Almighty and Everlasting God, with Paul we pray that you would fill us with the knowledge of Your will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding – that we may live a life worthy of you and in every way pleasing to you – a life in which we bear fruit in every good work, and acquire strength, endurance, patience and a joyful heart – a heart that gives thanks to you in every situation. We thank you for what you reveal to us through the study of Your Word as we continue in our search for the truth. That our peace may be made full. Amen.
What if Christ had indeed hopped down from the cross?
It is said that “one of the great, unique features of Christianity is that it is a religion of God coming down to us, totally unlike other religions where we have to raise ourselves up to a godly plane. Christianity is light shining in the darkness. It is not the darkness trying to become light…”
Many of us struggle with the Christian life, the whole “nailing the old self to the cross with Christ” – it is a constant battle to “Be holy, as I am holy”. Wouldn’t it be nice if the Bible asked us to “Be self-righteous…”? But no… we are called to be holy, to be vessels of His light, and all the while the spiritual man within us battles against “the dark side”.
Did I say I nailed my old self on the cross with Christ? Face it, while Biblically my old self is reckoned dead at Calvary, this morning, as I woke up, it reared it’s ugly head, it was still alive and kicking and in need of being nailed back on that cross again and told to “stay there”… so that I can be a loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, and faithful Christian, filled with gentleness, humility and above all with control over myself, my mind, my emotions, my reactions, and my desires.
So, what can we learn from today’s readings?
Let’s consider Luke 23:
We all know the reading well, Jesus at Calvary (the Skull), how He was mocked and challenged to get down off the Cross, and of those eternal words that are engraved on our hearts: “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”
This morning I want to consider the implications of “What if…”.
What if… Christ had not said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do”?
What if Christ, having said in Gethsemane “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.”, had then reached the Cross and come down from it as challenged to do by the Pharisees and religious leaders, by the Roman soldiers, by the thief nailed with him? Judgement day arrived early…
How would our Bible read today if these events were not as recorded in Luke 23? What would it mean to be a follower of Christ, if Christ hadn’t died on that cross? There would be no books of Acts, the Epistles… would the book of Revelations have been written? What would have become of Peter, who denied Christ 3 times? What would have become of doubting Thomas? Would he then have believed?
I want to start by looking at our concept of forgiveness, and the influence that Christ’s forgiveness, right at that crucial moment has on us: How would you interpret Isaiah 38:17 “…in love you have delivered my life from the pit of destruction, for you have cast all my sins behind your back.”, if Jesus hadn’t died on the cross? How far behind God’s back would you say He had cast your sins? Would you really believe that God was a forgiving God; that He forgives and forgets?
If Christ had been silent at that moment, I could say, “I’m not making amends, It’s her fault, she has to say sorry first”, or “I’m the one that’s hurt and offended, I’m the victim here, Why do I always have to be the one to say Sorry and I forgive you?”.
But no, Jesus had to go and ruin it all for us, and put the bar very, very high… No arrogance. No pride. No bitterness. Just forgiveness. An outpouring of love.
When you look at the gospels, Jesus was always preaching forgiveness: to the paralytic Jesus said “Friend, your sins are forgiven you”; to the woman caught in adultery: “woman, your sins are forgiven”; in prayer: “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us”.
Daniel 9:9 tells us “The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him”. What kind of merciful and forgiving God would you believe in, if not for the example of Christ? Psalms 103:12 “As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.”
In Matthew 18:22 Christ responds to Peter when asked about forgiveness: “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” So, when another person offends us, we are to forgive that person for that one offence 490 times (in a single day), and if today he repeats the office, I have to forgive him once more 490 times. It’s a state of being, not an action. Not something I say.
My perception of what forgiveness is has been shaped by Christ’s forgiveness on the cross. His compassion. His empathy. His understanding.
Christ could see that the soldiers were following orders; they didn’t know who he was or what he was; trained to survive wherever they were stationed.
Christ saw Pharisees and Scribes that had spent years studying “the Law”, but that never allowed the law to change them on the inside. They had head knowledge, but no heart knowledge. And even though they had orchestrated his death, he still felt compassion for them. He was able to look further than what they were doing to him right at that moment in time… He was clear about God’s will and his role in fulfilling it.
Christ saw a thief and murderer who was scared, who was hardened by the life he had chosen, … and who would use bravado to cover his fear. That like a dog that is backed into a corner, will lash out and attack another, rather than show how vulnerable he really is.
And Christ forgave.
Without this moment, without this event, we would never have had Acts 7:60 (Stephen, being stoned): “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” Where would Stephen have learnt this kind of forgiveness, if not from Christ? And the apostle Paul, that day a young Pharisee looking on and approving the stoning, holding the coats of those killing Stephen, what would have become of him? There would have been no apostle Paul if there was not Christ dying on the cross.
Would we (gentiles) have the news of the gospel of Christ if Stephen had not been stoned to death and been able to forgive those that were doing so? Would salvation have only been, then, for the Jews? Without the Apostle Paul, what New Testament Epistles would we have? What would replace: Ephesians 4: 31-32: 31 “Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” What would become of Colossians 3:13 “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.”
Matthew 6:14-15 tells us: “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.” Mark 11:25 “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.”
Where would we be without Hebrews 12: 14 and 15? “14 Follow peace with all men, and holiness, … 15 Looking diligently … lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you…” If I fail to forgive, bitterness will take root in my heart…
When we withhold forgiveness, we imprison ourselves. Jesus understood the power of forgiveness: it frees me and the person that I have forgiven. Forgiveness: in Greek, the power to loose, to free, to cast off chains.
Philip Yancy tells of an immigrant rabbi: “Before coming to America, I had to forgive Adolf Hitler”. “Why?” you might ask. The rabbi went on: “I did not want to bring Hitler inside me to my new country.”
When I fail to forgive, I carry that person (and the bitterness) inside me. I build the walls of my own prison. And so today, I am thankful to Christ for His forgiveness.
But what if… Christ had hopped down from the Cross that day, if he had given the Roman soldiers and the Pharisees “what for…”, what religion would we have today? What of… bowing to God’s will and counting the cost?
Mark 8:34 and Matthew 16:24 tell us “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.” What would that mean to you today, if Christ had hopped down from the cross on that day and demonstrated his power?
What would have happened to the veil in the temple, hiding the holy of holies from the human eye? Would it have been ripped in two that day? Would we believe in direct access to God, or burnt sacrifices, incense and offering atonement for sins? Or would that just be for the children of Israel, with all of us living with our pagan beliefs? Would we believe in a loving and forgiving God, that is holy and found the way to reconcile us to Himself?
Without Luke 23: 33-43 there would be no book of Philippians, chapter 2, verses 5 to 8: Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, … made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, … he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.”
What if, instead of that, we had Christ on the cross saying: “ok, cut the crap! I am here to enforce God’s will and deliverance! You think you’re big strong soldiers? You think your swords and spears scare me? You have no authority over me. You don’t REALLY think you can kill me do you? Let me show you who’s really Boss…” Would lightning have sprung from the sky? Would the angels have slain all present? Would Christ have judged all those that deserved judgment? Think of the implications: No more Pharisees, no more Roman invasion of Israel… no more freedom from sin through that blood sacrifice.
So… Why doesn’t Jesus save himself? He can raise the dead, walk on water, heal the sick, turn water into wine… Why not jump down? Jesus wasn’t a miracle worker. He’s not an entertainer; He wasn’t here to amuse and amaze.
Remember Luke 4:9-13? Then the devil took (Jesus) to Jerusalem, and placed him on a high pinnacle of the temple saying, “If you are the son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written: ‘He will command his angels, concerning you, to protect you,’ and ‘On their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.’ Jesus answered him, “It is said, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test.’”
If … you are who you say you are… If… you are the Son of God… If you have the power… and yet, Jesus rejects this temptation.
What does it mean to believe in a Saviour who doesn’t save himself?
I would like to have a saviour who would come to the rescue, kill the bad guys, cure the disease, end the injustice, and solve every painful circumstance. But salvation is not an event – it’s not a miracle that rescues us from pain.
Salvation is about re-establishing our relationship with God, about becoming a vessel of light. It has nothing to do with the circumstances in which we find ourselves. Am I sitting in fields of green, surrounded by sunshine and happiness? Great! But how’s my faith? Am I suffering from the death of a loved one, the prolonged illness of a parent or child? Terrible… but how is my relationship with the Everlasting?
Is there commitment? – founded on the hope, wholeness and well-being that comes from being grounded in my faith. Jesus was here to show us the way to a relationship with God, a relationship that endures, survives and persists through all the ups and downs of my changing circumstances.
It wasn’t about power: ¿Remember that Peter drew his sword the night before, to protect his Christ and leader? And Jesus’ response: “Put the sword into the sheath; the cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?”
We often have the power to do things differently – we’re in a situation where we know we’re right, “I know someone that can make you do it”. The nice thing about power is that when you have it, you can use it. Or you convince others that you have it, and then you don’t actually have to use it. But if someone isn’t convinced that you really have the power, that you really can make them minced meat, then sometimes we feel “forced” to show our hand, just to shut them up.
If Christ had not obeyed God’s will on that day, would my obedience to God be optional? Is it convenient? Do I feel like it? Is the cost too high? Can I stay in my comfort zone?
To be followers of Christ means that we deny ourselves, we obey God’s commands, even when it’s to our detriment, when the personal cost to ourselves is high.
We who follow Christ are the difference in the world: the ones that kneel down and wash another’s feet. We cannot discriminate. We are no longer to follow our every whim and addiction, living capriciously or aimlessly. We are to care for those less fortunate than ourselves, with generosity of spirit for all.
As a follower of Christ, we forgive the drunk driver who killed our son or daughter in a hit and run accident (and we pray for him); we forgive our sister for those bitter and twisted words that she said in a moment of anger and pain, we have empathy and do not hold it against her; we forgive the boss that curses us and take a moment to say a prayer for him and his family.
We read in Jeremiah that God promises to gather together the remnant of His flock, to raise shepherds over them, that we should fear no longer, or be dismayed or have anything missing. This deliverance: YHWH Tsidkenu – the Lord is our righteousness. Righteousness, when it refers to God, speaks to His nature, the saving and healing activity of God. God shows His righteousness by making us whole, by forgiving us, keeping His promises to us. The true purpose of our liberation and our freedom is to worship and serve God without fear.
Colossians reminds us that we are to be made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power, prepared to endure everything with patience (even when it’s unjust mocking and abuse), while joyfully giving thanks to our everlasting, ever loving Creator. We are to share in the inheritance of saints in the light – allowing the light to shine through us, remembering that our God has rescued us from the darkness, that we have redemption and the forgiveness of sin.
Jehovah Tsidkenu, before all things, is our source of healing and empowerment. We are not expected to do it on our own.
Our joy is not the power of influence and control, but the power of love that flows brings transformation. Love lies at the heart of the universe and is God’s wisdom and will. And that is what we see when we visualise Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, being mocked by the soldiers, by the religious leaders, by the thief at his side.
We see that Jesus, the one that could forgive; He gives us the hope of our salvation and freedom from the chains of bitterness, envy, pride, arguing, hatred and strife. Freedom from the darkness within us… to be vessels of light… and for this we are thankful.