Way back when I was a little boy, my blanket was my best friend, my species changed daily and my paisley cape had real superpowers sewn right in, time dragged on forever. A two week vacation stretched on for months. Halloween and Thanksgiving were about five years apart. Christmas came about once a decade, and was therefore something to get VERY excited about. On the other hand, when I had done something bad and was waiting until evening to be punished, that was the equivalent of an entire week of misery. I'm sure you can all identify with this. We all started out young and we all know those days when time just crawled by. Now imagine you're waiting four thousand years for something to happen.
It is fortunate for God that He does not perceive time the same way we do. If He did, He probably would have gone nuts from all the waiting He has had to do. Let's recap everything that has happened up to this point.
In the beginning, God created the Heavens and the Earth. God created Angels, including the arcangel Lucifer. Lucifer led a rebellion, causing a third of the angels to fall. God then created corporeal life forms, including our ancestors, Adam and Eve. Adam and Eve also disobeyed God, but with their disobedience, they also acquired a sense of morality. This meant that they could truly sin, but it also meant that they could repent and choose good. For this reason, they and their offspring would be eligible for salvation.
For Adam's race to be saved, a supreme act of penitence would have to be performed. It could not be done by any normal creature. It would have to be done by God Himself, in the person of Jesus. God would spend the next four thousand years preparing for that moment.
At the same time, Lucifer, known to us as Satan, began a campaign to hurt God by leading as many people astray as he could. His angels, now known as demons, would undertake a continuous effort to remove God's influence from the world.
The war between God and Satan reached a high in the days of Noah, when Adam's race had become so corrupted that God had to wipe out the world, save a few choice seed individuals. Thus, the antediluvian era ended.
Through the next few centuries, God would reveal Himself to certain individuals, such as Job. But when Abraham came on the scene, God chose him to be the grandfather of Israel, who would in turn father the nation of Israel, a nation who would be His witnesses to the entire Earth, who would maintain His word and who would act as a living conduit through which the Messiah would come.
By the time of Jeremiah, Satan had done a number on God's chosen people, leading them into idolatry and causing them to become worse sinners than even the heathen nations around them. God raised up foreign powers to take Israel (and Judah) into captivity as a disciplinary measure. It worked. After Israel was returned to their homeland, they did not return to idolatry. When Satan thought to use Antiochus Epiphanes to lead Hasmonean Israel into idolatry, Israel fought back, passively at first, then violently.
Although satan has trouble learning, he did figure out that more subtlety was needed. This time, he brought in the Romans, who could be either gentle or cruel as they pleased. And when Rome was cruel, it was the cruelest force in all of time and space. It was Rome who invented the most agonizing type of death ever devised.
Ironically, this was what God had been waiting for.
Jesus was born into God's chosen people at the time when it was ruled by the cruelest nation on Earth. He was meant to be our sacrifice, the only one we would ever need. His death needed to be the ultimate act of penance, performed in our stead. It needed to be the most horrible death ever devised.
A few important things I'd like to point out... It was God the Son who died on that cross. Unlike what the gnostics preach, Jesus was not an ordinary man who was possessed by the spirit of the Messiah. They would have you believe that Jesus died on the cross and Christ left him, returning to Heaven to laugh at the Romans. This is pure bolshkoi. Jesus and Christ are one and the same. They cannot be seperated. And if Jesus was an ordinary man and Christ did not die, the sacrifice would have been meaningless, and we would have no hope of salvation.
Jesus died on the cross. This is a documented historical fact. It was certified by a Roman soldier. Roman soldiers don't make mistakes about things like that. When a spear was thrust into His side, blood and water issued out of the wound. This indicates that His heart had literally burst.
But here's the good news! Jesus rose from the dead! This fact has been certified and recorded by many eyewitnesses, including the high priest who sentenced Him to death! Now just to make sure there's no doubt, let's review some facts. Jesus was quite dead, and could not leave the tomb Himself, especially since it had been sealed with a mammoth-sized stone and was guarded by a minimum of 12 Roman soldiers. A man who had been beated, whipped, poisoned with thorns, dehydrated, nailed and speared two days ago could not have escaped that tomb. Furthermore, the story which was circulated was that the disciples stole Jesus' body while the guards were asleep. Roman guards did not fall asleep on duty, and certainly not all twelve at the same time.
During this time, between the fall of Eve and the death of Jesus, those who died in the hope of salvation could not enter Heaven because their sins had not yet been paid for. They waitied in a very pleasant sort of captivity in a place which we refer to as paradise. When Jesus died, he descended into Paradise (part of a realm collectively referred to as "hell" in many creeds.) and took those souls who were in Paradise to Heaven.
This was where everything changed. An entire civilization of immortals had been transplanted out of captivity and into God's kingdom. All barriers between God and mankind had been removed and replaced with Jesus, who now acts as our intercessor. He does not keep us seperate from God, but draws us together. God began building up the civilization of Heaven with four thousand years' worth of souls and now He would continue to build it with each new believer as they reached the end of their physical life.
Satan thought He had defeated Jesus by having Him put to death. He didn't realize that by orchestrating the demise of the Christ, He was not only handing God a sure victory, but initiating the formation of the very kingdom He was trying to destroy! I'm almost tempted to praise Satan for being so dumb. Almost, but not quite.
But we can certainly praise our God for three reasons.
The first reason is because Jesus was so filled with love and compassion for us, He diedfor us while we were still sinners. He endured humiliation, beatings, flogging, poisonous thorns, nails in his hands and feet, dehydration and asphyxiation so that we could live. For those who think that God is all about smiting people, I submit this to you. Our God took all of our iniquity on Himself. HE was the one who was smitten for us. Praise the Lord for His unfathomable love and mercy.
The second reason is because He justifies us. If God merely chose to overlook sin, he'd be as great a sinner as we are. But God is holy. He offers us as salvation as a free gift, but we have to accept it. Our acceptance is the first step in becoming the sort of person God wants us to be. God does not merely overlook our sin, He turns us into righteous people.
The third reason is that God is changing the universe. He is taking people from this sad, corrupted world and building up Heaven. Jesus' death and ressurection made way for the ultimate completion of God's plan, in which all that is sinful, rebelious and corrupted is locked away or destroyed, never to be seen again, and the entire universe is made fresh, new and good, with Jesus, the one who loves each one of us more than His own flesh, as its ruler.
But that's another sermon.
The cross represents the most important moment in all of history. (holds up a silver cross hanging around his neck) This is more than just an ornament or a handy way to stave off vampires. This is a reminder of the terrible suffering of Christ and the love that made Him endure it. It is also a reminder to me of who I am. It reminds me that because I have been saved by Jesus' death on the cross, I now have a sacred duty to tell everyone about the good news of salvation by the substitutiary atonement of Jesus. That goes for all of you Christians. And for any nonchristians who might be reading this sermon, I have discharged my duty. The choice is now up to you. Will you accept what Jesus offers? If so, I invite you to come and talk to me or any of the church elders.
Next week: The first church
Today's reading: John 19:17-30
17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha).
18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others--one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS.
20 Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek.
21 The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, "Do not write 'The King of the Jews,' but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews."
22 Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written."
23 When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24 "Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did.
25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene.
26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son,"
27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty."
29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus' lips.
30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.