Thanks for joining us for Remembrance Sunday. It's a big day in our calendar in this country, isn't it? As we remember all those who gave their lives in the two World Wars fighting for the freedoms that we enjoy today.
It's right to honour the sacrifices of all those who fought then. And it is right to stand alongside those we know who still today in some way bear the scars of those earth-shattering wars, or are still raw with the pain of other conflicts in more recent years. But sometimes I wonder if to most of us the reality of what we remember today seems a little distant now, and we might be tempted to wonder what it's really got to do with us today?
Folks, it can be all too easy to take for granted the relative peace and freedoms that we enjoy these days which were so hard won at great cost all those years ago. Therefore I think it is highly appropriate that as we move onto the next chunk of Luke's gospel in our "King and the Kingdom" series this morning, we find ourselves confronted with another act of sacrifice from history, that it can be easy to underestimate the true significance of.
As in Luke 18, we find that Jesus is on a collision course with the cross – to die there and rise again three days later in order to win us an even greater peace and freedom. So I've got two simple questions before we dive into this short passage:
- How much does it matter to you that Jesus suffered and died on a cross?
- How much difference does it make to your life that Jesus rose from the dead on the third day?
I guess there is a scale there, isn't there? From absolutely irrelevant at the one end, to absolutely crucial at the other. I wonder where you'd put yourself on that scale? I'm not asking you what you think theoretically – I'm asking you functionally… what difference do those two things: the death and the resurrection of Jesus, make to your life day in and day out?
I don't know if you know this game – Kerplunk. It is one of the most ridiculous games in the world. I'm assuming most of us have played it or at least have heard of it – so you know that: you have this tower, you put lots and lots of sticks through it, then you dump a whole load of marbles into the tower on the sticks, then you pull the sticks out one by one… And the aim of the game is to do so without letting any of the marbles fall through.
It's a stupid game because it takes at least six times as long to set up than it does to actually play. But the reality of the game is that although there are lots and lots of sticks, there is really only a handful that are crucial. There are really only two or three that if you pull those ones out all the marbles fall down.
And my guess is that for most of us our life is like that. There are loads and loads of sticks – there's loads of stuff going through our lives. But there are probably only a couple of things that if they get pulled out then we lose our marbles. It's probably different things for each one of us – it could be a relationship or your children, your job or financial security, maybe it's your health or reputation – lose that and everything falls apart. But what I want to show you this morning is that the death and the resurrection of Jesus should be the two most fundamental facts that hold everything else in place. So that even if some of the other crucial sticks are pulled out… we may be shaken, but we won't fall… because Jesus died and rose again.
So why don't you grab a Bible and get it open up to Luke 18, if you haven't done that already. And let me give you three reasons why you can build a shake-proof life on the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Here's the first one– Because God planned it.
1. God Planned For It To Happen
Let's have a look at Luke 18.31:
"And taking the twelve, he said to them, 'See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.'"
Picture yourself standing on the hill just outside Jerusalem witnessing the death of Jesus that first Good Friday. He's hung up on a cross, held in place by nails in his hands and feet – a crown of thorns mockingly placed on his head. What do you see as you look at him hanging there? A tragedy? A terrible accident? A brilliant young life cut short by a terrible miscarriage of justice – as the best man you've ever know goes to his death on trumped up charges?
Well, no! Here as Jesus gathers his disciples together for a private briefing, He makes it clear that God had always planned to do this. Did you see that there in Luke 18.31?
"See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished."
You see, the cross was not some tragic accident. It had been planned by God quite some time before. Jesus knows what is going to happen in Jerusalem because he's read it in the Old Testament. Which might make you wonder – well where? Where in the Old Testament are the events of Jesus death and resurrection predicted? If we had more time I'd love to do what the New Testament writers did and quote for you from Psalm 2, Psalm 8, Psalm 10, Psalm 16, Psalm 22, Psalm 40 and Psalm 110… from parts of Isaiah… and Joel, Hosea, Job, Lamentations, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. As you read those bits of the Bible it is uncanny how the events of Jesus death and resurrection jump out at you. So much so that some have even tried to suggest they were written after the events, rather than hundreds of years before.
But, do you see? As Judas betrays and sells his friend for money, as Jesus is arrested and dragged before the authorities and beaten and hung up on a cross – God the Father is not whispering into his earphones: 'We've got a Code Red. I repeat, it's a Code Red go to Plan B… or C… or D, or Z, or whatever plan we're on now!'
No, the whole thing is not unravelling. It has been planned from the beginning. All the way through the Old Testament Jesus death and resurrection were the number one thing on God's 'To-Do' list. And I find that massively encouraging when things in my life are unravelling. As the support sticks are pulled out if you like: as my work situation becomes more turbulent and uncertain; as a relationship goes sour or stale and I wonder if it is irreparable; as I hear that diagnosis that might even threaten my life or the life of a loved one.
Wherever there is darkness… there is also hope. Because we may be taken by surprise, but God isn't. He has a plan. So certain was he of its goodness and its success, even on the darkest of days – as his son was stretched out dying on the cross… he didn't panic.
And neither should we. Instead, we should call out to him, cry to him and place our hand in his. For God is still in total control of whatever is going on – in your life and mine. At which point you might find yourself wanting to shout out: 'Well I don't find that encouraging. I more find it disturbing! That God would let not only us go through suffering, but he would also force his own son to do that too. How could God send his Son to the cross? It's barbaric!'
But notice not only what Jesus says here in Luke 18, but how he says it. I mean, He doesn't sound like he's being forced to go like a reluctant teenager being told to tidy his bedroom. He's actually in on the plan. As secondly…
2. Jesus Predicted It
In fact, if you look at the little heading in the Bibles it says: Jesus foretells his death a third time. As twice already in Luke's gospel, he's taken his disciples aside to tell them something along the lines of what he says here all over again in Luke 18.32-33:
"For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise."
Three explicit predictions. And this could be the seventh or eighth time if we included all the hints he's dropped too.
You know something is important when it gets repeated, don't you? Like recently we've started leaving our eldest daughter Lucy on her own in the house for the first time – And so we've been drilling her not to answer the door: 'Don't answer the door.' 'Don't answer the door.' 'Did you get that? – I said don't answer the door, right?' Or when we're out for a walk as a family, I get sick of the sound of my own voice shouting things like: 'Jamie, get down from there', 'And come away from that", and 'Stay away from that massive drop down the cliff'. Because Jamie is like a magnet for danger, and I'm constantly trying to prevent him seeking it out!
But do you see? Repetition emphasises how important something is. And so for Jesus here it's like he's saying: 'This is so important! You've got to get this. This is who I am! And this is why I came! To suffer and die… and on the third day to rise again.'
Now that begs a question, doesn't it? 'Why?' Why does Jesus say that these two planks are so crucial?
Folks, let me answer that question with a question. It's a question Jesus asked his disciples on one of those previous occasions when he'd told them what was going to happen. Here it is:
"For what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Mark 8.37)
There are four things in there that unlock the key to why Jesus had to die and rise again.
i. The first is that you have a soul. We are so obsessed with satisfying our bodies and our minds – But we are constantly neglecting our souls. Neglecting what is most valuable. We are not highly evolved animals with just bodies and minds. No! Unlike the animals when God made us, He breathed his life into us. So that now you and I have an eternal soul.
ii. Your soul is valuable. "What can a person give in exchange for their soul?" The answer is… nothing! Even if you had all the money in the world you cannot buy a soul. And we sort of know that – because when someone dies even the richest person in the world doesn't have enough money to bring back.
iii. Thirdly, your soul can be lost. Just before this question, Jesus asks another one:
"For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?" (Mark 8.36)
The human soul can be lost. Throughout the gospels, Jesus teaches very honestly and bluntly about the reality of hell. Not to frighten us, but because he loves us too much not to. And Jesus says this soul which is valuable can be lost for eternity. The most successful human being who lives on this planet is only one heartbeat from being lost forever. One heartbeat. We assume that we will be okay – but we are not okay. Hear the question again: 'What are you going to give…?' One day you are going to go to meet the God who made you... What are you going to give him to save your soul?
Whatever it is – it is not enough. And that is why Jesus had to die.
iv. As here's the last thing – why the death of Jesus matters. It's because Jesus… exchanged his life… for your soul. Jesus explains this most clearly in Mark 10.45 – it's probably one of the most important verses in the gospels – as he says there:
"For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Remember – There is no amount of money you could pay to buy your soul for eternity. But here is Jesus saying 'I will pay.' Jesus says, 'I must die, because this is the payment that sets your soul free.' You have a soul, your soul is valuable, your soul could be lost… But Jesus came to die to pay for your soul. Jesus came to buy your soul out of hell. And it doesn't get more fundamental than that. And so that is why Jesus is so fixated on going to Jerusalem to suffer, and die, and rise again. That's what he came to do. That is why Jesus says: 'These must be the planks, the foundations on which you build your life.'
3. The Disciples Don't Get It
Did they? Jesus could not be have been clearer about the plan, but the disciples couldn't be foggier. Luke labours the point in Luke 18.34 – three times, he tells us that the penny hasn't dropped. Do you see?
"But they understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said."
How can that be? Well I think they're a bit like my family were when we went on holiday to the Costa Del Sol last week, and it rained pretty much solidly for the first couple of days. We were like: 'This isn't what we ordered. We expected to see the "Sol" on the Costa Del Sol! If we'd wanted the "Costa Del Rain" we would have stayed in Newcastle. Or better still gone to visit my family in Glasgow – as there really are only two weather conditions in Glasgow: It's either raining or about to rain.'
But you see, when Jesus says to the disciples Luke 18.31:
"See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished…"
The very next thing they expected to come out of his mouth was sunshine, not rain – glory, not suffering and death. For as soon as Jesus uses that title "the Son of Man" about himself – which he frequently did – it conjured up the image "the one like a son of man" in Daniel 7.13, who would come and take glory and honour and eternal rule from God. So if Jesus is that glorious ruler – then there is no sense at all in what he says. I mean how could he rule forever… if he was dead?
The disciples were blinded by their expectations. Deafened and defeated by what they thought they knew. And so they baulked at the very idea of the cross.
And I think we can too. Because we fail to see that there are two planks here in Luke 18. We see the suffering and death of the cross, but what about the "…and on the third day he will rise" bit? We baulk at the cross because we lose sight of the resurrection promise beyond it. And so…
- We find it hard to trust in a Saviour that this side of eternity looks like a loser in the world's eyes.
- We struggle to follow in his footsteps and say to our Father: "…not my will, but yours, be done". (Luke 22.42)
- Afraid of where that might lead us. And the cost we may have to pay.
But don't you see? Beyond it… beyond the sacrifice – the glory?! I mean how could Jesus walk the path of obedience and suffer and die on the cross – on the first day? Because he knows the third day is coming. He knows that glory is ahead. He is not some martyr having a pity party: 'Oh, poor old me. Shame it had to end like this. It didn't work out.' No! He knows:
- that the way to true joy is not to grasp, but to give.
- The way to be full is to empty yourself for others.
- The only way up… is actually down.
- For the way to glory, is through the cross.
And folks, every time you find yourself thinking following Christ looks too difficult, too painful. I want you to know… the resurrection is coming. You live for Christ in all its countercultural difficulty – because one day, Jesus says you too will be raised. Some of us right now, we are living in the first day. And it is painful and it hurts. There is suffering. And you need to hear that the third day is coming. This is not it. I know it hurts and I know that there are days when we cry and we feel like we just don't know if we can do this. It's too hard. It's too painful.
But Jesus lifts your head and says: 'But the third day is coming. This is day one; hang in there on day one. Because resurrection is coming.' Jesus went through the cross. And that's how he did it. And that is how Jesus takes you through your suffering to… resurrection. We build our lives on the fact that Jesus died… but also that he rose again.
So… why don't we pray together… and then we can sing and celebrate what Jesus has done.
Heavenly Father, we praise you that we have a King who died for us, and we have a King who on the third day rose again. And Father we thank you this morning that these two great truths can give us a joyful life of following Jesus even through the difficulties of life. Father help us to place all of our trust in him that whatever sticks may be pulled out of our lives, the death and resurrection of Jesus would hold everything else in place. Oh Father we love, we trust, we worship our King Jesus. We praise you in his name. Amen.