THE CROSS QUESTION

AM I NOT TO DRINK THE CUP THE FATHER HAS GIVEN ME?

JOHN 18:1-11

 

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            Palm Sunday.  It’s a fun day.   It’s a festive day.  And it’s a day with a shadow hanging over it.  The shadow of the cross. 

            When Walker Railey was pastor of First United Methodist Church in Dallas, they had a huge, crude wooden cross on the lawn in front of the church during Lent.  One day he received a telephone call, and when he answered it, a voice on the other end said emphatically, "For God's sake, Reverend, can't you do something about that dreadful cross in front of your church?”

            The caller was a woman who had visited the Dallas Museum of Art across the street, and was bothered by the contrast between the loveliness of the culture in the Museum and the ugliness in front of the church.

            At first, the pastor thought of reminding her that three years ago the Museum placed a huge piece of sculpture in front of their building which was named the Gates of Hell.  If they could have "The Gates of Hell" over there, he wanted to ask her, why couldn't the church have "the Old Rugged Cross" across the street?  But he let that thought go unspoken.

            The woman didn't want to debate.  She simply wanted the cross taken down because it seemed so out of place on the busy, beautiful corner where the church stood.

            "For God's sake, Reverend, can't you do something about that dreadful cross?”

            The woman is not alone.  There have always been folks who do not understand why we erect crosses, much less preach about them.  In fact, human wisdom has never comprehended God's purpose in using the Cross.  Yet for 2,000 years that ugly symbol of execution has been the focal point for one generation of Christians after another. The Apostle Paul summed it up well in I Corinthians 1:18:

 

            For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

 

            So, as we celebrate Palm Sunday, as we enter Holy Week, and as we continue our sermon series on questions Jesus posed in John’s Gospel, we arrive at the Cross question:  Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?

            There are few scenes in the New Testament that show us so clearly the qualities of Jesus as the scene in our scripture lesson. 

            First of all, the scene shows us Jesus’ courage.  Jesus didn't run away or hide when his enemies came with their torches looking for him in the garden.  They didn't need torches.  He was there in the moonlit openness for all to see.

            The scene also shows us his authority.  Did you note it in our Scripture lesson?  They came in numbers and in power.  He asked them, "Who are you looking for?"  They responded, "Jesus of Nazareth."  With boldness, Jesus said, "I am he."  What happened then?  Scripture says "They stepped back and fell to the ground."  There was authority in his very being.

            The scene also shows us that Jesus chose to die.  It is clear that he could have escaped death if he had so wished.  He could have walked through them and gone his way, but he did not.  He even aided his enemies in his own arrest.  He chose to die.

            Finally, the scene shows us his utter obedience.  When Peter objects to the arrest Jesus asks: "Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?”   In other words, “Am I not to go to the cross?  Am I not to do what the Father has asked me to do?” This was God's will, pure and simple.  Jesus was obedient unto death, even death on a cross.

            “Am I not to drink the cup the Father has given me?”  It’s a question about the cross.

            Generally, the Gospels present the Cross as Jesus' lowest point of humiliation and degradation, but not John's Gospel.  John presents the Cross as the highest point of Jesus' glory.

            Earlier in the evening before his arrest in the garden, Jesus was in the Upper Room with his disciples celebrating Passover together.  He confronted Judas with the fact that he was going to betray him.  He even gave Judas the command, "Do quickly what you are going to do," and the scripture says that after Judas had received the bread, he went out into the night.  Jesus knew where Judas was going, what Judas was going to do, and what it was going to result in - his own crucifixion - the Cross.  After Judas had left to do what he was going to do, Jesus turned to the remaining disciples in the room and said, "Now the Son of Man has been glorified, and God has been glorified in him." (John 13: 31 NSRV).

            So, John presents the Cross as the highest point of Jesus' Glory.  Of course, both aspects of the Cross are true.  The Cross does sound the very lowest depths of Christ's humiliation, but it also presents the most gleaming culmination of his Glory.

            As we continue our Lenten Questions sermon series, let's focus on John's perception of the Cross as the ultimate glory of Jesus.  In what sense is it that?  In what way did the Cross glorify Christ?  I suggest two ways.

            One, it was the revelation of God’s heart.  The revelation of God in Jesus Christ on the Cross tells us that there is more love in God than sin in us.  Let me repeat that: THE REVELATION OF GOD IN JESUS CHRIST ON THE CROSS TELLS US THAT THERE IS MORE LOVE IN GOD THAN SIN IN US.

            Jesus did not die on Calvary simply to fulfill prophecy from the Old Testament.  Neither did he suffer and die only as a human sacrifice to appease an angry deity.  In that regard I think of one of my favorite stories about the Pope.  The Pope was preaching to a great throng of people in St. Peter's Square.  He said, "The other night while I was praying, the Lord gave me some good news and bad news."  The good news is that the Lord is going to return by next Sunday."  The people applauded wildly.  Then the Pope said, "The bad news is that he is real mad."

             That’s how many view the cross, as an appeasement of an angry deity or the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy.   And it does involve those things, however, the Bible clearly and frequently says that ours is a God of love and mercy.  Jesus died on the Cross also to reveal just how much God loves us.  The Cross is one of the most dramatic reminders of God's unmerited and unending grace.  That is why we call the day of his crucifixion, Good Friday.

            At the Cross, we are assured there is more love in God than sin in us.  Oscar Wilde may have had that in mind when he said, "Every saint has a past and every sinner has a future."

            Armando Valladares wrote the following words in his own blood from a Cuban prison where he was at the point of death:

 

            They have stripped me of everything -- well, almost everything -- because the smile stays with me.  And the pride of feeling that I am a free man and in my soul there is a garden of perennial little flowers.  They don't want me to write.  They strip me of pens and pencils, but I've been left with the ink of my life: my own blood with which I will write poems.

 

            Jesus was also stripped of all his earthly possessions, and hung on the Cross to die.  And it was there that he shed his own blood, the ink of his life, for the sake of writing poetry about God’s love so astounding and abounding. It sounds almost too good to be true. But it is true.  There is more love in God than sin in us.

            As a church we must always be trying to act that out.  Will Willimon in his book What's Right With The Church tells of a church in Greenville, South Carolina, where a sixteen-year-old girl, who had been involved in the youth program, who had come from a troubled family background, and who was struggling to make it on her own, became pregnant, gave birth to the baby and determined to raise it herself.  She came to her pastor and asked to have the baby baptized.  Because baptism celebrates what God does for us with grace in Jesus Christ, the Pastor agreed to baptize her child.  On the day of her baptism, the pastor called a couple in the congregation who were in their sixties to come forward.  He said to them, "Now we are going to baptize this baby and bring it into the family of God.  What I want you to do is to raise this baby, and while you are doing it, help raise the Momma with him, because the Momma right now needs you. If you need any of us, let us know.  We are here, too.  It's our child, also."  And the couple did what they were challenged to do.  That church in Greenville, South Carolina was on the front line holding people in the love of Jesus.

            I wonder if there might be fewer abortions in our world if young women who became pregnant out of wedlock knew that there was a community of faith to which they could turn who would love them and support them and enable them to rear their children, that there would be a community of faith who would support them through their fears and anxieties in being parents altogether too young.

            Now a second way the Cross glorified Christ is this: It was the throne of his saving power.

            It's amazing how things that are together don't always go together.

            Once, when Maxie Dunham was on Study Leave, he by drove by the Panama City campus of Florida State University.  On a big bulletin board - I mean a huge bulletin board our in the middle of the campus near the street - there was the short-term offerings of evening adult education.  And in bold headlines these two courses were listed.  "Overcoming Divorce" was the first one; the second one was "How to Handle Handguns."

            Those two things didn't seem to go together.  Just like the notation in a church  hymnal.  Hymn Number 364 in the Methodist Hymnal is “Jesus Demands My All.”  At the bottom of the page it reads,  "For an easier version, see Number 365".

            Friends, there is not only no easier version for eternal salvation, but also there is no other version than the Cross of Jesus Christ.

            I like the story of an exchange between a theological lecturer and an overly enthusiastic super evangelical student.  The student asked the lecturer, "When were you saved?"

            The professor thought for a moment.  "When was I saved?", he asked rhetorically, then paused for what seemed minutes but was only seconds.  "I was saved two thousand years ago."

            Our salvation occurred two thousand years ago on the Cross of Jesus. The Cross is the throne of Christ's saving power.

            In one of Alfred Lord Tennyson's letters, written from the Village of Noblethorpe, in Lincolnshire, he told of staying in the home of two devout Christians.  Upon arriving at the house, he asked his hostess for news.  "Why Mr. Tennyson," she replied, "there is only one piece of news that I know: That Christ died for all people."

            Somewhat surprised, the renowned poet responded, "Well, that's old news and new news and good news."

            So it is; so it shall always be. The Cross is the throne of Christ's saving grace. And Jesus dying on that cross, reminds us that there is more love in God than sin in us.

            Please remember this: Every saint has a past, but every sinner has a future because of the Cross of Christ.