Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Text: Philippians 2:8
Christ humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.

Why do you love me even when I hurt you?

On a visit to the Beethoven museum, a young student became fascinated by the piano on which Beethoven had composed some of his greatest works.  She asked the museum guard if she could play a few bars on it.  After supplying a lavish tip, the guard agreed to let her in after the museum had closed that evening.  The girl went to the piano and played the opening of the Moonlight Sonata.  As she was leaving she said to the guard, “I suppose all the great pianists who come here want to play on that piano.”

The guard shook his head.  “When the great pianists visit here they silently stand in awe of what this instruments stands for and when they speak they simply say they aren’t worthy to touch it.” 

Unworthy!  That’s a theme we come across often in the Bible.

Remember the day Jesus asked Peter to let down his nets again after an extremely unsuccessful day of fishing.  He told Jesus what he thought of the idea in no uncertain terms but when he did what a haul of fish he pulled in.  

When Peter looked into the eyes of Jesus he saw reflected there exactly what he was like.  “Unworthy” was the only word he could think of.  “Go away from me, Lord!” In Jesus’ eyes he saw reflected his lack of trust, his failure to see who Jesus really was and his scepticism and yet, at the same time, he saw so much love in those eyes. His feeling of unworthiness became even more intense and it’s only Jesus’ words that calm his soul.

As I read Matthew’s account of the events of Jesus’ last hours and then his death this week in preparation for today and Holy Week, an old song popped into my head.  The chorus asks God the question
Why do you love me even when I hurt you?
Why do you hold me when I cry?
Why will you love me until the end of time?
(© 1986 Paul Gioia)

About halfway through chapter 27, midway through the mockery, the hitting, the whip ripping through flesh, the crown of thorns, the spit running down Jesus’ face, being stripped naked for all to stare at and then nailed to a cross, I couldn’t help but ask, as you may have done also, “Why do you love me even when I hurt you?” to use the words of that song.

“Why should Jesus do all this for me?  I’m not worthy of all the suffering, the humiliation, the beatings and then the torturous dying that Jesus underwent. 
He didn’t suffer because of anything he had done; he went through all this because of me. 
What have I done to deserve so much love, so much sacrifice? 
How is it possible for one person to go through so much and give so much to another?”

What the Gospel writers tell us about Jesus’ death is not just a piece of history, like the stuff you find in books about Captain James Cook, Sir Edmund Barton (Australia’s first Prime Minister) or the explorer Charles Sturt.  The history books are full of famous people, some who even sacrificed their lives because of their faith.  But Jesus’ death is different.  As we read about what happened to Jesus, we are reading more than a piece of history; we are reading the story of great love – a story about great undeserved love.  The events recorded in the Gospels are a story about God sacrificing his own Son because of his great love for all humanity. 

What hits us the most is that he did it even though the people of this planet don’t deserve it.  Just look at
the wars where people suffer homelessness and hunger and children become orphans,
the poverty caused by greed,
the hurt that people inflict one another,
the abuse of children,
the crime, rape and murder,
the lack of respect for other people’s property,
and the pollution and destruction of our world.

And then there are our own personal demons – selfishness, abusiveness, intolerance, lovelessness, lack of care for how others feel, a critical unkind spirit, and we could go on. 

And of course the world hasn’t change all that much from Roman times. The vast majority ignore God or openly reject him.  The whole ‘Jesus thing’ is some gigantic fairy tale.  It’s amazing that God hasn’t done what he did to the world at the time of Noah or Lot and rain down his judgement as he did on Sodom and Gomorrah. 

And this is where God’s love for the world becomes so amazing.  Instead of acting in judgement as we would expect, the all-powerful God left heaven, rolled up his sleeves and came to earth as a human.  In fact, that’s wrong because he didn’t have any sleeves to roll up because he came into the world naked as a newborn and was nailed on to a cross naked.

Imagine the president of a company, giving up his office with a view, his personal secretary, his chauffeur driven company car, the reserved parking place, the salary and perks and benefits, and putting on cleaner’s overalls to sweep floors and scrub toilets.  Imagine this scenario and you still won’t come close to the self-emptying of the Son of God when he stepped down from his heavenly throne to save us.

He traded his throne and all his power for a virgin's womb, a stable and a manger crib, a borrowed donkey that carried him into Jerusalem, a rough Roman cross on which he died, a borrowed tomb.  He took on our humanity, our flesh and blood.  The Lord of all became the carpenter from Nazareth.  The preacher from Galilee.  The man on a cross.

The Bible says, “The wages of sin is death,” and “the soul that sins will die” – death is the result of sinfulness – that’s what God should have done.  But instead the man whom Pilate declared to be innocent three times is sentenced to death and Barabbas, the murderer, goes free.  God is hung on a cross between two common criminals.

This is how far God will go to save you and me.  This is the extreme measure that God takes because of his love.  Knowing fully what was in store for him in Jerusalem, nevertheless he rode on into Jerusalem amid the shouts of “Hosanna”. 
He submitted to injustice, to mockery, to beating. 
He permitted himself to be crucified. 
He prayed for those who drove the nails into his body and for all of us who are responsible for his death. 
This is the depth of God's love, his commitment, his passion to make you his own, to free you from sin and death.

The owner of a beautiful hunting lodge in Scotland invited some of his friends to spend the weekend there.  In their revelling and partying, one of the guests opened a bottle of champagne and it shot out onto a wall.  It left an ugly stain.

The owner was very disturbed, very angry, and he let his guests know it.  When the weekend was over, they all started home, except for one of the guests who stayed behind.  He kept staring at that stain on the wall and he took some charcoal and started sketching around that stain.  He turned the brown stain into some brown highland rocks.  Then he painted a stream that splashed its water over the rocks.  At the darkest edge of the stain he put a leaping stag.  In the background he painted some pursuing hunters.  Whenever people look at the wall today they no longer see the stain but instead a beautiful painting by British artist, Sir Edward Henry Landseer.

That’s how it is with God.  Jesus’ death on the cross has covered over the terrible blotch that sin makes on our lives.  Just as visitors could no longer see the blotch when they looked at the wall, God no longer sees the blotch of sin in our lives.  Instead, he sees someone who is forgiven and renewed.  He sees someone for whom Jesus has died.  He isn’t angry or repulsed by our sin, instead he sees someone whom he loves.

Today marks the beginning of Holy Week.  This week we will remember again the depth of God’s commitment to us as we hear again what Jesus did to free us from the consequences of our sin.

It is humbling to be loved like this. 
To be loved to death by God. 
To have God's Son die for us. 
That begs the question – “Lord, why do you love me even when I hurt you?”
I don’t deserve such love.
Why does Jesus go to such extremes just for me?
The answer bows the head.  It bends the knee.  It is the end of all self-justifying.
To be loved like this gives us a new sense of our own worth.
As flawed and as hopeless as I am most of the time, God sees me differently.
He doesn’t just see the weaknesses and sin in me, but he sees me as his child – flawed yes but not beyond redemption.
Flawed and yet made whole in the blood of Jesus.
And so we have the cross and his Son nailed to it just for you and me.

Peter must have wondered whether Jesus still loved him after he had so boldly proclaimed at the Last Supper that he would stand by Jesus forever and then a little while later loudly state that he was not one of the disciples and didn’t know Jesus.  Peter went outside and wept bitterly.  “Unworthy” was the feeling in Peter’s soul.  “I keep on hurting you, Jesus; I don’t deserve your love!”

On the beach over a barbeque of fish after Easter Sunday, Jesus lovingly reassured Peter that, though flawed, he was still his chosen disciple with a special task to do.

As you progress through this Holy Week take the time to read Matthew 26-28 and appreciate anew the powerful love behind this story.  Once again discover the answer to the question, “Lord, why do you love me even when I hurt you?”

The story of Holy Week is a story about love – an amazing undeserved love.

 

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
13th April 2014
E-mail: gerhardy65@hotmail.com

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