Lent 5-C, 3/25/07

“Drawn to the Cross”
John 12: 1-8

1“Six days before the Passover Jesus came to Bethany, the home of Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. 2There they gave a dinner for him. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those at the table with him. 3Mary took a pound of costly perfume made of pure nard, anointed Jesus’ feet, and wiped them with her hair. The house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume. 4But Judas Iscariot, one of his disciples (the one who was about to betray him), said, 5“Why was this perfume not sold for three hundred denarii and the money given to the poor?” 6(He said this not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief; he kept the common purse and used to steal what was put into it.) 7Jesus said, “Leave her alone. She bought it so that she might keep it for the day of my burial. 8You always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”  (NRSV)

nly John recorded Jesus’ last visit with his best friends for a last meal with them at their home in Bethany. Lazarus and his two sisters Mary and Martha were special disciples. Lazarus had recently been raised from the dead by Jesus. It was the miracle that stirred up the wrath of the Pharisees and caused them to plot to kill Jesus. But this was a happy day, just six days before Jesus’ death. They had a little bit of time and Jesus seemed to enjoy some of his last few days as a human being. You and I have had similar days like this and we know how unforgettable they are still to us as they were to Jesus.

Can there be any other good thing to come out of the torture of the old rugged Cross? Perhaps the Last Supper that Jesus had with his Apostles. Most were good friends and others had been called for their proficiencies in handling specific needs of the group. One had been a treasurer and was the one who betrayed Jesus allowing Mary to anoint Jesus. Judas took his own life.  This is not a pretty picture and things kept getting worse as the events unfolded.

Motion Picture director and actor, Mel Gibson, a deeply committed Christian, used his own financing to film “The Passion of the Christ.” I did not know what to expect, after having worked in this crucifixion material for some time in the past. It was gruesome, but not as bad as it could have shown. Most folks were shocked by the graphic depiction of the scenes. The scenes repelled all of us. But Gibson wanted to show how the sinless Son of God died in our place for our sins.

And from the cross we heard the words "Father, forgive them for they know not what they do!" and finally Jesus cried out triumphantly, "It is finished!"  I hope that most viewers realized that Jesus was crying out for the sake of every human being.

The screen play author deliberately did not try to explain God’s Plan of Salvation for fear of being too simplistic, or pandering, but we do hope that the millions who witnessed the scenes had someone to explain to them that Jesus was dying for each one in the many theaters around the world. Sadly, some folks never catch on.

The early church did not use images of the Cross until all of the eye witnesses had died for it was too graphic for them to look upon. However, in the late Apostolic Days the Cross became a teaching device and reminder of Jesus’ love for us. It was the mark of Christianity’s identity. Churches had to first meet secretly in homes and even in the Catacombs of Rome. Once it was a symbol of shame and ignominy, the Cross soon carried a message of salvation. Today, the Christian Cross is the most recognizable symbol in the world, ahead of Atlanta’s own Coca-Cola logo.

The Cross also says to defeated folks that Jesus faced down terror and won. It reminds the dying person that there is a heaven because of Jesus’ free salvation for all who hear and respond. It’s all about everlasting love and hope against hopelessness.  Jesus was a Victor and not a Victim. He was no ordinary martyr; He specifically gave his life in our place.

Theology teaches that there is a “vicarious” element in Christ’s death. For those of us who have an inward sense of salvation we do not have to try to put words to wonder, but we ought to try. We can use the popular explanation for “atonement” by breaking it down to ‘at-one-ment,’ Or, Jesus death atones for our sin and makes us one with him. "Vicarious" means that he died in our place, and, he thus, made us friends. All Christians should feel mutually bonded by sharing in the Cross.

Last Sunday we used the phrase, “Being Made Right with God.” That is important. Not so much that we grasp it, but that you know in your inner-person that you belong to Him. “Ransom” means to pay the price to gain someone’s freedom. Jesus paid the price for us.

There are other metaphors to help us understand the Cross. Jesus was the substitutionary sacrifice for us.  He died in our place, and because of his vicarious atonement we can all live forever together. The Resurrection that we celebrate on Easter offers eternal life for every believer.

We all share the wonderful experience of being drawn to Jesus’ Cross. We feel as if we too are special friends of Jesus. If he were in our neighborhood, he might drop in to visit and we would make him welcome for he has drawn us into the circle of his love and grace.

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor
Lent 5-C, 3/25/07