I want us to think about the cross of Jesus. We find the story of Jesus’ crucifixion in Matthew 27.
It is interesting to note, as you look at this chapter the many characters. In fact, if you look carefully at this crowd I believe you’ll be able to see yourself.
The first person we’ll see around the cross today is Judas.
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people made their plans how to have Jesus executed. 2 So they bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. 3 When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and the elders. 4 “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.” “What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” 5 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. 6 The chief priests picked up the coins and said, “It is against the law to put this into the treasury, since it is blood money.” 7 So they decided to use the money to buy the potter’s field as a burial place for foreigners. 8 That is why it has been called the Field of Blood to this day. 9 Then what was spoken by Jeremiah the prophet was fulfilled: “They took the thirty pieces of silver, the price set on him by the people of Israel, 10 and they used them to buy the potter’s field, as the Lord commanded me.”Matthew 27:1-10 (NIV)
Judas is the first character we need to look at because of how close he gets! Now take note, this is not close as in intimacy or relational closeness. No, this is a negative thing. As they say: Close only counts in horseshoes and hand-grenades!
Judas teaches us that: Proximity to the things of God does not exempt you from submitting to God. The life of Judas shows us someone who was ‘close’ to Jesus, but never transformed by Jesus! He looked like a disciple, but inwardly he was still living for himself! And yet, he for 3 years, Judas ‘followed’ Jesus! He was one of the ones who carried the baskets full of food, he was there to see Lazarus brought back to life, he was there when Jesus taught the crowds!
And it makes me think about how today, there are many, many people who say they ‘follow Jesus’ but lives demonstrate they really don’t know him! Yes, they may be moral people. Yes, they may even be a part of a church. Yes, they may be a part of some really awesome causes that really help people.
But, it’s possible to be close to Jesus without being transformed by him!
Notice the text says, " he was seized with remorse." There were two words in Greek which translate "repentance." The one used here was not the normal word used in Matt. 3:2 where John the Baptist says, ‘repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’, that word meant "a change of mind and actions." Here the word meant "sorrow afterwards" but with the implication of no real change. Please know that there is a major difference between feeling bad about sin and repenting from it!
I don’t care how good you think that you are outwardly, unless you have been born again, your heart is corrupt, and your thoughts are twisted, and you are in need of saving! We must never allow ourselves to think that religiosity, morality, or altruism could ever be a substitute for regeneration! Have you come to the place where you’ve realized your only hope is found in Jesus? Have you repented, and allowed Jesus to transform your life? The fate of Judas is a very graphic part of the biblical account, but we have it in our Bibles to illustrate the seriousness of sin!
Let’s move on to Pilate.
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied.
12 When he was accused by the chief priests and the elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate asked him, “Don’t you hear the testimony they are bringing against you?” 14 But Jesus made no reply, not even to a single charge—to the great amazement of the governor. 15 Now it was the governor’s custom at the festival to release a prisoner chosen by the crowd. 16 At that time they had a well-known prisoner whose name was Jesus Barabbas. 17 So when the crowd had gathered, Pilate asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you: Jesus Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 For he knew it was out of self-interest that they had handed Jesus over to him. 19 While Pilate was sitting on the judge’s seat, his wife sent him this message: “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him.” 20 But the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and to have Jesus executed. 21 “Which of the two do you want me to release to you?” asked the governor. “Barabbas,” they answered. 22 “What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” Pilate asked. They all answered, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!” 24 When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. “I am innocent of this man’s blood,” he said. “It is your responsibility!” 25 All the people answered, “His blood is on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released Barabbas to them. But he had Jesus flogged and handed him over to be crucified.Matthew 27:11-26 (NIV)
I want you today to see that ultimately what best describes the heart of Pilate is Callous. He was unmoved. Pilate was no fool. He knew the people and their motive (verse 18) and although he found no fault in Jesus (Luke 23:4) and his own wife advised him to having nothing to do with Jesus’ death (verse 19), Pilot knew that giving in was the path of least resistance. He was stationed where he was to keep the people in line and so he gave in to their request.
And yet there must have been something within Pilate that knew this was not right because he symbolically washed his hands of the manner. He thought he could remain neutral and not make a decision about Jesus.
But indecision is a decision.
When I was learning to drive I started out like many of you, driving out in the pasture, parallel parking between the pine trees of East Texas. But eventually those lessons led us to driving on the road, and the #1 thing my Dad told me was, ‘Indecision will get you killed!’ He knew that when it comes to the rules of the road, sometimes there is no great choice to be made but whatever you do, commit to it! I remember pulling onto the highway once and two semi-trucks were topping the hill side by side and moving fast! Well, I probably should not have been in the road at all, it was too late to try to put it in reverse, so I stepped on the gas with everything I had and made it to the shoulder of the other side before getting creamed!
Mind you I was 16 at the time and my brother was 13 so that meant he told the story of what happened first opportunity he had! While my parents weren’t thrilled about the situation in general, I had at least put into practice what I had learned about indecision, and it made all the difference!
Indecision towards Jesus is the worst decision of all. It too will get you killed!
Please, don’t think that you can be neutral about Jesus. You can’t.
Jesus said, “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” Matthew 12:30 (NIV)
Pilate even tried to utilize the political customs of the day to avoid dealing with Jesus, but then the crowd chose Barabbas instead ruining his plan.
Don’t be like Pilate today, thinking you can remain neutral about Jesus only results in a Callous heart!
Let’s look next at the soldiers.
Then the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, 29 and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand. Then they knelt in front of him and mocked him. “Hail, king of the Jews!” they said. 30 They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. 31 After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.Matthew 27:27-31 (NIV)
The Soldiers are an interesting bunch because on the one hand, they were just doing their jobs, but they also were Careless about Jesus. These guys were too busy to stop and really see what was happening. They were just doing their jobs. They were caught up in public opinion, and for them Jesus was just another person to crucify. As we think about how this relates to us today I want you to see that The biggest cult in America is conformity. We must not be careless about the things of God or the person of Jesus!
“For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.” Matthew 7:13 NIV
Some of you are going to be lost simply because you’re conforming to the crowd! You’re looking around for a consensus, to see what people think, rather than letting God speak to you. This is an easy category in which to hide and blend in. Culturally this doesn’t make a splash, but this is a dangerous place to be as it relates to Jesus.
Let’s look at another group, this time: the spectators!
Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads 40 and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!” 41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.Matthew 27:39-44 (NIV)
The spectators were cynical to the core. They knew the claims of Jesus but were unwilling to believe! While Jesus was on the cross the misquoted him, mocked him, and minimized him.
I know some of you today identify as a cynic and you may in fact have what appears to be justifiable reasons for being so. But you have a choice… to hold on to hurt, to hold on to bitterness, to hold on to unbelief, or you can turn to Jesus and believe.
You know I don’t think we start out as cynics. I think it’s something that happens to us over time. Raising three girls I get to see how their understanding of the world grows with each passing day, and part of the reality of the world is teaching your children that not everyone can be trusted, and friends sometimes hurt you, and life disappoints you. But I think there is a reason we are told to have faith like a child. It’s because a child is not dominated by cynicism! They believe!
Now look at the scripture: Notice the very thing they are saying of Jesus, “if he really is the Son of God. . .”, is the affirmation given to Jesus as recorded in Matthew chapter 4. Right before the temptations of Jesus we see him being baptized and a voice from heaven declaring: “This IS MY SON!”
When we read the whole book, we are confronted with the reality that it is precisely because Jesus IS THE SON of God, that he must stay on the cross. For it was the cross that made possible salvation!
Just because it doesn’t make sense to us, doesn’t mean God isn’t working! The more we grow in our knowledge of Him and the knowledge of His Word, the more we’ll be able to understand about His plan and purpose!
I get that cynicism is tempting, but let’s fight against that today.
As evening approached, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who had himself become a disciple of Jesus.58 Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body, and Pilate ordered that it be given to him. 59 Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, 60 and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away. 61 Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were sitting there opposite the tomb.Matthew 27:57-61
Here’s what we know about this rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph.
Several passages describe this man.
Now before some of you say, ‘secret disciple? That’s what I want to be! A spy for Jesus!
The thing that makes Joseph committed and the thing that makes him worth emulating is the fact that he didn’t stay a secret disciple!
This was a brave act, to go to Pilate, request the body, provide the tomb, all of it, was a big deal on the part of Joseph. He was publicly identifying himself with a man convicted of treason. He was willing to be ceremonially unclean for the Passover. For a Jew this would be a really big deal. But we see him setting aside everything in order to attend to Jesus. This would surely ostracize him from the Sanhedrin, the group he had been a part of.
He was not a secret disciple for long.
There comes a point in all of our lives where we have to decide if we’re willing to lay it all on the line in order to commit ourselves to Jesus!
We’ve looked at the crowd around the cross because that crowd is still here today! There are people who like Judas, are just playing church. You look like a disciple but in your heart, you know you’ve never submitted to Jesus as Lord.
Aren’t you tired of playing church?
Here’s what I know from my time in ministry: if you, like Judas, are trying to earn favor from God by proximity, without submitting to God, then you’re going to end up bitter or burned. Because that is unsustainable.
Take a deep breath.
If that’s you today, then why don’t surrender? Instead of being ‘close’ you can be intimate. You can know the God of the universe! That’s the invitation on the table! To know God and be known by Him! What about those in the room who, like Pilate, are callous?
That can only continue so far before the Lord gives you over to the natural inclination of your heart! Don’t wait! You must respond while there is still time!
Isaiah 55:6 says, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call to him while he is near.” (NIV)
Here’s the deal: God can warm a cold and callous heart! He has done it before, and he continues to do it!
But the only that happens is when you stand up and stop trying to be neutral about Jesus! You have to come to him and submit totally!
There are also people here today like the soldiers, who honestly just don’t want to think about it. Those who think, ‘I just don’t have time!’
I understand what it’s like to be busy. I have 3 little kids. And I know it only gets busier as life progresses and the kids grow into teenagers. But there are days, when it’s hard to imagine being busier! All that to say, I get why it’s tempting to think you don’t have time to deal with matters of faith but now is the time to step out of this cultural current and wake up to the reality that Jesus can not – must not – be ignored!
One of the attacks of the enemy is to lull us into sleep so that we don’t ever deal with what’s most important! Let’s wake up! Let’s deal with important matters. Let’s not be careless towards Jesus!
For those in the room today who are cynical, I want you to know being intellectual is not an excuse for being cynical.
I’m here to tell you that the Christian faith is robust intellectually to say the least and the things of God are deeper than all of us. That’s both exciting and at times a little frustrating. You don’t have to check your brain at the door, but you do have to be willing to step out in faith!
If you think you’re too cynical to come to God, then tell him that! Have an honest conversation with God, we call that prayer! You’re not going to scare him off, I promise you.
Maybe it’s your difficult circumstances that have caused you to turn into a cynic. Listen, the Bible is no silent on trials. The Bible is incredibly honest about the reality of difficulties. I don’t know the details of your circumstances that have led you to this place. I’m sorry you’ve gone through that but know this: Your past circumstances do not have to define your future. Hurt can be turned into triumph through the cross but you must be willing to believe!
And there are some here today who, like Joseph, need to step into the light and become that committed follower! No more secret disciples!
It’s time for you to take a step of obedience. It’s time for you to follow through with Baptism, it’s time for you to join this church, it’s time for you to share your faith with your family, it’s time for you to trust God with your finances and start giving generously, it’s time for you to be unashamed to follow Jesus!
Wherever you find yourself today, know this, because of what Jesus accomplished on the cross you can have new life! And we’d love to help you step into it.
Adam serves as Teaching Pastor in the North Venue. His prayer for Trinity is that we would always be a place that God uses to rescue people and transform lives.
The cross is the centerpiece of our faith for a reason. Because upon it, the crucified savior accomplished the promised redemption. At the cross, it was finished!