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April 9, 2017
Pastor Jeff Struecker
I want to take you with me on a journey today. We’re going to go to Washington D.C. If you went with a couple of folks in this room that have military ID cards, they could get you into some pretty cool places in Washington D.C. like the Pentagon or Arlington National Cemetery. Suppose we wanted to go to the White House. If you don’t have a personal invitation to the White House, you would be looking at it from outside the fence. Unless you’re invited to tour the White House by your state congressman or senator, you don’t get a chance to go inside it. If you did get inside the White House, here are some of the things you’d be able to see. You would get a chance to see the White House library, the State Dining Room, the East Room, and the old family dining room. However, there’s a couple parts that you won’t get a chance to go to. No one gets into the West Wing of the White House unless you are really important or unless you’re invited there. No matter how important you are, no one gets into the private residence of the White House unless the President of the United States himself asks you to be there. Maybe President Trump is not on your team. Maybe you wanted to go to the White House five months ago when Obama was in office. It doesn’t matter. You don’t get a chance to go to the private residence because this is where the President lives and only people invited by the President of the United States gets a chance to see the private residence.
Believe it or not from the book of Luke today there are some similarities between what we’re reading in the Bible and what would happen if you and I toured the White House. Today what we read in the book of Luke is God steps out from behind the curtain and ushers in this unprecedented intimacy with himself that people have really never had the privilege of for thousands of years.
I. God stepped out from behind the curtain
The Bible tells us Jesus has already been condemned and sentenced to die. He’s already carried his cross up a hill and they’ve nailed him to it.
By this time it was about noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. 45 The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn down the middle.
Pay attention to some of the things you’re going hear from Luke today because the death of Jesus is going to sound a lot like the birth of Jesus in a couple of areas. For example, God used cosmic events to point people to the birth of Jesus by a star in the sky. Now at the death of Jesus, God used some cosmic events to point people to the significance of what’s happening. How many of you went outside when the sirens went off on Monday or Wednesday of this week? You don’t have to be in South Georgia for very long to see when the sky is dark like that in the middle of the day you have a real good feeling something bad is about to happen. That’s about how this thing is going to go down. Jesus is on the cross and Luke tells us it’s in the middle of the afternoon, the brightest part of day. There is no language that allows you to claim this is a coincidence. This isn’t a solar eclipse. God does something miraculous and causes the sun to go dark for about three hours. It’s so significant that everybody who’s watching these events unfold know immediately this is not a coincidence. Even if it were a solar eclipse, the timing on this could not be coincidental. God makes the sun go down and the people, both literally and spiritually, are dark for about three hours.
Then, if you just cruise through your Bible without paying attention, you may miss something hugely significant that Luke tells us in verse 45. If you were to read that account in the books of Matthew and Mark, they tell you the Temple veil was ripped in two from top to bottom. I need you to understand a couple things about the Temple in Jesus’s day. I want you to imagine the Temple like a bull’s-eye. The outer ring of the bull’s-eye is the place where foreigners, that’s you and I, could only go to worship. By the way, that’s where the women went to worship too. If you didn’t believe in God, you didn’t get a chance to get in the Temple. If you did believe in God, you could only worship from the outer courtyard. The next circle in the bull’s-eye is where the men went to worship. Only good Jewish men got a chance to get inside the next circle of the courtyard of the Temple. Inside of that would be one more circle. This is where the priests stood when they did their duties. The center of the bull’s-eye of the Temple was a place called the Most Holy Place. No one got to go in there but one man one day a year. The high priest could go into the Most Holy Place and he went in there literally fearing for his life. They would tie a rope to his ankle in case he fell dead inside so they could get him out. That’s how terrified people were of the center of the bull’s-eye because God is said to dwell in the center of the bull’s-eye. In fact, the Temple is often referred to as God’s house. God dwells there.
The ancient rabbis said that when they built the Temple it was built to represent the Garden of Eden. If you grew up in church, you know the story that God dwelt with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He made this place that was perfection. The Temple was supposed to look like the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve committed the one sin that God told him not to commit and God cast them out of the Garden of Eden because now a holy God cannot be in the presence of sinful men. God stationed angels at the entrance to the Garden of Eden to prevent Adam and Eve from trying to get in by force. That’s what the Temple was supposed to represent. God is holy. God is perfect. God can’t be around sinful people, so we have to put this very thick, very heavy dark curtain between God and everybody else. The Bible tells us that the moment that Jesus died that curtain fell. It was ripped in two from the top to bottom meaning that God did it. God stepped out from The Most Holy Place and now God allows sinful people, foreigners, and women to be in his presence. Now God can allow it because of what’s transpiring on the cross. That the significance of what goes down on the cross.
Earle Ellis in his Bible commentary says basically four things happen the instance this curtain was ripped. He says that the way to God is now open and anybody can have a relationship with God. He says that the payment for sin has been made in full. The book of John says all that was required for men to be made right with God was finished on the cross. Ellis says because of this we don’t sacrifice in the Temple anymore because no sacrifice would be acceptable after what Jesus did on the cross. He says finally eventually the Temple will be torn down and never rebuilt. If you really want to grasp the significance of what we’re reading here in the Bible, you have to go to the book of Hebrews.
And so, dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. 20 By his death, Jesus opened a new and life-giving way through the curtain into the Most Holy Place.
Now there are three distinct groups of people who have access to God in ways that they’ve never had access to God before. This is why your Bible has two Testaments. This is why there’s an old covenant and a new covenant because of the events that transpired on the cross. Here’s the first group of people and, by the way, this is you and I, if you weren’t born into a Jewish family in Jesus’s day.
II. Foreigners are now part of God’s family
Those people who weren’t born to Jewish parents now can be made right. It’s fascinating that the first person recorded in this transaction at the cross is a Roman army officer.
Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last. 47 When the Roman officer overseeing the execution saw what had happened, he worshiped God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” 48 And when all the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw what had happened, they went home in deep sorrow. 49 But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance watching.
Normally a person who was being crucified didn’t have the energy nor did they have the breath in their lungs to do what Jesus did. Walter Leifeld wrote a book about crucifixion and said that you’re literally suffocating on the cross. It would’ve taken every ounce of energy for Jesus to do what he just did. Most people on the cross can speak barely a whisper. Jesus gathered up all of his energy and shouted out these words, “God, I give my spirit into your hands. It’s finished! It’s over!” At that moment Luke, the only medical doctor in the New Testament, wrote very precise medical language. He said what happened next is medically unexplainable. Jesus breathed his last. He literally gave up his last breath. In fact, all four of the writers of the New Testament use similar language. They say, if you ask the question what really killed Jesus, it wasn’t the Roman army. It really wasn’t the Jewish leadership. It wasn’t even across the cross. The idea that we’re getting from the Bible today is that Jesus could have stayed on the cross for years, if he chose to. He made this statement and then Jesus willingly freely gave up his life. If someone were to push you in a corner and say, “Then what did kill Jesus?” The answer to the question is simple. It’s my sin and it’s your sin that killed Jesus. Jesus freely gave up his life on the cross as a payment for sin so that you and I could be made right with God.
It’s amazing what Luke describes next! He says this hardened warrior, this Roman centurion, this Roman company commander, who’s watched a lot of executions and seen a lot of men die in his day watches this whole event unfold and then the weight of everything that he sees comes crashing down on him. This Roman centurion realizes they just killed an innocent man, the Son of God. The language that Luke uses today is that the whole crowd went home beating their chests in mourning because they realized they just killed the Son of God. The guilt and the weight of that is sitting on their shoulders for weeks. Is it any wonder that in the book of Acts, Luke’s follow-up book, when Peter stands up to preach on the day of Pentecost thousands of people turn from their sins and to God? The weight of what they just did has been sitting on their shoulders for weeks until Peter stands up and tells them how that sin can be paid for by Jesus’s death on the cross. It’s fascinating the very first person who recognizes what really happened at the cross is a foreigner, a Roman army officer who says, “This man really was the Son of God. This man really was innocent.” Now that this foreigner can be made right with God anybody can be made right with God. Now that he has access to God, you and I have access to God. That is the first category of people who now have access where they didn’t have access to God before.
III. “Good” has a new definition
The word “good” has just been radically redefined by what happened on the cross. I’m going to use our language today when we use the word “good” to examine a guy by the name of Joseph of Arimathea from the book of Luke.
Now there was a good and righteous man named Joseph. He was a member of the Jewish high council, 51 but he had not agreed with the decision and actions of the other religious leaders. He was from the town of Arimathea in Judea, and he was waiting for the Kingdom of God to come. 52 He went to Pilate and asked for Jesus’ body. 53 Then he took the body down from the cross and wrapped it in a long sheet of linen cloth and laid it in a new tomb that had been carved out of rock. 54 This was done late on Friday afternoon, the day of preparation, as the Sabbath was about to begin.
Luke is telling us that Joseph is a Pharisee. Since he’s a Pharisee that makes him part of the Sanhedrin, the Council that voted to send Jesus to the cross. Luke wants you to know when they were taking the vote Joseph did not vote to crucify Jesus. In fact, we can assume that Joseph probably stood up and tried to defend Jesus. The rest of his friends didn’t want to hear anything about it. They sentenced Jesus to die. Luke is saying, “If you don’t like Trump as your President, don’t blame me I didn’t vote for him.” If you want to know how Jesus was condemned to die, don’t blame Joseph he didn’t vote for him. Then he says Joseph comes from this town named Arimathea in Judea. Look at what Joseph does. It’s amazing! This Pharisee named Joseph, much like Simeon and Anna at Jesus’s birth, was waiting for the kingdom of God. They were waiting to see God redeem his people.
I want you to imagine what’s at stake for Joseph when he went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. This guy was putting everything on the line. He put his reputation on the line just asking for Jesus’s body. He put his personal wealth on the line. He literally gave away his family’s inheritance when he gave away the family tomb. He’s probably going to lose his job for this. Joseph probably knew, “When I do this I’m going to get fired as a Pharisee but because of my faith in Jesus I have no choice but to do this anyway.” Joseph put it all on the line so that Jesus got the kind of burial that he deserved. Joseph was a man of great faith. What we know about Joseph is that he was a good man and had a good heart.
Can we talk about being good for just a second? I’m going to use our language today. I have been to many funerals and memorials. I can count on less than one hand the number of times I’ve been at a funeral that somebody has not made this statement: “She was a really good person,” or, “He was a really good man.” Generally, as a theologian, I just try to bite my tongue when people say that. I typically don’t make a big deal about it but in the back of my mind I wonder what they mean by that statement. Do they mean that she was really nice or she did a lot of nice things? Do they mean that he was a good person, he gave away a lot of his possessions, or he tried to help people that were in need? Is that what they mean by the word “good”? If that’s what the way that you’re using the word “good”, I totally agree with you. However, if you mean by the word “good” that they are on their way to Heaven, now we’ve got a different question of whether or not he really was good. You don’t hear people stand up at funerals and say, “He was an absolute scoundrel. He was a total rascal and probably in hell right now.” Nobody makes those statements at a funeral.
I want to ask you the question what does it take to be good? In Jesus’s day people consider themselves good, if you did what the law told you to do. Your heart could be totally wicked but, if you went through the motions and did what the church told you to do, you were a good person. What we’re reading in the Bible today is that’s not the way good works anymore. The way good works has nothing to do with stuff that you do, the prayers that you pray, or the kind of money that you give away. That’s not what makes somebody good. In fact, you can be really bad and still do a lot of good things. The way good works with God now is that it comes down to who’s you are that makes you good or makes you bad not what you do. Good in God’s sight is somebody who’s been bought by the blood of Jesus and all of those things that you did that were wrong have been covered by the blood of Jesus. You don’t get credit for being a good person and doing a lot of good things. You get credit by being bought with the blood of Jesus, by his death on the cross, and the perfect sinless life that Jesus lived. That’s what it means to be good now. By that definition none of us in this room can measure up to good on our own. All of us need some help being good. Would you keep that in mind when you think about your friend at work who looks like he’s got it all together, doesn’t need anything, and any time that he is thrown a challenge he can handle it? Or the lady that’s in your neighborhood who never has a bad hair day and always has a smile on her face? She’s really not all put together and deep inside her heart she has the same needs and the same struggles that you do. She just hides it better than you. In order for somebody to be good now you’ve got to be godly. Now you’ve got to have God at work inside of you in order for you to be good.
IV. Women have equal access to God
This has changed the way foreigners relate to God. This has changed the way people come to God by faith by being good. The last group, I hope you don’t minimize this, is women who have now been fundamentally changed. Your relationship with God has changed in ways that the world has never seen before. As I read these last two verses for us, listen to what’s missing from these verses.
As his body was taken away, the women from Galilee followed and saw the tomb where his body was placed. 56 Then they went home and prepared spices and ointments to anoint his body. But by the time they were finished the Sabbath had begun, so they rested as required by the law.
Here’s what’s missing from this story. Where’s Peter in this account? Where’s Andrew, James, and John? Where are the rest of Jesus’s disciples at this point? We have no record of anybody being at this empty tomb except for Joseph of Arimathea, Nicodemus, and a few women. In fact, the Bible tells us in other books who these women were. They were women like Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Susanna, and Mary the mother of James. You know who is not there? The men because they all ran like scared little girls. The women had the courage to stay around and to see Jesus as they were laying him in the tomb.
I should tell you that Luke uses a word today that is so rare and it is so significant that it’s not found anywhere else in the Bible nor is it found anywhere else in ancient literature. He tells you the kind of tomb that Joseph made for Jesus. He used the word that we translate solid rock, meaning they broke hammers and chisels when they made it. The tomb that Joseph placed Jesus in was extremely expensive, probably his family’s inheritance. It was probably supposed to be his family’s resting place. Joseph gave that tomb up for Jesus. It was the kind of tomb that you would bury a King in. The ladies watched Joseph prepare the body and put it in the tomb. The body was supposed to be anointed but nobody had time to do that because the sun was going down. As soon as the sun goes down the Sabbath starts and they can’t work on the Sabbath. Typically, when someone was crucified in Jesus’s day, they buried the body with no honor. They just took the body off the cross, threw it in the ground next to the crucifixion site, covered it up with dirt, no headstone, and just went about their business.
If you’re new to Christianity or this is your first Sunday in church, you probably noticed this already. Typically, when we talk about the way somebody died we write a lot of words about how they died and almost nothing about what happens to the body after they died. In the book of Luke and in the New Testament there is a lot of information about what happened to Jesus’s body after he died. We get some pretty detailed records about what happened after they took him off of the cross. Do you know why? Next Sunday it’s going to become hugely important. In fact, the defining moment of Christianity is next Sunday when the body that they put in a solid rock tomb was not there on Sunday morning. Christianity is defined by the fact that a man who was dead and laid in a solid rock tomb is not there three days later. These women out of love and devotion took an immense amount of their life savings to buy myrrh and aloe. They brought it to the tomb to anoint Jesus’s body but unfortunately they get there too late. There is a really fascinating story in the book of John in the Bible where a woman who’s a notorious sinner shows up. Jesus has made such an impact on her that she takes her life savings and literally pours it on the head of Jesus. She carries around these extremely expensive spices in an alabaster jar. She breaks the jar and anoints Jesus’s head with it. His disciples are furious and they say, “That was worth a ridiculous amount of money. Why are you wasting it by pouring it over his head? We could’ve sold it and given that money to the poor.” Jesus says something pretty interesting to the disciples, “Don’t stop her for what she did. In fact, people are going to tell this woman’s story for years to come.” We’re still talking about her today. Jesus says, “What this woman is doing is preparing my body for the grave.” Jesus honors her and elevates her for it.
Sitting in 21st-century America you are going to lose the significance of what just happened. If you were making this story up, you would never include women in the story. Women in Jesus’s day were second-class citizens. Let me remind you, until the fall of 1920 women in America didn’t even have the right to vote. In Jesus’s day women had no place in the church because they were considered secondhand citizens. Why would Luke of all people include the story of what happened to the women when he’s talking about Jesus’s body? From this point on, the Christian church will elevate the role of women in places where nobody else in human history has elevated the roles of women. Luke is saying that women now have equal access to God. They have every bit as much of the inheritance with God as men do and that is hugely transformative for society. In Luke’s day it was unheard of for women to be considered part of the family of God the way men were considered part of the family of God. If Luke were standing here today he would say, “Women, you are every bit equal with the men of this church because you have every bit as much of a right to a relationship with God as men do, as foreigners do, and as even the good Jewish boy born to a good Jewish family. You’re just as much a part of the family of God.”
I read a story this week about a woman by the name of Vickie Watson. Vicki grew up in church and when she graduated from high school she stuck around church for a few years but she really never had a relationship with Jesus. As a young woman, Vicki was reading the Fruit of the Spirit in the book of Galatians and looking at her life. She realized, “I don’t have that stuff in my life. As I look around my community, I don’t see any of the stuff from the Bible in my community.” Here’s the tragedy of the story. She decided to check out of church that day. Vicki said, “If it is not making a difference for me or making a difference in my city, why should I waste my time on Sunday mornings?” So Vicki replaced church with a nonprofit that she created. She created an organization that helps people get a home, helps people to furnish their home, and helps people to get on their feet. These are Vickie’s words not mine. She said, that this nonprofit “became church for me” and I don’t need church anymore because church doesn’t really doesn’t make an impact in my life or in my city.
The guys that were interviewing Vicki and many people like her asked the question of hardened atheists, “If somebody you are close to believed something about the Bible and they wanted to tell you what they believed, would you listen?” Thirty-one percent of hardened atheists said they would listen patiently to what you have to say out of respect for you. Here’s what this article said when it was citing Vikki and many people like her. It said that when asked, 51% of Americans who want nothing to do with church said they’d go to church the next Sunday, if someone brought them. I don’t mean you say, “Come meet me at church. I’ll see in the parking lot at 1045.” The reason why they’ll go with you is because it’s a lot less intimidating if they show up to church with somebody who knows their way around.
Inside the worship guide you have some of these little handouts. I’m going to ask you to do something this week. Don’t go knock on the door, hang it on the doorknob, and then run away. Will you hand this to somebody in your neighborhood or at work and ask them this question, “Will you come in my car with me to church next Sunday?” You’ll find that about half of the people that you ask that question will say, “Yeah, I guess, if you’ll take me.” Ladies, will you find somebody in your neighborhood or somebody that you work with who doesn’t go to church anywhere and hand this to them. Ask them to you come in your car with you this Sunday on Easter. For the warriors in this room, would you do like this Roman centurion and go to somebody in your unit on Fort Benning and invite them to come with you in your car this Sunday? For all of us in this room, would you invite somebody that you know to come with you this Sunday to church? You’ll find a lot of people will take you up on that. The reason why we’re doing this is not so that we reach some attendance record. That has nothing to do with it. I am convinced that, if you bring people with you next Sunday who do not know Jesus personally, they’ll be confronted with the cross of Jesus Christ, with the empty tomb, and they will leave here eternally different. So, will you reach out to somebody this week and bring them with you in your car next Sunday morning?
• Today, I understand that Jesus died for me. Therefore, I commit my life to Jesus for the first time.
– I believe that God wants to have intimacy with me. Pray for me to release _______ that has been coming between me and Jesus lately.
+ I will invite my friend or neighbor who doesn’t go to church to Calvary next Sunday.
- Have you ever been treated like others were more important than you in church? Explain.
- Has anyone ever tried to explain away Jesus’s empty tomb to you? What argument did they use to explain why the tomb was empty?
- Read Hebrews 10:19-22. What difference did the death of Jesus have on temple worship according to these verses?
- What was the real cause of Jesus’s death, according to Luke?
- What was the job of the Roman Officer? What is the significance of his statement about Jesus?
- Why do some people hear about the death of Jesus today and yet are still unaffected by it?
- Pray that your friends or neighbors will come to Calvary on Easter and respond to Jesus in faith.