Then Jesus said to them, ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.’ 45Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, 46and he said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day.
Last Sunday, I delved into the question: Why? Why was it necessary for the Messiah to suffer and then rise from the dead on the third day? Why was the cross necessary? I took quite a bit of time to focus on the aspect of sacrificial atonement and the cost Jesus bore to forgive our sins. If you missed that sermon, it can be found on my blog. I will be happy to give you the web address for that.
However, there is another aspect we must consider when it comes to the cross. For there has been a long running criticism of those of us who preach that Jesus has given us our salvation–free to us, but costly to Him. In the early Church, there were those who thought that proclaiming grace then gave no incentive to people to change their lives and live according to God’s will and purpose. Centuries later, when Martin Luther, the namesake of the Lutheran church, called Christians back to the understanding of grace and the cross, there were even more calls that people would no longer seek to follow God’s commands. I mean, if your salvation does not hinge upon your performance, then why even attempt? Why change your life? Why do things differently?
The answer, we will see, is the cross, but let me start with this analogy.
I want you to pretend that you have just reached the age where you can legally drive. For much of your teenage years, you longed to be able to drive a car and experience the freedom of the road, but you wondered if you would ever be able to afford a car. You wondered if your parents would ever be able to afford a car.
On the day you came of age and completed your driver’s exam, a guy shows up on your doorstep. He comes up to you and congratulates you on passing your exam, and then he hands you a set of keys. They are the keys to a brand new car! He says, “This car is yours. We provide free cars to everyone here in this region. Enjoy driving!”
You are ecstatic! You tell your folks you are going driving, and you head out. You drive around and are exhilarated! You pick up several of your friends. Before long, you have the radio turned up as loud as it can go. You are yelling back and forth at your friends. You are on cloud nine. Then your cell phone buzzes. It’s a text. You reach down to look at it. You try texting back, and you run off the road. You manage to slow down, but you still run into a tree. The car is totaled. Luckily, you and your friends are not injured, but your beautiful, new car is toast. You cry. You wonder if you will ever get another chance to drive. A tow truck hauls your car away.
You wake up the next morning sore and bruised, and you are surprised by a knock on the door. You open it, and the same man who gave you the keys yesterday is there today. He says, “I know you had an accident yesterday and your car was totaled. You may be wondering if you can drive anymore. I have good news. You get another car. I told you. We provide free cars for the people of this region.”
You are excited beyond belief. This time, you are a bit more careful, but after several months, your cell phone buzzes again. You check it again. You wreck the car again. You have a bit of grief again, but you wonder if you will get another car.
Sure enough, you do. You can’t believe this! Even if you wreck your car, you are given another one. So, you become fearless. You begin to drive like the proverbial bat out of you-know-where. You speed. You run stop lights. You take chances. You have several more wrecks. Doesn’t matter. There will be a new car waiting in the morning.
After one such wreck, earlier than usual, there is a knock on your door. It’s not the car guy. Instead, it’s someone else. It’s someone driving an old, beat up car with all sorts of wear and tear. You wonder to yourself why this guy just doesn’t run the car into a tree and get a new one. He looks at you and says, “Bet you were expecting the car guy. I always try to get in before him. Come with me this morning.”
You hesitate. You don’t know this guy. But he is reassuring and there is a certain air about him. You trust him and climb in his old beat up vehicle. He drives you beyond the outskirts of town. You look out the cracked window and see a large factory up ahead. The man drives the car right toward that factory.
As you approach, however, you see something very strange. There are myriads of cars out front of this factory–cars that look just like the one’s you’ve been given. But the whole place is surrounded by fences with razor sharp wire at the top. There appear to be watch towers with armed guards in them. The man driving you has to go through several checkpoints just to get you in. A helicopter hovers above, obviously watching for something.
The man parks and leads you in. He says, “You know, I was once like you. I drove with a reckless abandon. But then someone showed me what I am about to show you. Have you ever wondered where your cars come from?”
With that, the man leads you forward. You walk into the factory, and you are stunned by what you see. Huge assembly lines first catch your eye, but then your eyes move to the workers. You are appalled! The workers are all wearing filthy rags. They look like they haven’t slept in weeks. They barely seem able to stand and walk. Supervisors constantly yell and scream at them to get busy. When someone stumbles or falls, physical force is used to motivate them. If someone is unable to get up, they are trampled upon, and someone else is forced to take their place. You can hardly watch.
The man then takes you to the lunch room. You see the ragged clothed workers hurriedly eating a meal. They are eating something that would make a billy goat puke. “They only get 10 minutes before they are forced back to their work stations,” the man tells you.
The man then motions you to follow. You go to the workers’ homes–if you can call them that. They look like jail cells. There are meager foam mattresses on the floor which look only an inch thick or so. Dilapidated tables and chairs litter the cells. These workers are literally slaves. And then it dawns on you! The reason the region can afford to give you free cars is because of slave labor! Your “free” care is bought with a great price!
The car ride back to your home is a quiet one. When you arrive, there in your drive way is a brand new car. The man looks at you and says, “Now, what will you do?”
What will you do indeed? Will you continue to drive recklessly? Will you continue to do things which would put the life of your car in jeopardy? Would you even have a desire to drive that car ever again? If you know the terrible price paid for you to have that “free” car, would you ever look at driving the same again?
Of course you wouldn’t. If you have even a smidgen of compassion in your heart, you couldn’t look at your car without seeing the faces and condition of those who built it. You might never even drive again! But why? Why wouldn’t you drive?
Because you would be acting out of guilt, and here is where the analogy breaks down when comparing to what Jesus accomplished on the cross. Because Jesus was not being held against His will. Jesus was not bound to the cross by any force natural or supernatural. He could have walked away from it. He could have called a legion of angels down to rescue Him from it. He didn’t have to drink the cup. That was what the Garden of Gethsemane was all about. He prayed, “Father, if it is possible, take this cup from me, but nevertheless, not my will but Thine be done.” Jesus could have walked away from His sacrificial death, but He didn’t. He entered into it freely, willingly, but also with great terror and anguish. He didn’t have to hang on that cross to save you, but He did because He loves you.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son so that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God sent the Son into the world not to condemn the world but that the world may be saved through Him.”
And when you arrive at the foot of that cross...
When you see Jesus hanging there in pain...
When you see the pierced hands...
When you see the pierced feet...
When you see the crown of thorns...
When you see the blood flowing from the lashes...
When you see Him cry out in despair, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
When you see Him die the death that you deserved to give you the gift of salvation that you didn’t deserve...
When you see Him face abandonment from God so that you never have to...
When you see Him pay the price for your freedom...
Can you keep driving your life the same way? Can you keep doing things recklessly without any thought to God or to others? Can you willingly break God’s commands knowing what Jesus did for you? Can you go through life seeking your own will instead of the will of the Father?
When you arrive at the foot of the cross and you understand the size of the debt you owe; when you understand the nature of your separation from God; you understand that Jesus willingly paid the price to reconcile you unto God; when you see just what it cost Jesus to purchase your redemption; your heart changes. You feel horribly bad, and then strangely accepted. You feel like the dirtiest of worms, and then like the apple of God’s eye. You feel worthless, and then extremely valuable. And you know you can never look at the world the same again. You can never look at another person with anger and contempt again. You can never hate another person who is created in the image of God again. You can never hate yourself again. Your heart overflows with an abundance of love for what God has done for you, and with an incredible desire to share that love with others.
If you never saw the great cost paid by Jesus, your heart would never change. But because of His willing sacrifice, even the hardest heart is brought to its knees. It is at the cross where such change occurs, and it is why the Messiah had to suffer and die. Thanks be to God. Amen.