Summary: The cross is hideous. It’s not a pretty thing we hang on our walls. It’s not a fine piece of jewelry hanging from our neck. It is the most brutal instrument of death ever conceived by the cruel mind of man.
For the past few weeks, we’ve been looking at the events of the last few days of Jesus’ life on earth. With each of those events, we’ve seen a sense of urgency. Each week we have seen an example of urgency. But this morning is different. In this morning’s passage, our Lord shows a sense of urgency that we can hardly imagine. This morning we’re going to be talking about the Urgent Atonement that Jesus made for us on the cross. Studying the cross is a difficult thing. But that’s what we’re going to do this morning. And I’m going to warn you—the cross is hideous. It’s not a well-crafted, pretty varnished thing we have hanging on our walls. It’s not a fine, gold piece of jewelry hanging from our neck. It is one of the most brutal instruments of death ever conceived by the cruel mind of man. And that’s where we are this morning.
I used the word atonement earlier. Atonement is one of those 25 cent theological words that we sometimes get hung up on. Atonement is a word that was made up just a few hundred years ago. Actually, it was originally two words—at onement, and it was made up by Bible translators. They were trying to capture the idea of reconciling the broken relationship between God and man. And if you think about it, it carries that idea pretty well. When a man and a woman are happily married, we say they are of one flesh. At the same time, a perfect relationship between man and God would be an “at one” relationship. But that relationship was broken. When Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, mankind’s relationship with God was no longer at one. We now have a sin nature that has been passed down to us from Adam. And because of that sin nature, we all sin. So not only is mankind as a whole not “at one” with God… none of us as individuals is “at one” with God. The Bible puts it this way, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And the sad thing is, in and of ourselves, there is nothing we can do about it. There is nothing we can do about it, because the only cure for sin is death. Back in the garden, God told Adam that if he sinned by eating the fruit, he would surely die. But Adam and Eve didn’t die when they ate of the fruit. Why? Because God offered a substitute. In Genesis 3:21, God killed an animal and clothed them in its skin. He shed the blood as an atonement for their sin and covered them with the substitute’s pure, sinless carcass. The animal died so they wouldn’t have to. The animal atoned for their sin. The animal shed its blood so their relationship could be at one with God again. Hebrews 9:22 says that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sins. So all through the Old Testament, we see sacrifice after sacrifice after sacrifice. Millions of gallons of animal blood was poured out as an attempt to atone for the people’s sins. But all that blood pointed to one thing. It pointed to the need for a more perfect sacrifice. The writer to the Hebrews puts it like this in 10:3-4: “But in those sacrifices there is a remembrance again made of sins every year. For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and of goats should take away sins.” Then he gives the answer in the second part of verse 9-10: “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second. By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” You see, there is only one answer to the sin problem. And that is blood. But all blood was temporary. In the Old Testament, the blood of animals was only effective in that it pointed to the sacrifice yet to come. But it was all temporary. It was incomplete. It was a shadow of the reality that was to come. And that reality came in our passage this morning. That reality came one ugly day on a hill called Golgatha—an Aramaic word that simply means “the skull.” That day, on that hill, God poured out all His wrath for your sin and my sin. He poured out His wrath on the sin of all mankind. He poured it all out to the very last drop on His only-begotten Son, Jesus. On that hill, atonement was made for you and for me.
After the Last Supper. After preparing Himself in prayer in the garden. His betrayer came. About midnight or 1:00 in the morning, Judas came and betrayed Jesus with a kiss. And that started in motion the worst treachery and injustice that the world will ever know. Jesus was paraded before a series of six illegal trials that would run throughout the night and into the early morning hours. After each one, He was increasingly mocked and ridiculed. He was spit on and cursed. He was stripped and slapped. And oh how He was beaten. In the first mock trial before the former high priest Annas, Jesus was dealt a single, solitary stinging blow to the face. It was just a start of things to come. The next trial was before the current high priest Caiaphas and members of the Sanhedrin. This one ended with them spiting in Jesus’ face and beating Him with their fists and slapping Him with their open hands. All the while, they were mocking Him—“Prophesy to us—who hit you that time?” Now it’s about 3 AM and Jesus is drug off to the third illegal trial. This time it’s before the whole Sanhedrin who trumped up a charge of blasphemy against Jesus. They bound Him and drug Him to Pilate. Many of us are familiar with the story of Pilate, but that is not our focus. Our focus is on the suffering of our Lord. Even though Pilate found no guilt in Jesus, He couldn’t release Him because he knew the Jews would riot. So he found a loophole and send Jesus over to Herod. Herod was a disgusting man who was looking to be entertained. He wanted Jesus to perform a circus stunt miracle for him. And when Jesus was silent, his soldiers mocked Him and put a royal robe on Him. And then they sent Him back to Pilate. So, about 7:30 in the morning, Pilate had Jesus scourged. Our passage in verse 26 simply says, “Then released he Barabbas unto them: and when he had scourged Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified.”