We have just entered the season of Lent - 40 days of preparation before the festival of Easter.
During this season on Sundays we are going to be thinking about the Cross. The death of Jesus Christ. How that event changes our whole lives and existence.
The cross is the very heart of Christianity. It is the chief symbol of Christianity - it’s not a fish or bread and wine or even a symbol of an empty tomb that adorn our churches or that we wear round our necks but a cross. An instrument of execution! The death of Jesus is at the heart of Christianity.
You can see this if you look at the accounts of Jesus’ life in the gospels. In total, the 4 gospels, which record his life, devote roughly one third of their content to the climactic final week of Jesus’ life leading up to the cross. John’s gospel devotes roughly half its content to that final week!
Why is the death of Jesus so important? what does it mean? what good could possibly have been achieved by this great man dying? Was it a supreme gesture of love. God saying to the world - ‘see how much i love you!’ But surely it would have been more loving for Jesus to stick around - sort out some of the mess. Was it God drawing alongside us in our suffering? Giving us an example to follow?
The bible would say it is all those things (and in fact we will spend our last of these sermons thinking about the death of Jesus as an example for us to follow. )But the death of Jesus is not primarily these things.
the truth is we cannot understand the death of Jesus just by our own reason. fortunately we are not left to that. the entire bible, especially the Old Testament interprets the meaning of the cross to us. and shows us why the Cross stands at the absolute centre of christianity and of reality.
The cross (accompanied by the resurrection) is the means by which humanity is brought back into relationship with God, with one another and with our very selves. It is the place of salvation, healing and restoration rescue.
It transforms our human destiny and can transform our lives now..
In the next 3 weeks we will see how the death of Jesus
Redeems us from slavery
Removes our shame
Reconciles us to God and one another
this week we will see how by the death of Jesus we are rescued from judgement!
Judgement! Don’t like the sound of that.. But listen, just as the multi faceted beauty of a diamond is only truly seen when it is placed by the jeweler on a dark cloth - so the awesome significance and beauty of the cross can only be truly understood when seen against its dark background – the judgment of God. So you’ve got to go with it.
And so we turn to Mark 14, the garden of gethsemane and the night before Jesus is to die.. And we see that the death of this spiritual leader - Jesus- is utterly unique.
In his account of the death of Socrates, Plato tells us that “When he was handed his cup of hemlock Socrates received it cheerfully, without a tremor, without any change of colour or expression … [we’re told that Socrates rebuked his weeping friends with these words] ‘One should make one’s end in a tranquil frame of mind’ [and then he slowly drifted into unconsciousness.] The typical noble death of a great leader.
Well, things are almost the complete opposite here in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus’ friends sleep like babies. While he… writhes in unutterable anguish as the reality of his imminent death comes upon him. That word ‘troubled’ means ‘to be overcome with horror’ Don’t think too long about this illustration but sometimes with young children and busy roads i have a kind of premonition (it makes me very careful with my kids by busy roads) of one of my children being hit and killed by a car - and how would i feel - to see the blood - the lifeless body, the nausea, the fear, rising up to choke you. How would you feel if that was your loved one? OK now forget that image. But you see that’s horror. And that’s what Jesus Christ is experiencing here. That and something much worse.. v34 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” Do you see what he’s saying? That the anguish and torment he is seeing is so crushing it seems enough itself to kill him. He’s alarmed that he is about to die then and there from the sorrow! Luke’s account tells us that as Jesus wrestled with the temptation to flee from his Father’s will he began to sweat blood.
What is going on? How can the one who with a word could still the storm or raise the dead himself be scared of dying?? What is it that is so terrifying about this man’s death? Was Socrates braver than Jesus or were their cups filled with different poisons?
V35 Going a little farther he fell to the ground… “Abba father take this cup away from me.” Take this cup away from me.
What is this cup?
“The cup” throughout the Hebrew Scriptures is a symbol of divine judgment. Isaiah (Isaiah 51) speaks of the ‘cup of God’s wrath.’
In Psalm 75, the psalmist gives us a striking picture of it:
“In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; He pours it out and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs.”
Do you see it? A cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices. And to drink it is to drink down the very wrath of God.
In the prophet Jeremiah it gets even darker. Cos in Jeremiah 25 we are told that everyone is in line to drink from this cup.
“Take from my hand this cup filled with the wine of my wrath… You must drink it!.. I am calling down a sword (listen!) upon all who live on the earth, declares the LORD Almighty.”
we are all due to receive this cup foaming with the wine of God’s wrath and we all are to drink it down to its very dregs.
In many many places in the Old and New Testament the bible is clear about God as Judge and a day of judgement at the end of time for all.
Now we 21st C londoners are, perhaps understandably, deeply uncomfortable with the idea of divine judgement. the angry God who pours out his punishments. It is feared that if you believe in such a god then you too are likely to be violent, dangerous, bigoted.’ No, If we are gonna believe in any God at all we will believe in a God of love, of forgiveness not of anger and punishment. So we reject huge chunks of the Bible’s revelation of God.
In our liberal culture - we are appalled by ideas of punishment and retribution. Until that is we are the victims of some terrible crime and then everything changes. A good friend of mine was in Bosnia shortly after the war. She met a woman who had been the victim of terrible atrocities. she had watched her children raped and murdered in front of her. And the thing she wanted to know was.. ‘will there be justice? will there be a reckoning for those people who abused and murdered my children?’If my friend had only believed in the liberal God of love.. she would have had to say ‘no - there is no punishment. God just forgives all.’
Is that really a God of love? A weak by stander who shrugs at the pain of others. No, love and judgement are not opposites, they live together. love without judgement is not love at all! the true, loving God, rises up against all evil and will see to it that all wrongs are punished. Every hurt, every detail. Not in fly off the handle fits of rage. God, the perfect judge is perfectly measured in his infinite loving justice. And actually, contrary to popular opinion, if you believe in this God you are far less likely to be violent and dangerous yourself. It is the victim who does not believe in a loving God of justice who has to take bitter vengeance into his own hands!!
It is GOOD that God is a God of judgement. It is loving that he is. We cry out “Where is justice when the innocent are slaughtered? Where is justice for war criminals for paedophiles and rapists? Murderers and Home-wreckers? And the Answer:- It’s there foaming in that cup. The goblet of God’s fury is full of every wickedness humanity has ever conceived, all distilled down into the wine of His wrath.
Which means …..that it also contains God’s justice…. FOR YOU
… In that cup is God’s justice for your self-centredness and pride and wickedness and unbelief. In that cup is your arrogant refusal to bend the knee to Jesus Christ. … and mine. And this cup Must be drunk. God’s justice Will be meted out. He Will avenge His anger at human sin and rebellion. He’s not joking – sin IS serious and there will be an accounting.
And yet.. and yet… here in the garden – look who it is who’s going to drink the cup! God himself is about to drink it. The wine of God’s wrath is being passed from the Father to the Son. The reason Jesus came into the world – to take God’s anger at sin on himself in his suffering on the cross.
Here is a great exchange. A remarkable intervention; substitution. Humanity stands in line to drink from the cup of God’s wrath. We have sinned and justice will come. The cup Must be drunk. But Jesus intead comes and he takes the place of billions at the cross where he drinks and drinks and drinks of the cup until ‘it is finished’ – the sentence against us satisfied in him so that we are free, completely pardoned. justly justified!
the cross - the place of rescue.
if i am trusting Jesus by faith then through union with Christ my judgement has fallen on him and i will never suffer that but will know God forever.. The LOVE of God at the cross changes my eternal destiny once and for all.
but the love of God at the cross is also there to change ME in the here and now.. day by day, week by week. I need to keep coming back to the cross - to receive it’s health and healing into the core of my being.
I need to regularly visit Jesus here in Gethsemane.
The love of Jesus for you and for me.
Have you ever wondered - Why, here in Gethsemane, did God give Jesus this horrifying foretaste of what his death was going to be like? Wasn’t that a risk? Couldn’t Jesus have fled? Didn’t it mean that Jesus had to decide? To decide for God, to decide for us. .. ‘Not my will but your will. Your will be done…’ But that is precisely the point…
Jonathan Edwards, the new england puritan, in his great sermon ‘Christ’s agony’ puts it like this: ‘God brought him to the mouth of the furnace, to its raging flame to see where he was going so he could voluntarily enter into it and bear it for us, knowing what it was. So that when he took that cup on the cross, knowing what it was so was his love to us infinitely the more wonderful and his obedience to God infinitely the more perfect.’
Why did Jesus take the cup? Did he do it for his glory? he already had it. Did he do it for his Father’s approval? He already had it. There was only one thing he didn’t have - He didn’t have you. You were lost. He wanted you home. And He would rather lose himself than to lose you. Fully knowing what it would cost him. You are loved.
Do you see? This is the love you’ve been looking for all your life. No family love, no friend love, no mother love, no romantic love, no spousal love, no professional acclaim - approaches this. All those other loves if you rest your life upon them will let you down - this love will not.
All your sense and experience of being unloved, unwanted - Jesus takes that into himself on the cross and he exchanges it for his love for you. ‘I want you,’ he says.
All your desperate searching for approval which leads to all kinds of self centredness and addictions or over work and fear - Jesus takes that into himself on the cross and exchanges it for his love and approval. ‘I did this for you.’ he says ‘You are worth that much to me.’
All your anxiety about money and status and your future and your salvation - Jesus takes that into himself on the cross and exchanges it for his security and his status and his future. ‘You are mine’ he says.
All your desperate vain searching to fill your empty sense of self with possessions and pleasure and success - Jesus takes that on the cross and exchanges it for himself. He gives us himself to fill us.
What are the exchanges that you need to make at the cross?
Do we dare to prove God’s grace and stay at the cross long enough with our specific sins and pain and loss to make the exchange? To encounter God’s mercy and grace and love.
This is how we are changed at the cross. Grace transforms us. Our heart’s deepest need is to know the love of Christ.