Come Down from the Cross If You Are the Son of God

If there were ever a corrupted case of criminal justice, it was the case of Jesus Christ. But don't tell the crucifixion crowd that Jesus is innocent. Since they can no longer spit on him, beat him, or slap him they whip him with their words. Listen to their mockery in Matthew 27:39-44. "Come Down from the Cross If You Are The Son of God." April 22, 2011.

            They had it all wrong. Bill Marion met Jack Cameron in Kansas in 1872, and the two quickly became friends. They traveled and worked together across the Midwest. At one point they went to Beatrice, NE to visit Bill’s in-laws. Bill returned from that visit alone, wearing Jack’s clothes and riding Jack’s horses. He then dropped out of sight. A week later, a dead man was found with three bullet wounds to the head, and Bill Marion became the prime suspect. He was located ten years later and was tried, convicted and hanged for the killing of Jack Cameron. Four years after that, however, Jack Cameron, the supposed dead man, showed up looking for his friend. He explained that he had ditched his clothes and horses with Bill and gone off to Mexico to avoid a shotgun marriage. A hundred years after Bill Marion’s execution, Nebraska’s governor offered him a pardon.

            If you want a more recent story, visit the web site of the Innocence Project, “a national litigation and public policy organization dedicated to exonerating wrongfully convicted people through DNA testing and reforming the criminal justice system to prevent future injustice.” On the site you’ll find stories of people convicted of crimes and often serving years in jail before DNA evidence proved they were innocent. The Innocence Project has found that common themes in such corrupted cases include poverty and racial issues, as well as criminal-justice issues such as eyewitness misidentification, inept defense counsel, invalid or improper forensic science, and overzealous police and prosecutors.¹

            If there were ever a corrupted case of criminal justice, it was the case of Jesus Christ. But don’t tell the crucifixion crowd that Jesus is innocent. Since they can no longer spit on him, beat him, or slap him they whip him with their words. Listen to their mockery.

            “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself!”“He can’t even resist his enemies and rescue himself from execution, so how can he – in three days! – rebuild the temple it took 46 years to construct?” He really wasn’t speaking of the temple building when Jesus initially made the statement, but the temple of his body, referring instead to his resurrection. They had it all wrong.

            “Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”“He says he has superhuman powers, like a deity.  If so it shouldn’t be a problem for him to save himself from the hands of men.” They had it all wrong.

            In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. ‘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.’”“He’s an imposter, don’t you see? He’s pretending to be the King of the Jews, but he’s not the king we’re looking for, not our Messiah. When the real Messiah comes he will possess such great power that he won’t hang helplessly among criminals. His inability to save himself is proof that he really didn’t save others, either, but performed tricks by the power of the devil!” They had it all wrong.

            “He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’” “This fellow is the Son of God? That’s ridiculous! If he were, we would see God reaching down from the heavens and rallying to remove his helpless Son from the cross.” They had it all wrong.

            Not surprisingly, God doesn’t take kindly to being mocked. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Galatians 6:7). Mockery isn’t innocent jesting and it’s not ignorant joking around that lets something slip because it doesn’t know any better. Mockery knows and understands the claim of another and wants everyone to know that it rejects that claim as foolish. Truth be told, mockery itself is foolish according to the Bible. Especially when it rejects, with ridicule, what it needs to be saved. Trapped in a wrecked car bleeding and barely breathing, what kind of a person mocks a rescuing firefighter? “Whatever you’re trying to prove, it’s ridiculous! Take your silly fire suit and your obnoxious jaws of life and go home!” If anyone says something like that often enough to God, and means it, that person will reap the bountiful wrath of sowing words of mockery one too many times in the soil of God’s judgment. It happened – too many times – in the Bible. Don’t be deceived.

            I’m pretty sure that the kind of people who are here today on this Good Friday Noon or reading this sermon online are people of Lenten piety who don’t stop in front of the cross and spit on it. You’re here because you love Christ. And because you believe he loves you, and he does. So stop mocking him in those subtle ways that don’t involve spit. Mocking him by suggesting that he’s not the powerful God he says he is when he doesn’t get the spring weather to warm up, doesn’t heal the way we want, prosper our portfolio the way we want, or anoint our career the way we want. Mocking him by actions at variance with words. Mocking him by offering him less of our trust, less of our bodily temple, and less of our treasure than he deserves, and demands. When we mock God, have it all wrong. Don’t be deceived.

            “In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”It seems that both of the criminals crucified with Jesus mocked him in the first moments of their suffering. But drawing each breath closer to his eternal destiny, one of them reached out ever so slightly in a curious faith that Jesus fed with his words of mercy. No, Jesus didn’t come down from the cross. If he had, he wouldn’t have been able to say to this repentant thief, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). And he wouldn’t have been able to say to these mockers in these pews and pulpit the fulfilling words, “I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking” (Isaiah 50:6).

            That’s what we really don’t understand, right along with the crucifixion crowd. Why doesn’t he use his power for his own self-interest? Why doesn’t the Father strike dead with an angry bolt of lightning or swallow dead with a hungry earthquake those enemies murdering his own Son? Because he doesn’t want to. He doesn’t want to spare himself the sacrifice because by sparing the sacrifice he can’t forgive. The price for sin would not be paid. The anger of God would not be stilled. The Son of God must die just as he had foretold, that he’d be handed over to “the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life” (Matthew 20:19)! Jesus knew it was coming. He was bracing, as best he could, for the crowd’s taunts and ours too. He already knew our sins. Yet he stayed. And bled. And died. “He mocks proud mockers but gives grace to the humble” (Proverbs 3:34). This is no perversion of justice. Jesus wanted to be mocked. Needed to be mocked. So he could respond righteously and die for all mockery you and I and all God’s enemies ever commit. It is done. Our mockery is all forgiven by the power of the cross.

            “I started to cry immediately. And I looked at him, and I said, ‘Ron, if I spent every second of every minute of every hour for the rest of my life telling you how sorry I am, it wouldn’t come close to how my heart feels. I’m so sorry.’” The speaker is Jennifer Thompson-Cannino, who had misidentified Ronald Cotton in  eyewitness testimony that put him behind bars for 11 years for abusing her at knife-point. He was later exonerated by DNA evidence. Jennifer is describing their first meeting after Cotton’s release from prison. “And Ronald just leaned down, he took my hands … and he looked at me, he said, ‘I forgive you.’ The minute he forgave me it’s like my heart physically started to heal. And I thought, ‘This is what grace and mercy is all about. This is what they teach you in church that none of us ever get.’ And here was this man that I had hated … this man who with grace and mercy just forgave me. How wrong I was, and how good he is.”2

            How wrong I was. How wrong to mock my God when I knew better but believed far too little and loved even less. How wrong we all were. And how good God is. How gracious to not come down from the cross, to not insist on a retrial and save himself, to not pull the plug on the mission and rescue his bloody and barely breathing Son. How good. We do not want to mock that. And we do want to show the same mercy and forgiveness to those who mock us. They need to know how good this Friday is, too.  Amen.

1 http://www.homileticsonline.com/subscriber/btl_display.asp?installment_id=93040595
2 Ibid, Adapted from CBS News, “Eyewitness: How accurate is visual memory?” 60 Minutes, July 12, 2009. cbsnews.com/stories. Retrieved October 20, 2010.

 

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI (www.gracedowntown.org) on April 22, 2011

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