Summary: A Good Friday sermon
A few years ago I witnessed a head on collision between two cars. The car about 300 metres in front of me collided head-on with a vehicle overtaking a truck in the opposite direction. I had a clear, unobstructed view of the incident. The cars collided head-on but off-centre. So they rotated when they hit, which reduced the frontal impact.
I was first on the scene. I comforted the older lady whilst others helped the fellow in the other car. The ambulances soon arrived and then the police interviewed me and took a statement.
I was rather surprised when the police said lets put the two people back in the car, find the truck and replay the crash. Then we can see for ourselves what actually happened. Well, no, they didn't do that. The police assumed that my evidence was sufficient and there was no need to replay the accident.
It's not necessary to see an event first hand to get the truth. None of us were gazing at he cross. We weren't standing and watching three men being nailed to a wooden cross and hung out to dry. We weren't watching Jesus endure the pain. We weren't there to read the sign above his head, 'Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews'. We missed the soldiers dividing up his clothes.
We never saw Jesus' mother and auntie standing at the foot of the cross. That was another time—another place. We didn't hear Jesus say to his mum, 'Dear women, here is your son'. We misssed the exchange of eyes and the agony only a mother can feel.
The three hours of darkness over the whole land would have taken us by surprise. But we weren't there. We missed the occasion. We didn't hear those last words, 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me'? Nor did we see Jesus breathe his last or the soldier thrust his spear into his side. We were speared this gory sight.
We missed this moment in history. But we can turn to eyewitness accounts. We can LISTEN to their story. We can read their testimonies. We can reply upon them to take us back to the event. We can feel their emotion as the story is retold.
Lots of people saw Jesus crucified. It was a public event, as was the countless other crucifixions which took place the first century. In the final stages of a war in 70 A.D., the Romans were crucifying 500 Jews a day outside Jerusalem's walls. It was a terrible place and a terrible time. According to Josephus, a first century historian, there were so many crucifixions that there were 'no more spaces for crosses, nor crosses for bodies'.
So at one level what happened to Jesus was unremarkable. From the Jewish point of view it was the death a deluded man—from the Roman point of view is was simply another day, another execution. Since both Jews and Romans got their way. There was NO need to distort the public record for the man was dead.
Yet people walked away from the crucifixion of Christ with an incredible story to tell. One modern day historian writes, 'When you consider the meaning Jesus attached to his cross and the impact it has had on countless millions of lives throughout history, there is a sense in which his is a most extraordinary death'. John DICKSON goes onto say, 'What for Pilate was a minor administrative matter, soon forgotten, was for the first Christians the centre—the crux—of God's mercy for the world' (Life of Jesus, Dickson, 102).
So was Jesus' death no more than a minor administrative matter? Or is Dickson right? Is the death of Jesus an outpouring of God's mercy for the world? We weren't there. But the crowds were there—the Roman soldiers were there—and John, the beloved disciple, was there. We must turn to those who witnessed the cross and discover what they saw.
Let's start with the crowds who reflected broader public opinion (slide). I remember when I was a boy, LBJ visited Australia (1966). Linden Baines Johnson was the US President. Dad and mum took us into town. There were placards and people running everywhere to get a glimpse of the President. 'All the way with LBJ'.
A few days before Jesus entered Jerusalem, the crowds went out to meet him. They had their own way of saying, 'All the way with LBJ'. The Gospel records tell us, 'They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Blessed is the King of Israel!”' (John 12:13).
They welcomed Jesus as the king who will rescue them from Roman rule. And I can assure you, the Jews did not like Roman rule. They wanted their land back and they were eagerly searching for their conquering King. They were looking for miracle —for a sign their mighty King was coming. And as Jesus neared Jerusalem, word got around that he had raised Lazarus from the dead. The hysteria was mounting. So the crowd went to meet Jesus as he approached Jerusalem. Thy were bubbling with excitement and expectation (John 12:17–18).