Friday, April 10, 2009

Drawing a Clear Difference

Good Friday
April 10, 2009
Mark 14:1—15:47

It was now two days before the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And the chief priests and the scribes were seeking how to arrest Him by stealth and kill Him.

This is how it begins. With the intent of murder. Not with reverent thoughts about God’s grace in the Passover Festival. Not with preparation for the Passover worship. With a consuming desire to rid themselves of this person who was getting in their way.

We know the Passion story of our Lord well. We know the details, we know the purpose. Perhaps we know it too well as a story and not well enough as the Gospel. Jesus’ Passion is the Gospel. Who Jesus is and what He did is what saves.

How the Passion of our Lord played out we rightly call a story, as individuals acted and events unfolded. There is a difference in the people of the Passion account: those who rejected the Suffering Savior and those who saw in Him their only hope.

The unrighteous and the righteous, the unsaved and the saved, unbelievers and believers, non-Christians and Christians. But in another sense, the two kinds of people in the Passion account are Jesus Christ and everyone else. Christians and non-Christians alike are sinners. Those who believe in Christ are every bit as sinful as those who don’t. As important, Jesus died for both.

So what’s the difference? How are the “everybody else” divided into two groups? The difference is, who do you want to be your Savior? Do you want to go it alone, or place your eternal salvation in Christ alone?

The irony is rich that those very religious leaders were seeking to murder Jesus while Jesus was using that very death to bring about salvation for them. On the other hand, the woman Jesus praises actually can accept no praise of her own account because her act of worship toward Jesus is one of acknowledging that she doesn’t deserve salvation from Him.

It is remarkable that Judas betrayed Jesus to death while Jesus willingly died for Judas. On the other hand, Jesus’ other disciples were ready and willing to gather in worship with Jesus in the celebration of the Passover, submitting to Jesus’ gift to them of His body and blood for the forgiveness of their sins. They acknowledged that they were sinners and in need of the forgiveness.

It would be easy to paint the religious leaders and Judas as evil and the bad guys and the woman and the other disciples as the good guys. But what does Jesus say of the disciples? You will all fall away. The true difference here is that Jesus alone can save and He alone does. We, whether we believe in Him or not, are unable to save ourselves. But not only can we not save ourselves, we don’t deserve to be saved. We are born in sin and actively sin each day. The woman and the disciples were no different from the religious leaders and Judas in this regard. Where the difference came in is that they believed that they were utterly lost, not deserving of salvation, had no hope apart from Jesus and His suffering and death.

The sinful nature is a fighter. What is Peter’s response to Jesus? I won’t fall away! I’m faithful! Yeah, right. He was no better than the religious leaders who actively sought to murder Jesus and Judas who actively betrayed Him. Oh yeah, and all the other disciples joined in the chorus with Peter; they were no better either.

But maybe you’re not convinced. Maybe you still harbor some good feelings about yourself. That you could somehow rise above what Peter did in denying his Lord. That the praise Jesus bestows on the woman could be given to you because, well, you deserve it. The further we get into the Passion account, the further we see how utterly incapable anyone in this story is of accomplishing anything of lasting value—except, of course, Christ. In Gethsemane, He stayed awake. Not the disciples. They couldn’t even stay awake! How were they supposed to save themselves? How could they have any hope within themselves if they couldn’t even be there for their Lord?

We too easily rationalize away our sinful nature. If you think Pilate was a bad guy, you’re right. But we are just like him. He tried to rationalize his way out of condemning Jesus to death. He knew Jesus was innocent but put himself before Jesus. One of them was going down—Pilate politically, Jesus to death—Pilate chose for Jesus to go down. The Roman soldiers were just doing their job—and enjoying the perks of their job of making the pain of crucifixion even worse in brutalizing Him. Yes, these men, Pilate and the soldiers, treated our Savior awfully. But do we do any different when we willfully sin as if we can be good Christians and hold on to our sinful desires?

There were some standing beneath the cross who exemplify the proper attitude a Christian ought to have, in the same way the woman who anointed Him had: humbly looking up to the one who is suffering in their place. Knowing that they are the ones who deserve to up there, who deserve eternal separation from God. The women and the centurion who stood looking at Christ on the cross are not examples to us for anything that was good in themselves, but of their repentance and faith in the only one who could save them.

It begins with those who would seek to destroy Jesus. It ends in one sense with their successful accomplishment. But really it begins with Jesus’ choice to submit to the murderous intent. It plays out with Jesus humbly suffering the attacks of His enemies and patiently bearing with the weakness of His followers. Ultimately, it ends in triumph. Not for those who wanted Jesus dead. For the world. For every sinner. The death of Jesus was what He humbly chose.

There is a clear difference between the people in the Gospel Passion account: some rejected Christ, others looked to Him as their only hope. Just as there is a clear difference today, some don’t believe in Christ and others do. But there is no difference with any of us in our sin and our need. We see in the people of the Passion account in contrast to Christ that we are utterly incapable of saving ourselves and have no eternal hope of ourselves. Our salvation is in Christ. Our hope is in Him. All are in need of salvation.

The difference our Lord draws is not between us and others but between Himself and everyone. He suffered in the place of everyone, He died for all. What those there intended was a world of difference in what Christ intended. He used the death they sought in order to save them and us and everyone. The difference is that we have no hope apart from Him while He is our hope, our life, and our salvation. Amen.


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