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Confronted by the Cross

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TEXT:  Matthew 27:27-46

TOPIC:  Confronted By The Cross

Pastor Bobby Earls, First Baptist Church, Center Point

Sunday morning, April 9, 2006     

27Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole garrison around Him. 28And they stripped Him and put a scarlet robe on Him. 29When they had twisted a crown of thorns, they put it on His head, and a reed in His right hand. And they bowed the knee before Him and mocked Him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” 30Then they spat on Him, and took the reed and struck Him on the head. 31And when they had mocked Him, they took the robe off Him, put His own clothes on Him, and led Him away to be crucified.

32Now as they came out, they found a man of Cyrene, Simon by name. Him they compelled to bear His cross. 33And when they had come to a place called Golgotha, that is to say, Place of a Skull, 34they gave Him sour wine mingled with gall to drink. But when He had tasted it, He would not drink. 35Then they crucified Him, and divided His garments, casting lots, that it might be fulfilled which was spoken by the prophet:

“They divided My garments among them,

And for My clothing they cast lots.”

36Sitting down, they kept watch over Him there. 37And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 38Then two robbers were crucified with Him, one on the right and another on the left. 39And those who passed by blasphemed Him, wagging their heads 40and saying, “You who destroy the temple and build it in three days, save Yourself! If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” 41Likewise the chief priests also, mocking with the scribes and elders, said, 42“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. 43“He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” 44Even the robbers who were crucified with Him reviled Him with the same thing.

45Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”  

             Did you know that the golden arches of MacDonald's and the Shell Oil Company logos are more recognizable than the Christian cross, according to a survey of people in Australia, Germany, India, Japan, the United Kingdom, and the United States.  The most widely recognized symbol in these six countries was the five linked rings of the Olympic Games, which was identified by 92% of respondents.  In contrast, 88% identified the MacDonald's symbol and Shell's seashell logo. Only 54% identified the cross as symbolic of Christianity.                                                             (--Baptists Today, Sep 21, 1995)

  Many people within our culture wear the cross as a piece of jewelry. Some people wear it as an expression of faith. Others wear it simply as a matter of taste or fashion. It is important to remember that in its day the cross was an instrument of death. For us it would be paramount to wearing  an electric chair as an ornament.             

For those who may not know, the cross or crucifixion was the method the Romans used to execute Jesus Christ. The most painful and degrading form of capital punishment in the ancient world, the cross also became the means by which Jesus became the atoning sacrifice for the sins of all mankind. Later, for the Christian Church, the cross became a symbol for the sacrifice of self in discipleship (Rom. 12:1, I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service.) and for the death of self to the world (Mark 8:34, 34When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.).     

HISTORICAL DEVELOPMENT:  Originally a cross was a wooden pointed stake used to build a wall or to erect fortifications around a town. Beginning with the Assyrians and Persians, it began to be used to display the heads of captured foes or of particularly heinous criminals on the palisades above the gateway into a city. Later crucifixion developed into a form of capital punishment, as enemies of the state were impaled on the stake itself. The Greeks and Romans at first reserved the punishment only for slaves, saying it was too barbaric for freeborn or citizens. By the first century, however, it was used for any enemy of the state, though citizens could only be crucified by direct edict of Caesar. As time went on, the Romans began to use crucifixion more and more as a deterrent to criminal activity, so that by Jesus' time it was a common sight.             

So much for the history of the cross and crucifixion.  Why is it that  2000 years following the crucifixion of Jesus Christ that the world is still talking about it?              

The cross is a gruesome instrument and an uncomfortable subject for some.  A year ago our nation was shocked by the overwhelming cruelty depicted in Mel Gibson’s movie “The Passion of the Cross.”            

However difficult the cross may be, we are indeed confronted by the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ once again. 

*I.  CONFRONTED BY THE PERSON OF THE CROSS,            

Matthew 27:37*

37And they put up over His head the accusation written against Him:THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS. (Phil 2:5 NASB)  Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men.  And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.  Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE SHOULD BOW, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. 

We are confronted by the Person on the Cross.  And look at who this Person truly was and is:

o   Co-Existent with God

o   Emptied Himself

o   Took the form of a bond-servant, a slave

o   Made in the likeness of man

o   He Humbled Himself

o   Obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross

Look at the next verse, “Therefore God has highly exalted Him.  Jesus Christ is Lord!” 

II. CONFRONTED BY THE PASSION OF THE CROSS, Matthew 27:46

46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”            

A. His Death Was a Vicious Death            

A person crucified in Jesus' day was first of all scourged (beaten with a whip consisting of thongs with pieces of metal or bone attached to the end) or at least flogged until the blood flowed. This was not just done out of cruelty but was designed to hasten death and lessen the terrible ordeal. After the beating, the victim was forced to bear the crossbeam to the execution site in order to signify that life was already over and to break the will to live. A tablet detailing the crime(s) was often placed around the criminal's neck and then fastened to the cross. At the site the prisoner was often tied (the normal method) or nailed (if a quicker death was desired) to the crossbeam. The nail would be driven through the wrist rather than the palm, since the smaller bones of the hand could not support the weight of the body. The beam with the body was then lifted and tied to the already affixed upright pole. Pins or a small wooden block were placed halfway up to provide a seat for the body lest the nails tear open the wounds or the ropes force the arms from their sockets.

Finally the feet were tied or nailed to the post. Death was caused by the loss of blood circulation and coronary failure. Especially if the victims were tied, it could take days of hideous pain as the extremities turned slowly gangrenous; so often the soldiers would break the victims’ legs with a club, causing massive shock and a quick death.             

B.  His Death Was a Vicarious Death            

(Col.1:19 NASB)   For it was the Father's good pleasure for all the fulness to dwell in Him, and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven. And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach . . .           

(1 Pet 2:24 NASB) And He Himself bore our sins in His body on the cross, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness; for by His wounds you were healed.           

III. CONFRONTED BY THE POWER OF THE CROSS, Matthew 27:42

42“He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him.            

(1 Cor 1:17-18 NASB)  For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel, not in cleverness of speech, that the cross of Christ should not be made void. For the word of the cross is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.  

The Cross of Christ canceled out our debt to sin. (Colossians 2:14 NASB)  having canceled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us and which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.            

"I don't think we need a theory of atonement at all....  I don't think we need folks hanging on crosses and blood dripping and weird stuff."                           -- "Womanist" theologian                           Dolores Williams(quoted in Good News) 

A.   The Cross Calls Us to Radical Discipleship            

Jesus Himself established the primary figurative interpretation of the cross as a call to complete surrender to God. He used it five times as a symbol of true discipleship in terms of self-denial, taking up one's cross, and following Jesus (Mark 8:34; 10:38; Matt. 16:24; Luke 9:23; 14:27). Building upon the Roman practice of bearing the crossbeam to the place of execution, Jesus intended this in two directions: the death of self, involving the sacrifice of one's individuality for the purpose of following Jesus completely; and a willingness to imitate Jesus completely, even to the extent of martyrdom.            

B.  The Cross Calls Us to Personal Decision            

Officer Peter O'Hanlon was patrolling on night duty in northern England some years ago when he heard a quivering sob.  Turning in the direction that it came from, he saw in the shadows a little boy sitting on a doorstep.  With tears rolling down his cheeks, the child whimpered, "I'm lost. Take me home."  The policeman began naming street after street, trying to help him remember where he lived.  When that failed, he repeated the names of the shops and hotels in the area, but all without success.  Then he remembered that in the center of the city was a well-known church with a large white cross towering high above the surrounding landscape.  He pointed to it and said, "Do you live anywhere near that?"  The boy's face immediately brightened.  "Yes, take me to the cross.  I can find my way home from there!"

 Like that familiar landmark, the cross of Christ directs lost souls to their eternal home in Glory.  

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