Sermon for the Fifth Sunday in Lent

Text:  Hebrews 5:7-8
In his life on earth Jesus made his prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God, who could save him from death. Because he was humble and devoted, God heard him.  But even though he was God's Son, he learned through his sufferings to be obedient.

One of us

A young husband and father, who was also a farmer, came into the house for lunch.  He ate with his wife and children as he normally did and then went out to the shed where he kept his tractor, threw a rope over the rafters, jumped off his tractor and ended his life. 

Questions were on everyone’s lips.  Why did do it?  Was something wrong in the marriage?  Was it the low prices he had received for his grain?  Or was it the mounting debt to the bank?  Was it a sense of failure?  Was there some kind of mental illness, maybe depression, that no one knew about?  It seemed he loved his kids and wife – what drove him to such an extreme action?

Everyone was trying to get inside the mind of this young man and find out what drove him to his death.  Everyone was guessing, but in the end, no one would ever really know what his last thoughts were that day.  They have remained a mystery to this day.

Have you been confused and troubled by the behaviour of another person and have found it difficult to understand what is really going on in his or her life.  I guess that happens because all of us are different.  No two people have the same experiences. Our genetic makeup, our upbringing, the culture we live in, our understanding of things spiritual, the confidence that we have in our abilities, our friendships, the differences in each of us to tolerate conflict, stress, worry and pain all end up making us unique individuals.  That’s why it’s sometimes very hard to understand why people behave in certain ways. If I take just one example,
Can we, who live in comfortable homes and an overabundance of food, ever know what it’s really like to live in poverty with no decent water, no electricity, poor food once a day, bits of tin for a house, very little medical help, no cash in your pocket and no idea what tomorrow will bring? 

The question that I want to lead to is this – how much does Jesus appreciate and understand us and everything that happens in our lives? 
Why do ask this question?  Well, t
he Bible clearly says he is God; that he was there at the creation of the world and is now ascended to heaven where he rules with all power and authority.  As Paul wrote,
Christ rules above all heavenly rulers, authorities, powers, and lords; he has a title superior to all titles of authority in this world and in the next. God put all things under Christ's feet and gave him to the church as supreme Lord over all things (Eph 2:21-22).  If Jesus is so “godly”, so totally different to us, how well can he appreciate the things that are happening in our lives right now? 
Has he ever had a sick day? 
Has he ever had to grapple with depression, terminal illness, or to live in a dysfunctional family?

Was he truly human; one of us? 
Did he find some things easy, some hard, some pleasures intense and some less intense, was he pulled this way, pulled that way?
Did he have to painstakingly grow and develop, bit by bit, as we do?

Or was his personality, his character, his ability to cope and endure, his patience his understanding and compassion perfect from the moment he was born because he was God?  It follows then that if he was so perfect then how can he understand what it’s like not to be so perfect?  The question that is almost as old as Christianity itself is this – was Jesus really human or was he God in human disguise?

The answer we give is crucial. Among the things Christians believe is that through the life and death of Christ, God became a part of what it means to be human.  He didn’t stand aloof from everything that happens in our lives.  He came right into the middle of our temptations, suffering, sadness, depression, sin, rebellion and death.  That's important to remember.  In Christ, God became part of everything that is part of living life in this world.

This means that because of Jesus, God can identify with us. He actually cares for us as one who personally knows us from the inside out and the outside in. 
He knows what is really happening inside of us and the causes of the trauma and drama in our lives better than we know ourselves.  He knows all this because he has lived here amongst it all and experienced it all himself.

We say that through Jesus, God knows what it’s like to be hungry or to have plenty, to toil and sweat.
God knows the frustration of learning discipline and skills which don’t come naturally.
God comprehends what it’s like to sleep peacefully or toss sleeplessly, to relax and enjoy a joke.

Through Jesus, God has experienced sore muscles, headaches, and pain.
From Christ, God appreciates what it’s like to be warmed by a smile or to be snubbed by indifference.

God understands what it’s like to enjoy a new friendship and treasure an old one, to feel affirmed and to be betrayed, to suffer for the truth, to be misunderstood, to make enemies, to suffer emotional and physical agony, and to feel forsaken. Yes, forsaken; forsaken by everyone, even God himself.  He knows what it’s like to die, because he suffered and died there on the cross with Jesus, if we can possibly get our heads around that possibility.

The letter to the Hebrews, is one of the more challenging books of the New Testament, but one thing it does is present Jesus as God but at the same time as one of us.  He prayed and begged God to save him from suffering and pain and death just as we do.  But he obediently went the way of the cross because he trusted the love of his Father.  Through his obedience he gained forgiveness for all of us who buckle under the weight of temptation and suffering, for all of us who doubt God’s love when life gets really tough.   

I like it that Jesus had to grow in understanding and wisdom in the hard school of life just as we do;
that he learnt about obedience and suffering just as we do
I like it that he learnt about life and experienced life the same way as we do; 
that he suffered pain – verbal and physical abuse, rejection by both those who were close to him and those who were in positions of authority, hurt feelings, disappointment, sadness, frustration, anger, confusion and the fear of dying in the same ways we do.
I like it that he disliked suffering and pain and death as much as we do.
I like it that we can learn from Jesus that there can be something gained by obediently enduring the things that are difficult to endure.
I like all this about Jesus because he knows what it's like when I'm going through any of these things.

So we can conclude that Jesus experienced life just as we do with all its ups and downs. However, some of you may be silently saying, “Jesus was human like us but he was different in one important way; he didn’t know what it was like to feel the shame of sin.  If he was without sin, how can he know what it’s like to be us?”

That’s a good point.  Let me respond with this.  The prophet Isaiah makes the point that “he was numbered among the transgressors.  This means more than the fact that a totally innocent man was accused and condemned for blasphemy, by the highest religious authority in the land,
treated like scum by the soldiers who mocked and whipped him,
and then God’s own chosen people were stirred up to call out ‘Crucify him!’ and set free the criminal Barabbas. 

That phrase “he was numbered among the transgressors” also refers to the guilt that was thrust on Jesus from every direction.  He was carrying the sin of all humanity. Isaiah said, “He was wounded for our transgressions; he was bruised for our iniquities”.

Jesus knew sin, what it can do and its awful consequences as he carried the weight of the sin and guilt and shame of the whole world on his shoulders and died a sinner’s death.  Such was the shame of the sin he carried that he tearfully cried out from cross, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” 

In every way Jesus is one of us. He knows our temptations and how we fall into the trap that is set for us and are grabbed by the unrelenting iron claws of seduction, guilt and shame. 
He knows when our hearts are heavy, and our heads are bowed low in shame because again we have let our own desires, or the world around us, lure us away from God’s ways.
He understands the prayer that we utter in despair, “I’ve fallen again.  I’ve given in again.  Why can’t I stop myself?  I know what I ought to be doing but I can’t seem to get it right”.
He hears us when we, like Jesus, make our
“prayers and requests with loud cries and tears to God” maybe using the words of our psalm today,

“Be merciful to me, O God, because of your great mercy wipe away my sins! …
I have sinned against you – only against you – and done what you consider evil.
Remove my sin, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow” (Psalm 51:1,3,4,7).

We are just a week away from Palm Sunday and Holy Week when we will again begin to walk with Jesus the path to the cross – the path he took for our sake because of our sin.  We will come to Good Friday again reminded of why there had to be a Good Friday in the first place.  As we remember Jesus’ obedience as he goes to the cross, we respond with a prayer on our lips, “Create a new heart in me, O God.” (Psalm 51:9,10).   

 © Pastor Vince Gerhardy
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

18th March 2018

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