A LIFE GIVEN
By Dale D. Meredith
March 25, 2018
University Baptist Church
790 Dodge Road
Getzville, NY 14068
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from The Good News Bible, The Bible in Today’s English Version, copyright ©1976 by American Bible Society. Used by permission.
44 It was about twelve o'clock when the sun stopped shining and darkness covered the whole country until three o'clock; 45 and the curtain hanging in the Temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus cried out in a loud voice, "Father! In your hands I place my spirit!" He said this and died.
47 The army officer saw what had happened, and he praised God, saying, "Certainly he was a good man!"
48 When the people who had gathered there to watch the spectacle saw what happened, they all went back home, beating their breasts in sorrow. 49 All those who knew Jesus personally, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance to watch.
50-51 There was a man named Joseph from Arimathea, a town in Judea. He was a good and honorable man, who was waiting for the coming of the Kingdom of God. Although he was a member of the Council, he had not agreed with their decision and action. 52 He went into the presence of Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 53 Then he took the body down, wrapped it in a linen sheet, and placed it in a tomb which had been dug out of solid rock and which had never been used. 54 It was Friday, and the Sabbath was about to begin.
55 The women who had followed Jesus from Galilee went with Joseph and saw the tomb and how Jesus' body was placed in it. 56 Then they went back home and prepared the spices and perfumes for the body. (Luke 23:44-56a)
THREE HOURS ON THE CROSS: Jesus was placed on the cross about 9 a.m. (Mark 15:25) that Friday morning. For three hours the soldiers, religious leaders, and others mocked Jesus. They made fun of him in every way they could think of. Some were frustrated and probably angry because they had expected Jesus to be a strong, victorious leader over the Romans. Some were grief stricken because their friend and family member was being crucified when he had done only good and nothing wrong. Jesus had fed the hungry, healed the sick, raised the dead, given sight to the blind, demonstrated true love, and offered hope to others. He had done what he had promised at the beginning of His ministry (Luke 4:18-19). Now, he was dying on a cross just like a murderer.
Yet if they had looked carefully they would have seen that Jesus wasn’t dying like a murderer. Jesus died at peace with God. A soldier noticed the difference between the death of Jesus and the death of a criminal. The way Jesus reacted on the cross influenced believers to act.
PEACE: Cecil De Mille and directors of modern day action movies would have been upstaged at the cross. After Jesus had been severely beaten and then mocked and cruelly punished on the cross for about three hours strange things began to happen. Out on the hill where the crucifixion was taking place it became dark. It was only noon time, but it was as dark as midnight. The mocking and jeering of the crowd must have turned to amazement and even fear as the darkness continued for three hours. This was really strange. It was not an eclipse because there is a full moon at Passover. On Tuesday of that week Jesus had told the disciples that strange things would happen to the sun (Luke 21:11, 25). It seemed that the “power of darkness” was about to cover the earth (Luke 22:53).
Meanwhile back in the city there was an earthquake that must have been felt out on the hill (Matthew 27:51-53). The curtain in the Temple was torn in two. The curtain was between the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place (Exodus 26:33). Only the High Priest could go behind the curtain into the Most Holy Place once a year to appear before God for the people (Leviticus 16:2, Hebrews 9:7). The curtain represented a barrier between man and God. That barrier was torn in two as Jesus died on the cross. Because of Jesus we now have complete freedom any time we desire to personally go into the Most Holy Place which is near to God (Hebrew 10:19-22).
Then in a voice loud enough for everyone to hear Jesus called out, “Father! In your hands I place my spirit!” (Luke 23:46). And, then he died. What incredible trust Jesus demonstrated in his Father. On the Mount of Olives just hours before Jesus had prayed that he would not have to suffer. However, he had agreed to do what the Father wanted (Luke 22:42). Then after being severely beaten, being nailed to a cross, and being publicly mocked he still trusted God to take care of him. He was in an impossible situation. He was dying. And, yet, he trusted God. What a way for Jesus to show that his will was to be obedient to the Father all the way to his death on the cross (Philippians 2:8).
I know. We can go back to the Old Testament and find all of those prophecies that the Messiah would suffer and die. Before the crucifixion and resurrection, the religious leaders and people could not correctly interpret those predictions. They could only see the predictions as they later interpreted them after they had experienced the resurrection of Jesus. But the point is that Jesus was willing to do it. He was willing to do it because he loved us enough to endure the suffering that we deserved. We are the criminals. We have sinned. We have not been completely obedient to God. We deserve to die on a cross, but Jesus took our place. He trusted God, his Father, to use his suffering for our benefit. He trusted God to preserve him through suffering and physical death. He demonstrated that suffering and physical death could have redeeming value.
We should understand that no one killed Jesus or took His life. Jesus gave His life for us. It was not an accident that He was in the wrong place at the wrong time and was crucified because of a conflict between the Jews and Romans. Jesus had told the disciples in John 10:18, “No one takes my life away from me. I give it up of my own free will. I have the right to give it up and I have the right to take it back.” That is why He could die so quickly and peacefully.
Jesus did not live by bread alone (Luke 4:4). He lived so that his will was in agreement with the will of God. He died with his will in agreement with the will of God. He showed us how to live and he showed us how to die. He not only taught, but he also showed that there is hope after death. Jesus destroyed death and its power to hurt (1 Corinthians 15:54-55). Just a few months later Stephen was stoned to death for his belief in the resurrected Jesus. As he died he prayed that God would receive his spirit and that God would forgive those who killed him (Acts 7:59-60).
ARMY OFFICER: The army officer had seen many people die. He had seen people killed in battle. He could remember how they struggled to escape or to fight back. He may have performed many crucifixions during his career for the Roman army. He could remember how those on the crosses had denied the charges against them. He could remember how they had blamed others for their suffering. He could remember how they had cursed and struggled to extend their lives as long as possible. He had never seen anyone completely at peace with God. He had never seen anyone accept death without complaint or struggle. The army officer was convinced that Jesus was an extraordinary person. Jesus was certainly a good man.
RESPONSE: Many of the observers went home in sorrow. They came out to watch criminals get their punishment and went away knowing that something terrible had happened to a good man that day. Some of Jesus’ followers stood at a distance to watch what would happen next.
Joseph from Arimathea (Luke 23:50) and Nicodemus (John 19:39) who at first went to Jesus at night (John 3:1, 10) came forward to claim the body of Jesus and provide a temporary burial. They were both wealthy men and were probably both on the council of Jewish leaders that had caused Jesus to be crucified. However, they did not agree with the decision and action concerning Jesus. They were a minority at the council meeting. They saw how Jesus forgave his tormentors and killers. They heard him promise a dying man life after death. They saw how he peacefully and confidently trusted God. In response they overcame their fear and came forward to publicly demonstrate their desire to serve Jesus. Some of the women followers saw where Jesus was buried. It was late Friday afternoon and the Sabbath would begin as the evening darkness approached. They would have to wait until Sunday morning to complete the burial process with the spices and perfumes for the dead body.
PERSONAL PEACE: In late 1996 as he was dying of pancreatic cancer, the Archbishop of Chicago, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin (The Gift of Peace, Loyola Press, Chicago, 1997, p. 151-153) wrote:
“It is quite clear that I will not be alive in the spring. But I will soon experience new life in a different way. Although I do not know what to expect in the afterlife, I do know that just as God has called me to serve him to the best of my ability throughout my life on earth, he is now calling me home.”
He continued, “What I would like to leave behind is a simple prayer that each of you may find what I have found – God’s special gift to us all: the gift of peace. When we are at peace, we find the freedom to be most fully who we are, even in the worst of times. We let go of what is nonessential and embrace what is essential. We empty ourselves so that God may more fully work within us. And we become instruments in the hands of the Lord.
“As I have said so often, if we seek communion with the Lord, we must pray. One of my favorite prayers is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi." Let us conclude by reciting it together:
“Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love.
Where there is injury, pardon.
Where there is doubt, faith.
Where there is despair, hope.
Where there is darkness, light.
Where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may seek
not so much to be consoled, as to console;
not so much to be understood, as to understand,
not so much to be loved, as to love;
for it is in giving that we receive,
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned.
It is in dying that we are born to eternal life.”