So, this is how it would end. Not being crowned a king but dying a criminal. Executed as a traitor to both his country and his faith.
This weekend we are tying up our Worst-Case Scenario series. Through January and February and then again in April we’ve been looking at various Worst-Case scenarios from the Bible, last week was What to Do when You’ve lost all Hope. But we’ve also covered what to do if you have to fight a giant, and what to do if you miss the Rapture.
And of course, we ended up there as a result of a chance encounter I had with this book. The Worst-Case Scenario Handbook. Where you will find all kinds of hints for your daily life, like, how to defuse a bomb, or how to deliver a baby in a cab or how to survive if you’re in the line of gunfire.
Today’s helpful hint is: How to survive a poisonous snake attack. 1. Wash the bite with soap and water as soon as you can. 2. Immobilize the bitten area and keep it lower than the heart. 3. Get medical help as soon as possible 4. Immediately wrap a bandage two to four inches above the bite to help slow the venom.
They forgot the most important one: Kill the snake. And again, there are pictures.
For those watching the events unfold that Friday, this must have been their Worst-Case scenario. But it is unlikely that any one of them could have imagined the story ending like this. Even Judas, the one who betrayed Jesus, couldn’t have imagined that Jesus would have ended up nailed to a cross like a common criminal. And he did.
Jesus had been arrested in the garden, handed from the High Priests to Pilate, to King Herod and back to Pilate, who finally in an effort to appease the crowd, that been stirred into a frenzy by the religious leaders, had Jesus beaten and flogged. But even that did little to satisfy the blood lust of the crowd.
So, even knowing it was wrong. Even knowing it was wrong Pilate gave into the crowd.
We read the account in Matthew 27:24 Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
And with that, Pilate did what he knew he shouldn’t have done. He surrendered an innocent man over to a blood thirsty mob. He probably had no idea that those eleven words would be immortalized in God’s word.
And when he turned and walked away, he probably thought that the story was over and done with. Little did he know that this wasn’t the end of the story it was just the beginning.
If we keep reading in Luke account we read these words, Luke 23:33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
They nailed him to the cross, and I would suspect that those who had conspired to see it happen, and those who had actually taken part in his crucifixion probably thought that this would be where the story would end.
Little did they know that this wasn’t the end of the story it was just the beginning.
They just expected him to die.
But what happened during the six hours that Jesus spent on the cross?
We don’t know all that happened, the six hours are pretty much telescoped down to a few dozen verses between the four gospels.
We don’t know all that was said and done, but we do get a little glimpse into the heart of Jesus from the words he spoke during that time.
Sometimes called the seven last words of Christ, these are the words that were preserved for us. Were there other words, other statements? We don’t know. I would suspect that maybe there were, but it is useless to speculate, because these are the words of Christ, that we do have, from those six hours.
So worst case scenario, what if you found yourself nailed to a cross? I don’t know what I’d do. I doubt that you know what you’d do. But through these words we get a glimpse of what was going through Jesus’ mind while he was dying. What concerned him and who he was thinking about.
I have read the dying words of literally thousands of people. You think I’m bluffing but I kid you not. A few years ago, I bought a book entitled, Last Words of Notable People. And from A-Z it contains, exactly what the title says it contains. The last words of Notable People.
And in the book, there are over 3500 examples of peoples’ last or dying words.
From the words of American Author Edward Paul Abbey who’s dying words were “I did what I could.” To those of Swiss Reformer, Ulrich Zwingli who died saying “They can kill the body but not the soul.”
And what I discovered as I read through these words, is we usually die the way we live. There are very few surprises at the end.
When Marie Antoinette was being led to the guillotine she accidentally stepped on the executioner’s foot and said, “Pardon me, sir. I meant not to do it.” I would suspect for a person to apologize to their executioner, that was who she was.
Groucho Marx’s dying words were, “Die my dear? Why that is the last thing I’d do.”
While, Sigmund Freud’s where “Now it is nothing but torture and makes no sense anymore.”
So the first words that we have a record of, that Christ spoke from the cross were, Luke 23:34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.”
His Words Reveal That He Was God
In the book of Mark there is a neat story about Jesus healing a paralyzed man. Jesus is teaching in a house, most likely Peter’s home. You might remember the story; the house is packed and people aren’t able to get in. A group arrives carrying a paralyzed man on a stretcher.
When they realize that they can’t get in, they go up on the roof, break through and lower their friend down in front of Jesus.
Let’s pick up the story in Mark 2:5 Seeing their faith, Jesus said to the paralyzed man, “My child, your sins are forgiven.”
So, did you catch what happened?
The man was lowered down and the first thing that Jesus said was “Your sins are forgiven.” And that really irritated the religious leaders who were there, let’s go back to the story.
Mark 2:6-7 But some of the teachers of religious law who were sitting there thought to themselves, “What is he saying? This is blasphemy! Only God can forgive sins!”
And they weren’t wrong. When we sin, we sin against God. Even when our sin directly impacts other people, whether because we’ve lied to them, stole from them or cheated on them, we are sinning against God, and that has consequences.
Listen to what the prophet Isaiah writes in Isaiah 59:2 It’s your sins that have cut you off from God. Because of your sins, he has turned away and will not listen anymore.
And while we need to ask forgiveness from those we hurt, and they are the only ones who can forgive us for what we’ve done to them personally, only God can forgive us for being sinners.
And remember, I’ve said before, “A dog isn’t a dog because he barks, he barks because he’s a dog. And we aren’t sinners because we sin, we sin because we are sinners.” And only God can forgive us those sins.
And so, Jesus answers his critics, by saying “Oh yeah, watch this.”
Actually that was a rough translations, listen to the rest of the story Mark 2:8-12 Jesus knew immediately what they were thinking, so he asked them, “Why do you question this in your hearts? Is it easier to say to the paralyzed man ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or ‘Stand up, pick up your mat, and walk’? So I will prove to you that the Son of Man has the authority on earth to forgive sins.” Then Jesus turned to the paralyzed man and said, “Stand up, pick up your mat, and go home!” And the man jumped up, grabbed his mat, and walked out through the stunned onlookers. They were all amazed and praised God, exclaiming, “We’ve never seen anything like this before!”
And so, when Jesus looked down from the cross and said “Father Forgive them.” He was asserting his position as God. But understand, that within forgiveness there is God’s part, but there is also our part.
John reminds us in 1 John 1:9 But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness.
And then later we read Peter’s words in Acts 3:19 Now repent of your sins and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped away. We do our part, we confess, that is we acknowledge we have wronged God, and we repent, that means we turn away from our sin. And God does his part, he forgives us.
Let’s go back to that Friday so many years ago, John 19:28 Jesus knew that his mission was now finished, and to fulfill Scripture he said, “I am thirsty.”
The first statement revealed that Jesus was God, here His Words Reveal That He was Human
We sometimes get so caught up in Jesus’ divinity that we forget his humanity, but listen to some of things that are recorded about Jesus, Mark 11:12 The next morning as they were leaving Bethany, Jesus was hungry.
And remember when Jesus was tempted in the wilderness, the first temptation was to turn the rocks into bread, that was to satisfy his hunger.
In the story of Jesus’ meeting with the Samaritan woman we read John 4:5-7 Jacob’s well was there; and Jesus, tired from the long walk, sat wearily beside the well about noontime. Soon
a Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, “Please give me a drink.”
The story begins with Jesus resting because he was tired and then asking for a drink of water, presumably because he was thirsty. So, while we don’t think about it, Jesus ate and drank and slept. Just like us.
That is the great mystery of the incarnation, that the God who created everything, could become part of what he created.
Paul reminds us in Philippians 2:5-8 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to. Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being. When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal’s death on a cross.
In order for Jesus to take the price of our sin upon himself, he had to become like us. He wasn’t just God taking on a human form, he was God who was born as a child, and experienced what we experienced.
From the frustration of being a child who can’t do everything they want to do, to the angst of being a teenager, thinking his parents didn’t understand him, to the temptations that would come his way as a young adult.
And if those temptations and hungers were just limited to hunger for food then Hebrews 14 would be a lie. You do remember Hebrews 14, don’t you?
Hebrews 4:14-16 So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin.
It doesn’t say he faced some of the same testings, but all of the same testings.
Let’s keep going with the story, Luke 23:39-43 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.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It is here that His Words Reveals He was Saviour
In Luke’s gospel we read about Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus the tax collector, and how the people were kind of cranky that he would associate with someone like a corrupt tax collector.
Usually in the Bible when people spoke of tax collectors they added the words . . . and other sinners, and so it was here that Jesus defines his purpose for coming, Luke 19:10 Jesus said, “For the Son of Man came to seek and save those who are lost.”
And here he is. At the end of his life. Hanging between two criminals, and he still remembers his purpose in coming.
And that is the reality, God’s grace is always there. Death bed conversions are always interesting.
Many people want the assurance that their loved one who never had time for God during their life will experience God’s grace in the last moments of their lives. But on the other hand, they’re aren’t convinced that it’s entirely fair.
Jesus told a parable about that and while we don’t have time today to go through that, you can read it yourself in Matthew 20, or email me and I’ll send you the message I preached on it.
Here is the promise, it’s given to us in John 1:12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. Aren’t you glad that there are no conditions laid out there? But to all who believe, whether it be a thief on a cross or a 19-year-old fisherman from New Brunswick. He gives the right to become children of God.
But it wasn’t just people’s souls that Jesus was thinking about on the cross, we are told in John 19:26-27 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.
His Words Reveals that He was Mary’s Son I said earlier that often who we are at our death reveals a lot about who we were in our life.
Jesus performed his first miracle at the wedding in Cana because his mother asked him to.
We don’t have a lot of insight into what Jesus’ life was like before his ministry began, but who he was as a man was shaped by how he was raised by Mary and Joseph.
And as he looked down and saw his mother, who gave up her reputation, her plans and her future to raise the son of God, he wanted to make sure that she was taken care of.
And so, he entrusts her into the care of one of his best friends, John the apostle. Later he will entrust the church into Peter’s care, but right now, on the cross it’s Mary he’s thinking of.
But he wasn’t just thinking of his mother. Let’s keep reading, Matthew 27:45-46 At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, j lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
But, Jesus was not only the son of Mary. Here His Words Reveal That He was God’s Son
Again, we catch a glimpse of Jesus’ humanity and he cries out to God, “Why? Why?” Jesus knew what was going on. He knew the why, and he knew the how. But along with his divinity was his humanity, and he was hurting.
Crucifixion was one of the most painful means of execution, it’s actually where the word excruciating comes from.
And as Jesus hung, suspending between heaven and earth he cries out in agony to the only one who can help, but who hasn’t. “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” “Where are you Daddy?”
When we question God, we are acknowledging that he is in control. That he can do something. If you are on the phone to a call centre, and you aren’t getting satisfaction, what do you do? You ask to speak to a supervisor. To someone who can correct the problem, to someone with authority.
And in Jesus’ humanity he was calling out to the only one he knew had the answers, My God, My God. Abba Father. In his divinity, Jesus knew the plan, in his humanity all he knew was how much it hurt.
And then the story of the cross finishes with Jesus last two statements that are found in John and Luke’s accounts. Combined they read
John 19: 30 & Luke 23:46 Then Jesus shouted, “It is finished! Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.
And so, when the end had come, Jesus entrusted everything into his Father’s hands.
And that was a decision that he made for me and for you. He could have stopped it at any time. His prayer could have been, “You know I think I’ve had enough of this. I don’t think humanity is worth saving, Father send the angels and let’s put a stop to this.”
But he didn’t. The reality of that Friday is summed up in 2 Corinthians 5:21 For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ.
Whatever the worst-case scenario may become in your life, may you be able to say, “Father, I may not understand it, I may not like it, but I trust you.”