have wished for a different way to save humankind from sin.  In the Garden of Gethsemane, He had prayed, MY FATHER, IF IT IS POSSIBLE, MAY THIS CUP BE TAKEN FROM ME (Matthew 26:39).  As yet, even as He prayed those words, Jesus also prayed, YET NOT AS I WILL, BUT AS YOU WILL.  Jesus was committed to do the will of His Father.  He was committed to restoring peace between sinful humanity and the righteous God.

This commitment shows later, too, when Jesus is arrested.  The disciples would have fought to keep Jesus free, but He wouldn’t let them.  Jesus told them that, if He wanted, He could have called out twelve legions of angels to help Him escape, but He didn’t.  Jesus submitted to arrest, to trial, to sentencing, and in our text we see Him willing lay on His back, arms outstretched, as one by one, blow by blow, the mallet drives the nails through His flesh.  Jesus was committed: committed to saving us.

Nails mean commitment.  Nails hold things together.  There are thousands of nails in this building and we expect each one to be committed to holding its part of this building together.  That’s the kind of commitment God wants from us.  Just as Jesus was committed to the task of dying for us, so also God wants us committed now to the task of living for Him.  God wants our will to be nailed to His will.  God doesn’t want us to have a rubber cement commitment which lets us be peeled off from time to time and repositioned.  God wants us nailed to Him and to His will.

In our Old Testament lesson this evening, we heard a story of this kind of commitment.  Elisha is out in the field plowing.  Elijah comes up to him and throws around his shoulders a cloak which signaled that God wanted Elisha to be His prophet.  And what does Elisha do?  Not only does he quit plowing, but he kills his oxen and burns up their yokes to cook the meat for a farewell feast.  For Elisha, there was no turning back.  He kissed his parents good-bye and from that day on was committed to serving the Lord (1 Kings 19:19-21).

Recall also the story of Jesus calling Peter, Andrew, James, and John.  Jesus said, “Come follow me,” and these men left their families, their business, the fishing boats and their nets, and they followed Jesus (Mark 1:16-20).  These men made a total and immediate commitment.  By the power of the Holy Spirit, they were nailed to Jesus and the work H had for them to do.

This same Jesus calls us to the same kind of commitment.  Not just a commitment for Wednesday evening and Sunday morning; not just a commitment when things are going well or it’s convenient.  Jesus calls us to a commitment that pervades every aspect and every nook and every cranny of our lives.  Jesus wants our commitment to Him to be even stronger than our commitment to our family, for He says in Matthew, “ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS FATHER OR MOTHER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME; ANYONE WHO LOVES HIS SON OR DAUGHTER MORE THAN ME IS NOT WORTHY OF ME.” (Matthew 10:30)

Let that nail we take home tonight be a reminder.  Let it be a reminder that during Lent we want to take a long, hard look at our lives.  We want to ask ourselves, “How strong is my commitment to the Lord?”  If our commitment is strong, we are not going to be shoving the things of God aside in our life because something else seems more important to us.  If we are nailed hard and fast to Jesus, we are going to try to give a bold witness of our faith wherever we go.  If we are committed to serving Jesus, all of the words out of our lips will show it.  If we are committed to serving Jesus, we will want every word from our lips and every thought from our hearts and our every physical action to be in accord with His will.

There’s a story about Henry Ward Beecher, a New York and New England preacher of the 1800s.  It seems he went to buy a horse.  He found one, and the owner was telling him, “This is a good horse.  It’s gentle and well-behaved.  It stands anywhere without complaining.  He does anything you ask him.  Never kicks or bucks.  He always listens carefully to everything you say.”

“Ah!” said the Rev. Beecher, “If only that horse were a member of my congregation.”

Rev. Beecher found a good horse.  Jesus is looking for good disciples; disciples committed to following Him; disciples willing to stand up for Him, wait patiently, behave, pay attention, and obey Him.

Tonight, or tomorrow, as you pound your nail into the base of your CROSS/PEACE display, remember Jesus.  Remember Him lying there with His arms outstretched.  Remember Jesus, committed to dying for us that we might have forgiveness of sins and everlasting peace with God.  Remember Jesus and ask yourself, “Am I committed?  Am I nailed to Him?”

In the name of Jesus, who by the nails of the cross won for us peace, Amen.

CROSS/PEACE Sermon

Text: John 19:23-14

Theme: THE HIGHEST STAKES

March 25, 2020

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

The text for our consideration this evening is taken from the Gospel according to St. John, the 19th chapter, verses 23 and 24.

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining.  This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  “Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another.  “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”  This happened that the Scripture might be fulfilled which said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.”  So this is what the soldiers did.

The piece of your CROSS/PEACE display you will be receiving this evening is a dice.  A dice is probably the most universal symbol for gambling there is.  We will use it to remind us of some of the gambles we take.  And we all gamble.  We may not be gamblers in the sense that we’re compulsive dice throwers or card players.  But we all gamble—take risks—from time to time.  There was a certain amount of risk involved in simply driving over to the church this evening, but since it was a fairly “safe bet” that you would arrive without mishap, you took the “gamble” and it “paid off,” here you are.

Most of the time the gambles we take are fairly safe.  But there are times when the stakes can be quite high, especially when we gamble with spiritual things.

In our text this evening, there are some soldiers gambling.  The stakes are seemingly low—a few articles of clothing.  The soldiers probably looked at their gambling as a simple amusement as they passed the time waiting for the end of their watch.

Gambling is well-known to soldiers.  On the battlefield they gamble with their lives, and in the barracks many are known to gamble for money.  Even though there are rules against it, gambling has been, and continues to be, a big problem in the armed services.  Sometimes the stakes get quite high and sometimes there have been violent consequences.

There’s a story about one young man in the Army who got into gambling and pretty soon he was in real financial trouble.  He owed a great deal of money and was being threatened that if he didn’t pay off he’d dearly regret it.  He did the best he could to raise the money; he sold his car, his camera, his radio, his watch, and whatever else he could.  He was still short a hundred dollars.  He went to the base chaplain and poured out his heart.  The chaplain prayed with him and urged him to continue to pray himself and have faith that God would help him find a solution.  A few days later the soldier came back to the chaplain quite discouraged.  He’d prayed and prayed but still no hundred dollars, no prospects, and the guys to whom he owed the money were getting more insistent.  The chaplain was moved by the young man’s sincerity and excused himself for a few moments and went into the other room.  There he put fifty dollars of his own money into an envelope—all he could spare—and came back in.  He gave the envelope to the soldier and said, “Here, this is from God!”  The soldier thanked him and left.  Later the soldier opened the envelope and counted the fifty dollars.  He offered a prayer of thanksgiving, “Thank you, God, for helping me, but next time you send me money, don’t send it through the chaplain, he kept half of it for himself!”

The young soldier learned a lesson learned by a lot of young soldiers: Sometimes a little friendly gambling can become an agonizing ordeal.  In our text, the Roman soldiers are doing a little friendly gambling.  Above them, the Lord of life endures an agonizing ordeal.

The soldiers divided his garments into four parts.  His sandals, his robe, the belt used to hold the robe snug around his waist, and his head cloth or turban.  This was a fairly even division of the garments.  Then they tossed dice to determine which of the soldiers would get which part.  But there was one more part, one more article of clothing, a tunic—a rich inner garment of expensive material, woven in one piece from top to bottom.  This was worth having.  Like a knitted scarf, though, if they tried to cut it, it would unravel.  They decided not to tear it but high roll of the dice, winner takes it—a friendly solution.

Their gambling that day didn’t become an agonizing ordeal of repayment.

Unfortunately, while they were amusing themselves with their dice, they were missing the significance of what was going on above them, on the cross.  They were gambling for petty temporal gain and at the same time losing an eternal treasure.

Their situation was not unlike the situation of many in our world today.  There are so many people so preoccupied with earthly gain that they neglect the spiritual treasure so close at hand.

There are so many things in this life that seem to us to be so terribly important: our jobs, our families, our houses.  So many things that compete for first place.  For many people, Jesus moves to send or third place, or is forgotten altogether.  “There’ll be time for him later,” they think—that’s quite a gamble.

In the second lesson this evening, St. Paul lets us know that he is betting everything that God was in Jesus Christ reconciling the world to Himself.  For Paul, Jesus is everything.  Paul says, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.”  Paul is betting his eternal salvation on Jesus Christ alone.

There are those, of course, that are the complete opposite of Paul.  They’re willing to gamble that there is no God, that Jesus didn’t rise, and that after this life, nothing.  We would say, “How foolish they are!”  We, of course, are not like them; but neither are we just like St. Paul, we haven’t made the full commitment he has.  We find ourselves somewhere in between.

There are those of us, members of this congregation, who are willing to gamble that they can stay away from worship services week after week and still hang onto enough faith to enter everlasting life.

There are those who think they can make compromises with the Christian lifestyle and conduct themselves in the world’s ways and still be considered by God as Christian.  They’re gambling that they can wallow with the pigs in the pen and not pick up the smell.

There are those who gamble that if there is a God, He will recognize that they have led good lives and if there is a heaven, they have earned a place in it because of their exemplary behavior.

Such people, like the four Roman soldiers, think of themselves as being involved in a friendly game with low stakes.  But like the young soldier in the story earlier, they’re apt to find themselves in an agonizing ordeal, hell itself.

When we gamble that Jesus isn’t THE way of salvation, or that we’ll have time later on, or that we can compromise the Christian lifestyle, or that we’re somehow no longer sinners, we’re gambling with terribly high stakes; we’re gambling with our eternal disposition.  Heaven or hell with one throw of the dice or one turn of the wheel.

The naked man on the center cross was the only winner.  When he went to the cross, he won for you everlasting life: peace with God through the forgiveness of your sins.  It was no gamble, but part of God’s eternal plan for your salvation.  You had a debt that had to be paid, and Jesus went through an agonizing ordeal of repayment on your behalf.  In Christ, you’re a big-time winner.  Don’t gamble with it.  Jesus promised His disciples, “In my Father’s house are many mansions . . . I am going there to prepare a place for you.  And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am!”  That same promise is to you.  Don’t chance losing it.

May the dice we take home tonight remind you not to take chances with your spiritual life, but to remain faithful, trusting in Jesus alone for salvation, and to be regular in worship attendance so that we may be able to mutually encourage each other in the Christian faith and life.

In the name of Jesus, who has won for us peace, Amen.

CROSS/PEACE Sermon

Text: John 19:28-30

Theme: SOAKED IN LOVE

April 1, 2020

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

The text for our consideration this evening is written in the Gospel of St. John, the 19th chapter, beginning at verse 28.

Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.”  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.”  With that he bowed his head and gave up the spirit.

Have you ever noticed that sometimes we do things or feel things of which we aren’t aware?  For example, have you ever heard of a basketball player who will race time after time from one end of the court to the other without even realizing he is tired until the buzzer sounds and he collapses in an exhausted heap in the locker room?  Or perhaps you have become so engrossed in a project that you have forgotten to eat or sleep, and all of a sudden you realize—“I’m hungry!” or “I’m thirsty!” or “I’m sleepy!”

Sometimes we do things of which we aren’t aware.  Snoring is a good example.  A lot of people snore but aren’t aware of it, unless, of course, a spouse or family member fills them in.

I remember hearing about one man who was apparently one of the greatest snorers of all time.  It seemed that especially after he’d had a few drinks he would really get to snoring.  It would be so loud that it would actually shake the bed.  His wife, of course, complained, but it never did any good.  In fact, since he was unaware of his own snoring, he couldn’t believe her when she told him how bad it was.  She didn’t know what to do.  One Friday night he came home late.  He’d been out with the boys and he’d had perhaps a few too many.  He tumbled into bed and within minutes was snoring merrily away.  It was terrible!  The wife tried to wake him, but he was out of it.  It got louder and louder!  In desperation the wife pulled off a blue ribbon that was a decoration on her nightgown and tied it tightly around his nose.  It worked!  Blessed silence!  She was able to sleep peacefully for the rest of the night.  The next morning the man was a little slow getting up.  His wife came into the bedroom and saw her rather groggy husband scratching his head and looking at himself in the dresser mirror.  He seemed to be trying to figure out the blue ribbon on his nose.  The wife was quite justified in being irritated with him, and she asked him, “Just where were you last night?”  “Well, I’m not really sure,” the husband answered, “but wherever I was, I seem to have won first prize.”

This poor man was definitely what we could call unaware.  Sometimes we, too, may be unaware of things.  And to a certain extent, this may have been true of Jesus on the cross.  Jesus, too, may have been unaware of how really thirsty He was until He uttered the words of our text tonight, I AM THIRSTY.  At the point when Jesus utters these words, He had already been hanging on the cross for almost six hours.  He had likely had nothing to eat or drink since His Last Supper the evening before, and it had been a long, long night.

St. Luke tells us that as Jesus prayed the evening before in the Garden of Gethsemane, His perspiration was so great that HIS SWEAT WAS LIKE DROPS OF BLOOD FALLING TO THE GROUND (Luke 22:44).  There was this agony in the Garden, and then came the arrest and after that the trial during the night.  Then there were beatings and torture, the trek to Golgotha, and finally six hours of agony on the cross.  It was on the cross that Jesus hung through the heat of the day.  His body was naked and exposed.  He probably suffered severe dehydration.  And then came the awareness of thirst.

The fact that Jesus suffered thirst as part of His agony is not too surprising, especially when we remember why Jesus was hung on the cross in the first place.  Jesus went to the cross so that He could suffer there the punishment which we deserve because we have sinned.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote: HE WAS PIERCED FOR OUR TRANSGRESSIONS, HE WAS CRUSHED FOR OUR INIQUITIES; THE PUNISHMENT THAT BROUGHT US PEACE WAS UPON HIM, AND BY HIS WOUNDS WE ARE HEALED (Isaiah 53:5).  The punishment which sin deserves is death and everlasting hell.  And this is what Jesus suffered on the cross.  He suffered for us.  To restore us to peace with God, Jesus had to endure hell-like tortures.  And one of the tortures of hell must certainly be thirst.

Recall the story of Lazarus and the rich man.  The rich man, in anguish in the flames of hell, cried out and begged for Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and touch it to his tongue (Luke 16:24).  The thirst of hell must be incredible.  On the cross, Jesus suffers this incredible thirst.  He cries out, I AM THIRSTY.

Jesus thirsted then, and in a very real sense, Jesus still thirsts.  On the cross, He thirsted for water.  Now He thirsts for us, for our righteousness, our love, our service.  Jesus needs us.  It’s not that He lacks anything, but He has CHOSEN to need us.  He directed us to go and make disciples; to minister to the needs of others; to show His love to all people.  He has commissioned us to go and live in His place as His representatives.  He thirsts for us.  “I AM THIRSTY,” He pleads.  He has suffered so much for us.  What will our response be to Him?

When Jesus first spoke the words, I AM THIRSTY, from the cross, the responses were varied.  In the Gospel lesson tonight, we hear Jesus cry out, ELI ELI LAMA SABACHTHANI, which means MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAVE YOU FORSAKEN ME? (Matthew 27:46).  Jesus quickly follows that by saying, I AM THIRSTY, and the bystanders quickly interpret that to mean that Jesus is calling for Elijah to come and give Him something to drink.  One man does run for a sponge, but the others shout: LEAVE HIM ALONE.  LET’S SEE IF ELIJAH COMES TO SAVE HIM (Matthew 27:49).  One person wanted to help; the others were content, even pleased, to watch Him suffer.

Jesus thirsts for us.  Some are pleased to do nothing.  Some want Jesus only for what they can get out of Him.  If Jesus offers forgiveness of sins, everlasting life, peace of mind, and so forth, they want that; but when Jesus calls for service, they have a ready excuse or turn a deaf ear.  In the Old Testament lesson, Amnon brutally rapes his half-sister, Tamar.  Amnon takes what he wants and doesn’t care that he hurts someone else.  There are people like that.  They take from Jesus what they want, and don’t care about anybody else.  They hear the words of Jesus to go and love and serve, but they do nothing—or they do very little.  They don’t want to be inconvenienced; they don’t want to become involved in their neighbor’s lives lest their own lives be disrupted.  Neither do they share the Gospel; the words of the good news never come from their lips.  Yet they call themselves Christians.  Like those at the foot of the cross who said, “Wait, let’s see if Elijah will come,” they see a need and say, “Wait, let’s see if someone else will minister to it—after all, that’s why we have a minister . . . or an Evangelism Committee . . . or a Christian Concerns Committee.”

There are lots of ways that we, too, can be saying, “Let Elijah do it.”  But instead of following the crowd at the foot of the cross, there is someone else at the cross who does give us a good example to follow.  When Jesus cried out, I AM THIRSTY, IMMEDIATELY ONE OF THEM RAN AND GOT A SPONGE.  HE FILLED IT WITH WINE VINEGAR, PUT IT ON A STICK, AND OFFERED IT TO JESUS TO DRINK (Matthew 27:48).  Like the people of Malta in our earlier lesson from Acts, here was someone who did what he could.  He saw a need and he ministered to it.  He shared love.

Wine vinegar may not sound too thirst-quenching, and it certainly was no high-priced wine import.  It was a cheap wine the soldiers drank.  It was all there was, though, and for a thirsty Jesus that was enough.  That man at the foot of the cross was sharing what he could.  He was squeezing out a little love in that sponge to the Christ who was squeezing out a lot of love for all of us with His suffering.

What that man did with the wine-filled sponge, Jesus also wants us to do for others.  Jesus was soaked in love.  Scripture tells us, THIS IS HOW WE KNOW WHAT LOVE IS: JESUS CHRIST LAID DOWN HIS LIFE FOR US (1 John 3:16).  And this love that Jesus squeezed out for us is the love we now have to share with others.  WE LOVE BECAUSE HE FIRST LOVED US (1 John 4:19).  The love we share comes from God and He wants us to use it to help others.  Jesus tells us in Matthew’s Gospel, whatever we do for one of the least of His brothers, we do for Him (Matthew 25:40).  Our good deeds for others are our way of holding a wet sponge to the parched lips of our Lord.  They are our way of saying, “Thank you, Jesus, for enduring thirst and all the other agonies of the cross so that I may have forgiveness of sins and peace with God.”

Tonight you will be receiving the last piece of your CROSS/PEACE display.  It’s a piece of sponge to hang on the bar of your cross.  Hopefully it can be a reminder to all of us that like the sponge in tonight’s lesson, we, too, have been soaked.  Not soaked in cheap wine so that we will sleep soundly and snore loudly like the blue ribbon winner in our opening story, but instead may it remind us that we have been soaked in Christ’s love.  We have been soaked in a love that died for us, a love that rose for us, a love that promises us everlasting life as a gift.  We have been soaked in the love of Jesus that won for us peace with God.

The question is, what will we do with all this love now?  Jesus wants us to squeeze it out.  As He loved us, He wants us to love others.  As He served us, He wants us to serve others.  As He bled for us, He wants us to bleed for our fellow human beings.  Just as He emptied Himself for us, so He wants us to squeeze out our love for others.

Jesus says, I AM THIRSTY.  May we who are soaked in His love, respond to that thirst.  In the name of Jesus who, by His suffering and thirst, won for us peace.  Amen.