THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING EVANGELICAL
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 26, 2013
15 And He said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.
-- Mark 16:15, ESV
If you are a Christian, what kind of Christian are you?
In the broadest sense, you are either Catholic, Orthodox, or Protestant. For those of us who are Protestants, we are the legacy of the Great Reformation, that great movement in history that on one hand reclaimed the Bible and the gospel, and on the other hand splintered the church into a thousand traditions, denominations, and non-denominations. Christians can now be labeled from A to Z (Anglicans, Baptists, Catholics, Dunkards, Episcopalians, Franciscans, Greek Orthodox, Huguenots, Inerrantists, Jesuits, Kierkegaardians, Lutherans, Mennonites, Nazarene, Orthodox, Presbyterian, Quakers, Reformed, Seventh Day Adventists, Transcendentalists, Unitarians, Vineyard, Wesleyans, Xavierians, Yehowists, Zionists) and a whole lot more.
Since we are a Christian church, what kind of church are we?
Lake Hamilton is a Baptist church, but very loosely. Baptist is our heritage and we are currently a cooperating member of the Southern Baptist Convention on the associational, state, and national level. I’ve tried to cease being a Baptist a few times, but like Al Pacino in The Godfather, every time I try to get out, they drag me back in. It is not important for me nor most of our church members to be Baptist, but right now there is no compelling reason not to be, either.
Lake Hamilton is a Reformed church, in the sense that we stand on the pillars of the Great Reformation. Holy Scripture alone is our standard and guide, not the traditions of Southern Baptists, Roman Catholics, or any other ecclesiastical body. We believe firmly that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. And all that we seek to do as a church is for the glory of God alone. Our Pastor believes firmly in the doctrines of grace, our officers once the church is fully formed will be elders and deacons, we observe communion regularly and baptism at every opportunity, and we insist upon a committed, disciplined membership. I think it is more important to be Reformed than Baptist, but I have great friends and fellow workers in Christ who are neither. And, I think a person who is neither could be a happy member of our church, too, as long as we are in agreement on the following.
Lake Hamilton is an Evangelical church. I do not mean this necessarily in the political or populist sense, but in the gospel sense. We take the gospel seriously, personally, and intentionally, and we think anyone who would like to become a member of our church should, too. So please let me talk to you for a few minutes, with the summary text from the Gospel of Mark, about the importance of being Evangelical.
Evangelical Christians take the Gospel Seriously
The word gospel appears seven times in Mark and seventy-seven times in the New Testament. The Greek word is euangelion, from whence we get our English words evangel, evangelism, evangelical. Therefore, an evangelical Christian is someone who takes the gospel quite seriously.
Of course, the plain definition of the word gospel is good news. But since the advent of Christianity, gospel has referred to the particular good news about the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. Proclaiming the gospel means explaining the plan by which God brought Christ into the world to accomplish salvation and give eternal life, which is pretty good news, indeed!
This glorious plan of salvation begins with God, who before creation knew that creation would fall and require redemption. So God worked personally in His world, picked out a person, Abraham, would would father a nation, Israel, who would produce a Messiah, Jesus, to be the Savior of the world. Evangelical Christians take seriously the Old Testament, with its people, promises, and predictions of the coming Messiah, Jesus Christ. Evangelical Christians take seriously the New Testament, with Gospel books that present the person and work of Jesus Christ and many other apostolic letters that explain God’s plan of salvation, church life, and the Christian life. In other words, evangelical Christians take the Bible seriously, and the centerpiece of the Bible is the gospel of Jesus Christ.
The gospel is not the good news of how everyone, in some unitarian, utopian dream, is going to save every person ever created. The gospel is not the good news of how you, by being a good person, can save yourself. The gospel is the serious good news of how God saves individual people by grace alone through faith alone in the person and work of Jesus Christ, alone. And evangelical Christians believe that you, and you alone, must personally and properly receive the gospel in order to be saved.
Evangelical Christians accept the Gospel Personally
Evangelicals are not unitarians, who believe that the only criteria for salvation is to be human. Evangelicals live in a pluralistic world but do not believe that any religion and all religious roads can take you to Heaven. Evangelicals take the gospel and the word of God seriously; therefore, we believe that salvation comes only to those who personally receive Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.
There has to be a time, personally, when someone becomes a Christian. No one is born a Christian. In truth, we are born sinners, separated from God. And while Scripture seems to indicate that God pardons the sin of incognizant children and impaired adults, there comes a time of accountability for every normal person ever born whereby they must be born again if they are going to receive salvation and eternal life. Evangelicals believe in being born again.
But how does one become born again? When the preaching of the gospel is conjoined with the power of the Holy Spirit, new birth gives new life. In the mind, repentance is wrought. In the heart, faith takes hold. In the will, followers come forth. When the gospel is accepted personally, a person is changed into a newborn Christian and follower of Jesus Christ.
Evangelicals believe there is ample evidence of the new birth. There is a new love for God and other people. There is a new code of moral conduct, written in God’s word and written upon God’s people’s hearts. There is a new home, Heaven, which becomes our eternal destiny. And, there is a new desire to take as many people to Heaven with us as we possibly can.
Evangelical Christians proclaim the Gospel Intentionally
The Gospel of Mark spends sixteen chapters telling us the gospel of Jesus Christ. Then, it tells those of us who believe it and take it seriously to share it, intentionally, with others. Evangelical Christians believe in evangelism and missionary enterprise in order to take the gospel seriously and personally in proclaiming the gospel through God’s whole creation.
Are you an evangelical Christian? Do you take the gospel and the word of God seriously? Have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior personally? If so, what’s your plan to intentionally proclaim the gospel to the whole creation?
You could become a lone ranger and start sharing the gospel with everyone you meet. But remember, even the Lone Ranger wasn’t alone, he had Tonto. And since the inception of Christianity, witness have been sent out in a minimum of two by two. But whether solo or in a duet, you could start singing the gospel to the whole world and see how far you get before Jesus calls you home. You can do this, and in some ways should do this, but if this is all you do in proclaiming the gospel, you’ll never reach the whole creation and you’ll run out of gas trying.
You could become a committed member of a larger team, a called-out entity of fellow evangelical Christians. This marvelous organism is called the church. It meets regularly to pray for all matters near and dear to the heart of God, not the least of which is the eternal salvation of souls. You could pool your resources with them through this neat thing called giving tithes and offerings, and insist that a special portion of that offering is set aside for the proclamation of the gospel to the whole world. You could attend regularly and identify every person in your circle of influence that does not attend an evangelical church, share with them how the gospel has saved your soul and changed your life, then invite them to come where the gospel is preached in sermons and observed in sacraments, where people are loved and prayed for, where the gospel is taken seriously by people who have accepted Christ personally, where the Holy Spirit can work in their lives to bring them to become one of us, an evangelical Christian. This is a good plan, for this is God’s plan!
So, for now and the foreseeable future, we worship and work as a Baptist church. We are learning more and more as we go to appreciate and appropriate the great doctrines of the Great Reformation into our corporate body. And today we commit and recommit ourselves to seriously, personally, and intentionally to be evangelical, to “Go into the all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation.”
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 19, 2013
1 When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2 And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3 And they were saying to one another, Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb? 4 And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back— it was very large. 5 And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6 And he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7 But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. 8 And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.
-- Mark 16:1-8, ESV
God died when I was five years old, according to Time magazine. In 1966 they ran an infamous cover story with the title, “Is God Dead?” Yes, was the assertion of a college professor named Thomas Altizer, who ironically was trained in a historically Baptist school (University of Chicago) and taught at an affiliated United Methodist school (Emory University). The entire article was infused with ideas and claims made by those with less than conservative, historical, and evangelical views of God and Holy Scripture.
To say God is dead is blasphemous. To say God was dead is honest. For there was a day, a few years before our fifth birthdays, when God died. God, in the person and in the finished work of Jesus Christ, died for our sins, according to the gospel and the word of God. Christ’s death set off a day of terrible mourning, a day of incredible hope, and appoints a day for all of us when we will see for ourselves, God is most certainly not dead.
The Darkest Day
Holy Week includes a name for (Maundy) Thursday, (Good) Friday, and (Resurrection or Easter) Sunday. There is no name for Saturday. The Gospels seem to fly right over it. After the memorial day of Jesus’ death and before the monumental day of Jesus’ resurrection, the mention of Saturday was simply, “The Sabbath was past.”
On Friday it was dark for three hours while Jesus finished dying. On Saturday, when Jesus was dead to the world, it seemed dark all day long, at least in the world of His followers. Devout Jews, from which came the first devout Christians, could do nothing with dead bodies on a Saturday due to Sabbath customs and regulations. But that was not the problem. The problem was that Jesus’ body was in a tomb on any given day. God, it seemed, was dead.
We don’t know exactly what the first Christians did on that dark Saturday. They no doubt were in shock. Jesus had been threatened for three years, but this time they really killed Him. They were no doubt in deep mourning, for their love for the Lord was very evident. But the women in this story, excellent examples of true Christian faith and devotion, also made a plan. They agreed to show up at Jesus’ grave on the first day of the week and bring spices for His dead body. This was a wonderful and terrible plan.
It is wonderful that they showed up on Sunday to see Jesus. Think about that. Do you love your kids and grandkids? If so, you show up at the important events in their lives. Do you love the Lord Jesus Christ? Then show up on Sundays to see Him. See Jesus in the assembly of the saints, see Jesus in the praise and the prayers, see Jesus in the Scripture readings and sermon, see Jesus in the bread and the wine, see Jesus on the first day of the week, and see Jesus every day of the week in the ways He has given us to show us that He is not dead. These ladies, bless them all, showed up on Sunday to see Jesus. Wonderful! But, they mistakenly bought and brought spices.
Why the spices? Well, anything men can do, women can do better, that’s for sure. The women had watched Joseph and Nicodemus anoint and bury Jesus, but apparently they had not done it well enough. So, they sat out Saturday and arrived on Sunday to finish the job. To them, Jesus was loved and would always be loved. And to them, at that moment, Jesus was dead and would always be dead. That’s why they wanted to cover His deceased and decaying body with spice. Every day would be dark Saturday and they doubted God would do anything about it. That’s where they were wrong.
“For ... the Lord my God lightens my darkness” (ref. Psalm 28:18). Remember this when the dark days come in your life. A loved one dies, you go through a divorce, your health fails, your finances crash, or something else happens that makes every day feel like that sad Saturday. Go to the cross and the tomb; but, don’t bring any spices. Spices are like religion, they make dead people smell better. What we need is the cure for death. What we need is the Son rise.
The Son Rise
One Sunday morning at twilight, the Son of God rose from the grave. The Old Testament predicts this gospel truth, the New Testament proclaims this gospel truth, and we must believe this is the gospel truth. As always, the truth of the gospel centers not on what we can do for God, but upon what God had done for us.
The women went to roll the stone away; but, God had already done it. They faced an impossible task. A large grave stone rolled tightly over a tomb by a group of men, probably strong soldiers, could not be moved by a petite pack of women. They asked, “Who will roll away the stone?” I think we know the answer to that question.
The women went to look for someone to help; but, God had already sent an angel. With what they were about to see and experience, the women needed a helper, a guide, someone to explain what was going on. Where did the “young man ... dressed in a white robe,” who was in fact an angel, come from? Who sent him to help tell these women the good news about Jesus Christ and the resurrection? I think we know the answer to that question.
The women went to tend to the dead body of Jesus Christ; but, God had already raised Him from the dead. “He has risen!” Spices were not necessary when the Spirit was present. Mourning is broken when the Son rises. Who raised Jesus from the dead? I think we know the answer to that question.
At every turn when these women were ready to do something for God, they found that God had already done something amazing for them. It was all of grace. It was all for God’s glory. It was all for their good. By grace through faith, God will roll away that stone of sin in your life. God will send messengers in the form of godly parents, Christians friends, Bible-teaching pastors, and sometimes even angels unaware to proclaim to you the good news of salvation in Jesus Christ. Just as God raised Jesus from the dead, so God will give life to your mortal bodies through the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit. Salvation is when the Son rises in your heart, captivates your mind, washes away all your sins, and comes into your life as Lord of lords and King of kings forever.
For people of the gospel, blackest darkness will always give way to incredible light. At the moment of justification, the Son rises to cancel the condemnation of sin and death. At each point of sanctification along the way, amidst the trials and tribulations that make us grow, the Son rises to lead us to be like Him. And when the time comes for glorification, human words will be inadequate to express the “trembling and astonishment” we will feel. For finally, we will look upon a God who is not dead. “He is risen!” And, “You will see Him!”
The Gospel Promise
“You will see Him!”
In the immediate context, of course, this meant that the women, a singled-out Simon Peter, and the other followers of Jesus would see the resurrected Lord in Galilee, just as He promised. They would see Him, walk with Him, talk with Him, eat with Him, worship with Him, and fellowship with Him for about forty days in Galilee and Judea. After that, Christ ascended into Heaven with the promise to visibly, bodily, and certainly return in the same way.
God’s gospel promise to you, if you believe in the gospel of Jesus Christ, is the same. “You will see Him.” This should fill all of us with “trembling and astonishment” in sobering and hopeful ways. For when “You ... see Him,” all that will matter is whether or not you know Him, in a personal and covenantal way, as your Lord and Savior.
I did not know anything about God in 1966, but I knew enough to know He was not dead. I did not really know God at all until 1982, when He became alive in me. When I visited Galilee and Judea in 2008, I kind of hoped I’d see Him, returning to earth in the place where His earthly ministry was lived out. But most of all, when living through the dark Saturdays of my life, crushed by disappointment and depression, I really, really wanted to see Him. God appoints the dark Saturdays, too, and they will come and go on this side of Heaven. But Heaven knows no such days. So for now, keep showing up on Sundays to see Jesus. Let the Son rise in your life every single day. Then, at God’s appointed time for each one of us, this gospel promise will come true: “You will see Him.”
WHO CARES WHEN YOU’RE DEAD?
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 12, 2013
40 There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. 41 When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. 42 And when evening had come, since it was the day of Preparation, that is, the day before the Sabbath, 43 Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the council, who was also himself looking for the kingdom of God, took courage and went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. 44 Pilate was surprised to hear that he should have already died. And summoning the centurion, he asked him whether he was already dead. 45 And when he learned from the centurion that he was dead, he granted the corpse to Joseph. 46 And Joseph bought a linen shroud, and taking him down, wrapped him in the linen shroud and laid him in a tomb that had been cut out of the rock. And he rolled a stone against the entrance of the tomb. 47 Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of Joses saw where he was laid.
-- Mark 15:40-47, ESV
The way in which people are buried says a lot about them, and the people who knew them.
Two graves made news this month, both of which are located in the great old state of Virginia. My great old friend, Kenneth Studdard, recently texted me a picture of one of them in Lexington, the one belonging to the beloved General T.J. “Stonewall” Jackson. Kenneth traveled there, on the 150th anniversary of Jackson’s death, to pay homage to the famous soldier and great Christian gentleman. The other grave will be not be visited in 150 years, nor 150 seconds for that matter. It belongs to Islamic terrorist Tamerlan Tsarnaev, who was killed in a shoot-out with police after he killed others in the Boston Marathon bombing. His own family refused to claim his body, which was finally taken by some faith-based group a laid unceremoniously in an infamous and anonymous grave. Who cares when you’re dead? Well, it all depends upon what you do while you are alive.
Before the resurrection of Jesus Christ, certain questions arose concerning His death and burial. Certain people really cared, and really care today. Did the Son of God really die? What would the Romans or Jews do with His body after His death? What kind of burial was the custom for a crucified criminal? Would anybody step up in the face of hostility and persecution and claim the body of Christ? Who would really care about Jesus after Jesus was dead?
The burial of Jesus reveals the reality of His death.
Unless it is Barnabas Collins, you do not bury someone unless he or she is dead. In the cases of crucifixion under the old Roman Empire, this was especially true. Part of the purpose of crucifixion was to proclaim death, death to anyone who opposed Caesar and Rome. So, nobody and no body was taken down from the cross until it could be verified that they were, in fact, beyond the dark shadow of a doubt, stone cold, graveyard dead.
Jesus’ death was verified by the thrusting of a spear deep into our Lord’s side. The blood and water of a broken heart, like “sorrow and love flowed mingled down.” No one with life in the body or breath in the lungs could have refrained from shouting in pain at such an act, unless they were, in fact, really dead. Therefore, the fact that the Romans consented to the burial of Jesus confirms the reality of His actual death.
This is a necessary part of the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ. For, faith in the fact of Christ’s death is necessary for salvation and eternal life. Sacrificial death is the ultimate act of love. Atonement by blood is the holy requirement for forgiveness of sins. And, Christ experienced death so that all who believe in Him will never perish, but have everlasting life. Jesus Christ did not faint, Jesus Christ did not swoon, Jesus Christ’s body was not mixed up in a case of mistaken identity, and Jesus Christ is no myth. “Jesus Christ died for our sins, according to the Scripture!”
The burial of Jesus reveals who really cares for Him.
What happened after Jesus died? Who took responsibility for His body? Who really cared for Jesus when Jesus was dead?
Those strange bedfellows, the Roman governor and the Jewish high priest, did not really care. The Romans would have let Him rot. The Jewish religious leaders only wanted Him buried because the Sabbath was about to begin at sundown. Ordinarily, deceased criminals’ bodies would be disposed of like refuse, thrown into some “potter’s field,” or dumped in an otherwise unmarked grave. But, in Jesus’ case, there were some people there who really cared for Him.
There were several Galilean women there who really cared for Jesus. Most Galileans had left late Thursday evening or early Friday morning after the Passover meal, oblivious of what had been done to Jesus. Christ’s closest twelve followers, also Galileans, were no where to be found, yet there is no reason to be too hard on eleven of the twelve. Judas, the traitor, was dead by his own hand. Peter, the denier, was busy with his own tears of repentance and ensuing restoration. John, the beloved, was busy taking care of Mary, Jesus’ mother, as the Lord has asked him from the cross. Perhaps the other nine were forming a baseball team, but more likely they were just sheepishly making their way back to Galilee, as Jesus had instructed. But there is something about these women that shows who really cares for Jesus.
We know some of them by what they were named (ref. vs. 42), but we know all of them by what they did, “they followed and ministered to Him” (ref. vs. 43). What you do always speaks louder than what you are called, and one has no right to call himself or herself a true Christian if he or she is not a true follower and minister of Christ.
And true followers and ministers can be found everywhere, even in religion and politics. “Joseph of Arimathea, a respected member of the counsel” (ref. vs. 43; also, John’s Gospel identifies Nicodemus alongside Joseph) stepped up to take a stand for the Lord Jesus Christ. Accepting Christ’s body was tantamount to accepting Christ, and what the Jewish leaders and Romans did to Jesus could have been inflicted upon anyone who followed and ministered to Jesus. But Joseph did not care because he really cared about Jesus.
In summarizing these thoughts let us observe at least three things. First of all, Jesus’ ministry and the advent of the New Covenant church makes room for women ministers (the word “ministered” in vs. 41 is the same word translated “deacon” in other parts of Scripture). Secondly, the Lord calls and uses His followers in virtually every walk and vocation of life, even hypocritical organized religion and corrupt politics, so we should never judge a Christian book by its secular cover. And thirdly and most importantly, those who really care about Jesus do something about it.
The burial of Jesus reveals our own personal destiny.
Unless the Lord comes again in our lifetime, which in His sovereign pleasure He certainly could, every one of us must face the facts of our own death, burial, and legacy. Will we die? Certainly. Will we be buried, cremated, or otherwise laid to rest? Naturally. Who will care? Well, it all depends.
Very few of us will wind up like Stonewall Jackson, or John F. Kennedy, or Elvis, with people making pilgrimages to our graves. None of us, I hope, end our lives by ending others’ lives in terrorism and tragedy, leaving no one who wants to claim our body or provide a place of burial. Most of our lives will end in a time, place, and manner known only to God and a handful of family and friends. But when your life ends, will it really have mattered? Who will care when you are dead?
God will care, if you are His child. If by grace alone through faith alone you have trusted in the life, death, burial, and resurrection of Christ alone for your salvation, you are a child of God and God will care when you are dead. God will care so much, that you really won’t even die at all.
Your children will care, your physical and spiritual children, if you were a good person, especially if you were a godly person. And if you were a good person but not a godly person, in the Christian sense, the care will give way to doubt and despair over the eternal destination of your soul. The very best thing any person can do for their family is to give their life to Christ, to truly live for the Lord, so that death will have no sting for all involved. And even if you have no physical children to call your own, in Heaven there will be blessing beyond measure in the fellowship with people, spiritual sons and daughters, whom you influenced to get there. Yes, there is a certain way of living, and dying, that ensures people will care about you when you’re dead.
Prepare for your own funeral now while you are living. While you are still alive, let people see you following Christ and ministering to others in His name. While you are still alive, strengthen the body of Christ, the church, and do not ignore or attack her like so many others. While you are still alive, invest in the things required to bring people to repentance and faith, things like praying and giving and witnessing and setting a sound spiritual example. While you are still alive, make sure you care what happens to people when they die. For if you care what happens to other people when they die, those same people will care about you, even when you are dead.
THE SUFFERING AND SACRIFICE OF THE SON OF GOD
Dr. Charles Franklin DeVane, Jr., Pastor
Lake Hamilton Baptist Church
Hot Springs, Arkansas
May 5, 2013
16 And the soldiers led him away inside the palace (that is, the governor's headquarters), and they called together the whole battalion. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak, and twisting together a crown of thorns, they put it on him. 18 And they began to salute him, Hail, King of the Jews! 19 And they were striking his head with a reed and spitting on him and kneeling down in homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. And they led him out to crucify him. 21 And they compelled a passerby, Simon of Cyrene, who was coming in from the country, the father of Alexander and Rufus, to carry his cross. 22 And they brought him to the place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull). 23 And they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him and divided his garments among them, casting lots for them, to decide what each should take. 25 And it was the third hour when they crucified him. 26 And the inscription of the charge against him read, The King of the Jews. 27 And with him they crucified two robbers, one on his right and one on his left. 29 And those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, Aha! You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, 30 save yourself, and come down from the cross! 31 So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, He saved others; he cannot save himself. 32 Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe. Those who were crucified with him also reviled him. 33 And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. 34 And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani? which means, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 35 And some of the bystanders hearing it said, Behold, he is calling Elijah. 36 And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down. 37 And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. 38 And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. 39 And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, Truly this man was the Son of God!
-- Mark 15:16-39, ESV
Six hours in this day was the worst time on Earth, yet we Christians call it Good Friday. It was a time in which the worst vices of humanity -- betrayal, cowardice, injustice, dishonesty, brutality, and murder -- were met with the ultimate attributes of deity -- holiness, courage, compassion, justice, truth, and love. God and man converged on the one man who was, is, and always will be God. The confrontation produced the greatest suffering and the ultimate sacrifice from God for man. And it would be good indeed, on a Friday, Sunday, or any day, for every person to appreciate and appropriate the suffering and sacrifice of the Son of God.
Having already suffered abandonment by His friends and condemnation by His foes, the suffering of the true Son of God intensified between 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. on a Friday. He had not slept all night, enduring three trials at the hands of the Jewish religious rulers. In the early morning hours He had faced swift injustice from the three Roman trials, the last of which included a beating that left Him battered and bleeding profusely. Jesus had suffered so much that He was too weak to carry His own cross to “Golgotha (which means the Place of a Skull)” a place just outside the gates of Jerusalem where executions by crucifixions took place. As if Christ has not suffered enough, look at what the next six hours would bring: mental, physical, and spiritual suffering unlike the world has ever seen.
Jesus suffered by being mocked. To be made fun of is to be mentally tortured. Sticks and stones do break our bones but words hurt the worst. We must remember this the next time we see someone poorly dressed, or physically handicapped, or with tears in their eyes. Hurting people need compassion and care, but often receive laughter and derision. People tend to mock what they do not understand, and surely if they had understood Jesus, no mockery would have taken place. But they mocked, made fun of Him as Jesus suffered that day.
Jesus suffered by being falsely charged. Remember that Jesus was convicted and condemned as a terrorist. No charge can be worse in our day, nor was it in Jesus’ day. The Jews falsely charged that Jesus had threatened to blow up the Temple. The Romans falsely charged Jesus with rebellion against the Emperor. Nothing strikes harder at the core of a person’s character than to be falsely accused of something you did not say or do and, on top of that, to be punished for it! Jesus suffered that day, mentally, and physically.
Jesus suffered by being assaulted. If those Roman soldiers did to any American citizen on our streets today what they did to Jesus on the streets of Jerusalem that day, they would have been arrested and Jesus would have been protected. But not on this Good Friday. Jesus has already been mistreated, physically, during His trial. On the way to the cross, the beatings became bolder and louder. They spit into His wounded face, took clothing on and off of His skinned body, loaded a beam on His back and prodded Him with spears down the via dolorosa (“way of suffering”). It is criminal to treat even a criminal in this way. But Jesus was no criminal and the worst was yet to come.
Jesus suffered by being crucified. No form of capital punishment has ever been as cruel as crucifixion. It combined the worst mental and physical humiliation imaginable. It pierced a person’s hands and feet, nailing them upright on a downright rugged cross. It robbed them of the ability to breath normally. It bled them to death, very slowly. It intensified pain and suffering throughout the body. It broke a man’s confidence, his will, and his heart, literally. Yet for the sinless Christ on His cross, the very worst was still yet to come.
Jesus suffered by being forsaken by God. Jesus was the most man’s man who ever lived, and the extreme mental and physical tortures He endured did not make Him cry. He only cried when He was forsaken by God. The darkest mystery of this dark day is not the darkness that eclipsed the sun from the earth, but the darkness that separated the Son from the Father. Have you ever been about to watch something so horrific that you automatically turned away? Somehow, spiritually, the sins of the world were placed upon the sinless person of the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, as He hung in agony on the cross. Somehow, God the Father could not watch God the Son become sin for us. Somehow, Jesus suffered in a way unknown to any other member of the human race, except of course for those who will take their own sin to judgment when they judge not to repent, believe, and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus suffered like many before and after Him who were crucified as criminals of the old Roman Empire. Jesus suffered like the two thieves and robbers (and murderers) who hung on either side of Him. Jesus suffered like people who are themselves innocent victims of violent crime. Jesus suffered like people who are ravished by cancer or some other crippling and terminal disease. So what makes Jesus’ suffering so important and unique? Jesus’ suffering was the ultimate sacrifice.
Sacrifice is the willingness to suffer, even unto death, on behalf of someone else. Spouses sacrifice for one another, parents sacrifice for their children, players sacrifice for their team, and in the most poignant human way, first responders and soldiers sacrifice for their countrymen. Suffering the loss of money, time, comfort, health, even life, for the sake of someone else is sacrifice. Yet mingled with all these sacrifices we sometimes willingly make for others, there is also a sense of duty or obligation involved. I do not mean to diminish the ideal of sacrifice, but virtually all human sacrifices are intertwined with obligation, reward, or some reciprocation. Spouses and parents usually get love and sacrifice in return, players and soldiers get pay and benefits, as do preachers and missionaries.
Jesus sacrificed His life in such a way that is vastly superior to any other sacrifice ever known to man. It is superior in the motive behind it and the means it accomplished. Christ’s sacrifice is absolutely perfect because He did not have to offer it; and, those who benefit from it will never, never lose what they have been given.
There was no duty, no obligation, no reason that God would become a man and live on planet Earth. God is not like us, God does not need us, and God would be just if He wiped out the human race so that He could enjoy His perfect creation without the imperfections we bring to it and inflict upon it. Please know this about God, that He does not need us. But please know this about God, also: God loves us. Yes, with a holy, unselfish, perfect, sacrificial love, God loves us, His people. And Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross is the sacrifice, the only sacrifice, totally motivated and accomplished by absolute, unadulterated love.
And the result is holiness, oneness, forgiveness, righteousness, in the only way God can apply it to man. This is the reason “the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” That curtain would have been too tall for a man to tear beginning at the top. That curtain separated the people from the “Holy of Holies,” the place where the Jewish high priest took blood to present in the presence of God as an atonement or sacrifice for sin. When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, when the Lord pronounced another of the seven recorded sayings from the cross, “It is finished,” this is when He breathed His last, this is when the veil was torn, this is when God was satisfied to let the blood of Jesus Christ atone for the sin of every person who will ever call upon the name of the Lord. Jesus’ suffering and sacrifice was for salvation, a once-in-a-lifetime offering that once received, can never-in-our-lifetime be taken away.
Mark’s account of the suffering and sacrifice of the Son of God closes with the confession of a lone Roman soldier, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” Does this mean the soldier received the salvation of the Lord?
Well, it depends. Some people say this confession of faith and do not mean it. Other people mean it but do not say it in precise words. We cannot judge this centurion’s profession of faith based upon what he said, even what he did at the moment, but upon the way in which he lived his life from that point forward. And for him, there is no record, we cannot know.
But you can know whether or not the suffering and sacrifice of the Son of God has been reckoned permanently to your account. “Truly,” do you believe that Jesus was “this man” described here in Holy Scripture? Do you believe He had flesh and bone, that He became human, and that He literally died on that Roman cross outside Jerusalem? Do you believe Jesus was, is, and always will be “the Son of God,” meaning He is and is equal to God, was begotten or revealed or manifested as God, not created by God, as our confession say “God of very God?” Do you believe God died for man so that man can be right with and saved by God? Do you believe by grace through faith in the perfect person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and do you love Him enough to seek to follow and obey Him the rest or your life?
Then, and only then, has the suffering and sacrifice of the Son of God brought salvation to your soul. And then, and only then, can you even begin to understand why He did it. And soon, and very soon, you will see your Messiah, your Savior, your Lord, your King face to face, not hanging in agony on an old rugged cross, but radiant in perfection in the perfect place He has prepared for you. Behold His suffering, accept His sacrifice, and enjoy the salvation of the Lord forever and ever.
Dr. Charles F. "Chuck" DeVane, Jr., is the Pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church in Hot Springs, Arkansas. His weekly sermon article, "The Gospel Truth," has been published in newspapers in Arkansas and Georgia. Dr. DeVane is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has served in the pastorate for over 20 years. Contact Pastor Chuck at PastorChuck@lakehamiltonbaptistchurch.org