Sermon Series – April 20, 2014 Easter-9:00 am

“WHAT DID JESUS DO?”

6. “When Jesus Died-and Rose Again”

Easter Sunday April 20, 2014-9:00 a.m.

 

Men and woman crowded into the hall. The time and the place were given over to enjoyment and cheer. The entertainers gave their best. The evening neared its end. The people were soldiers…American soldiers. The year…2005…the war in Afghanistan. One of the soldiers stepped forward to express thanks to those who had provided the entertainment. He did so; then abruptly added: “As you know, tomorrow we will be shipping out. We’re scheduled to go into battle immediately. Soon we’ll be in the war. Many of us will be going to our deaths. Will any of our friends here tell us how to die?”………….

I don’t know if anyone told them, or not. But it’s a good question. Situations vary widely, but the fact is, that all people die. Death is a certain, inevitable, inescapable and guaranteed experience. All of us are born, and by virtue of that very fact, all of us have received at our birth the sentence of death…and then been granted a short reprieve. “We, too, shall pass away.”…….

I am drawn by what might well be catalogued as “Famous Last Words.”

Gene Smith, in “The Last years of Woodrow Wilson” describes the president’s death…….

“Dr. Grayson stayed when the other doctors left. Late that night, after the fog came in and covered “S” Street, and the reporters shivered in front of the dimly lit house.

Grayson said to his patient what the truth was: that he was dying. Woodrow Wilson listened and breathed, ‘I am a broken piece of machinery. When the machinery is broken….’ his voice grew weak. There was a silence in the sick room…..Then the president said, ‘I am ready.’”1

How different the picture painted by Walter Thompson who followed World War II wrote: “The war in Europe was now approaching its final phase. In attempting to escape, Mussolini was captured by anti-Fascists and executed, but not before he begged for his life. ‘Only spare my life and I will give you an empire!’ “That was his last sentence. Then he was shot.” 2

 

I cannot vouch for their authenticity, but according to a list I have seen the last words of some other well known persons were these:

Ludwig von Beethoven… “Friends applaud, the comedy is finished.”

Joseph Addison…. “See how calmly a Christian can die.”

President William McKinley…. “Nearer, my God to thee.”

George Washington…. “I am not afraid to go.”

The martyred Zwingli… “They can slay only the body, not the soul.”

Telegraph inventor/Samuel F.B. Morse… “The best is yet to come.”

Thomas Alva Edison….”It is beautiful over there.”…………

 

I don’t suppose there is a Christian pulpit in the world but that has touted Jesus as an example of how to live. This one is no exception. During Lent this year, we’ve been looking at things Jesus did. We’ve asked: “What Did Jesus Do?” Hopefully, we have answered with what Jesus did when he was tempted. We’ve regarded the fashion in which Jesus looked at other people. We’ve enquired as to the how of his prayer life, and the what of his preaching and teaching. On last Sunday…Palm Sunday….we saw him in the midst of a demonstration. These experiences are not unique to Jesus. For the most part, they are the common lot of us all. We, too, are tempted.

We, too, are daily, hour by hour, even moment by moment, in contact with people. Some of us pray; though some may not. Some preach; and if not by words, then certainly by our lives we all teach. It’s a pretty sheltered soul who has never taken part in any demonstration! There’s one proposition in the Lenten sermon series remaining to be explored. “What did Jesus do…when he died?”

 

And just as we may learn things…important and helpful things…by seeing what Jesus did as he faced up to the experiences involved in living….experiences you and I share….so, too, we may be helped by seeing what Jesus did…and hearing what Jesus said….His last words…when He died.

 

The hard, the brutal, even the vicious reality of his death was vividly brought out in the articles by Dr. Truman Davis, perhaps you and I are in similar a situation to that author who confessed: “I suddenly realized that I had taken the crucifixion for granted all these years; that I had grown callous to its horror by a too easy familiarity with the grim details, and a too distant friendship with Him.” Davis reminds us of the anguish even in Gethsemane: “…being in agony, He prayed longer. “…His sweat became as drops of blood, trickling down upon the ground.” Later, before the high priest: “A soldier struck Jesus across the face…the palace guards… “spat on Him and struck Him…”

“Battered and bruised, dehydrated and exhausted…Jesus is taken…to Pilate…to Herod…and returned to Pilate.

 

“Stripped of his clothing…a short whip of heavy leather thongs with…small balls of lead attached…is brought down with full force again and again…across Jesus’ shoulders, backs and legs…it cuts through the skin…produces large, deep bruises…the entire area is …. a mass of torn, bloody tissue….the prisoner is near death….the beating is finally stopped.

A small bundle of branches covered with thorns….are twisted into a crown….and pressed into His scalp. They strike him across the head…they tie the heavy wooden beam of the cross…across Jesus’ shoulders. The procession begins…Jesus stumbles and falls…the weight of the heavy wooden beam is too much…Simon of Cyrene, now carries the cross. “The crucifixion begins. Jesus is offered wine mixed with myrrh, a mild analgesic…He refuses the drink…Simon is ordered to place the cross-arm on the ground…Jesus is quickly thrown backward with His shoulders against the wood…The legionnaire…drives heavy, square, wrought iron nails through the wrists and deep into the wood…The left foot is pressed backward against the right foot and with both feet extended, toes down, a nail is driven through both ankles…The victim is now crucified…” The cross is raised, and the lower portion dropped into a hole in the earth it is steadied, and then stabilized.

The physical details as outlined by the doctor as we are caught up in the agony, and the excruciating pain of it all.

 

But shift your focus now…How did Jesus die? With all of that agony, Yes! But also with this: with seven words, seven last words, or more accurately, seven phrases and sentences, seven words which testify to the validity of all that Christ has done, all that Christ has taught, and all that Christ has been. We have listened to what Jesus said…when he taught, but “Now the teaching of Jesus ceases to be a theory, and becomes reality. Word 1– In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord commands us to love our enemies. On the cross dying, he obeys his own command.

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord tells us to do good to those who spitefully use us;

On the cross, dying, he follows his own teaching.

 

In the Sermon on the Mount, our Lord instructs us that forgiveness is the hallmark of discipleship; On the cross, dying, he illustrates his own instruction,”

Word 1-“Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.”

We have seen the compassion with which Jesus looked at people during his life. Now we see him dying and hear him say to the thief, a revolutionary, an outcast…who cries out to Him: “Lord, remember me….”

Word 2- “Yes, today you shall be with me in Paradise.” Care for people?

There is His mother, standing at the foot of the cross; standing there “with sorrow…too deep for tears. We can only surmise what she felt as she saw her son hanging there near death…But we know what He felt…” a love, a loyalty, a caring, and figuratively, a hand outstretched from those hands immobilized on the cross by the nails.

Word 3-“Woman, behold your son. Son, behold your mother.” In other words: “John, my beloved friend, take good care of her whom I love so much.”

Word 4-but for today, that word, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” it’s question understood when you hear not the question that you and I would have asked under similar circumstances:

 

“Why does God do this to me?” but rather, “My God, my God…”

A question addressed to that God whom Jesus, even in loneliness, his loneliness, his feeling of being forsaken, confirms as His God yet; surely knowing that when He asks the question, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?”

The truth is, “That soul, though all hell should endeavor to shake, I’ll never, no never, no never forsake.” But, oh, the humanness of it all.

Indeed, do you think with some ancient heretics that Jesus was some otherworldly figure who was never truly human, never really like us, never truly involved in the pain and grief of life or death, because he was never truly man?

Not so. Not so……..

“Of all the needs of the human body, thirst is far and away the most agonizing….Thirst is like a consuming fire…The most intense agony a person can know, is to feel his tongue thickened and his throat parched from lack of water.”

 

Word 5- “I thirst.” He was one of us all right.

Word 6- “It is finished.” And this word, too, may be quite different from what you think it is. It is no cry of weakness and defeat. It is no confirming evidence that, as is so often true for us, that the world has proved too much for us, too much in those days for the Christ. Rather, you remember the record states that Jesus cried, “with a loud voice”: “It is finished! Achieved! Accomplished! “No weak admission here that, thank God, it’s all over with now. But rather, the triumphant assertion that the job which was to be done has been completed…”

That the work that his Father God had wanted him to do on earth has been accomplished. It is finished. And the cross itself has become what Jesus makes of it as “with every flag proudly waving, with every banner still flying defiantly, the ship is brought safely to port.” It is finished!

 

And at the last, that prayer….that prayer which Jesus must have learned at his mother’s knee, just as you and I learned, “Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray Thee, Lord, my soul to keep…”

At the last, Jesus prays…

Word 7- “Father, into Thy hands, I commit my spirit.”

 

But this last word from the cross…is no mere echo of a childhood prayer, nor is it merely a lesson for dying. ‘Father, into Thy hands, I commit my spirit,’ is the secret of victorious living to be renewed every day that we live.

 

“Do we face up to problems that we seemingly cannot solve? Into Thy hands.

Do we experience such sorrows; such grief’s so heavy that we cannot possibly bear them? Into Thy hands.

Do we face temptations stronger than we can possibly endure? Into Thy hands.

Is life with its many complications simply too much for us? Into Thy hands.

Are we starting across the great sea of eternity wondering what lies on the other Shore? Into Thy hands.

 

Do you want to know not only how to live, but how to die? Have we not all sang this song? “Put your hand in the hand of the Man who stilled the water; Put your hand in the hand of the man who calmed the sea….Put your hand in the hand of the Man of Galilee.”

“What did Jesus do…when He died?” That’s what He did. That’s how He faced up to dying. And then He crowned it all; God crowned it all, by raising Him from the dead.

 

Sermons on the resurrection you have heard, here and elsewhere, Easter after Easter. What Jesus did after He rose again is also on record. And as He said: “Because I live, you, too, shall live.”

But after that: to know also how to die…with the ability to forgive everybody; with love for all human kind….those near in your own family and those to the uttermost parts of the earth; with face and faith turned to God, even in the midst of whatever agony and pain death brings to you; with whatever work we have been able to do offered up as a reasonable offering of thanksgiving to God, for the gift of life; then, with trust and confidence, praying the prayer, “Father, into Thy hands, I commit my spirit.”

 

That’s the way Jesus lived. And that’s how He died. That’s what Jesus did….Hopefully, for our living, for our dying, for our living again, so may we.

Amen.

 

 

(1-When the Cheering Stopped pp.225-226)

(2-“Assignment Churchill” p. 304)

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