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Good Friday

Easter 2019  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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The characters of the crucifixion teach us valuable lessons about the cross that are relevant to us today


The impact

Here we are, some 20
Over the course of human history, countless people have been executed for many many different reasons. If we think about suffering purely from the physical pain, then I dare say many of these deaths would have been just as painful, if not worse than what Jesus suffered. Yet without a doubt, I don’t think we could argue that any other death has ever caused such a deep impact in the course of human history.
Even if you aren’t a believer, the mere fact that 2000 odd years later, billions of Christians still use the symbol of the cross as a symbol of hope, shows that it had a deep impact.
Of course, how we respond to this historic event today will vary considerably. But it is our response that I want to think about this morning.
You see, the reason that we still talk about this death 2000 years later is because it has real significance for us today.
Let’s just think about it for a moment.
We believe that Jesus was God, come down in the flesh. But in making himself human, he did not lose his divinity. And so he maintained his holiness, not taking on the sinful corruption that all humanity is afflicted with.
And so, in his sinless perfection, he subjected himself to the trials of this world in order that he might bring us back to him. These trials culminated in the cross, so that he could be the sacrifice that we don’t deserve but that we so desperately needed.
He did this, not because he had to, but because of his deep love for us.
If we take this to heart, than even though we are 2000 years later, we can’t let it just gloss over because the impact is everlasting.


Well, as I aim to look at the reaction we have today, I plan on trying to do this by doing examining a few of the characters that we find in Mark’s account of the trial and crucifixion of Jesus.
Well, as you read the account, you will see that there are quite a number of people involved, and what you find is that there circumstances will affect their reaction.
So let me first give a quick survey of Mark’s account highlighting the various characters reactions.


Well if we start the account at when Jesus takes his disciples into a place called Gethsemane, the first three characters we see are Peter, James and John, but I’m going to pick on Peter because he features quite a bit in these first parts.
What we find with Peter is someone who is very genuine, but also very scared. He wants Jesus, but he doesn’t quite know what to do.
First we see him falling asleep while Jesus prays. A bit later after Judas betrays Jesus, in his scared state, he strikes with the sword. I should note that Mark doesn’t name Peter, but in John’s gospel we find out that it was Peter.
But perhaps the most telling episode with Peter in the whole affair is after he follows Jesus at a distance but into the courtyard, but then when a servant girl questions his involvement with Jesus he denies it.
Now I’m going to come back to Peter, but it’s worth noting that Peter was not the only disciple to abandon Jesus. In fact, Peter was perhaps the bravest of all of them in that he went into the courtyard whereas the rest took off, including the unnamed streaker. (That’s right, in we’re told a young man fled naked after he was seized and lost his clothes).

Chief Priest

But the next character I want to focus on is the Chief Priest who takes centre stage in this narrative from verse 53. What Mark highlights for us is this almost desperate search for evidence against Jesus but is just unable to find it. The evidence he does find turns out to be fairly flimsy at that.
But it is Jesus affirmation of being the Messiah that really gets the Priest worked up. Now we could do a big study on why the Chief Priest acts in the way he does, but I’m going to suggest rather simplistically, that for him, Jesus is a threat to their power. It essentially boils down to self-interest.


Now as we follow Mark’s account, after the chief priests condemn Jesus, we then get the account of Peter denying Jesus which I briefly referred to earlier. But as we get into Chapter 15, we learn that it is now early morning, when the chief priests hand Jesus over to Pilate who is the Roman governor of Judea.
Now you perhaps need to recognise that as the governor of this region, Pilate would be well aware of how quickly things can escalate when there is tension, and in this case, he knows there is a lot of tension.
And so, while Pilate questions Jesus, his main concern seems to be placating the crowds. And ultimately, this forces his hand when he hands Jesus over, first to be flogged, and then to be crucified.


I next want to look at not a single character, but rather the group of soldiers who Jesus is handed over to.
Now as we come to the soldiers and their reaction, on one level we could just say that they are doing what they were told to.
However, as we read Mark’s account, what we see is the way they mock Jesus.
Now, obviously we don’t know exactly what is going through the minds of these soldiers. I get the impression however that they are just bemused by the whole situation. They see a man that is probably quite different to the other men that they deal with. The biggest difference, I dare say, is that he is meek and unimposing. I imagine that they just can’t figure out why this man is here at all. But being an easy target, they seem all too eager to just sink the boot in (so to speak).


We then get to the actual crucifixion itself.
Now Mark notes a few other characters. He mentions Simon from Cyrene who helps Jesus carry the cross. He mentions the two rebels crucified on either side of Jesus.
However, it’s another group that I want to highlight in this little survey.
It is a group of people who stay by Jesus as he hangs on the cross crying out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
They watched as people from all directions hurled insults at him.
They watched, as Jesus breathed his last breath with a loud cry.
They watched even as a centurion had a moment of clarity and recognised that this truly was the Son of God.
This group of course, was a group of women.
Mark tells us that they watched from a distance, and included Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Salome amongst many other women.
Mark also adds for us that these women had followed Jesus even throughout Galilee and had cared for his needs.
I want to highlight these women because they form such a contrast to all the other characters we’ve met. Now of course, we can rationalise why these other men behaved the way they did, but these women actually had the sticking power.

How we react

Now what I want to do is to briefly go back over these 5 individual or groups that I’ve just highlighted and consider how they can highlight some problems in our own thinking.

Peter - when life’s tough

Starting with Peter, we can learn something very valuable.
That is, while the cross is a symbol of great hope, it should not be a symbol of an easy life.
The great thing about Peter is that he is very relatable. He wasn’t just acting in this way for the sake of it - rather he was feeling the reality of the cross.
Now something that I believe is becoming more and more a way of life, is that we aim to add things to our life to make it easier. And it is so easy to think of Christianity like this.
But the consequence is that as things get tough it is easy to shriek back.
So the question we need to ask when looking at Peter’s example is, are we prepared to stick with Jesus even when it is really hard?
Thankfully, if we skip ahead in the story, we can know that even if we do stumble like Peter did, Jesus doesn’t abandon us, and he will take us back. But we do need to recognise that the road will not be easy.

Chief priest - becoming less self-focussed

Next I want to come back to the chief priest.
Now I made the observation before that the chief priest essentially made this about him keeping the control.
But the message of the cross is actually the exact opposite of this.
You see, the whole reason that God sent Jesus to die in this way, is because we are not able to save ourselves.
Now this can really go against the grain of what has really become our dominant narrative.
While we would use very different language to that of the chief priest, yet we can push back on what the cross achieves just because we don’t want to relinquish our own ability to make ourselves right.
So the question we need to answer is: are we prepared to deny our own sense of control for Jesus?

Pilate - accepting division

As I come now to Pilate, we can see another great lesson coming from the cross.
You see, the cross actually produces division.
Now that might not sound right at first. But think about it.
In the cross we find forgiveness, but that forgiveness comes as we accept Christ. The cross calls for allegiance. And in that allegiance, we will either find people who do accept it, or don’t accept it.
For those who don’t, the cross actually can become offensive. Standing with Christ means making a stand against the way the world operates, and at times this will put us at odds with others.
And so, we are sometimes left with a choice. We can choose harmony with the world and it’s ways, or we can choose Christ, even when this puts us in conflict with others.
This is becoming particularly the case as certain accepted values shift away from biblical value.
We can have sympathy for Pilate in his choice, but at the end of the day, he chose the way of harmony with the world rather than being bold for Jesus.

Soldiers - choosing foolishness

With the soldiers now, I want to pick up on a theme that Paul took up in the early part of 1 Corinthians.
In the first chapter of this letter, Paul talks about the cross being foolishness to the world.
Well, in some ways, these soldiers testify to that. For them, I believe they would have just seen Jesus as a complete fool.
After all, Jesus essentially bought this on himself. If only he had of kept his mouth shut, particularly when he was near the religious people, he could have avoided it all.
I suspect the soldiers mocking and abuse is because they saw Jesus as just a fool, not deserving of respect.
Now if you talk to non-believers about the cross, and by talk, I mean more than just a surface level mention of it, you’ll most likely find that the non-believer just can’t make sense of it.
Quite often you’ll find they’ll even mock such an idea. After all, how does it make sense that someone dying 2000 years ago changes things now.
But we need to stand up for Christ. You see, in the words of St. Paul, “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”
It only makes sense as we recognise the divinity of Jesus and the plan that God made for us.

Women - love

Finally, I want to take a lesson from the women.
It’s extraordinary in one sense, that in such a patriarchal society, it is the women in this story that seem to get it right.
You see the lesson I want to draw from them is actually the lesson that is at the heart of the cross.
That is: the cross is love.
In fact, when the Apostle John wrote his first epistle, he gave us a definition of love. He said:
1 John 4:10 NIV (Anglicised, 2011)
This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
The women seemed to see this first. While the men seemed to take their time catching up, it was the women who were able to stand by Jesus and reflect back some of the love.
The question for us is: can we be like the women and reflect the love of the cross to others?
It’s not an easy thing, but the cross calls us to be loving.


This crucifixion took place some 2000 years ago, but we need to recognise that it still has a huge impact for us today.
While these characters that I’ve drawn out were obviously in a very unique situation, I hope that we can begin to see that in their responses we can see lessons about the cross that are relevant for us today.
From Peter, learn that the way of the cross is hard.
From the chief priest, learn that accepting the cross means not doing it your own way.
From Pilate, learn that at times, the cross will put us at odds with the world.
From the soldiers learn that even though the cross is foolishness to the world, it is the wisdom of God.
And from the women learn that the cross is about love.
Let’s pray...
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