|Forum Home > Sermons > A sermon preached by Rev'd Canon David Pettifor on Good Friday 2012|
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. That is a very famous verse from chapter 3 of St. John’s gospel. John 3:16. We don’t know who wrote this gospel, there may even have been several people involved, but traditionally we call it St. John’s gospel. In his gospel St. John is inviting us to see the love of God in action. God so loved the world. God so loved all of his creation, including the people of his world. God so loved us, so loved you ......... that he gave. That’s what love does. Love gives. You know this through the way you love other people. You want to give to them.
We have just heard the climax of the story of the life of Jesus. In the way that St. John tells the story he wants us to see that Jesus goes willingly to Jerusalem, he freely goes to the garden where he is arrested clearly knowing what will be in store. Jesus is not at the mercy of events. He allows it all to unfold. And in all of this Jesus is being obedient to the Father, and revealing, displaying, the love God.
When Jesus was a little toddler in the village of Nazareth there was a violent uprising in Israel. King Herod had died and revolt broke out in all parts of the Jewish homeland. Herod had been a tyrant , so what happened is no surprise. But Rome would not tolerate revolt, and sent legions of troops from their garrison in Syria. In Galilee they reconquered the largest city, Sepphoris, and ransacked it. Thousands of people were sold into slavery. Then the legions went on to Jerusalem and retook it, and 2,000 people were crucified. Sepphoris is four miles from Nazareth. Joseph may have worked on the rebuilding of the city – perhaps Jesus went with his dad to help. Jesus grew up knowing what the Romans were like. Provided people obeyed the laws, and paid their taxes, they could live in peace. But any sign of rebellion was brutally stamped out.
When Jesus and his disciples went to Jerusalem, Jesus knew what he was letting himself in for. His movement had been growing. The religious leaders felt threatened by him. Some of them were very wealthy and powerful, they had a lot to lose. And some may have felt, quite sincerely, that Jesus was a mad prophet, a danger to God’s people.
Plots to get rid of Jesus were already under way. And Jesus was going to Jerusalem at Passover time. This was a big festival for the Jewish people. Pilgrims and tourists came from all over the Mediterranean to join in the religious celebrations in the Temple and in family homes. The city was packed with people. As well as a lot of thieves and pickpockets, there would also be a few terrorists wanting to stir things up and make trouble. There were so many potential dangers that the Roman Governor, Pilate, left his comfortable palace by the sea and came to Jerusalem for the Festival. So he could take personal charge of the situation. The atmosphere in Jerusalem must have been electric. You can imagine everyone feeling a bit edgy, especially the Roman soldiers and Pilate.
This was the scene that Jesus entered when he came to Jerusalem. He willingly allows himself to be arrested - he says he is eager to drink the cup that the Father has given him. And so we follow Jesus through his arrest, his interrogation before Annas, his trial before Pilate, his whipping by the soldiers, and his appearance before the people who yell for his crucifixion. Mercifully St. John doesn’t tell us much about the crucifixion itself.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son. As we follow Jesus through his passion and death this verse comes alive. This is what is happening. God is giving his Son to us. The Son taking our humanity upon himself. The Son sharing the pains of evil and sin. The Son going to the Cross, so that we may not perish but have eternal life. This is one of the big truths of the Christian faith - you sometimes see it displayed outside churches. But it’s part of the character of our faith that the big truths have also to become truths inside our lives. As well as truths proclaimed out there, they need become truths in here. It’s when one of these big truths become part of the stuff of our lives, that we know the embrace of God in our lives. And like many truths of the faith it is something that we keep on re – discovering, and re – learning as we journey on.
I am sure that you all have stories to tell of the way in which you have come to know that Jesus loves you. And that when Jesus went to the Cross, he did so out of love for you. He did it out of love for everyone, yes, but you believe and know that he did it out of love for you.
On my own Christian journey there have been several occasions when I have re-discovered how Jesus, out of love for me, walked the way of the Cross. On one occasion, about twenty years ago, I was slowly reading through chapters 18 and 19 of St. John’s gospel. I wasn’t trying to think deep thoughts, or study it, but just reading it slowly, prayerfully. Eventually I came to the verse: Then they took charge of Jesus, and carrying his own Cross he went out of the city. The words leapt out of the page. I felt a strong gut reaction. That’s not his cross ! That’s my cross ! I stopped reading and closed my eyes. A picture came into my mind. I saw a little boy. He was slowly walking along. On his back was a small black cross. It wasn’t too heavy, but he found it rather awkward. I recognised the boy, and the clothes he was wearing. It was me. But then came another picture. It was no longer a boy, but a young man. It was still me. The cross had got bigger. The young man was bent over a little. He was finding it hard to carry his cross, occasionally he stumbled.
Then I saw another picture. I was a bit older, and the cross had become really heavy. I kept falling over. It was very painful to carry. I felt terribly burdened. But then I looked ahead. I could see huge stone walls, it was the wall of a city. And I recognised the city, it was Jerusalem. I was walking towards the gatehouse, the entrance to the city. I stumbled inside. I was in a courtyard. There was a lot of noise, people shouting. There were Roman soldiers all around me. Then I saw a man – he looked very bloody, and he had a crown of thorns on his head. Then I was very close to him. I will never forget the look on his face. He looked at me so kindly, and with such compassion - he looked at me so lovingly. Then he took the cross off my back. He put it on his own back, and he began to shuffle across the courtyard. He was carrying my cross, and I was left to walk away free - free of any burden.
What did the cross represent ? I think you all know. My failure to love God, to love and serve other people. My selfishness and guilt. You will have your own stories of how Jesus, following the way of the cross, has become something personal for you. His love, his grace, experienced deep in your heart.
One amazing thing about this is that through this kind of experience we come to a deeper love for God. Strangely, through our sins and weaknesses, through experiencing God’s compassion for us, and his love and forgiveness, our love for God just goes deeper and deeper. This is how much he loves me - Oh ! I love him so much.
It is wonderful that in this service we have a way of expressing our gratitude to God. In a while you can come forward to a wooden crucifix - you can just come near it, or you can touch it, or kiss it – whatever you choose. It can be a very powerful way for us say how much we love God. Or, to ask God to rekindle our love for him in our lives. Perhaps amongst us there are some who have known what God’s love is like, but it seems to have gone stale, dried up. And so your prayer this morning is for a re-discovery of God’s love for you.
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.