This service is very unusual, isn’t it? It’s uncomfortable. We are used to walking into this room with handshakes, hugs, high fives, and even a holy kiss or two. But tonight we gather in silence and in darkness. Why?
A Question at Passover: Why is this night different than all other nights?
We could ask this question of tonight’s gathering too. We could wonder why the darkness, why the silence, why the somber tone, and why all the focus on the cross? We need this focus desperately. Why? We forget how great our need is. We forget how great our God is. We forget how foolish are our little attempts at religion and ‘doing the right thing’.
Fr Robert Farrar Capon:
“I think good preachers should be like bad kids. They ought to be naughty enough to tiptoe up on dozing congregations, steal their bottles of religion pills, spirituality pills, and morality pills, and flush them all down the drain. The church, by and large, has drugged itself into thinking that proper human behavior is the key to its relationship with God. What preachers need to do is force it to go cold turkey with nothing but the word of the cross—and then be brave enough to stick around while it goes through the inevitable withdrawal symptoms.”
We need this. Because what happened on this day 2000 years ago was for us. It’s why we sing “My glory all the cross”
The suffering of Jesus is central to who we are as Christians. There it is, right at the heart of the Apostles Creed:
“Suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell.” – The Apostles Creed
Why is this suffering different than all the other crucifixions in Roman history? The Romans were very good at crucifixion: they slew thousands in this way, reserving its tortures for their most despised enemies and the lowest castes. Jesus was just one of these. Why does his suffering stand out in history?
Let me offer two answers to that question. First, the uniqueness of Jesus’ identity, and, secondly, the uniqueness of his internal suffering.
The Uniqueness of Jesus’ Identity
Because God hath suffered, we have glory. Because the God of glory was willing to become the sacrifice he commanded, because the One who made the oceans came to thirst, and the one created life was willing to die, you and I will see fulfilled the promise ‘There will be no more night.’
Note: “God hath suffered” – Christ is God come in the flesh (John 1). The Romans had slain tens of thousands of humans, but they’d never crucified God.
God – our God – is the crucified God, the suffering God.
“I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross.’ In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? …’The cross of Christ … is God’s only self-justification in such a world” as ours….’ – John Stott
‘The other gods were strong, but thou wast weak; they rode, but thou didst stumble to a throne; but to our wounds, only God’s wounds can speak, And not a god has wounds, but thou alone.” – Edward Shillito, Jesus of the Scars
The Uniqueness of Jesus’ Suffering
MORE THAN PHYSICAL SUFFERING: This horror was certainly physical, but it was far more than that.
“The anguish of his soul…” – Isaiah 53
It was psychic. It was spiritual. It was social.
In other words, there was no dimension of human brokenness and pain left untouched by the sufferings of Jesus.
* This means real forgiveness is possible and freely given.
– The example of the Coptic Bishop writing to those who’d murdered their brothers and sisters, writing that he loved them, prayed for them, and forgave them.
How is this possible? Because from that cross Jesus said of those who crucified him, “Father forgive them, they know not what they are doing.” That is love and mercy. And it extends to us. You heard the worship team ask in song, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord?” Let me answer by saying, “I was there. I was there in the cowardice of Pilate; I was there in the betrayal of Judas; I was here in the denials of Peter; I was there in the religious leaders who accused and mocked him; I was there in the soldiers who callously went about their business and nailed him to the cross and gambled for his remaining possessions. I was there. As the hymn says, ‘It was MY sin that held him there.'”
This means, however, that Jesus looks on me tonight and says, “Father, forgive him.”
This sets before us a choice tonight, seen in the men crucified either side of Jesus.
One mocked and scorned the Savior. The other, incredibly, believed.
And what was Jesus’ answer to this dying sinner’s request ‘remember me when you come in your kingdom’? Did Jesus reply, “Let me think about it.” No! “Today – TODAY – you will be with me in Paradise.” What a Gospel.
Tonight in the stillness and darkness I invite you to the foot of the cross, to saving love that offers itself for you and to you. If you have not already done so, I urge you to place your hope squarely and fully on the person of the Crucified God. If you have already done so, then let us together sing the glory of this matchless, undying love.
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