May 1, 2017

Good Friday - Luke 23:26-32

Jesus is Lord and Savior for all Walks of Life
The Powerful: The Jews
The Strong: Simon
The Helpless: The Thieves
The Sorrowful: The Women

In the name of Jesus, the Author and Finisher of your faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame.

Luke 23:26-32 Now as they led Him away, they laid hold of a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, who was coming from the country, and on him they laid the cross that he might bear it after Jesus. 27 And a great multitude of the people followed Him, and women who also mourned and lamented Him. 28 But Jesus, turning to them, said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for Me, but weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 "For indeed the days are coming in which they will say,`Blessed are the barren, wombs that never bore, and breasts which never nursed!' 30 "Then they will begin`to say to the mountains, "Fall on us!" and to the hills, "Cover us!"' 31 "For if they do these things in the green wood, what will be done in the dry?" 32 There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.

This Lenten season we have witnessed the work of our Savior as a path He walked for us – From Gabbatha to Golgotha. This evening the path ends, but not before we consider His final steps. The walk through the city of Jerusalem is often called the “Way of Sorrows,” the “Via Dolorosa” in the Latin. On the way, as we see Jesus, we also see ourselves, as does the rest of the world. The Cross reveals that Jesus is Lord and Savior for all walks of life. We think of four this evening as we see them in our text: The Powerful, The Strong, The Weak, and The Sorrowful. 

The Powerful: The Jews and Romans    

So often, the course of the world is fashioned by the powerful. Those with the most control dictate what happens. Those without power are lost to the sands of time. But, this is what makes the Passion of Christ a beautiful and compelling thing. The story was dictated by the poorest and lowliest person – Jesus. In fact, the whole course of History was changed by this seemingly weak person.

The Jewish mobs were the ones in power that day. We know that official authority rested with Pilate, but one wonders, who actually has more power – the one with the soldiers or the one who controls the one with the soldiers? There’s little doubt that Jesus’ opponents were thrilled at what as unfolding. They had tried to kill Him already. For years they plotted among themselves. And the day had finally come. The culmination of all their efforts – or was it?

If it seemed too easy to kill Jesus, it’s because it was. He willingly walked this path. Things did not go so smoothly because the mob had executed a perfect plan. Far from it. By the end of the trial they were grasping at attempts to accuse Jesus. Their testimony did not line up. Their main accusation wasn’t worthy of death. It was a complete mess, yet in their minds the planets seemed to align themselves to this fate. But this was far from the truth. Jesus had already told them, “I could call to my Father and He would send me 12 legions of angels.” He told Pilate, “You could have no power over Me unless it had been given to you from above.”

The plan worked because Jesus made it work, not because His opponents were so powerful. He walked the path, pressed down and burdened as He was, but He walked it nonetheless. Because He had to for them and for us. The power of men means nothing when faced with sin. Power can change minor things here on earth. But, it has no strength in the face of death and eternity. The very One which the powerful put to death was their Lord and Savior too. He willingly offered up His life for theirs.

Part 2: The Strong: Simon

The powerful put the strong to work, likewise the soldiers compel Simon to carry the cross. What does this reference to Simon really add to our text? Perhaps it was meant to show us the extreme fatigue and agony that Jesus was under. Why mention Simon by name, or his sons as another account does? Some say Simon became a prominent believer. Most importantly, what does this add to our Savior’s work? There are those who say that it gives us a teachable moment about the importance of working with God when it comes to salvation. That just as Simon participated in his redemption by assisting with the cross, so also today’s Christians assist with various acts of service for their salvation. But, that clearly doesn’t fit the truth either. In the end we don’t know exactly, but what this does add to the story is a bit of humanity.

It tells the story of a random face in the crowd and how his life intersected with Jesus’. It shows us that you don’t have to be a superstar celebrity to see the Savior. But it also shows us that no matter how strong we may be, we need this fatigued, crumpled, exhausted Redeemer in our place.

Simon’s strength is not the lesson; it’s Jesus’ humanity. It shows the fact that He was truly suffering in this moment and that His humanity was necessary to atone for our sins. It’s true that in some ways we display God’s light and righteousness in our lives. We, too, can serve our Lord Jesus. We see ourselves in Simon to some extent. But, strong as we may be in our faith, we can never do everything. Only Jesus could complete the Way of Sorrows.

Part 3: The Helpless: The Thieves

The last verse of our text tells us about the thieves who also walked the path of sorrows. Luke will tell us more about these two individuals, including the conversion of the repentant thief in the next chapter. Perhaps, of anyone there that day, they were the closest to knowing what Jesus experienced. Of all the emotions they felt, helplessness had to be near the top of the list. A painful and agonizing death awaited them. This walk to the cross was the final moment of some semblance of peace and tranquility in their lives, even though they surely received threats and insults from the crowd.

There’s always a feeling of helplessness as one considers and reflects upon mistakes made in life. This is especially true of the Christian, who seeks to do good, yet continually backslides. But, there is an ultimate feeling of helplessness, when you commit a mistake from which there is no going back. If you’ve ever seen an interview with an inmate on death row, you know what I’m talking about. There is always guilt connected with doing wrong, but usually there is a way out in the end. You may have to suffer a penalty, but there is light at the end of the tunnel. Not so, for these thieves. Their lives would be taken. Their time on earth was rapidly coming to an end. They were completely helpless.

And yet, Jesus changes it entirely. The story of the repentant thief is one of the most joyful and beloved parts of the Bible. For through the cross, Jesus conquered the helplessness of his sins. The message for us is to heed the warning just as much as the repentant thief did. The sins we commit are just as damning before God as the ones he did which led to death on the cross. God wants us to be as terrified at the prospect of our sins as those walking the Way of Sorrows were. Guilt is certainly a factor in that fear, but I propose that even guilt itself is not as strong as complete helplessness. Have you felt that way about sin lately? Does it make you feel like death by crucifixion is the only path before you? It should, because that’s precisely where all sin leads. Although there are often many ways out of the consequences we earn for ourselves, the cross was the only path before our Savior. Just as we are helpless, so He had no other options.

By dying on that cursed tree, Jesus took it out of our path. We have another option in place of our helplessness, hope with God. Hope for forgiveness. Hope for eternal life. And as we sang earlier this Lenten season, so we have hope, “When other helpers fail and comforts flee, Help of the helpless, O, Abide with Me!”

Part 4: The Sorrowful: The Women

Finally, the majority of our verses focus on the final group we consider – the sorrowful. This phrase reflects their disposition and is named as such partly because of their countenance. But, Jesus rebukes them. It’s not that sorrow wasn’t a theme of the day. Certainly, anyone who thinks of the toll taken on Christ is struck with sorrow, how much more so having witnessed it! Jesus’ message is that they shouldn’t stop there. There’s more to Good Friday than sorrow, or any of the other emotions we’ve talked about tonight.

Jesus reminds the women that a time will come that is much worse for them. He describes the coming siege and destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans. One of the very reasons why Jesus was sent to the cross was to appease the growing tension between the Jews and the Romans. But, it wouldn’t be a fix, in fact, what the people did to Jesus only reflected the great wickedness present, a wickedness that would continue to grow until the city was destroyed. How fitting that the Jews asked for Barabbas, the rebel and insurrectionist, to go free, and that’s precisely what would lead them to annihilation. 

The coming destruction of Jerusalem was also a sign of the coming day of Judgment for all people. Jesus’ message to the women is also a plea for preparation. Sorrow will not lead you to safety so what more do you have? Jesus’ final statement can point to a number of scenarios, but they all come back to the great contrast between His work and man’s. The Green wood represented the time Jesus was on earth and the work that He accomplished. The Dry wood represented the present spiritual condition of the people and the trend that would continue up to destruction. Think about Jesus’ words in light of Good Friday: 
·         If the Romans treat Me, whom they admit to be innocent, in this manner, how will they deal with those who are rebellious and guilty?

·         If the Jews deal this with the One who has come to save them, what treatment shall they receive themselves from destroying Him?

·         If God permits this to happen to one who is innocent, what will be the fate of the guilty?

Those questions are glaringly honest about the effects of sin. As we contemplate them, we find ourselves stuck right in the middle of the Way of Sorrows. No matter what we think of ourselves, whether powerful, strong, helpless, or sorrowful; we deserve God’s judgment. Our lives reflect the dry, lifeless wood, primed for the fires of destruction.

How important it is that Jesus walked the Way of Sorrows for us, and for the whole world. Everyone finds themselves on this path, but without Jesus we are lost and condemned. And so we call this day, Good Friday. Jesus gives the same message to us as He did to the women. “Do not weep for Me…” This is a Good day, though all logical indications may say otherwise. Jesus has gained life for us by offering up His own. His time is the time of the Green wood. In humility, we should think of the future. We should prepare our hearts. We should come ready and regularly to receive God’s grace. For without Jesus, life dries up.

You are on the Way of Sorrows. Jesus walked the Way of Sorrows for you. How important those two final words are. For the Jews. For the Romans. For Simon. For the thieves. For the women. For you. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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