The practice of the Cross- The Call to Remember (Kwibuka)

Text: John 19, Col 3:1-10                                                        Intro:

It has been another dark week in our nation following the Garissa attack, 170 lives lost, families and the nation left in fear and unanswered questions. There is the usual buzz in the media and politics, names to blame, religious views to be stirred, statistics to review, history’s to emphasize and political statements to make. As we bleed and pray with our fellow Kenyans, We must not forget the realities of Evil, (How intense and cruel- Evil can be) but most importantly we must not forget the reality of the Truth that conquers this evil- The cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. We thank God for Red Cross but it falls short, only the blood of Jesus  shed on the Cross for our sins can grant us peace to save us from the wrath and evil in this world.

It’s as though the enemy wants to distract us, He strikes just before Easter and our minds and hearts are distracted from the cross, the enemy of the Cross is magnified more than the Conqueror of the Enemy. As I have mentioned before, these are perilous end time days, and the soldiers of the Cross must rise despite the pressure to be cowardice. His banner we must raise, though they slay us we do not lose heart for through the Cross, Ultimate victory is ours.

We begin a new series this month of April entitled- The practice of the Cross. As we refresh ourselves on the Easter events, we focus on the Cross of Christ as a grounding Truth of our Christian faith. We hope to affirm the Truth of the Cross of Jesus that Liberates us to live God’s LIFE in our lives even amidst challenging times as we are in today.  Turn now with me to the scriptures in Col 3:1-10. But in order to appreciate this text I will recount the story of Crucifixion from John 19. (Read)

About 2000 years ago, the Cross was left for us to remind us the most significant event not just in human but also in God’s history. But like the soldiers who played dice and gambled at the feet of the cross while Jesus hung on it, it is possible that the Cross and the one who hung on it can be forgotten or become a background, even worse by those who claim to be Christians today. The Cross can become a fable or an artifact to which the best use is for religious functions and hangings in churches or ornaments like earrings. Far from this, Easter is our time to Kwibuka as the Rwandese would say as they remember the genocide.

During Easter we are reminded that our Salvation is Free but it did not come cheap. We are reminded that because of the way of the Cross, our way of life can be significantly be changed. A careless view of the Cross leads to a careless gospel and as a result a careless faith with empty emotions for and to the one who gave his life for us. In the words of Muggeridge “it is the Cross, more than anything else that has called me inexorably/unrelentingly/unwavering to Christ.

Today we reflect on this solemn journey. Please resist the temptation to think this is merely a history class, but open your heart again, dive back into the scene with me and let’s glean LIFE from the heart of our savior for today’s concerns but also for eternity.

The crucifixion events as recorded in John 19, took place from around 9am in the mourning till 3pm in the afternoon. It was a special religious season. The Passover celebrations had fallen significantly well on this Sabbath. The numerous pilgrimages made to Jerusalem at this time of the year also caught on the spectacle of the crucifixion of Jesus. This event just as the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts 2 were synchronized by God in His plan when the world would literally come over to Jerusalem like “world cup” and then disperse back to their homes with a tale from Jerusalem.

After the early morning trial, The Jews had agreed to release Barabbas, the man who missed his cross and instead continued to ask Pilate to crucify Jesus. He must have walked away amidst the crowd wondering about the one who had ransomed his life.

Too often we hear that statement “Jesus died on the Cross for our sins”. Today I will not be quick to focus on what we can learn from these events but simply attempt to describe and re-live these moments and pray that God’s spirit would truly break your heart and allow this brokenness to lead you to love and worship the Lord with all your heart and as a result transform you to live in the power of the one who died on that Cross for you. Before we answer why did Jesus die? Consider first how He died.

But first a quick reminder that Jesus was not a victim of circumstance, this was not because he had a plan that failed at the last minute, we must remember that throughout Jesus submitted himself in obedience to God’s will. Every bit of this crucifixion journey was a prophetic fulfillment in God’s plan. Right from the Passover timing, to the trials, to the flogging, thorns, crucifixion and death yet they all missed it. (Read Isaiah 53:2-8)

So Pilate’s attempt to save Jesus through asserting political power did not move Jesus.  While he responded in fear to try and please the Jews, Jesus was not at his mercy (vs 11,)  instead Jesus reminds him and us that this was God’s will and says the ones who handed him over were the guilty of the greater sin of denying him. In this statement Jesus enjoins the world, the Jews and Romans, Judas and Pilate, those who denied him, you and I denied him.

Secondly, Death by crucifixion was the most horrifying, humiliating, painful and despicable death anyone could go through. Borrowed from the Persians, the Romans had taken it and perfected it as a science and art. It was considered so shameful that no roman would be crucified instead they only crucified non roman criminals or foreigners. This form of execution is quite the opposite of what we know today, instead of private it was public, instead of quick it was slow, and instead of honorably it was shamefully. It was designed to be slowest, most painful, most shameful way to die. As the Jews said “cursed is the one who died on the tree”

Pilate had Jesus flogged before trying to release him again. There were two kinds of flogging in those days, the Jewish described in Deut 25:1-3, not more than 40 lashes, But Jesus went through the Roman flogging that was also called half-way death. Before the scourging, the victim, Jesus was stripped naked and bent forward stretched out on a pole that fastened his feet and hands on a pole or stamp. The scourging was done by a professional. The instrument called a flagellum made of a wooden handle, with long leather straps with pieces of glass, broken bones and metal woven and sewn in the straps. The best depiction of how it happened is captured in the movie “the passion of the Christ” which I would urge you to go and watch. As one was hit the bones would prick into the body and pull out flesh as the victim would begin to hemorrhage heavily. It was designed to reduce the naked body to strips of raw flesh and inflamed, bleeding wounds. It was not uncommon for victims to die; a soldier would keep watch if the victim would not revive.

After this Jesus went through open and public humiliation. At this time these Romans were so brutal that they would laugh through it all. If you have been in the hands of military police, you will understand that their insults are cold and dehumanizing. On his swollen face and bruised flesh, they made a make shift crown of thorns and shoved it on Jesus head making a mockery of the Jews as they shouted “King of the Jews” as they hit and struck him on the face and robbed him in a purple royal robe.

This spectacle was already grievous enough, so Pilate brings Jesus back to the Jews and the public and they did not have a change of heart instead cried out for his full blood through crucifixion. This was truly a societal death, to have everyone reject you and demand for your death proving your useless and unwanted state in the society.  So they cried for his blood. Crucify…Crucify. He heard every obscene and coarse comment at Him….”yet He opened His mouth not” 1 peter 2:21-24

It is because of this that Christ is able to identify with every of our human pains and trials. Every bit of this was severe and total. In this Christ identified with every possible pain to us today and more, from betrayal, loneliness, pain, hunger, shame. It is in this state that we receive a promise of our healing. Jesus is not the distant doctor who asks is it painful? But the comforter and healer who says “I know where and how much because I have experienced every bit of your pain.”

As we mourn over these recent attacks, as we cry for help in these broken days, Jesus on the Cross stretches his hands towards us and says to us I understand what you have gone through. Have they hurt you, betrayed you, insulted you, embarrassed you, disowned you, have they denied you, turned on you, ganged up on you, have they gossiped you, have they cursed you, have they left you, take heart, Jesus understands every bit of it, and by His grace you can keep silent, you can forgive, you can avoid revenge, you can pray for them, you can trust them again, You can in Jesus name. Kwibuka, by His stripes we are healed.

Read Heb 12:1-4

At this point he had begun to shake and shiver from all the shock and pain with hoarse voice and slow painful speech. Pilate sat and for the fear of the emperor Tiberius, whom the Jews had threatened him with although he found no reason, released Jesus to them to be crucified.

The journey to Golgotha was not an easy one. Golgotha is Hebrew or Aramaic, which is also the skull in Greek or Calvary in Latin. Remember crucifixion was a public event, the parade started from prison to the open high mountain outside the city on the mountain of Golgotha that all passing would see the shame and fear the Romans.  The Roman soldiers used this procession to affirm their rule and justice in a sordid way to the Jews to discourage rebellion. While the first vertical rugged timber had gone ahead with some soldier, the victim followed by carrying his own cross bar which was heavy about 6 by 6 feet, in of itself despite the pain and weakness already experienced from the flogging. They would then hang a sign on your neck with the crime accused of for all to see which would be nailed at the top of the cross. Jesus crime was a mockery that the Jews tried to fight but Pilate insisted, written in 3 languages of the time for all to know. With the cross bar hoisted on his shoulders they dragged Jesus on what seemed to be a long hard walk. The crowd kept shouting the insults and as they would find n opportunity hurl something, stone, spit at Jesus. The High priests having affirmed their religious authority over these matters slowly disappear in the back ground maybe as they went to prepare for Sabbath. Not much is said only later when the temple veil tore in the middle, but some of their allies must have stayed and followed to confirm the event.

The journey also called (via dolorosa- the way of sorrow) was nothing as smooth, but had stumbles, falls, halting for breath from the pain, thirst and weight of the cross.

It is no wonder, Simon of Cyrene somewhere from Africa, who probably had made his pilgrimage, finds himself forced to enjoin Jesus to carry the cross beam. We don’t know much of his reaction at that time, probably of hatred to the Romans, but He also carried Jesus and His cross. It was not removed from Jesus but he helped closely. I wonder what he thought and felt on the way there on the scorching sun as he glanced into Jesus face once in a while. The result is seen later in Acts, when He is mentioned again as one of the converts.       What then did Jesus mean in Mat 16:24

If anyone wishes to follow me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. Following Jesus is not a walk in the park, following Jesus is denying oneself and dying to self of all privileges for the sake of Christ. Following Jesus means being stripped of personal rights, rights to be heard right to justice, right to decency and instead following with steadfast devotion, yet He promises his grace in this times. How are you following Jesus?

Have you died with Christ as Colossians would ask- (call to Baptism) As we leant this week, too often we sing I give my ‘self’ away- We mean we give God our ‘selves’, to preserve them for us and keep them well, However the reverse is, if we give God ourselves, He puts it to death so that He can give you himself instead.

Finally with a thud, he fell on the rocky ground, with the cross bar heavy on him. Here they would strip him again, left exposed in his agony, and often the victim’s body would be denied burial instead left to decay still hanging on the cross. The Persians believed the blood of the victim was impure and hence was not to touch the pure earth and as a result the victim would be hoisted above the ground.

Once begun the matter was done quickly and efficiently, so that death would occur when the execution is complete and not before. He was laid on his back on the cross beam and stretched to be nailed by about 5 inch nails on the bar from both wrists. With the right hand the executioner looked for the hollow spot on the wrists where there would be minimal blood loss and then nail hard on the wood.

After this dragging by the cross beam up the other vertical beam, the victim would wreath in pain as he hungs loosely with a V shape on the cross bar. They would then Nail the feet on a position such that the Knees would be sufficiently folded for an up down motion for breathing.

Try Hanging on a tree. To be able to keep breathing the victim on the cross had to stay in constant motion of pushing upwards putting pain on the feet or hanging downwards putting pain on the hands. The victims would often die of suffocation, hunger, pain or sheer exhaustion. What they call asphyxiation.

While Jesus hangs on the cross, the 4 roman soldiers played dice to divide Jesus garments. An average Jew had a 5 piece dress up/apparell. The first four was the sandals, turban, tunic, robe, belt and outer robe. After each had selected an item, the tunic all woven in one piece remained and so they gambled for it.

It is during this time that Jesus said the most piercing last words, which I will briefly expound on.

“Father Forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” – The centurion heard this man speak. Of course those who died never spoke like this, they died cursing and breathing insults at the Romans but Jesus to his very last breathe was not cursing instead prayed for his persecutors. – After offering Himself to the father, he went on as the high priest and made intercession for us as prophesied – Isaiah 53:11-12, someone else prayed this prayer Stephen when being stoned to death. This prayer was made for you and me on that cross. Kwibuka. This prayer was made for Alshabab.

“Today you shall be with me in paradise”- There were other two thieves who had been crucified with Jesus, while one continued to mock and hurl insults at Jesus even as they both died, the other confessed openly “have you no shame that we face the same punishment, we who have stolen and he who is innocent” Remember me when you come again as King. In the last minute He placed his faith in Jesus. This was a true reflection that Blessed are the broken for theirs is the kingdom, the difference between the thieves  is one acknowledged his guilt and the other did not, What do you need to confess at the cross of Jesus? The place of the Cross is for the broken.Kwibuka

“Behold your son, Behold your mother” at the cross Jesus redefines relationships. Mary got a new son and John got a new mother not by blood but by faith, while Jesus physical brothers did not believe in him, John did. Echoing the words he said earlier “that my brothers and sisters and mothers are those who believe in me.” The cross creates the new family of believers in Him. The cross is not tribal, it’s not divisive, but unites all into one family faith. Kwibuka

The next 3 sentences were directed to God.

“Why have you forsaken me?” As he remained suspended between earth and sky in pain, he cried out in a loud but soar voice, Eloi, Eloi…Lama sabachthani. This is the most anguishing cry. Jesus had never known a time or a moment of separation from His father. His fellowship with the father had never been broken but now He experienced it. The weight of the world on him, the fullness of your sins and my sins were on him such that the father for that moment detached from the son. By this God, affirmed the sufficiency, totality that the sin had been sufficiently atoned for. The wrath of God towards our sins was satisfied at the cross. Kwibuka. When we go through those moments we ask God, where were you, He tells us He was and is still in the same place when he forsook Jesus for us. Sometimes when God is silent we learn the deepest lessons of obedience and trust. Our character is formed.

“It is finished” This last word of Jesus was a declaration that the war and fight against sin was over. He had said earlier to his disciples that his work and will was to do the work the father had given him. The work of atonement and substitution for us was thoroughly completed. He did not leave any work for us. The debt or ransom for our salvation was paid in full. The law was perfectly fulfilled, Justice was rightly delivered and your accuser was ultimately silenced. There is nothing left to be finished by man, we can add nothing to his death but it is finished. Now you and I can remember that as we walk free and forgiven, we must not forget it is by grace that you have been saved lest any man may boast.  And it is this grace that will sustain you and lead you home. Kwibuka it is finished.

“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit”

With these words, Jesus welcomed death. He did not die of exhaustion, or pain or merely murder, but he willingly gave up his spirit. John 10:17-18 (read). Remember again Stephen said these very words when He died. These words teach us the art of dying and the art of living. The art of dying is not a painful struggle to hold on to life, but a peaceful surrender of oneself into the hands of the father, not in insults and anger but in peace. It is well with my soul. The art of living then becomes a daily rehearsal for the art of dying. Not holding on to this world and it’s wealth, not holding on desperately but daily surrendering oneself to the Lord. Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee. Kwibuka.

So listen again to the text In Col 3 and ask If your life is hidden in Christ- Where is the place for Immorality and sexual impurity, To reject the cross of Jesus is to welcome the wrath of God, to accept the Cross is to accept, forgiveness and victory, to accept God’s very Own LIFE in ours.

Closing prayer:  (Thank you for the Cross) So once again we look upon the cross where you died- Do you need to be broken over the cross?  DO you have someone you are angry with, bitter with

Are you in pain, sickness- by his stripes… Have you lost someone, loved ones….

Do you have a debt to pay, Sin or addiction to confess, something to put to death, Do you want to give your life to Jesus….Come to the cross. Kwibuka!  It is the Cross more than anything that has called me inexorably to Christ.

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