Scripture: Luke 23: 26-49
I remembered a most difficult conversation I had with Larry back in 2014 around this time of the year. We talked about how Judy Niemeyer, His late wife was progressing at the hospital. The cancer had begun to spread to her liver and they knew what was coming.
But what amazed me, was that in the middle of this conversation, He asked me whether the roofing sheets for the church had started going up? He also said he would have loved to be here for the fundraiser and was praying for the church, He promised to send in their contribution which they had raised through friends about 4-5 times what they had raised on their own. But then I asked him how they were taking all this and how he would be thinking about the church and ministry at this time.
In His words, He said “I will answer you like an American Christian, “We are processing and have talked freely about the reality of death. We are both aware and that she may have a short time to live and that they were taking a day at a time in faith. While praying for a miracle, our faith does not demand God to heal her, because we are already healed. The greatest miracle is when he died on the cross to save us and for this reason we are ready. Ready for what God has in store for us. I only asked Judy for the sake of many people including her children, church and loved ones to keep fighting, but we are ready.”
This April we consider again the solemn journey and message of the Cross in this Easter series Growing Deeper To Reach wide. We are asking how the Cross of Christ empowers our witnessing especially in our darkest times.
Jesus openly told his disciples about the realities of being a disciple, and in Luke 9:23- He plainly puts it that “whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves, and take up their own cross and follow me daily.
Being a Christian does not exempt us from suffering, pain and persecution, but indeed it is a sure part of the package. It might not be in the form of a physical cross, but it could be through the battle for health, the loss of loved ones, the loss of a job, the break-up of a marriage, the betrayal of a friend, and the poverty in the home or the diagnosis of a terminal illness. Some of these crosses can be predicted but many usually are unexpected and worse still when it feels like they are not our fault.
Suffering and Pain does not give us notice, we have no time to prepare, no time to develop a philosophy to cope, no time to analyze, but time only to sit tight and close our eyes and hope that we will be alive when we open our eyes on the other side. It is not a matter of “if” they come; it is only a matter of “when” they come.
The problem today is that our Christianity is not acquainted with sorrow and affliction, but we have a cosmetic Christianity that is based on ‘glory’ without suffering. We have been made to believe that suffering and affliction is not our ‘portion’. Yet these are the times that truly test our allegiance to the Lord. Suffering and afflictions are moments we identify with our Lord and possibly bring some of the greatest glory to God in our witness of Christ.
- H. Spurgeon said, “There is no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that sovereignty has ordained them, overrules them, and sanctifies them.
The truth is our crosses can draw us nearer or further from God….Like Job, the temptation is always a curse ‘God-and-Die’ from situation or Trust- God- and- live through the situation. Today this is the sobering message of the Cross that we look at- How pain and suffering can be instruments of God’s glory.
In His Last Prayer for Himself in John 17:1- He prays Father the hour has come, Glorify your son that your son may glorify you….(read)
How Can our pain can and suffering draw many to God?- I have entitled my message ‘The Hour has come… Our Key Text is Luke 23:26-49
Knowing well his time of death was drawing near, Jesus in the early chapters, especially recorded in John, engages in a solemn and intimate time of ministry focused on his disciples. It is in this time he that he washed his disciple’s feet and shared the Passover meal with them and ordains the last supper, promised the Holy Spirit and prayed for them. These were his last hours and every word mattered now. No more parables, no more mysteries. He plainly told them about his coming and their soon coming time of suffering.
It is also true that the content of His disciple’s faith in him would be seen through the next events that took place. The hour had come, it may have been easier to follow Jesus while he healed many and turned water into bread but this was a time of reckoning for most of his disciples and the content of their follower-ship of Jesus would be seen.
As we go, do take the stand point of His disciples as they witnessed Jesus facing the cross, what were his reactions, what was his attitude, what did he say to his persecutors and how did he bring glory to the father? If you get the time- Read the full account from John 17 to the end. Allow me to bring our lessons through some key last words of Jesus as He faced the Cross?
Do not weep for me….
The scenery was quickly becoming sorrowful. It was obvious now that no one could rescue Jesus Christ from what was coming. The judgement had been passed and the men and soldiers were keen to execute. On the other hand many of the women probably identifying with Mary….were overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow at the fate that had befallen Jesus. Perhaps they had cried for mercy or tugged the stone faced men to do something about it…. there was a deep sense of sorrow? Was there a higher power or authority that could take control of this situation? Did he have any rights….as Miguna would say?
Following Jesus means being stripped of personal rights, rights to be heard right to justice, right to decency and yes sometimes even right to life. In suffering we are reminded that we have no right to anything except that which God gives us. In suffering we yield all our control to God and this is no reason to mourn.
Instead, we mourn for those who cling to their rights now….,those who are suffering without the hope and comfort of the Cross.
Not only so, We can take comfort in God’s sovereignty and Goodness, that out of our darkest times, the greatest seeds of faith are planted.
You would think watching Jesus suffer like this would weaken their faith, but for a while then they embraced the faith with their lives and submitted to God’s will even if it meant their own death, for they had witnessed their Lord go through this.
As believers we must not forget especially in times of the cross that we are citizens not of this world though in this world. We do not fight, stand or contend the way the world does, we do not fight to win an earthly battle and establish a fortress in this world. A happy ever-after dream on this earth.
Death is therefore not the worst thing that could happen to us, instead the worst thing is missing the Kingdom. The greatest pursuit therefore is not to stay Alive but to enter the Kingdom. Death therefore is not a finality or something we fear but a transition into God’s Kingdom. Our glory in suffering is guaranteed in this kingdom that Jesus brought to us and where He is the Sovereign Lord. The One in Control
Jesus, turns to them and instead of taking in their pity and sorrow, turns it towards them and their sons. Do not weep for me….In other words, these men are not in control of my life, God is in control. Instead weep for those who have not come under the control of the cross, those who cling to their lives with all their might…
This then is the example we must follow, a complete surrender to God and His will which is good and perfect and results in His glory. This is nothing to weep over.
Secondly He says “Forgive them Father for they do not know what they do.
These words were said in the hearing of the centurions who knew that people dying on the cross, died cursing others and not blessing them.
This last week, I was privileged to be at camp with our young men and we had a session where they opened up to the many scars of bitterness and un-forgiveness they carried even in their young age. Some if not all were victims of parental wounds including being abandoned, being abused and some dire situations that befell them because of their parents decisions. The result was a life of bitterness and anger leading to crime, drugs and all forms of abuse.
As we prayed with them, I could tell the struggle they had to forgive and as a result, their faith was ineffective…
Yet, Christ modelled that yes we may feel like victims at the cross, but because God is now in control, there is no room for bitterness. The cross offers Forgiveness and not revenge.
Our suffering may be as a result of other’s mistakes and faults, we may feel victims of circumstances or peoples ill will. Though it is not easy, this anger and bitterness blocks out God’s healing and restoration sometimes.
At the cross, Jesus modelled a surrender of blame, pain and suffering to God. He cried Forgive them Father….they do not understand …
Are you carrying bitterness….. take up the Cross of Christ.
Lastly Jesus welcomed his fate with the words “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 its wealth, not holding on desperately but daily surrendering oneself to the Lord. Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee.
How then is God glorified in this? We see the summary in Phil 2: 5-11
We ought to make that prayer every day….Lord, the hour has come, Glorify yourself in me.