Sermon for Palm/Passion Sunday

Text: Mark 15:16-21
The soldiers took Jesus inside to the courtyard of the governor's palace and called together the rest of the company. They put a purple robe on Jesus, made a crown out of thorny branches, and put it on his head. Then they began to salute him: "Long live the King of the Jews!" They beat him over the head with a stick, spat on him, fell on their knees, and bowed down to him. When they had finished making fun of him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes back on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. On the way they met a man named Simon, who was coming into the city from the country, and the soldiers forced him to carry Jesus' cross.

A letter from Simon of Cyrene

Dear friends and fellow saints at St Paulís,
may God our Father give you grace and peace.

Allow me to introduce myself first. My name is Simon and since we are approaching the anniversary of our Lordís death and resurrection, I thought I would write to you and tell you how the events of the first Good Friday impacted on me. A bit of background about me first. I was visiting the city of Jerusalem from North Africa, from Cyrene, a city on the coast of what is today called Libya. There was quite a large Jewish population there, mostly merchants.

Why was I in Jerusalem that day? Well, as you know it was almost time for the Passover festival and I had journeyed to Jerusalem to be part of this ancient ritual.

I was staying the country with relatives and as I entered Jerusalem, I sensed that something was about to happen. People were talking, some were arguing about whether Ďheí was innocent or guilty, but by the tone in peopleís voices it seemed that most people thought he had it coming to him. I must say, that there was also a small group of people who were clearly upset. In fact, some of the women were in tears.

I joined the crowd as people started to line the street. I saw Roman soldiers pushing the people apart to make way and heard people up the street shouting and abusing someone. It got louder as the crowd slowly made its way down the street towards me.

My curiosity got the better of me. I pushed my way to the front to get a closer look at what was going on. I was just curious about the person who was copping so much abuse. It was a beautiful day, but the ugly mood of the crowd was such a contrast to the blue sky and cool breeze. A man standing next to me told me that Jesus of Nazareth had been arrested the night before, and was condemned by the Jewish Council and then taken to the Roman Governor, Pontius Pilate. He told how earlier Pilate asked the crowd whom they wanted to see punished, Jesus or the criminal Barabbas. He told me how the crowd had called out for the crucifixion of this man. When I asked the man next to me what he had done to deserve such treatment, he said he didnít really know.

Well anyway, as the Roman soldiers passed where I was standing, I saw a man so badly beaten and bleeding. They must have used one of those dreadful whips that tear into the skin. He was covered in blood. Whatís more, he was carrying a cross, that terrible instrument of torture and death that the Romans used so often. It not only looked heavy and awkward to carry but its roughness and splinters must have dug into his raw skin as he dragged it along the street and every bump in the rough road must have ripped into his flesh.

He walked unsteadily under the load. It was clear he had no strength left. He fell to his knees a few times and every time he fell the crowd laughed louder and abused him all the more. And every time he fell, the soldiers poked his bleeding flesh with the butt of their spears.

There were two others carrying their crosses also, hard-looking, criminal types, who used some choice words and swore at the noisy crowd. They had murder in their eyes every time they were pushed and poked by a soldier.

But Jesus was different. No cursing came from his lips. He even stopped to speak to some weeping women on the side of the road. He was so different. He didnít speak with anger or hatred. He spoke gently to those wailing something about not crying for him but for themselves and their children because something terrible would soon happen.

As I watched this scene I noticed that a crown of thorny branches had been pressed onto his head. Blood ran down his face and into his eyes. He tripped on his robe as it bunched up under his feet under his bent frame. How could they expect him to carry this heavy and awkward cross when he was in such a weak condition?

Just as Jesus neared where I was standing, he stumbled and fell again. It was clear that he was too weak to carry the weight of the cross.

Whether it was compassion for the victim or simply a matter of getting the job done, I tend to think it was more of the latter than the former, one of the guards pulled me out of the crowd, rather roughly I might add, and made me carry the cross to Calvary.

You can imagine my reluctance to get involved. I had come to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover; I had come for worship and prayer, not to get involved with carrying the cross of some stranger who had obviously done something to upset not only the Romans, but also the locals. I wanted to protest - not have any part in all of this. To be truthful, the Roman soldier wasnít offering me a choice. He was telling me, commanding me, to pick up the cross and carry it.

As I took the cross on to my shoulder Jesus gave me a look of relief, a look of gratitude. With the weight of the cross pressing into my flesh, I couldnít help but think of Jesus, who not only had to carry the cross but soon would be carried by it from life to death, nailed by pounding hammer blows, and lifted up. All the horror of what was happening was going through my mind, and the look he gave me made me glad that I could help him in some small way.

As I trudged along with the cross over my shoulder, hearing the abuse of the crowd around, the crack of the Roman whip and the soldiers' loud barking commands driving along the prisoners, I realised that even though I was carrying a cross at that moment, he was the one who in the end would have to endure it to its bitterest end. I thought carrying the cross through the streets was hard enough, but what he went through was ever so much harder. All I can say is that cross bearing is a hard and lonesome task.

I was horrified at the brutality of the crucifixion. When I learned that this Jesus was no thief, or robber, or rebel, as were the other two, I couldnít understand the reason for his death. There seemed to be no justice in his cross at all. It didnít make sense that this kind of violence should be committed against innocent life.

Later I found out differently. God does have strange ways of doing things. Iíll admit that I became involved in these events reluctantly. But in spite of my reluctance to get involved with the cross of Jesus, that very same cross has become a life-giving power in my life and not only my life but that of my two sons, Alexander and Rufus. You see, I saw Jesus die on Calvary, but he didn't stay dead. He came alive again on Sunday morning, and I knew that the one for whom I had carried the cross is truly my Lord and Saviour.

Iíve told you what happened on Good Friday for a special reason. You see, even though I was shocked at the treatment that Jesus received and repulsed by the brutality, the blood, the nails and the cruelty of nailing a naked person to wood to hang there until life drained away, I realise that this was no ordinary death. That man on the cross was God. He allowed himself to be subjected to all of this for me, for all of those who shouted ĎCrucify himí, for all of you.

Jesus, nailed to a cross, and dying such a horrible death changes the whole of our lives. The cross has come to mean for Christians everywhere a symbol of hope, newness, reconciliation, total love and commitment toward us, forgiveness.

The cross changed my life. The cross changes yours.

Come to the cross and bring your sin. I donít know why we do it, but far too often we carry our sin around with us and let it eat away at us. The bad feelings, the guilt, the shame, the feeling sorry for ourselves, the broken relationships Ė it is just for these that Jesus was nailed to a cross. He carried our sin on his shoulders on the cross.
Trust him to take that burden from us.
Trust him to renew and refresh your life.
Come to the cross, bring your sin and receive forgiveness.

Come to the cross and bring everything that frightens you and everything that weighs you down -
the burden of the cross of illness, family troubles, uncertainty about our future, or some sin you want to turn away from it, but find it ever so hard.

Look to the cross of Jesus. There you will see the love and care and understanding that your God has for you. He is prepared to take any of your problems and carry them for you. He promises, "Come to me all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). It is clear from the way Jesus carried your load of sin on to the cross even though you had done nothing to deserve it, that he is prepared to help you with anything, absolutely anything that life might throw at you. So bring to the cross whatever heavy load you are carrying.

Come to the cross and bring your thankfulness. This week as you remember what Jesus went through for you, how he has taken your place, given you forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life, do so with gratitude. Without Jesus, God's judgement on our sin would be a terrifying thing. Thank God for the cross. It is the only way to be forgiven.

Come to the cross and bring your friends. The life we have in Christ needs to be shared; it needs to be made known. (I know what an impact sharing what happened to me that day had on my sons Alexander and Rufus). How can we keep such good news to ourselves? Share what Christ has done for you. Watch out for opportunities to tell them what Christ has done for you. The cross is meant to be shared.

I'm glad the soldier made me carry that cross. I didn't want to, but look what blessings that cross has brought me. I came to know the love of the Saviour and the forgiveness his cross won for me. I carried the cross for him that day, but I know that today he hoists on to his shoulders the heavy crosses we bear today.

Well, thatís my story. May God's grace be with you as you celebrate this Easter season.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th April, 2006

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