Good Friday 2004
STANDING AT THE CROSS
9th April 2004
The men who used to draw the maps of the world in the time of Columbus, had the notion that the world was flat and spun round a centre post, and that central post was the Cross of Calvary. Certainly for this day, Good Friday, the whole Christian world revolves round the Cross of Christ. In every country of the world, people of different races, colours, cultures, education, and social and economic circumstances stand around the Cross.
It was so on the first Good Friday. The Gospels breathlessly take us from one scene to another as we glimpse the hurrying figures of people involved in the crucifixion. Each person going about their task with differing motive and each face lined with differing expressions. The whole gamut of human motivation can be read into their behaviour. The whole range of human emotions can be seen on their faces. Look at the motives and the emotions in the hurrying figures as they flit across this page of history: Peter the follower who boasted he would never betray Him but who did; Herod the murderous Roman puppet King; Judas the disciple who knew best and who became a betrayer; Pilate the bored Roman Governor whose wife wanted to change his mind; Caiaphas the High Priest who felt threatened by Jesus; Annas the former High Priest who pulled the strings of power; Mary the weaping widowed mother of Jesus; Cleopas the simple minded friend who did not understand what was happening; Joseph of Arimathea the secret believer who failed to use his influence; Simon from Cyrene the black man conscripted to carry the Cross; the shouting passers by who wanted blood; the furtive disciples hiding out of fear; the leering triumphant Pharisees; the scheming Sadducees; the cursing criminals; the tearful women, and as well the thieves, priests, a traitor, a judge, a governor, a king! Central to all the action is the quiet, suffering, powerful man who was crucified and who is the only reason any of the others are remembered today! What a kaleidoscope of human motives and human emotions! The same motivation and emotions can be found among people in our city today! Human nature has not changed excepted where the power of the crucified Christ has completely changed them. For the rest we find their counterparts with a kilometre or so of us now! It is not that they would picture themselves crucifying Christ afresh. Not even the people of that first Good Friday realised the impact the accumulation of their actions and attitudes would have. As Paul said: “None of the rulers of this world knew this wisdom of God. If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8 Rarely do we understand why we feel the way we do and the full consequences of what we do. If we understand the emotions and the attitudes of those responsible, then in our turn, we may know better. Who were around the foot of the Cross responsible for the crucifixion of Jesus Christ? Perhaps you have chosen a group that have the characteristics of yourself. As each group is mentioned, come and stand together round the foot of this great cross, listen to the litany of our sins, and pray for your own soul.
1. THE PRIESTS — the religious people.
The scriptures describe them: Mark 15:1-15, Matthew 26:57-68. Matthew 27:41-43.John 19:4-16. The Pharisees were priests born into leadership. They were good living men.
But they were hard, conservative, legalistic. Note their action: “They went out straightway to counsel together how they might destroy Jesus.” They were deliberately and coldly calculating how they might rid themselves of this man who did nothing but preach truth, care for the poor, lead others to God, and in so doing, threatened their whole power structure. Scripture says they feared “that this Jesus of Nazareth will tear down the Temple and change all the customs which have come down to us from Moses!” Acts 6:14 They were good living, moral men, but hard, legalistic, full of personal pride, and dependent upon keeping the traditions. Jesus threatened them because He revealed true religion, demonstrated concern for people and spoke with authority from the Scriptures, not of the traditions of human systems. We warn the church bureaucracy today against perpetuating these sins that brought Jesus to the Cross. Let the Church beware! Pray these sins might be cleansed from your life.
2. THE POLITICIANS — the community leaders.
The scriptures describe them: Matthew 27:11-26; Luke 23:6-12; John 18:28-40. The Sadducees were the politicians of that day. Old Annas was “ the Godfather” who made sure he still held power after his time of leadership was ended. He ensured his five sons followed him into power, and that now his son-in-law Caiphas was High Priest. They were an aristocratic party who used their money, position and power to perpetuate their own position. They did deals with the Romans ensuring that their own people would be kept subservient to Rome provided they were kept in power.
They ran the profitable Temple trade at huge profit.
Now Jesus came like a breath of fresh air. The captive Jews felt a new racial and religious respect. They wanted to be liberated and to make Jesus King. Jesus was a dreadful threat to entrenched privilege and power. Jesus strode into the Temple and overturned the moneychangers tables declaring: “It is written in the Scriptures that God said: “My Temple will be called a house of prayer”. But you are making it a hideout for thieves!’ That challenged the power and the wealth of the politicians. There could be no other option. Jesus had to be removed. Pray these sins might be cleansed from your life.
3. THE WOMEN — the symphathisers.
The scriptures describe them: Luke 23:27-31; John 19:25-27; Mark 15:40-41; Matthew 27:55-61. No more tragic group of people stood round the cross than those tearful women. There was Mary, the widowed mother of Jesus, for whom in His own suffering He had a special word, asking His dearest friend John to take care of her. There was Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, Joanna, Salome, the wife of Cleopas, and the mother of John Mark in whose Upper Room the Passover had been eaten. Other unnamed women supported the disciples with money and food. There were women who had wept on the Via Dolorosa, on the Way of Sorrows. Jesus had spoken to them quite sharply: “Women of Jerusalem! Don’t cry for me, but for yourselves and your children!” Their self-pity and empty mourning would help perpetuate such suffering and rejection. He asks not for pity but for changed lives. Pray these sins might be cleansed from your life.
4. THE SOLDIERS — the workers.
The scriptures describe them: John 18:12-14,19-24; Matthew 27:27- 38; Luke 22:63; John 19:16-24; Matthew 27:54; John 19:31-24. The soldiers were typical of all the ordinary people whose jobs involved them in the crucifixion of Jesus. They include the Roman soldiers who nailed Jesus to the Cross; the Temple Guards who arrested Jesus in the Garden and had treated him roughly before the trials.
There were the carpenters, tree-fellers and workmen who had made the Cross without thinking of their part in the wider crime against humanity. They cry with the concentration camp doctors, the comrades of Stalin, the mindless teenagers of Pol Pot’s Killing Fields, the scientists behind the atomic bomb, the terrorists of Saddam Hussein, Al Qaeda, and Osama Bin Laden, the chemists who are making the new germ warfare — “It is not our fault! We are simply doing our job! Blame the politicians, the generals, the leaders, but don’t blame us because we are just doing our job!”
“Three workmen fashioning a Cross on which a fourth must die. Yet not one of them the other asked, “And why? And why? And why?” They simply said, “This is our business, our living we must earn, what happens to the other bloke is none of our concern.””
Their complacency and self-centredness can crucify the Son of God afresh! Pray these sins might be cleansed from your life.
5. THE DISCIPLES — the supporters.
The scriptures describe them: Matthew 26:36-46;69-75; Mark 14:50- 52; Matthew 27:3-8. Of all people, the intentions of the disciples were good. They had left their all to follow Jesus. They had spent three years learning from Him, but when the crunch came, they each thought they knew better. Jesus asked three of them to watch and pray with Him in the garden, but they fell asleep at their prayers. Judas made a deliberate choice to force Jesus to make a move. Peter said he would never deny Him, but faced with exposure and imprisonment, he also denied. The others forsook Him and fled. They had potential as seen later when Jesus came to them in resurrection power, and the Spirit of God fell upon them. But here before the cross, they crumbled. We who follow the way of Jesus are often so weak under pressure. Pray these sins might be cleansed from your life.
6. THE PASSERS-BY — the bystanders.
The scriptures describe them: Matthew 26:55-56; Matthew 27: 32;39- 40; Luke 23:35-36; Matthew 27:45-50; Luke 23:48-49. Crowds of people can change attitude as easily as they change membership. The crowds that roar approval in the sporting stadium can later boo the same player. On Palm Sunday a crowd gathered in the streets of Jerusalem to cheer the arrival of Jesus. On Good Friday they gathered in the street and roared: “Crucify him!” Different times, different places, different reasons and probably different crowds. But as the crowds past by, they jeered and mocked and made the wounds of Christ break out in fresh agony.
Bystanders are easily lead. Aging dictators manipulate the crowds in every country. They are easily led because they are indifferent to the needs of others, possess a lust for blood and get carried along with vague promises. Pray these sins might be cleansed from your life.
As Paul said: “If they had known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” 1 Corinthians 2:8 How rarely do we understand why we act the way we do. In the cross of Christ you can see bigotry and immaturity, the love of power and position, pride and materialism, self-centredness and indifference, self-pity and gullibility. These are the sins of all of us standing round the Cross.
TIME magazine this week asks, “Why did Jesus die?” The answer: Religious intolerance, commercial privilege, political expediency, pleasure loving irresponsibility, unfaithfulness, the mob spirit, militarism, and public apathy. These sins crucified Jesus.
Were you around the Cross also? Confess your sins so that never again they may so dominate your life that in the sufferings of the poor, the rebel, the different, or the spirit-filled, your sins may have played a part as you were standing around the Cross.