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We’re going to be first in Luke 23 and then in John 19 this morning, so if you you’re your Bibles, please turn to Luke 23.  Welcome to 2018 and “The Year at the Cross” here at TVCOG!  We are going to talk a lot about the cross and God’s purpose for the cross this year.  I invite anyone who wants to, to write out what the cross means to you and to share it with us as Pastor Larry did in our communion meditation this morning.  Email it to me, and we will give you a date to share. 

The cross was the instrument through which Jesus was not only physically lifted up, but it was the pivotal moment when God’s purposes were lifted up for all to see in a spiritual sense.  It was at the moment of Christ’s death on the cross when many who gathered there had an “aha” moment, when many completely changed their opinion about who Jesus was and what He had come to do.  It was a moment when people realized Jesus was the Son of God according to Matthew and Mark’s gospels.  It was a moment when people felt conviction and guilt over their own actions according to Luke’s gospel. 

The cross tells a story.  The cross makes a statement; several actually.  The cross also becomes a discipleship tool, a teaching tool.  For as we watch Jesus die on the cross and observe what He did, what He didn’t do, what He said, and what He didn’t say, as we watch Him die, we can learn how to live.

Jesus was always teaching, and it was no different at the cross.  We can miss a lot if we just read about the cross as a story.  We can actually read it as a teaching regarding not only how to die, but also how to live.
Luke 23:32-46 32  Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33  When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. 34  Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Make forgiveness the rule and not the exception.
There have been times when I have talked to people about their need to forgive someone who has hurt them, and the response I get is, “Well, you don’t know what they’ve done to me!” That may be true, but I am pretty sure no one had whipped and beaten that person to the point where you were no longer physically recognizable (Is. 52:14).  In fact, Scripture says Jesus was so assaulted to the point where He no longer even looked human.  Many of us wouldn’t have been able to stand the sight of Him without throwing up or passing out.
Obviously, no one here has had the experience of being nailed to a cross while being naked or almost naked to hang as a spectacle for people to laugh at and mock.  So, no, while I don’t know what people have done to you, I do know what people did to Jesus, and I know what His response was.  “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
In Jesus’ most vulnerable hour, forgiveness was the rule.  In a moment when He may have felt completely justified cussing out his crucifiers or spitting on those who had spat on Him, or even in a moment when He could have simply shut His eyes to shut out the horrific reality He was enduring, He wouldn’t close His eyes to people who needed to be forgiven.  That’s why He lived.  That why He was dying.  People needed forgiveness.  His mission didn’t change because He was enduring the unthinkable.  He was a Forgiver, and He would forgive people even with His last ounce of strength and breath.
If Jesus can forgive while He was enduring a situation none of us could fathom going through, we can forgive the person who backstabs us, who talks about us, who steals from us, who steps in on our relationship, who lies to us, who undermines our authority, who seemingly sabotages our success or who starts a war on Facebook.  People need forgiveness, and you have the power to forgive them.  Be sure they will still have to answer to God for the things they have done, but when you extend forgiveness to them, one hurdle is removed from their path, and your actions can point them to the One who can forgive them once and for all.

Now I can’t make this argument biblically, but picture the Heavenly Father who had to look away from His Son while He was on the cross.  He had to look away not because Jesus was so disgusting to look at physically, but because Jesus, on the cross, became everything God despised.  He took on the sins of the entire world.  The holiness of God the Father could not look on Him.  There is a sense that Jesus received the full punishment that would have resulted from every sin of every person while He was on the cross.  I can’t imagine the spiritual suffocation as He was suffocating physically.  However, don’t you think that when Jesus started asking God to forgive people from the cross, God the Father was just a little tempted to peek at least with one eye and say, “Atta boy?”  I can’t confirm anything.  I am just surmising.  ?

Life is too short to live offended.  Live free.  Forgive.  Do the right thing.  Jesus forgave.  Live like Jesus.

Luke 23:35ff  Vs 35:35  The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ of God, the Chosen One.” 36  The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37  and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

Tune out the insults of others.
Jesus did not give His last ounce of strength and breath to address people who were insulting Him.  If He had, maybe He wouldn’t have had the strength to say, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!”  We have really become preoccupied with “winning arguments” and “putting people in their place” in today’s culture, and the truth is, it solves nothing and just wastes time and energy that can be better spent on what really matters.

If there has been a misunderstanding with someone that you can help clear up by speaking with them when they insult you, go ahead and set up a meeting.  That is necessary and biblical.  Otherwise, when people insult you, turn a deaf ear to them.  Tune them out.  Let it go because the more you engage with the kind of people who hurl insults, the more likely it is that you will retaliate with the same Junior High attitude and things will only get worse.  People who want to fight somebody can’t fight with you if you choose to walk away from the conversation.

Like you, I have dealt with some insults in my time.  Over the years, there have been a few people who have surmised that one reason our church is growing is because I have somehow watered down the gospel and that I am making it easy for people to be saved and to follow Jesus; that I am giving sin a pass in my preaching. I have been criticized recently online in a closed FB group that my husband is part of because we have an Ash Wednesday service and that is just plain pagan according to a few.

In my previous church where I ministered for 12 years, I was called “Satan” by a parishioner.  I had a colleague tell a church that I had resumed for that I would be their “worst nightmare” if they hired me.  It has been alleged that I have “leadership issues” (whatever that means) by another colleague.  Those two colleagues have never worked with me in a church setting, never worked with me on a committee or in any capacity and have never had a conversation with me about any issue.  They have just shared those perceptions with some other people.  I have had to deal with my share of naysayers and insults regarding the fact that I am a female senior pastor. 

I had someone who left our church about six years ago tell me they were tired of hearing sermons from Fox news.  My family can tell you I hardly watch the news.  On the flip side, I had someone once tell me they were tired of going to a church where politics were not discussed from the pulpit and that I needed to be addressing our president and the political goings on from the pulpit.  So, one person alleged I was grossly political in my preaching and another complained that I wasn’t political at all.

I don’t have time to give myself to naysayers or those who choose to insult rather than seek to know or understand me.  I would never minimize any real concern, and I welcome any conversation with anyone who wants to have a conversation with me, but I am not going to give time and attention to those who merely hurl insults, innuendos and accusations.  I don’t have time for it, and neither do you.

Think of what could have tragically happened if Jesus had spent His last moments trying to engage those who were insulting Him rather than the things He was concerned about as He hung on that cross?  Church, the return of Christ is nearer than it has ever been.  People are dying every day without the Lord.  The only critic we need to concern ourselves with is God Himself.  If we are seeking to please Him, we can keep on keeping on and not pay attention to the distracting noise around us which has been sent by the enemy to try to detour us from doing God’s will.

38  There was a written notice above him, which read: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. 39  One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40  But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41  We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

42  Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43  Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

If Jesus had engaged with those who hurled insults at Him, He wouldn’t have had time to engage with the thief on the cross.  Time was of the essence.  The thief on the cross wanted an eternity with Jesus, and Jesus wisely shut out the voice of the insulters to listen to the voice of someone seeking salvation.  We need to do the same.  Jesus refused to listen to insults.  We need to live like Jesus.

John 19:2525  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26  When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27  and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Stay others-focused.
Jesus was never inappropriately self-absorbed.  He was always thinking of others.  In this case, He was making sure His mom would be alright not only in that moment of grief and anguish, but in the days to come.  How precious and tender Jesus was even to the very end.

I am not telling you to not think about yourself.  You need to.  You need to organize your life, enjoy your life, pay attention to your health and find some “me” time for the things that bring you joy.  But make sure you remember the people in your life who are important, the people who need to know you love and care about them.  Don’t lose sight of those who are in distress, those who need your comfort, even at times when you may need comforted yourself.  A life of impact is always a life lived with a focus on other people. 

Jesus never held a pity party.  The cross wasn’t the only tough time in Jesus’ life.  He dealt with criticism, with people plotting against Him and with betrayal all throughout His ministry, but He continued to have compassion on people.  He continued to be moved by the needs of other people.  Even though He was laser-focused on His mission which was to die for the sins of the world, He never lost sight of the people for whom He was dying.  People mattered to Jesus.  People need to matter to us.  Jesus lived for others.  Live like Jesus.

Luke 19:44-46 44  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. 46  Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.

Remain in God’s hands.
Even though God the Father had been silent, even though He had turned away from Jesus in a sense, while He was on the cross, Jesus knew God could hear Him.  Jesus knew He would be safe in the hands of the Father.  The Father would take care of judgments to be rendered and people to be dealt with.  The Father would one day right every wrong.  The Father would take care of the Son as He would breathe His last.  It was going to be alright because He would be in the Father’s hands.
Just do a study on God’s hands in the Bible, and you will be thrilled to see how deliverance comes from His hands.  Favor is talked about as coming from God’s hand being on a person.  God’s hands reach for us, taking the initiative to draw us closer to Him.  Scripture talks about how His hands are stretched out toward us.  His hands are stretched out against the enemies we face as well.  His hands can reach us wherever we go.  He provides safety and protection in His hands.  Provision comes from God’s hands. 
How many songwriters have picked up on this theme of God’s hands:
He leadeth me, He leadeth me, By His own hand He leadeth me;
His faithful foll’wer I would be, For by His hand He leadeth me.
He touched me, O He touched me, and O the joy that floods my soul.
Something happened, and now I know He touched me and made me whole.

I feel the touch of hands so kind and tender
They’re leading me in paths that I must trod
I’ll have no fear for Jesus walks beside me
For I’m sheltered in the arms of God

So let the storms rage high
The dark clouds rise
They don’t worry me
For I’m sheltered safe within the arms of God

He walks with me
And naught of earth shall harm me
For I’m sheltered in the arms of God

God’s hands are secure.  No one can beat Him in an arm wrestling match.  No one can cause Him to loosen His grip on you and me.  John 10:27-29, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand.”

We remain in God’s hands when we give our lives to Him and seek His will above our own, just like Jesus.  Jesus remained in God’s hands.  Live like Jesus.

John 19:28-30 28  Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29  A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30  When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Finished.  Not just “done,” but finished.  We may be “done” with something, but it may not be finished.  Jesus finished the work God gave Him to do. 
Complete the work God gives you.
Jesus was a finisher, and God exalted Jesus.  He appeared in His glorified body to over 500 eyewitnesses and then ascended to heaven in order to take His rightful place on His throne next to God the Father. 
When I take my last breath here, I don’t want people to just say, “It’s over.  Her life is done.”  I want people to be able to see that I finished the work God gave me to do, and I want to hear God the Father say the words of Matthew 25:21, “Well done, Good and Faithful Servant.”  I want to hear the words of 2 Timothy 4:6-8 6  For I am already being poured out like a drink offering, and the time has come for my departure. 7  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. 8  Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day–and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.
I don’t just want to start something for the Kingdom, I want to finish it.  I want to stay faithful.  Jesus stayed faithful to the end.  Jesus was a closer, a finisher of the work God gave Him to do.  Live like Jesus.

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