Genesis 22: 7-8
Here in the 22nd chapter we find the great Old Testament story of Abraham and Isaac. Abraham being told by God to take his son, his only son, Isaac, to the mountain and there he would sacrifice his life. God testing his faith and seeing what Abraham is really made of, and yet at the same time giving us a picture of a wonderful, the most wonderful future event. And here in the midst of this great story there is a small exchange between Isaac and Abraham that I want us to think on this morning. Get the picture in your mind if you can. Isaac is going up the mountain. The wood for the sacrifice is thrown upon his shoulder and he is carrying it, and there goes his father, Abraham with the instruments of death, the fire, and the knife, and together they make their way up the mountain of the Lord. But there is something missing. There wasn’t a lamb. There was no lamb for the sacrifice. And this is where we pick up the story in verse 7.
And Isaac spoke to Abraham, his father, and said, “My father”. And he said “Here I am, my son”. And he said “Behold, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And Abraham said, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering my son.” So the two of them walked on together.
You know Isaac’s question is a question that any of the great Old Testament figures might have asked at some point in time in their life. As they went through the process of their lives they could have cried out to God “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And if they did and had they asked that question, Abraham, his answer was the best and only answer that could have been provided. “God will provide for himself the lamb for the burnt offering.”
I want us to go back for a few moments this morning and look at several Old Testament figures and see how they may have in fact asked that question. If we go right back to the very beginning in the book of Genesis, there we find the creation story and the first living human beings, Adam and Eve. There they are in the midst of the garden and God has commanded Adam that they were not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For it they did God said they would surely die. Well, perhaps you know the story as well as I. They did eat of that tree. Eve was tempted to eat and she did. She offered it to her husband and he likewise ate. Judgement was then pronounced upon the serpent. And God promised to send a deliverer to restore fallen man.
And then in Genesis 3:15 we have that verse that theologians call the protoevangelon, the beginning of this picture of salvation history when God first started laying out this plan for that deliverer to come and this is what it says. I will put “enmity between you and the woman and between your offspring and hers”. And he, meaning ‘that deliverer’, will crush your head (the serpent’s head) and you will then bruise the Deliverer’s heel.
God also demonstrated how the nature of this coming Savior’s work would be. For then God killed, the Bible said, two animals. Notice, one for Eve, and one for Adam. And then God took the skins of these animals and he clothed them with them. Now, as Adam began to see all of this happening, he may or may not have understood exactly was taking place. Namely, that God was instituting right there, in the beginning, this principle of substitution. Of substituting one for another. Now Adam, I’m sure, probably thought his death was going to be swift and immediate. God said if you eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, you will surely die. And as soon as he got found out, he probably thought, that’s it, it’s over.
But it wasn’t swift and immediate. Because God took those innocent lambs and they were slain, their blood was shed. He took the skins off them and He made clothes out of them for Adam and Eve. One for Adam, and one for Eve. But Adam may have surmised in his mind, perhaps, saying something like, ‘but these animals can’t rightly atone for a human being’s sins. So where is that one?” Soon after, Eve may have understood it because her first born was named Cain, which literally meant ‘acquisition’. Or in our vernacular she might have said, ‘here he is”.
But that wasn’t the one either, because he was a murderer. So Adam may have been thinking in his mind, “I’ve not died immediately. God provided this. But this can’t rightly atone for my sins. So where, where is that one; that lamb for the offering?” And had Abraham lived then, he would have said, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”
We can let the centuries, the years pass by, and go on, and we come to Moses, a deliverer of sorts as he delivered the children of Israel from Egypt. They’ve gone through the red sea and now they’ve made their way to the mountain of the Lord, to Mt. Sinai. And Moses is up on the mountain with God. And God was going to give him the law in order to bring down to the people.
Now if you story would tell us that while Abraham is up on the mountain with God and God is writing out the Ten Commandments on those tablets of stone with His very finger, the people are down there in the valley, and they’re having a party. They’re breaking the law that God’s given Moses; especially the first one. Because they’re building a golden calf and they’re falling down before the calf and they’re worshipping the calf and proclaiming that this calf is the one that delivered them from the hands of Pharaoh.
Well, Moses doesn’t know what’s happening. All he knows is that he’s in the presence of God and God’s writing out the ten laws for him. But then God tells Moses what’s happening. You can find that in Exodus, chapter 32. So Moses, he begins to plead for the people, pleading for their lives. And then he has to go down from the mountain; and he has to deal with the rebellion that’s going on.
So the Bible tells us this is how he dealt with it. He rebukes his brother, Aaron. He told him off in front of the people. He got all over him about what he had been doing and what had been going on. Then he called all of the faithful before him, all of those that hadn’t worshipped this golden calf. He said, “Y’all come on down here.” And then all of the faithful destroyed all of rebellious leaders who were leading in this uprising against God. Then they destroyed that golden calf, that graven image, they grounded up into dust, mixed it with some water. And then Moses had them drink it.
But who was Moses to think that this was going to satisfy God? A Holy, a Righteous God. How was that going to satisfy Him? He fussed at them, destroyed all the wicked leaders, and then he tour the thing up and turned it into mush and added water to it and drank it. How would that satisfy God?
Well, the next morning, Moses goes back up to the mountain, the Bible tells us, and he meets with God a second time. And here is what I would call the greatest moment in this great man’s life. Now there were lots of things that he did; there were great things. But this was the greatest thing that he ever did in his life. He begins – coming before God and he starts confessing the sins of the people. And he’s begging God for their forgiveness. It’s as if he gets to this point where he doesn’t seem to be getting anywhere.
So then as he’s asking God, “please forgive them,” the Hebrew kind of gives us this little dash which indicates there’s a pause and he says, “but, if not, then block me out of the book you have written.” In other words, he’s said, “God, forgive them. And if there will be no other way, send me to Hell for them.” He says, “I want to die; take my name out of the book You have written so that they can have life.”
You see, God had already offered to destroy all of the people of Israel. And He said, “Moses, I’ll start over with you. I’ll wipe them all out and we’ll start this thing all over again, and you’ll be the main man.” But Moses said, “No, God. Don’t destroy them and let me live. Destroy me so that they can live.”
What an offer! A great moment in a great man’s life. But you know, if was an impossible offer. That wasn’t suitable to God. Moses was offering to be the innocent sacrifice. But Moses was a sinner. In fact he was a murderer. His death wouldn’t atone for not one person’s life. Not even his own life. This would have to be done by another. Now Moses could have explained to God this principal of substitution. He knew all about it. He had experienced it; and would experience more in the days and years to come. He remembered back in Egypt; nine plagues had happened and now the tenth plague. That the first born of every family was going to be slain unless the blood of an innocent lamb was put over the doorpost of their home. The Passover was happening. The Angel of Death was coming and unless the blood had covered their home, death was going to enter. One animal, one lamb, for one family.
Sometime later, God was going to instruct Moses about another part of this principle of substitution. From the day of atonement, then there would be one lamb slain, the blood sprinkled on the altar, not for one person, not for one family, but for the whole nation; the day of atonement.
Moses understood this principle of substitution. So Moses might have asked Him, “God, if you’ll not take me, if I can’t give my life for them, then where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” And if Abraham had still been living, and he was probably screaming (and they could hear it) from the top of his lungs, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”
I can go through every character in the history of the Old Testament, and tell you about this, but let’s move on to David, the greatest king that ever lived. The Bible says ‘a man after God’s own heart’. But he was a sinner. The Bible tells us one day that he saw a woman and he desired to have her. He name was Bathsheba. She was married. So he doesn’t care; he takes her anyway. Then he desires to have her for his own wife so he has husband Uriah sent to the front line. He fixes things so that Uriah is going to get killed. He’s going take care of this situation. Sure enough, Uriah’s dead. So David marries Bathsheba; that’s the honorable thing to do. And then Nathan, the prophet of God, comes to him and says, “let me tell you a little story David. Let’s suppose you got a rich man and a poor man, and the rich man takes the poor man’s little lamb. What do you think of that?”
David says, “He ought to be killed! You know we can’t put up with that kind of nonsense.”
And Nathan says, “that’s you. Thou art the man.”
And David’s heart is broken. For suddenly he’s begins to see what he’s really about and what he’s like. We have the 51st Psalm when he’s crying out to God asking for forgiveness. “Blot out my transgressions”, he says. Then in verse 7, I love the verse, he says, “cleanse me with the hyssop and I will be clean.”
The same branch that God has them use at the Passover when he told Moses, He says, “tell them to take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood, paint it over the doorpost.” It was an instrument like a broom or a brush; a bush that they would chop up and put together.
David remembered that story and he saying to God, he said “cleanse me with hyssop.” He knew the bush was nothing, but he wanted the brush with the blood. He said, “cover me with it and then I will be clean.” David may have cried out, too. “Where is the true lamb for the offering?” And Abraham would have said, “God, Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.”
The prophets say the same sort of thing in their own minds. Isaiah, the suffering prophet, in Isaiah, chapter 53, when he talks about the lamb that would be lead to the slaughter. He’s beginning to talk about this lamb that was coming, and then one day, there in that first century, John records it in chapter 1, the cousin of Jesus, John the Baptist, is there in the Jordan River, baptizing them. He’s preaching about the kingdom of God, that they need to repent, for it was coming! And there as he was baptizing these folks, one after another, and he’s preaching, he looks over there, and he says, “Behold, look! The Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
Their forefathers have been asking the question since Isaac. Where is the lamb for the burnt offering? John says, “There He is, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins not of the family or the individual or the nation. But the sins of the world! There He is!” So His disciples, they started following Jesus. And one day, three years later, on a day that we call Palm Sunday, Jesus started into Jerusalem for the last time. It was three days before the Passover would begin. This was a time, just prior to Passover, when the lambs would be driven to the city from out in the fields, so that they could be there and sold in the temple area, so the people might buy them and then in turn have them sacrificed, killed, blood shed, eaten at Passover to remember.
Josephus, who was the great Jewish historian, records that in the census that was taken, on that day, Palm Sunday, when the lambs were driven in for Passover, there were 256,500 lambs being driven down the streets of Jerusalem to the temple area to be sold. In the midst of that driving of all of those lambs, guess who’s riding on the back of a donkey?
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world. Jesus! God is drawing this beautiful picture of all of the lamb being driven for sacrifice and in the midst of it is Jesus, riding on the back of a donkey going to have His blood shed to be our sacrifice for all the world.
Later that week, as all of those little lambs were being killed, as the people were eating the lambs, commemorating Passover, the Lamb of God was taken to Golgotha and He was crucified. Where was Golgotha? Most historians and theologians believe it was on the Mount called Mariah. The same mountain in Genesis 22, verse 7 and 8, that Abraham and Isaac walked up. The very same place that Isaac looked at his daddy and said, “where is the lamb for the burnt offering? You’ve got the fire and I’ve got the wood and I see that knife in your hand. Now where is the lamb?”
Abraham says, “Don’t worry about it son, God Himself, God Himself, God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering.” You see it was the climax of all of the Old Testament revelation. For there with Adam and Eve a lamb was killed for one individual. One for Adam; one for Eve. At Passover, when Moses told them to kill a lamb, it was one lamb for one family. On the Day of Atonement when God gave Moses the instruction, it was one Lamb for one nation. And then the week of Passion, the week of Passover, when Jesus comes into the world, it’s one lamb for the whole world, forever!
That’s the Gospel. You see the Lamb of God has come. We know longer look forward to the coming of that Lamb. We look back. The question for all of us this morning is “has that Lamb, that Lamb who came to take away the sins of the world, taken away yours?”
Dr. Mark W Poland
We are approaching the Easter season. It is glorious time. Easter signals (usually) the start of spring. We put away our dark and heavy winter clothes and get our brightly colored spring and summer clothes. We turn our backs on the cold, drab, dreary days of winter and look forward to the sunny, bright days of spring and summer. We turn on back on brown leaves and grass and look forward to the happy colors of jonquils, forsythia, and daffodils. We turn on backs on being inside and look forward to spending time outside. It is a time to say goodbye to one season and hello to the next.
And for Christians, Easter is a time when we say goodbye to hopelessness, to the weight of sin, to death, to a verdict of eternal damnation and say hello to the promise of eternal life with Jesus. For death has been defeated; Jesus is alive; the grave could not hold Him; He burst the chains of death; Satan has been defeated; the power of sin has been removed; Hallelujah, Jesus is alive.
Do you believe that? Is that a truth for you? Does Easter lift your spirits, encourage your soul, energize your spirit?
Or are the burdens of day to day living too heavy for you? Is it hard to lift your head each day? Are family problems, work problems, relationship problems, financial problems, health problems keeping you from looking toward Easter with excitement? Is there sin in your life that is keeping you from experiencing the joy of Easter? Do you feel dejected, defeated?
I invite us to back up a few days before the first Easter. Let’s back up one week. On the first day of that week Jesus entered Jerusalem as a hero. People threw their clothes ahead of him. They cut palm branches and laid them on the streets as he came by. He was a hero. His disciples were excited, energized, enthusiastic. Their leader, their Messiah, Jesus of Nazareth, was entering Jerusalem as a king, a conqueror. This was their finest day. Soon Jesus was going to overthrow the Roman rule. He was going to reclaim Jerusalem for the Jews. He was going to restore Israel to the splendor that was present when David was king. Once again the Jewish people would be a force to reckon with. God was going to restore them to a place of power and leadership. They would once again dominate the world. God would put all peoples under their subjection, and His laws would be the laws of the world.
How great was that? And each disciple no doubt expected that he would be a major player in this new world order. Maybe Peter figured he’d be the Department of Fishing czar. Or maybe in charge of Homeland Security. Matthew would be the head of the Internal Revenue Service. Judas would be the Secretary of the Treasury. Thomas would be in charge of the Public Information office. John and James would be the leaders of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
I suspect even some of His friends thought they, too, might have a leadership role in the new kingdom.
Everyone was feeling good, flying high. They had been through some tough times, but it was all coming together nicely now. Jesus was being hailed by the crowds, and soon He would flex His heavenly muscles and make everything right. In fact, the next day He entered the Temple and threw out the money-changers and the merchants. He was teaching them a lesson. You don’t mess with God’s house and get away with it.
Yup, good times were a-coming. It was great day and time to be a disciple of Jesus.
But then something happened. Something that didn’t make much sense to His followers. Jesus didn’t flex His heavenly muscles. Jesus didn’t begin throwing the Romans out. He didn’t declare Himself king and seize control of the government. He didn’t set himself in the place of authority. He didn’t appoint His friends to leadership positions. He didn’t do any of the things the people expected of Him.
In fact, He is arrested. He is taken before the Roman governor and, to the great pleasure of the Jewish leaders and many of the people, He is declared guilty and sentenced to die. He is beaten to within an inch of His life; mocked; has a crown of thorns pressed on His head; is spit on; is made to carry a heavy cross through the streets of Jerusalem; forced to endure the excruciating pain of having nails driven into His hands and feet before having that cross set in place; forced to endure slow, cruel, inhuman torture in plain view of everyone.
And then He died. Dead. Gone. He wasn’t who He said He was after all. He was just a man like every other man.
Now how did His followers feel? Where was the victory? Where was the celebration? What happened to the promises they thought they had heard? Had they believed lies? Had they hung their lives, all their hopes and dreams, on a charlatan?
John Ortberg tells a story in a book he wrote called, “When the Game is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box.” John Ortberg tells a story of two men who visit an art museum and see a painting of two characters playing chess. One character looks like your ordinary, run-of-the-mill fellow while the second character clearly is the devil. The devil has a “devilish” look on his face as the other character is looking down at the chess board in dismay, in defeat. His king is surrounded and is out of moves. The title of this painting is Checkmate. It is the end. Satan’s opponent is defeated. Satan has won.
One of the men who is looking at the painting is an international chess champion. He studies the painting closely. His buddy asks him, “Why are you spending so much time looking at that painting?” The chess champion responds that something doesn’t look quite right to him with the painting. “Something is bothering me about it,” he says. “You go on and I’ll join you.” His buddy moves on to another room while the chess expert ponders the painting.
In a few minutes the expert goes to his friend and said, “We have to find the artist and tell him to either repaint the picture or rename it. The painter called it Checkmate, but the king still has one more move! It’s not checkmate!”
Moses is leading the Israelites out of Egypt. They are leaving captivity and heading to the Promised Land. Excitement is high. Centuries of slavery are over. They are free. But just ahead of them is the Jordan River. And behind them is approaching the Egyptian army. They are trapped. There is no escape. The promise of freedom is over. They are going to be returned to slavery. Their lives will be worse, harder. Pharaoh is going to punish them for leaving. They are in checkmate.
But the King still has one more move. At God’s command, Moses lifts his staff and the Red Sea parts and allows the Israelites to cross to the other side on dry land. And then with another move of Moses’ staff, the sea comes together and drowns the approaching Egyptian army. The people are saved.
The Israelites are under siege. The Philistines are waging war and they have a giant, Goliath, on their side. No one is willing to go against that giant. It looks bleak for the Israelites. Defeat is imminent. Checkmate.
But the King still has one more move. There is a young boy named David who knows how to use a slingshot. One smooth rock is launched toward Goliath, and the people are saved.
Three Hebrew boys won’t bow down to Nebuchadnezzer’s golden idol. They refuse to worship an idol when they know there is but one true God. Nebuchadnezzer threatens to throw them into a fiery furnace if they won’t bow down. They refuse, the fire is stoked to seven times hotter than usual and they are thrown into the furnace. Checkmate.
But the King still has one more move. God protects them from death and brings them out of the furnace alive.
Daniel continues to pray to God even when Darius decrees that praying to any god but himself will result in death. Daniel’s enemies see him praying to the Hebrew God (as he always does) and bring him before the king. Daniel acknowledges his act and Darius has him thrown into a lion’s den and the opening is sealed. Checkmate.
But the King still has one more move. God protects Daniel that night; He keeps him safe. The next morning Daniel is found alive and the lions are found hungry.
Their brother is sick, and they ask Jesus to come. “Master, come to Bethany. Lazarus, your good friend, is sick and may die.” Jesus delays but finally does go to Bethany. The sisters come to meet Him and tell Him that Lazarus is dead. He’s dead. He’s been in that tomb four days. Never mind. You are too late. Checkmate.
But the King still has one more move. Jesus walks to that tomb, has the stone rolled away and then shouts, “Lazarus, come forth.” And Lazarus comes out of that tomb as alive as he has ever been.
It’s Sunday morning. People are just beginning to stir. Two women walk toward a tomb – Jesus’ tomb. He was crucified just three days ago. His body was beaten to a pulp. He was nailed to a cross and left to die. And die He did. The soldiers even pierced His side to be sure He was dead. And then He was placed in this tomb. His body is probably already starting to decay. He’s dead.
Just a few days ago there was real celebration when He entered Jerusalem. He was the king. God was going to restore Israel as it was in King David’s day. Roman rule was heading out the door. The Israelites would be free again.
But now He is dead, dead. Joy has been replaced with sorrow; Hope with fear; Promise with dread; Expectation with despondency; Life with death. Jesus is dead. The ruler of this world, the Prince of Darkness, the great deceiver, Satan, has won. The end has come. Checkmate.
But the King still has one more move.
For when the women arrive at the tomb, it is empty. Jesus is not there. He is not in the tomb. He is not dead. He has conquered death. He has overcome sin. He has defeated Satan. He is the Victor. He is alive.
You feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. You are burning the candle at both ends. You need more hours in the day to do everything that needs doing. You are facing health issues. You are caring for children and parents at the same time. You have financial problems that seem insurmountable. You have family problems that seem to have no solution. Some sin is gnawing at you. Your spiritual life is bankrupt. You are discouraged, at your wit’s end, without hope. You have no place to turn. Checkmate.
But the King still has one more move.
Jesus said, “Come unto me, all who are weary and heavy-ladened, and I will give you rest.” Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you, seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you.” Jesus said, “I have come to save that which was lost.” “The last shall be first and the first, last.” Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you. … Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
The King still has one more move, and it is to send Jesus to you, to me. To strengthen us, to encourage us, to comfort us, to love us. We are weak, but He is strong. There is nothing He cannot do. There is nothing He can’t help us with. There is nothing impossible for Him.
We are not promised that our lives will be free from problems, heartache, disappointment, sadness, illness, setbacks. The apostle Paul knew that when he wrote that he had prayed that a “thorn in the side” would be taken from him, but God told him, “No. My grace is sufficient for you.” Don’t focus on your troubles; focus on Me.
Troubles and tribulations are going to come. But we are promised that we have Someone who will help us through those times. Someone who has been through the tough times and knows just how we are feeling. He knows just what we are experiencing. Someone who can and will forgive sin. And Jesus will help us if we ask Him. And why???
For God so loved the world -- you, me, everyone -- that He sent His only Son – Jesus – that whoever – you, me, everyone – believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life. God so loves you, so loves me, that He sent Jesus to be our Rock, our Fortress, our Strength, our Comfort, our Peace, our Savior.
Just a few hours before He would be arrested, Jesus spoke to His disciples the words we read from the 14th chapter of the Gospel of John: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”
Trust in Jesus; Rest in Jesus; Turn your burdens over to Jesus. His comfort can carry us through the struggles of life, His strength can make the heaviest load light, His love can provide the comfort we crave; His peace will bring well-being and inner rest to our spirits.
He has proved it time after time, and He will prove it to you now. The King still has one more move.
Perhaps you are here and you don’t know Jesus. You feel like life’s burdens are too heavy. Your sin is too much for you to bear. You feel like you have no more moves. Checkmate.
I want you to know, the King still has one more move for you. If you don’t know Jesus as Lord and Savior, now is the time you can do that.
Romans 10:9: if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
This is a gift from God because He loves you. If you seek His salvation, I urge you to ask Jesus to into your life. Ask Him to forgive your sins. And he’ll do it in a moment. If you’ve done that -- this morning, last week, last month -- I invite you to come forward and make your decision public and follow Him in Christian baptism.
Feel you want to rededicate your life right now. You want to know God more intimately and His purpose for your life. You want to serve Him more completely. You want to hear Him clearly say your name. Take time right where you are to recommit yourself Him.
Perhaps you are searching for a church home and feel that Sandston Baptist is the place you want to be. I invite you to let us know of your decision.
As Todd was talking to the children I was listening and was thinking how people perceive the cross. Picture these scenarios with me, if you can, a young boy is listening to his Sunday School teacher tell about the death of Christ and he says, ‘can you please skip this part, because it’s too sad. Move on to the happy part.’ At the same time a middle aged women confesses, ‘I don’t like to talk about the death of Christ because it’s too depressing. And I’ve got too much of that in my life already.’ Two people, different, different ages, different places, and yet they share the same response. Both wanted to downplay the death of Jesus Christ, and maybe even ignore it. Well, I’m here to tell you today, you cannot ignore the death of Jesus Christ. We must talk about it and we must even own the cross ourselves. Jesus said, “if anyone would be my disciples let him take up his cross daily and follow after Me.” The death of Jesus Christ is centered in Christian history. Everything that perceives it is simply preparation for it. And everything that follows it, is the consequence of it. No one who believes in Jesus Christ can get along without the cross. Why? Because it’s the reason they believe in the first place. In Hebrews, the second chapter, verse 9 it says that Jesus suffered death so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone. You see, Jesus Christ tasted what we must all taste - death. And Jesus Christ entered what we must all enter - the grave. Simply said, Jesus Christ died for everyone; for you and for me.
So this morning, I want us to look at His death for a few moments. The first thing we see in our text about his death is that it was a real death. In the 24th verse, the beginning part of chapter 15, it says ‘and they crucified him.’ It was a simple statement. But yet it was so full of meaning. And it simply says that Jesus really dies. Now there are a lot of people today that would like to teach us that He was just swooning, just kind of asleep, maybe He was in a coma, and really wasn’t dead. But the fact is the Bible says that He really died. And what an agonizing death it really was. Todd was telling the children about crucifixion. Crucifixion was the most humiliating form of execution that was known to the ancient world. You know, in our world today when we talk about capital punishment, even though it sounds awful, it’s pretty humane. A simple injection, and a few seconds later and they’re gone. Put some big balls into some acid, and some gas comes up, and they rarely feel a thing. Strap them to an electric chair, and turn on the juice, and it’s over.
But that wasn’t the case with the crucifixion. For they were naked, completely stripped of all their clothes. Get the pictures out of your mind that the Renaissance painters painted about Jesus with a loincloth. Get it out of your mind. They were naked. Exposed to the world. And the victims hung on the crosses along side heavily traveled roads, and they were seen as an object lesson. They were serving a purpose for Roman law. To look at the cross and the person dying there and say ‘that’s what happens if you disobey our rules.’ It was so demeaning that the Romans outlawed it for their own citizens.
Picture if you might the cross. The hands and the feet are fastened to the wooden beams with large spikes. The body is been supported in one of two ways. Either by a peg at the bottom for the feet to be propped up on or one between the victims legs for them to straddle it. This wasn’t a quick death. It often took a week or more. And while they hung there, nailed to that wooden cross, imagine the bugs, the gnats, whatever else might crawl up there, the hot sun, the hunger pains, the thirsting, and all of the brutal spectators that make their way by spitting upon, cursing, and slapping the legs of the one dying. Eventually, suffocation would take place. As the bodily fluids would collect in the lungs, they would literally drown on their own fluids. It was a real death. And Jesus died it.
It was also a sacrificial death. Make no mistake about this. If you hear nothing else, hear this. The nails in His hands and in His feet and the ropes that held Him down to be nailed down, those things did not hold Jesus on the cross. You say, ‘well what did?’ His own sacrificial love for you and for me. That’s what kept Him on the cross. There were no nails that could hold Him. No ropes they could tie Him. But it was His love for the world that kept Him on that cross, dying a slow and painful death. You see, no one took His life. The Bible says He willingly laid it down for you and me.
Mark records that the crowd was crying out and screaming to Jesus, ‘come down from the cross.’ And you can imagine how they must have said it. “Save yourself.’ They shouted at Him as they shook their fists. ‘He saved others. But He can’t save Himself.’ You know, the mockers as they went by taunting Him. They meant this as some kind of cruel joke, but when Mark recorded it, it contained the deepest theological truth we could ever imagine. Because Jesus wanted to save others, listen to me, He would not save Himself. He could have. And they would have been shocked completely if He had of. But because Jesus wanted to save me, and because He wanted to save you, He wouldn’t save Himself.
You know the old song, ‘He could have called 10,000 angels’. Could you imagine that scene? Jesus hanging on the cross and instead of praying, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” He said, “Father, send a host of angels.” And they come and take care of the legion of Roman soldiers around and free Him from the cross and heal every wound. But that wasn’t the point. Because they didn’t put Him on the cross. He willingly laid His life down.
This quickly has become the church’s answer to the question of why Jesus died. And it still is. Jesus took my place. Jesus took our place. That’s why He died. He didn’t deserve the cross, but I did. He didn’t deserve the cross, but we all deserved it. Paul wrote to the Church of Rome in the sixth chapter, the 23rd verse, and he says, ‘for the wages of sin, the earnings of sin, is death.’ And here’s the beautiful part. But, but, the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen? That’s what sin calls for. It calls for death. And Jesus took my place. That’s why He died on the cross. It wasn’t some cruel Roman scheme, but it was God’s plan to save me; and to save you. I find that exciting. It was a sacrificial death. He sacrificed for me. And for you.
But it was also a saving death. I heard the story once about a British Olympic diver. He was waiting for the next day when they would go through their trials to determine who would go to their national meet, and he couldn’t sleep. He was having butterflies, he was nervous and was worried about the dives that he would perform the next day. So at 2:00 am, he finally crawled out of the bed and pulled on his little bathing suit, and he went outside and all of the lights were out, it was completely dark. The moon was off shining a bit. And he climbed up to the diving platform and he went through his pre-dive routine. And finally he got out to the end of the board and stood there and balanced himself and stood very straight and raised out his arms, and just as he raised out his arms, the moonlight behind him cast a shadow of a cross on the pool below. Well, he backed off. He couldn’t hardly believe what he saw when he raised his arms and there was a cross. So after he got over his horror, he stood up there once more and got ready. And he raised his arms again and the moonlight was shining against his back and there was another shadow of a cross on the pool below. So shaken, he climbed down. To his horror, when he stood by the edge of the pool, he saw that it had been drained. And he said this to the media, ‘I can’t explain it, but somehow it was the cross that saved me.’
Now when you leave here today, I don’t expect you to be able to explain all the theological implications of the cross. All we need say is ‘I can’t explain it. But all I know is that the cross, it saved me.’ You see, Jesus did on the cross what we could not do. We couldn’t do it. II Corinthians 5:21 says that God made Him, meaning Jesus, who knew no sin, to become sin for us. Why? So that in Him, we might become the righteousness of God. That’s what God did on the cross. He took the sinless Son of God, the lamb of the world that was perfect without any spot or blemish, and He made Jesus become sin. Because He had none. So that in Him we might become God’s righteousness. The result of sin is nothing more than the separation from God. That’s what it is. And Jesus took that sin upon Himself. He became it. And while He was hanging there, the scripture says that He cried out, “My God, My God, why has Thou forsaken me?” What kind of cry was that? Well, it wasn’t a cry of anger. He wasn’t mad. But it was a cry of the presence of God leaving Him. You see God couldn’t look at sin, and at that very moment, at that very moment, God removed himself because Jesus, He harbored all the sins of the world.
Think about it. At that moment when He cried out in anguish, “My God, My God, why have You turned Your back on Me?”, God turned his back because He was carrying every vile thing that I’ve ever done in my life on His body. And He was carrying every thing that you’ve ever done on His body. And all you have to do is receive Him and it’s all gone. Wiped away. Clear and clean. Jesus endured sin and He endured that separation in order that He might better identify with us and make it possible for us to be forgiven, to be accepted by God.
Well, the death of Jesus was a saving death. And then it was also a victorious death. His last words on the cross are not recorded in Mark, but it’s recorded in other gospels, and He cried out, the Bible says, with a loud voice, “It is finished.” He didn’t say, “I am finished.” But He said, “It is finished.” God’s plan of redemption. God’s plan of salvation is finished. It’s completed. It’s accomplished. The Greek word is tetelesti, which means ‘it is finished.’ But it’s a business word and that business word as it is used in a business transaction means ‘paid in full.’ So Jesus was on the cross and He cried out “Paid in full. The sin debt is paid, it’s been accomplished.” Through His death, our debt, our debt of sin, has been paid. Not part of it, but fully. This cry was not in defeat, but rather it was a declaration of victory. He’d won.
And Mark recorded two events in this passage of scripture. Two events as tokens of His victory. The first one we see in the 38th verse of chapter 15. The Bible says that the curtain that separated the holy of holies from the outer court of the temple was torn from the top to the bottom. Over 100 feet up in the air. God tore it in half. Why? As a symbolic figure. He tore it because He wanted us to know we all had access to Him. Every one of us has access to God. God tore that curtain as a token of that victory. The other thing we see in the very next verse, the 39th verse, the Centurion soldier. It demonstrated the power of the cross, silently, as He hung there dying, praying. The dying Jesus had preached His gospel, His good news, His victorious message to the most hostile congregation as they cursed Him and mocked Him. And the first fruit of that message of love and forgiveness was the man who was in charge of nailing Him to the cross. The first fruit was the man who said ‘nail Him’. Jesus’ power knows no limit. It can transform the vilest sinner. Listen with me this morning to that Centurion’s story.
I’m the one who spat upon the Savior
I’m the one who mocked His holy name.
I’m the one who said with all the rest ‘Crucify Him’
I’m the one; I’m the one to blame
I’m the one who made Him go to Calvary
I’m the one who nailed Him to the tree
Even though I am the one who bought all this on Him
He’s the one who tells me He forgives me.
What kind of man is this?
Why did He care for me?
Look what I’ve done to Him
I guess He doesn’t see
That I’m the one to blame
I caused Him all this shame
What kind of man is this?
What kind of man is this?
What kind of man is this?
Why does He care for me?
Look what I’ve done to Him
I guess He doesn’t see
That I’m the one to blame
I caused Him all this shame
What kind of man is this?
What kind of man is this?
Truly this was the Son of God
I should have been the one to die
What greater love has any one than this
That He should give himself for such as I?
What greater love has anyone than this
That He should give himself for such as I?
The death of Jesus Christ is just not some deep theological truth. The question remains for us, ‘what was God doing at the cross?’ Well, I want you to know He was doing something very practical. He was doing something for you; He was doing something for me. You can’t come to the cross today and live just as you please. In fact, you can’t come to the cross and not be forever changed. Won’t you come today?