************ Sermon on Luke 23:44-45 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on March 25, 2016
"The Obscenity of the Cross"
I The Cross is Obscene
A I was sent a link to an online article this past week. The article's title? "Was Jesus Christ really nailed to the cross?"
Jesus' crucifixion is one of the most familiar teachings of the Christian faith. Crucifixion was a Roman method of punishment for the lowest form of criminal. The victim was suspended from a large cross and was left to hang there until death. Crucifixion wasn't used just to kill people. It was also used to humiliate. The cross was designed to break a man's body and crush his spirit.
Crucifixion was done in a number of different ways. The most familiar tradition is that Jesus was nailed to the cross. But the Romans did not always nail crucifixion victims to their crosses; sometimes, they tied them in place with ropes.
So, was Jesus nailed to the cross? Or, was He tied to the cross? The article I read says that none of the gospels mention either. However, John's gospel does mention the wounds in the hands of the risen Lord -- leading us to conclude that Jesus' hands and feet were nailed to the cross, rather than tied to it.
B Whether it was done with nails or ropes, we need to realize the cross is obscene.
What do I mean by obscene? What is obscenity? Justice Potter Stewart, in a landmark case before the U.S. Supreme court, admitted he could not define obscenity. "But I know it when I see it."
"I know it when I see it." When we look at the cross we see obscenity. When we look at crucifixion we see obscenity. When we look at Jesus suffering and dying we see obscenity. What we see offends us and revolts us and disgusts us.
Let us never forget that. Over the last two thousand years the cross has been turned into decorative jewelry. So it has lost its shock value. So instead, think of a little electric chair or a tiny guillotine dangling from a golden necklace. You would rightly be revolted. Similarly, don't ever forget that the cross is the emblem of suffering and shame.
C Knowing this helps us to appreciate the words of Paul to the church at Corinth:
(1 Cor 1:18,22-24) For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God ... (22) Jews demand miraculous signs and Greeks look for wisdom, (23) but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, (24) but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Jews and Greeks didn't glorify the cross. Anything but! They were scandalized by the Christian teaching that the Son of God died a criminal's death on a cross. He didn't die peacefully like Abraham or Jacob or Socrates. He died in torment and pain. And, to them it seemed folly and madness to declare that this horrid type of death brings about redemption and salvation.
I repeat, the cross is obscene. We see the obscenity of the cross in the two miracles that happened while Jesus was hanging there.
II A Supernatural Darkness
A In telling us about the obscenity of the cross, Luke first tells us about a supernatural darkness:
(Lk 23:44-45) It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, (45) for the sun stopped shining.
"Darkness came over the whole land." How could this be? It was the middle of the day -- around noon. It couldn't have been an eclipse for it was the time of the Passover which was always held during a full moon, when no eclipse is possible. Not only that, but the longest solar eclipse on record lasted seven minutes and forty seconds -- not three whole hours. So what is going on here? What is happening?
We turn to the book of Genesis and we read there that in the beginning "darkness was over the surface of the deep" (Gen 1:2). You know what happens next:
(Gen 1:3-5) And God said, "Let there be light," and there was light. (4) God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness. (5) God called the light "day," and the darkness he called "night." And there was evening, and there was morning--the first day. By God's decree, ever since that first day of creation, light and darkness each have their separate place. But not on Good Friday. On Good Friday the darkness left its appointed place. It invaded the light. The darkness which God had separated from the light and joined to the dawn and dusk, was dislocated and moved into the midday. The very fabric of reality was being stretched to the breaking point. Things appeared to be coming apart. It was a supernatural darkness.
B "Darkness came over the whole land." It should not escape our notice that darkness implies the judgment of God. Recall, for instance, the ninth plague God sent to the Egyptians.
(Ex 10:21-23) Then the LORD said to Moses, "Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness will spread over Egypt--darkness that can be felt." (22) So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days. (23) No one could see anyone else or leave his place for three days. Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived.We see here that in Egypt there was the darkness of God's judgment at the time of the first celebration of the Passover. And now, at the Passover of Jesus' death there is darkness again.
Recall, too, the words of Jesus about the outer darkness that is reserved for those on whom the judgment of God will rest. It is a horrible place, a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
C "Darkness came over the whole land." We also cannot help but notice that even Jesus is in the midst of darkness. In other words, even Jesus has the judgment of God resting upon Him. However, the Centurion (Lk 23:47), Pilate (Lk 23:4,13,22), Herod (Lk 23:15), the people beating their breasts (Lk 23:48), and all of Scripture testify that Jesus is righteous. That raises a question: what was Jesus, the Righteous One, doing in God's awful darkness? How does a Righteous One get under the judgment of God?
D "Darkness came over the whole land." Darkness points not only to judgment but also to separation, isolation, aloneness. When that supernatural darkness descended, Jesus was separated, isolated, and alone -- just as were the Egyptians so many years before.
In a final assault on Jesus, our text shows Him cut off in the darkness. He Who came to join all men to Himself was utterly alone. Even as the nails drove apart the joints in Jesus' body and the cross tore at His shoulders, so the darkness cut Him off from all Whom He loves: His disciples, His family, His friends, even His Father in heaven.
The cross is obscene. That's what the darkness shows us.
III A Torn Curtain
A In telling us about the obscenity of the cross, our text also tells us about a torn curtain: "And the curtain of the temple was torn in two" (Lk 23:45).
Before we can understand the significance of the torn curtain we have to have some knowledge of the temple. The temple itself was composed of a series of courts or rooms. Gentiles could come as far as the Court of the Gentiles. Women could come a little closer, to the Court of Women. Jewish men could enter as far as the Court of Israel. Priests were allowed to advance a little further; they were granted access to the Court of the Priests. But the inner sanctuary of the temple, divided into the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, was off limits even for priests except for specifically stated times and carefully proscribed purposes.
Within the Holy Place stood the altar of incense, the golden lampstand, and the table with the showbread. Only priests chosen by lot -- such as Zechariah in Luke 1 -- could enter the Holy Place to offer incense. And, as there were so many priests, it was a once-in-a-lifetime privilege -- no priest was granted entrance into it more than once.
As for the Holy of Holies, in Jesus' day it contained no furniture. But this room -- measuring 30 feet wide by 30 feet long by 90 feet high -- was God's dwelling-place on earth; it was the place of God's purest holiness, august power, glorious brilliance, absolute righteousness, and untarnished faithfulness. Into this most special room no common priest was ever allowed to enter.
Now, back to the torn curtain. This was no lacy little thing, this curtain. It was a massive barrier, 90 feet high and 30 feet wide. It was woven of the finest linen, and exquisitely embroidered. It hung from wooden pillars plated with gold. This curtain divided the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. It was actually a set of double curtains, 18 inches apart, space enough for a man to walk between.
The outer curtain faced the Holy Place and was opened on the left. The inner curtain faced the Holy of Holies and could be opened only from the right. They opened from opposite ends to prevent the Holy of Holies from ever being accidentally exposed to public view. You see, God's dwelling place on earth, like God Himself, is so holy and awesome that no mere, sinful man can ever see its glory and live. To go beyond the curtain was the privilege of the high priest alone. And even the high priest entered this inner sanctuary only once a year, on the Day of Atonement. The high priest would pass through the double curtain into that special room. But he had to be washed and dressed in spotless white, carrying blood. He would sprinkle the blood around to cover the sins of the people as well as his own sins. When he was finished the heavy curtain would seal off the Holy of Holies until the following year.
The Holy of Holies could never be exposed to public view. That's why the heavy curtain hung there. In the Old Testament, God had slain those who wrongly approached Him. So the curtain protected man from the consuming fire of God's holiness.
B On Good Friday the curtain was torn by the finger of God. We know it was torn by the finger of God because it was torn from top to bottom. God tore that curtain. Just like that, sinful man was being exposed to the holy and terrifying presence of God. Just like that, Jesus was being exposed to the holy and terrifying presence of God. Don't forget, He was hanging there in the sinner's place. Placed upon Him was the sin of the world. So, when the curtain was torn, Jesus was being exposed to the holy and frightful presence of God Who is a consuming fire.
With the tearing of the curtain, Jesus sustained in body and soul the anger of a holy God against the sin of the whole human race.
The cross is obscene. That's what the torn curtain shows us.
(Lk 23:44-45) It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, (45) for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.Jesus experienced God's judgment. Jesus experienced God's wrath. Jesus experienced the obscene cross.
And, do you know why He did this? He took the sinner's place. He took the sinner's sin. He took the sinner's condemnation. He took the sinner's punishment. Jesus experienced the anger of God against the sin of the whole human race. What happened to Him should be happening to us. But it doesn't because He set us free, body and soul, from eternal condemnation. And, He gained for us God's grace, righteousness, and eternal life.
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