We continue our bible study in Luke. In this section we covered verses 31-41. Here is the bible study: The gospel of Luke: A Bible Study. And this is the last Sunday with that infernal hissing in the background!
This is the sermon for Ash Wednesday. The sermon text is: Mark 15:21. The sermon theme is: Christian, Carry Your Cross. Here is the Written Sermon.
Christian, Carry Your Cross.
Do you like surprises? I’m sure we would all like a surprise if tonight, when we went home our favorite food or drink was there suddenly waiting for us on the kitchen table. We would like a surprise if we suddenly got a card of present from a friend. But what if the surprise isn’t good? What if the surprise you find when you get home is that your pipes have busted? What if the surprise from your friend is that he or she is angry with you? So, do you like surprises? This evening we see Jesus in the middle of his torment. He has been put on trial twice and found guilty of claiming to be the Messiah twice. Pilate tried to free Jesus. But when the Jews put pressure on him, instead of standing up for an innocent man, he gave in. The people called Jesus names. The soldiers spit on him and tortured him. And now, in these words, after Jesus is whipped and tortured, he is now carrying his cross to his own death.
But look! We see a surprise. We meet a man named, Simon. This Simon must have been a devout Jew. For he travelled all the way from Cyrene in Africa to celebrate the Passover. Jerusalem is a busy, people-filled place around the time of the Passover. So, Simon is staying with someone outside of town in the fields. So, in the morning he is coming in from the fields. And he stands at the side of the road as Jesus passes by. And then he gets a surprise. The Roman soldiers force Simon to carry Jesus’ cross.
It’s important for us to look at this surprise. For just as there was a shocking and frustrating surprise that came into the Simon’s life, there are bad things that come into our lives too, aren’t there? There are three ways that bad things come into our lives. And our reaction to all three is the same.
First, there are bad things that come into our lives because of us. There are those times when we sin and then get caught. And when this happens it is shocking to see how many times we are surprised that there are consequences to our sin. We say mean things to others and about others. And then, when what we say gets back to us, we are shocked that that other person doesn’t treat us the same way as they did before. We are the ones to blame. But it is ever-so-easy for us then to shift the blame to God above. We get caught and God gets the blame.
So, bad things can come into our lives because of us—the consequences of our own sins. But bad things can come into our lives in a second way. They can enter our lives simply because we are humans. People get sick. People die. We have a sister-church-body over in the Ukraine. And in that church body there is a nurse that was at work during the riots that have happened there in the last several weeks. She had this huge red cross on her helmet and on her chest, showing everyone that she was a nurse, simply there to help. But there was a sniper who shot a hollow-point bullet at her. She was in the hospital and close to death. But now she is recovering. We see the pain and violence that comes into our lives just as a result of living in this world and it is tempting to blame God. It is ever-so-tempting to say, “this woman was just serving as a nurse, helping those around her. Why, O Lord, was she the one who was hit by the bullet?” And so, again, we put the blame for whatever bad there is in the world on our God.
So, there is bad in our lives because of us. There is bad in the world simply as a result of being a human. But there is a final type of bad that comes into our lives. And this is the sort of pain and trouble that happens because we are Christians. Jesus once said “All men will hate you because of me.” (Luke 21:17 NIV). This type of suffering is what we call a cross. When the world hates us for one and only one reason—the fact that we are Christians, this is what we call a cross. And when this happens, it is ever-so-tempting for us to complain to and blame God. It is ever-so-tempting to for us to jump to the conclusion that God hates us because he allows the sinful, unbelieving world to say and even do things against us.
So, there are your three ways that bad things come into our lives. And notice the pattern we find in our lives when it comes to all three of these. We find in us the tendency and temptation to blame God. Why do we act this way? Why is it that whenever hardship comes into our lives we are so unwilling to deal with it? If we bring hardship into our lives, we hate it. If others bring hardship into our lives, we hate it. If God himself brings hardship into our lives, we hate it. Why?
Let me answer that question with a picture. In my garden there is this big plant. And every year this big plant grows and produces big, bright berries. But all of those berries are poisonous. In order to have poisonous berries, you need to have a poisonous plant. Poisonous plants grow from poisonous roots. The reason why we are so unable to deal with hardship and then are tempted to blame God started long ago. Way back in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve rebelled against God. And from that poisonous root every evil expression of that rebellion grew up. Or, to put it another way, we have sinful actions and sinful words because we are sinners. We have this deeply-rooted, thorough-going tendency to do yearn for evil.
We rebel against any sort of hardship that is put in our lives. It doesn’t matter if this hardship is caused by us. It doesn’t matter if it’s caused by others. It doesn’t matter if it’s brought by God above. And it is this sinful attitude in us that leads to death—not just physical death, when you stop breathing, but also spiritual death, being separated from God in hell. And so we all heard the words spoken to us a few minutes ago:
Remember that you are dust;
and to dust you will return.
Simon from Cyrene was not happy to carry that cross. And we know this because the Roman soldiers forced it on him. We too act the same way because of our sinful nature. We throw off the burdens that Jesus puts on us. But, on this night we are so thankful that Jesus did not act this way. For, in John’s gospel we hear these words: “Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).” (John 19:17 NIV)
So Simon carried Jesus’ cross for a little while. But who is the one who carried his own cross up the hill? Jesus was. Jesus was the one who could carry his own cross all the way up that hill. And Jesus is the one who carried all the sins of the entire world on that cross. There on the cross Jesus, instead of rebelling against his Father’s will, he embraced it—even if it meant his own death. There on that cross Jesus was punished for the world’s sins. There on the cross he is punished for all the times bad has entered our lives and we did not act the way we should. Jesus did all of this to take away your sin. And through the gospel he delivers this salvation and forgiveness to you.
And this would be a fitting place to conclude our sermon, wouldn’t it? But when Jesus is done suffering on that cross he isn’t done with it. He then takes that cross and places it on us. He does not do this so that we can help him take away our sins. No without our help he took away the sins of the world. He does this for another reason. In the book of Romans, Paul writes: “2 And we rejoice in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.” (Rom 5:2–5 NIV)
Suffering produces perseverance and perseverance produces hope. In his own wisdom Jesus brings his cross into your life so that you would rest your faith on Jesus. Everytime the world hates you because of Jesus that is what is happening. Jesus is causing your faith to be stretched and strengthened so that you trust not in your own works, but instead in Jesus’ word and his promises. The final result of bearing the crosses Jesus puts in our lives is joy. For we can say “I trusted in the Lord, and he did not put me to shame.”
With all of these promises in mind, I invite you then to carry your crosses. Those hardships that God brings into your life—carry them with joy. For they remind you of what Jesus won for you on the cross. And they build your faith on Christ. Amen.