It was supposed to be a day marked with celebration, but it was a day defined by tragedy.
It was supposed to be a day friends gathered together, but it was a day that friends scattered.
It was supposed to be a day when people paused to remember what God had done for man, but it instead people would mark this day to remember what man did to God.
This spring our theme at Cornerstone is “After the but comes the truth”.
But is such a powerful word, only 3 letters however it is the hinge that turns the entire meaning of a statement.
For example, Martin Luther King Jr said, “If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”
After the but, comes the truth.
The bible uses the word but over 4500 times, so we shouldn’t have a lack of material. This morning I want to look at a statement that occurs in the book of Acts.
They are the words of Paul and they spell out the Easter story in a mere 115 words.
Paul is preaching to a crowd in Antioch and he is telling them the Jesus story. And he finishes by telling them how the story ends. Which is a pretty good way to end a story.
And in these 115 words there are two buts. Which is perfect, there is a but for today and a but for Sunday.
Let’s begin our weekend with the words of Acts 13:27-28 The people in Jerusalem and their leaders did not recognize Jesus as the one the prophets had spoken about. Instead, they condemned him, and in doing this they fulfilled the prophets’ words that are read every Sabbath. They found no legal reason to execute him, but they asked Pilate to have him killed anyway.
They found no legal reason to execute him, but. . . And after the but comes the truth, they asked Pilate to have him killed anyway.
So, who were “They”? Well, according to the account, they were the people in Jerusalem and their leaders.
Just a week before the people of Jerusalem welcomed Jesus into their city on the day we now call Palm Sunday.
No doubt these were some of the same people who less than a week before had waved palm branches and cried hosanna to the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.
And now just five short days later, just a scant 120 hours and the crowd’s voice has changed from a melodious hosanna in the highest to a venomous crucify him.
The people of Jerusalem. How could the religious leaders of the day have stirred the people into a murderous frenzy? No longer were they shopkeepers and butchers, shepherds and tailors but now they had become a blood crazed mob. Why? How?
How could it have happened?
The people of Jerusalem 2000 years ago weren’t a lot different than the people of Halifax are today, or for that matter the people of Jerusalem 2000 years ago weren’t a lot different than we are.
We are told that when the Dutch master Rembrandt painted the crucifixion scene, he painted his own face into the crowd that thronged about the foot of the cross to remind himself that it was for his sins that Christ died that agonising death on the cross.
The People Could Have Embraced Jesus, But . . . For three years Jesus had taught the people, for three years Jesus had healed the people, for three years Jesus had feed the people, and for three years Jesus had offered the people of Jerusalem his grace and his forgiveness.
But regardless of how the people of Jerusalem had felt when they welcomed Jesus on the previous Sunday some of the same people were openly hostile to Christ and his claim to be the son of God on Friday.
They would have been more than happy for Jesus to go around healing the sick and feeding the hungry but when he claimed to be the son of God and challenged their morality, they were outraged.
One of Jesus’ closest friends records in John 12:37-38 But despite all the miraculous signs Jesus had done, most of the people still did not believe in him.
But it wasn’t just the people, the people were just pawns for their leaders.
At the centre of the plot against Jesus were the religious leaders of the day. Which seems a little odd that those who professed to serve God would be the ones who seemed the most intent on killing God’s Son.
But there had been conflict almost from the beginning as Jesus challenged the status quo.
The Religious Leaders Could Have Accepted Jesus, But . . . He was the one whom the religious leaders had been waiting for, the Messiah, God’s chosen one.
The problem was, He threatened the status quo.
The priests viewed themselves as the people’s access to God, but Jesus claimed to be God and welcomed everyone.
The Pharisees claimed to know everything there was to know about how to keep the law but they refused to accept the grace that Jesus extended.
And the more he taught the further the religious leaders distanced themselves from His teaching.
His gospel of Grace was at odds with their teaching of the law. His compassion contrasted with their legalism.
And his invitation to know God threatened their perceived position as God’s Gate Keepers. Those who decided who did and didn’t have access to the divine.
And so they tried to discredit him and when that didn’t work, they decided to kill him.
In Luke account we read, Luke 19:47-48 After that, he(Jesus) taught daily in the Temple, but the leading priests, the teachers of religious law, and the other leaders of the people began planning how to kill him. But they could think of nothing, because all the people hung on every word he said.
And their feelings about Jesus weren’t a secret, Matthew records this about Jesus’ trial, Matthew 27:18 Pilate knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.
They could have accepted Jesus and his teaching, but they rejected the very one they had waited so long for.
But it wasn’t just the religious leaders,
The religious leaders may have wanted to be rid of their problem, but they didn’t have the authority to deal with him the way they wanted to, so they appealed to the power of Rome.
Let’s pick up the story in John 18:28 Jesus’ trial before Caiaphas ended in the early hours of the morning. Then he was taken to the headquarters of the Roman governor.
The problem was that the charge that the religious leaders had levelled against Jesus was blasphemy. And blasphemy was a religious charge and Pilate couldn’t have cared less.
And so they accused him of something that would interest Rome. We read in Luke 23:2 They began to state their case: “This man has been leading our people astray by telling them not to pay their taxes to the Roman government and by claiming he is the Messiah, a king.”
So the charge has changed from blasphemy to treason. And when Pilate said that he didn’t see any evidence of that they up the ante again and tell him Luke 23:5 Then they became insistent. “But he is causing riots by his teaching wherever he goes—all over Judea, from Galilee to Jerusalem!” Riots? Seriously? Riots?
But it was here that Pilate saw an out, he didn’t want to execute the carpenter but he didn’t want to alienate the religious leaders. And he responds Luke 23:6-7 “Oh, is he a Galilean?” Pilate asked. When they said that he was, Pilate sent him to Herod Antipas, because Galilee was under Herod’s jurisdiction, and Herod happened to be in Jerusalem at the time. The old pass the buck trick.
This was the same Herod who had John the Baptist killed, it was his father who had tried to kill Jesus when he was a new born. We are told that Herod had heard about Jesus and wanted to meet him and see him perform a miracle. Comedians often tell how annoying it is when they meet someone and are asked to say something funny, and magicians say that they are often asked to perform a trick for people. Very seldom does the preacher get to eat in a group without being the person who is asked to say grace.
And if we pick up the story in Luke 23:8 Herod was delighted at the opportunity to see Jesus, because he had heard about him and had been hoping for a long time to see him perform a miracle.
But we are told that Jesus doesn’t even grace Herod with an answer, let alone a miracle. And so Herod puts a purple robe on Christ and sends him back to Pilate. Saying that he just found Jesus annoying.
So, what is Pilate to do? He has the religious leaders and the mob they had incited demanding that Jesus be executed, but he can find no evidence to support a case against Jesus and neither can Herod. His wife has shown up in the middle of everything, telling him about a dream she had about Jesus and how Pilate should release him.
The Political Leaders Could Have Freed Jesus, But . . .
Luke 23:13-15 Then Pilate called together the leading priests and other religious leaders, along with the people, and he announced his verdict. “You brought this man to me, accusing him of leading a revolt. I have examined him thoroughly on this point in your presence and find him innocent. Herod came to the same conclusion and sent him back to us. Nothing this man has done calls for the death penalty.
Pilate tries, he tells the crowd that as a gesture of good will because it’s the Passover he will release one prisoner. And he stands Jesus up next to a known murderer named Barabbas and offers the crowd their choice of who should go free, he figured it was a no brainer. And the mob egged on by the authorities yelled, “Free Barabbas, crucify Jesus.”
Things are getting out of control and so Pilate has Jesus flogged with a steel tipped whip, but even that doesn’t satisfy the bloodlust of the crowd.
And finally in frustration Pilate turns to the crowd and says: “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
But it wasn’t just Pilate and Herod who made choices that day.
Early in the story we read this account, Mark 14:50 Then all his disciples deserted him and ran away.
For three years they’d been with him, for three years they had listened to his teaching, for three years they had called themselves his closest friends, and now all but two had disappeared.
John stayed and Judas hung himself. Peter, where are you? Andrew, James, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James, Simon, Thaddeus, where are you? Why have you left me?
The Disciples Could Have Supported Jesus, But . . .
When we think about Christ being denied, we think of Simon Peter, the big burly fisherman, quaking in fear in front of a little maid while swearing that he had never met the one called Jesus.
But the only difference between Peter and the other nine was that he did verbally what they did silently.
Every day Christians find themselves in the same position as the apostles, will they stand with Christ or will they choose the alternative?
And it’s easy to say that we would never deny Christ, but now how often do we deny His power in our lives.
Perhaps you deny him by refusing to believe he can straighten out the problem areas of your life. Maybe you deny him but avoiding his house. Maybe he’s your Saviour, but he’s never become your Lord.
But, while there were those who denied him, not everyone did.
John 19:25-26 Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.”
I always find it interesting to find that four out of the five people who stood at the foot of the cross were women. And even today it’s not unusual to find women outnumbering men in his service, and his services.
And the fact that the majority of those at the foot of the cross were women shouldn’t be surprising, from the very beginning Christ’s ministry is marked with the presence of women.
Throughout his ministry Christ had more contact with women than his culture found acceptable.
You say, ‘pastor it’s not right for women to exercise authority in the church.’
And yet as we find out throughout the bible, the Good Lord will use whoever is willing to be used, and whoever he wants to use.
Back to the sermon, of the five we know nothing of Mary the wife of Clopas, other than her name was Mary, and she was the wife of Clopas. But what do we know of the other four?
There Was Mary The Mother of Christ. Maybe she didn’t understand what was happening to her son, but she could love. Her presence there was the most natural thing in the world. Jesus might have been a criminal in the eyes of the law, a blasphemer in the eyes of the religious, and a rebel in the eyes of Rome, but he was her son.
There was Jesus’ aunt. In John she’s not named but in Mark 15 and Matthew 27 we discover she is Shalome the mother of James and John.
The strange thing is that it was Shalome that Christ rebuked so strongly when she sought the chief position for her sons in heaven, and yet here she is at the cross.
Her presence says much for Shalome’s humility for she had the ability to hear an opposing view and still love, something each one of us could stand to learn.
There was Mary Magdalene. All we know about Mary is that what we are told in Mark 16:9
After Jesus rose from the dead early on Sunday morning, the first person who saw him was Mary Magdalene, the woman from whom he had cast out seven demons.
Mary would never forget what he had done for her. His love had rescued her and her love would never forget him.
And then There Was John, the only one of the twelve who stayed.
He is often called the disciple whom Christ loved and perhaps this explains why.
The Five Could Have Played It Safe, But . . .
Five people, of all the people he had touched only five people stood by him.
Five people, of all the people he had healed only five people stayed with him. Five people, of all the people he had fed only five people stayed true to him. We have those in the church that if it snowed more than five flakes in a row, it would be enough to keep them home on a Sunday morning.
But praise God we have those that if a tornado levelled the city, they’d be here on Sunday to praise his name. Those whose words prove Christ, but more than that so do their actions.
It goes back to not just talking the talk.
The story is told of a hog and chicken who were out for a walk and strolled by a community centre advertising a benefit breakfast featuring bacon and eggs on the menu.
“Let’s go in and see if we can help” said the chicken. “That’s alright for you to say” replied the pig, “all they want from you is a contribution, but from me they want a commitment.”
How deep is your commitment level? Would you have been at the cross?
Let’s keep going in the story, Luke 23:39-42 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!” But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
He was the odd man out, as far as we know he had no previous contact with Christ. And yet perhaps he had been on the Mount of Olives and heard the Sermon on the Mount.
Or maybe he ate quietly in the crowd when Christ multiplied the fish and loaves. All we really know is that on Golgotha that the thief on the cross did what even the faithful five neglected and that was that he acknowledged Christ for who he was, the son of God.
The Thief Could Have Rejected Jesus, but . . .
We don’t know much about the thief who hung with Christ on that day. We don’t know what he had done to deserve to be executed in this manner.
His plea to Jesus is only recorded in Luke chapter 23 and his name, Dismas comes to us only through legend.
Was this a chance encounter or a divine appointment? We may never know, but we do know that on that Friday afternoon that the choices of the world came down to the two men who hung next to Jesus.
One chose to scoff and ridicule Jesus to dismiss his claims and to take his own chances with eternity. The other man chose to accept the claims and grace of the one who hung next to him. And so, we remember the words of Dismas, “Jesus remember me.”
And the promise of Christ: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”
On Good Friday, Jesus died for each one of us, but on this Good Friday each one of us will have to decide how we will respond to that gift.