It seems like an odd day and an odd time of the day to be in church. Normally we gather for worship on Sundays at 10:00 AM or on Thursday nights at 7:00 PM. On occasion we will gather on a Saturday for a wedding. But to be here in worship on a week day. About the only other time we do it is for a funeral and then at 11:00 AM. Having a worship service at a time like that is just one way in which the death of someone impacts our lives. Depending on the circumstances, the death of someone has no impact on us, limited impact, or a more profound impact. Perhaps the greatest impact the death of someone has is when a spouse dies. This past January a fellow pastor was seriously injured in a car accident and was in the hospital in a coma for ten days. The brain injury he suffered was so severe that he did not survive. During that time his wife was very open about expressing her hopes and prays and then her acceptance and trust in God throughout all of it. Interested people could read first hand her blogs and feel with her what she was gong through. She went from having been happily married to a man for 35 years and enjoying so much of life with him to becoming a widow in a very short period of time. His death had the most impact on her. But it also impacted the rest of his family, his congregation which was suddenly without a beloved pastor, the community in which he was well known, and numerous other pastors and friends and members of organizations that he was a part of. As a testimony to the impact of his death, over 500 people attended either the visitation or funeral or both and although there are funerals every day in the Wausau area, his was reported on the local TV stations.
Even so, his death probably didn’t impact any of you because you did not know the man. The closer we know someone, the more likely their death will have an impact on us.
But in some cases the death of someone will have an impact on millions of people even if they did not know him or her personally. We are saddened when a popular celebrity dies unexpectedly. Think of Elvis Presley or Michael Jackson or Marilynn Monroe. In the following the case, the death of a political leader had an impact on millions of people as it is regarded as the incident that ignited the first World War.
In an event that is widely acknowledged to have sparked the outbreak of World War I, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, nephew of Emperor Franz Josef and heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, is shot to death along with his wife by a Serbian nationalist in Sarajevo, Bosnia, on this day in 1914.
The great Prussian statesman Otto von Bismarck, the man most responsible for the unification of Germany in 1871, was quoted as saying at the end of his life that “One day the great European War will come out of some damned foolish thing in the Balkans.” It went as he predicted.
The archduke traveled to Sarajevo in June 1914 to inspect the imperial armed forces in Bosnia and Herzegovina, former Ottoman territories in the turbulent Balkan region that were annexed by Austria-Hungary in 1908 to the indignation of Serbian nationalists, who believed they should become part of the newly independent and ambitious Serbian nation. The date scheduled for his visit, June 28, coincided with the anniversary of the First Battle of Kosovo in 1389, in which medieval Serbia was defeated by the Turks. Despite the fact that Serbia did not truly lose its independence until the Second Battle of Kosovo in 1448, June 28 was a day of great significance to Serbian nationalists, and one on which they could be expected to take exception to a demonstration of Austrian imperial strength in Bosnia.
June 28 was also Franz Ferdinand’s wedding anniversary. His beloved wife, Sophie, a former lady-in-waiting, was denied royal status in Austria due to her birth as a poor Czech aristocrat, as were the couple’s children. In Bosnia, however, due to its limbo status as an annexed territory, Sophie could appear beside him at official proceedings. On June 28, 1914, then, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie were touring Sarajevo in an open car, with surprisingly little security, when Serbian nationalist Nedjelko Cabrinovic threw a bomb at their car; it rolled off the back of the vehicle and wounded an officer and some bystanders. Later that day, on the way to visit the injured officer, the archduke’s procession took a wrong turn at the junction of Appel quay and Franzjosefstrasse, where one of Cabrinovic’s cohorts, 19-year-old Gavrilo Princip, happened to be loitering.
Seeing his opportunity, Princip fired into the car, shooting Franz Ferdinand and Sophie at point-blank range. Princip then turned the gun on himself, but was prevented from shooting it by a bystander who threw himself upon the young assassin. A mob of angry onlookers attacked Princip, who fought back and was subsequently wrestled away by the police. Meanwhile, Franz Ferdinand and Sophie lay fatally wounded in their limousine as it rushed to seek help; they both died within the hour.
The assassination of Franz-Ferdinand and Sophie set off a rapid chain of events: Austria-Hungary, like many in countries around the world, blamed the Serbian government for the attack and hoped to use the incident as justification for settling the question of Slav nationalism once and for all. As Russia supported Serbia, an Austro-Hungarian declaration of war was delayed until its leaders received assurances from German leader Kaiser Wilhelm that Germany would support their cause in the event of a Russian intervention–which would likely involve Russia’s ally, France, and possibly Britain as well. On July 28, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia, and the tenuous peace between Europe’s great powers collapsed. Within a week, Russia, Belgium, France, Great Britain and Serbia had lined up against Austria-Hungary and Germany, and World War I had begun.
But we are not here today at this unusual time to reflect on how people close to us or assassinations impact us. We are here because of how the death of Jesus Christ impacts us. If the local newspapers had been reporting on the crucifixion of Jesus from a worldly point of view, the story may have gone something like this.
On Friday, the 14th day of Nisan, three more convicts were crucified by the Roman government, at Golgatha even though this day is the Day of Passover for the residents of Jerusalem and Judea causing a verbal protest from the Sanhedrin. Among those executed was a well-known Jewish Rabbi from the northern province of Galilee who was in Jerusalem with his disciples for the Passover celebration. He is known as Jesus of Nazareth. It may be noted that on Sunday, he had led an impromptu parade as thousands heralded him as the King of Jews who was coming to save his people and to usher in the kingdom of David. He gained the attention of the Roman authorities again on Monday when he caused a ruckus at the Temple by chasing out those who have been selling sacrificial animals and exchanging money in the temple courts for decades. Apparently he was arrested late Thursday evening by the Jewish authorities who found him guilty of blasphemy. They then handed him over to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. The following charges were read into the court records: “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” Pontius Pilate sentenced him to death with the written charge, “The King of the Jews.” The Roman government does not tolerate those who threaten to lead a revolt against their authority. May this be a lesson to all! Hopefully, the swift and just execution of this rebel will quell any other attempts to upset the peace that we enjoy under the capable leadership of the Roman government.
2 And they began to accuse him, saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Messiah, a king.” The Roman government does not tolerate those who threaten to lead a revolt against their authority. May this be a lesson to all! Hopefully, the swift and just execution of this rebel will quell any other attempts to upset the peace that we enjoy under the capable leadership of the Roman government.
What impact did the death of Jesus have at the time of his death? For Pilate it was of little consequence. He sentenced an innocent man to death because he was under pressure to appease the Jewish leaders or they would report him to his superiors. Jesus’ death meant job security and temporary peace. He would not even accept responsibility for it for he literally and figuratively “washed his hands” of it.
The Jewish leaders had hoped that his death would prevent a revolt as Caiaphas had said earlier. (NIV)
49 Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! 50 You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”
If you continue to read from John on this, you see the more profound impact of Jesus’ death. John recognized that since Jesus was the Son of God, his death would be more profound than the death of any person who has ever lived.
51 He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, 52 and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one.
John sees the death of Jesus as a unifying factor for the Jewish nation. Elsewhere in the Bible we see other statements about what impact the death of Jesus would have in regard to our relationship with God, our eternal salvation, our interaction with other cultures, and even how we go about our daily lives.
25 He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.
14 For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.
14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
From a theological view point, it is explained like this. God is just. He demands his creatures to be holy as he is holy. He also is just to punish those who are not holy. Since our sins are against the ultimate authority, we deserve the ultimate punishment which is death (temporal and eternal). But God loves his creatures and does not want anyone to perish. So he provided the way of salvation. He sent his own son to take our place. As our substitute he lived the perfect life required by God in our place. As our substitute, he took our place by suffering and dying on the cross. His death is the atoning sacrifice which makes payment for sin. (NIV) 27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him. His sacrifice is made for us so that by his wounds we are healed.
So what impact does the death of Jesus have on us? We are now declared not guilty by God and we can approach him as his dear children. We can look forward to going to heaven when our own death will come.
27 Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, 28 so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
What is emphasized as often, is that Jesus’ death not only brings salvation, but also a a whole new approach to life. We are no longer to live selfishly and pursuing our own interests or to regard our church as some worldly place we can just go to on special occasions such as worship and funerals. We are to gather together to worship God and to train and encourage each other to spread the real story about the death of Jesus and to live for him. NIV14 For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.
6 For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin—7 because anyone who has died has been set free from sin. 8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. 9 For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good. 15 These, then, are the things you should teach. Encourage and rebuke with all authority. Do not let anyone despise you.