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Nov 19, 2017

“The Death of Jesus, Part One” 11-19-17

Matthew 27:26-44
November 19, 2017

I have changed my preaching schedule from what was posted in the newsletter.  Today and next week we will be looking at the crucifixion of Jesus and then take a break from I Samuel and the end of Matthew as we approach Christmas and New Years for the 5 Sundays in December.
So today we are looking at the death of our Lord, Part one. 
Two weeks ago, we saw Pilate’s attempt to free Jesus from the attempts of the Jewish leaders to have him killed.  At the end of that passage, we saw that Pilate gave up and decided to authorize the crucifixion of Jesus and turn Barabbas free. 
Once Jesus had been condemned to death, a grim and deadly set of rituals proceeded.  It was customary for the person who was to be crucified to be flogged before he was nailed to the cross; this was done with an instrument of torture called the flagellum. It had a wooden handle out of which came several leather thongs.  Into each thong there were tied several bits of metal and bone. 
As you can imagine, it was designed to shred the back of its victim, sometimes exposing some of the internal organs and the spine and ribs.
After Jesus suffered this horrible abuse, he was subjected to racist behavior.  The Jews were under the control of the Romans.  The Romans considered the Jews to be inferiors and members of a subject nation.  The Jews hated the Romans as cruel overlords, and considered them to be inferior because they were idol worshipers. 
Jesus was accused of being one who proclaimed to be the king of the Jews.  So the Romans wanted the Jews to understand that any Jewish person who thought they could be a king in opposition to Rome would be treated this way.  Jesus suffered much from the Romans simply because he was a Jew. 
To be fair, most of the soldiers who served in Palestine had been called evil names and had things thrown at them by Jewish folks.  One of the tragedies of racism is that it harms people on both sides of the conflict.
The racism of the Roman soldiers explains them dressing Jesus up as a king in a scarlet robe or cape, and making fun of him.  The crown of thorns was not to be a cruel version of a golden, jewel encrusted crown, but as a thorny version of the laurel wreath which the emperors often wore.
They put a marsh reed in his hand as a scepter, then bowed down before him and said “Hail, King of the Jews”.  They spit on him, and hit him on the head with the reed they had taken from his hand. When they were finished with their fun, they yanked the now bloody robe or cape from him, put his robe back on him and started him on his way to the place where he would be crucified.
The route would be a long one that would take the victim through most of the city, as a lesson to all who would see him.
It was customary that the one to be crucified would carry the crossbeam of the cross, the shorter horizontal section of the cross, to the place of execution, but after the way he was treated, Jesus was barely able to stand, much less carry a heavy piece of wood, so the soldiers grabbed a Jewish fellow named Simon to carry the cross.
Simon was a Jew who was actually from North Africa, West of Egypt.  He had traveled far to celebrate his Passover in Jerusalem, and now was forced to participate in this gruesome parade, another victim of the colonialism and racism that was prevalent in Judea.
The Apostles came to know Simon and his sons, so it is likely that Simon came to believe in Jesus.
The place where they would crucify Jesus was a rocky hill that resembled a skull in some way.  There some of the women of Jerusalem offered him a drink of wine which he refused.  These women tried to make crucifixion less painful, so they took drugged wine to the places of execution to make being nailed to the cross less painful.  But once Jesus realized the wine was drugged, he refused to drink it.  He wanted to be aware as he hung on the cross.
The crucifixion squad of 4 Roman soldiers took charge of Jesus.  They nailed his hands to the crossbar of the cross, lashed it to the vertical post, nailed Jesus’ feet to the post, then raised the cross to the standing position and secured it in place.
They had taken most of his clothes from him, and they divided them among themselves in a game similar to throwing dice.
They put a placard over his head that proclaimed him to be “Jesus, the King of the Jews”.  This had been written by Pilate, because that was the charge that was brought before him.
Jesus did not die alone, there were 3 men killed that day.  The other two were probably compatriots of Barabbas, and were to have died with him.  They were criminals, but according to the legal system, so was Jesus, the innocent son of God.
While Jesus was dying on the cross, many shouted insults at him.  Some were just people passing by; some were enemies of Jesus who were happy they had finally put an end to him.  They shouted things like “Hey King, if you have the power to destroy and rebuild the temple in 3 days, you ought to be strong enough to get off that cross, and maybe even overcome these soldiers.
They made fun of him because he had helped others, but now was rendered helpless.  Those who did not believe in him said they would change their minds if he got off that cross.
Even the criminals who were dying with him insulted him.
It has become common knowledge among Christians that Jesus could have gotten down from the cross that he could have refused to die.  We even have a hymn that reminds us that He could have called 10,000 angels to help him. 
But he obeyed the Father and died for the sins of those who would believe in him.  He died so we could eventually have eternal life and be a part of God’s great eternal kingdom.
Now you might think that our preaching calendar, taking us through Matthew has failed us in bringing us to the cross of Jesus just as we are preparing to celebrate Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
But I would remind you that the first thanksgiving on American soil, the one celebrated in the fall of 1621, was celebrated in the shadow of death.
When the puritan pilgrims arrived in November 1620 there were 102 of them, in October 1621 there were only 53 of them left.
In October of 1621 they celebrated the great harvest they had had that autumn that made it appear that their attempt to plant their form of Protestantism in the new world would be successful. 
That celebration was in the light of almost 50 deaths of their friends and loved ones during the previous winter.  But they were alive and grateful to God for their meager accomplishments.
It could be argued that Thanksgiving in America has become trivialized by our wealth and technology and no understanding of the suffering of other people.
Those pilgrims who died in that first winter on American soil were not the last who died searching for the prosperity and success that we have found or has been given to us.  We should be grateful for our material blessings.
But today we have looked once again at the suffering and death of Jesus.  Today we proclaim that He died for us, to make us a part of his eternal kingdom. 
So as you celebrate with your friends and loved ones this Thursday, as you celebrate the material blessings of this life, remember your spiritual blessings, remember that you live with a promise of eternal life, because of the sufferings and death of Jesus.
As you gather with friends and loved ones around a table which will probably have too much food on it, remember that those who believe in Jesus will be promised a great meal at the commencement of God’s eternal kingdom, and that our presence there will be because Jesus suffered and died for us.

Pastor David Horner
Faith Presbyterian Church
West Lafayette, IN 47906