It’s Good Friday and our thoughts focus on the cross of Jesus. But maybe we’re not too sure what to make of it all. The cross and what it meant for Jesus is a horrid thought. We would rather avoid it.
My father collected antiques and an old candy company in his town was going out of business. They were giving away the candy molds where the melted chocolate was made into various forms. When my Dad got there, the clerk said there were still some molds---but the bunnies and chicks went fast and all they had left were crosses. We’re not too sure about the cross.
There are a few churches that have even gotten rid of their crosses---it seems too negative, they say. I’m so thankful that here at CLC, the cross of Christ is still front and center!
And we’re here tonight because God transformed this object of pain and death into the perfect symbol of God’s love---his refusal to give up on us---and the lengths he would go to save us. The cross is the antidote to chaos.
Think of the chaos of that week 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem that we heard read from John’s account---
Religious leaders---supposedly so devoted to their law, but bending and breaking it in every way possible to try get rid of Jesus.
Judas---turning against Jesus. Setting him up to be arrested. Then being in such despair about his actions that he took his own life.
Peter---pulling out his sword and wounding one of the men who came to arrest Jesus.
The Roman leaders---facing a political dilemma. Pontius Pilate questioned Jesus. Tried to release him. But he’s being pressured by Jesus’ opponents to convict him on charges that don’t hold water.
The crowds---shouting to crucify Jesus. Pilate can’t let the chaos grow. So he gives in and hands Jesus over to be crucified.
There was no order, just chaos as laws were broken, betrayals made and threats shouted.
Think of Jesus’ followers in the midst of that chaos. Most of them ran and hid to protect themselves. Peter stuck around for a while. But he was scared too, and ended up denying that he knew Jesus ---3 times.
Just the Sunday before, Jesus had entered Jerusalem in seeming victory to shouts of Hosanna. But now the shouts were---“Crucify him!”
The chaos swirled around those who followed Jesus---leaving them in utter fear and confusion.
Can we relate to confusion, fear and chaos? Yes we can!
There is the daily chaos and confusion of parent’s and kid’s schedules. Being short-handed at work. Trying to make order out of chaos as you prepare your tax return.
But that’s just the ordinary chaos, not really the same as the intense chaos of Holy Week and Good Friday.
But we do experience that intensity in our lives as well. Like when we look around our nation and our world and shake our heads at the disorder and conflict. Or when you have to deal with addiction in your family or yourself. Or when you get the news that someone you love has died suddenly.
There was chaos all around in that week 2,000 years ago for Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem. There is chaos all around for you and me 2,000 years later.
But God didn’t let the chaos triumph back then. And he won’t let it win in 2018. Because God doesn’t give up! Now that isn’t easy for us to believe sometimes, because we often give up too easily and in our defeat, we doubt that God is really there. We doubt that things can get better.
Max Lucado asks---
How do I know God is with me? What if this is all a hoax?
How do you know that is God who is speaking?---The thick and dreadful darkness of doubt.
The same darkness you feel when you sit on a polished pew in a funeral chapel and listen to the obituary of the one you love more than life.
The same darkness you feel when you hear the words, “The tumor is malignant. We have to operate.”…..
The same darkness you feel when you realize the divorce you never wanted is final.
The same darkness into which Jesus screamed, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Appropriate words. For when we doubt, God seems very far away.
Which is exactly why he chose to draw so near…..
And though God’s people often forgot their God, God didn’t forget them. He kept his word….
God didn’t give up. He never gives up.
When Joseph was dropped into a pit by his own brothers, God didn’t give up.
When Moses said, “Here I am, send Aaron,” God didn’t give up.
When the delivered Israelites wanted Egyptian slavery instead of milk and honey, God didn’t give up.
When Aaron was making a false god at the very moment Moses was with the true God, God didn’t give up….
When Samson whispered to Delilah, when Saul roared after David, when David schemed against Uriah, God didn’t give up.
When God’s word lay forgotten and man’s idols stood glistening, God didn’t give up.
When the children of Israel were taken into captivity, God didn’t give up.
He could have given up. He could have turned his back. He could have walked away from the wretched mess, but he didn’t.
He didn’t give up.
When Jesus became flesh and was the victim of an assassination attempt before he was two years old, he didn’t give up.
When the people from his own hometown tried to push him over a cliff, Jesus didn’t give up.
When his brothers ridiculed him, he didn’t give up.
When he was accused of blaspheming God by people who didn’t fear God, he didn’t give up.
When Peter worshiped him at the supper and cursed him at the fire, he didn’t give up.
When people spat in his face, he didn’t spit back. When the bystanders slapped him, he didn’t slap them. When a whip ripped his sides, he didn’t turn and command the awaiting angels to stuff that whip down that soldier’s throat.
And when human hands fastened the divine hands to a cross with spikes, it wasn’t the soldiers who held the hands of Jesus steady. It was God who held them steady….
So, the next time that doubt walks in, escort him out. Out to the hill. Out to Calvary. Out to the cross where, with holy blood, the hand that carried the flame wrote the promise, “God would give up his only son before he’d give up on you.”
(Max Lucado. Six hours, One Friday)
In this cross, that sometimes we don’t know what to do with, we have the proof that God will never give up. He takes chaos and creates order and beauty. From the beginning, it’s been that way. We read in Genesis 1---
“In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.” (Genesis 1:1-2)
Dark, formless, empty---chaos. But God took that chaos and got to work creating and when he sat back for a moment--- “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.” (Genesis 1:31)
But what happened next destroyed much of that beauty and order. Man and woman, with the tempting of the evil one, rebelled against God and fractured his creation with sin. And the evil one has been at work ever since, to keep producing that chaos--- unfortunately with our help.
But God knows that we were created to help HIM in the work of his kingdom and so he keeps working to save every one of his children and bring them back to him. That’s the purpose of the cross.
Jesus took all the sin of the world on himself and destroyed its final power over us. But because we and others continue to sin, it still causes much chaos in and around us---until the time when Christ returns to set all things right and destroy evil and chaos forever.
We may wonder why God waits, but in 2 Peter we read----“But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:8-9)
What do we do in the meantime? We do live with chaos in us and around us, but that doesn’t mean God has given up on us. He is working to draw all people to him through the work of his Son. We live with chaos, but more importantly, we live with the grace and forgiveness and guiding hand of our loving God in Christ and through his Holy Spirit.
A few weeks ago, Stephanie and I spent a couple of nights in the Tri-Cities area of Washington. One afternoon we went for a drive northeast of Pasco into those hills they call the Palouse. Many of you have been there I’m sure.
It’s an immense area including parts of Washington, Idaho and Oregon that seems to be an endless expanse of rolling hills and dunes. The dunes can be hundreds of feet high. When the road was running along the top you could see the Columbia River or the Snake River, but when you were down in between, all you could see was the rolling grasslands and fields rising above you.
Most of the roads were down in the drainages and so for much of the drive we couldn’t see where we were going. And the map we had didn’t have any of the tiny roads we were on---For me it was a great trip, to be able to explore this beautiful part of God’s creation.
One of us though, wasn’t quite so excited. Stephanie enjoyed the beauty, but she wasn’t so sure of my ability to get us out of there. But it was a bright, beautiful day and I kept telling her that we had the sun to follow---and that was all we needed to point us back to the southwest where we were staying.
Afterward as I thought about that drive, I realized that God was teaching me a lesson I have to learn over and over again. There are many times that I am down low---where I can’t see what’s ahead of me. There are many times when I am surrounded by chaotic circumstances, and I can’t begin to see what’s up ahead or how things will work out.
But just like I could follow the SUN---S-U-N to lead us, I need to follow the SON---S-O-N who will guide me through life. The Son who went to the cross for you and me.
How do we follow the SON? By not just blindly accepting what we hear over and over from the world around us. But instead to compare the world’s message with the SON’s message, to see what’s true and really works.
How do we follow the SON? By knowing his Word so well that it becomes central to who we are.
How do we follow the SON? By looking to the SON first as we make our decisions so that we are guided not by our own short-sighted desires, but are led by his Holy Spirit.
On that Friday 2,000 years ago, all the disciples could see was chaos, pain and death. Everything they counted on was destroyed. They should have kept their eyes on the SON even though he was sealed in the tomb, because the best was yet to come. Jesus had told them he would rise from the dead, because God never gives up and he would bring his plan to completion! But on that Friday, all they could see was chaos.
So thank God that the cross of Good Friday is not the end of the story!
The chaos you face right now is not the end of the story!
Come back on Easter Sunday to hear the rest, because God never gives up!