In the musical Fiddler on the Roof, there is a memorable scene between Tevye and Golda in which he asks her, “Golda, do you love me?” She then lists all the things she has done with him and for him. He asks again, “Do you love me?” She initially responds to his question by saying, “You’re a fool,” but he smiles and says, “I know, but do you love me?”
People sometimes play the fool and ask the same question of God. Do you love me, God? Really? Circumstances in life can sometimes cause moments of doubts about His love – such as when we’ve done something we are ashamed of. It can be difficult to understand how God could love us after that. Or when something bad happens to us, we may wonder, If He truly does love me, why did He let that happen?
Looking back on our lives and suddenly remembering things we’ve thought, said, or done for which we’re ashamed, we may still feel the power they hold over us. Satan loves to use flashbacks against us as he whispers, You’re a loser. Jesus couldn’t possibly love you. Or perhaps our insecurities keep us wondering if God still loves us. During these times of doubt, I need a word from God, like today’s reading from Luke 18, to speak truth into my life.
In this passage, Jesus was traveling close to Jerusalem. He knew what lay ahead of Him. He quietly warned the disciples about the coming events. Notice the detail and accuracy of His preview. He would be handed over to the Gentiles by the Sanhedrin Council. He would be mocked, shamefully treated, spit upon, flogged, and killed. I don’t think you and I can even begin to imagine the burden Jesus carried in knowing what lay ahead for Him.
Later in the story, we are told that Jesus literally sweat drops of blood in the Garden of Gethsemane as He thought about the next day. It all sounds rather nightmarish, yet Jesus went anyway.
The disciples did not understand Jesus’ words. But everything happened as He said it would. He suffered and was handed over to the Romans by the Jewish Sanhedrin Council. We read in the Passion Story how He was mistreated and killed on the worst instrument of torture of His day – the cross. Cicero described the crucifixion as the cruelest and most hideous of tortures. Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp, jagged bone and lead.
Eusebius, the third-century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: “The sufferer’s veins were laid bare and the very muscles, sinews, and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” He was taken to a praetorian where a crown of thorns was slammed down upon His head. He was mocked by a battalion of six hundred men, hit about the face, and spit upon. He was then forced to carry a heavy bar on His bleeding shoulders until He collapsed.
When they reached the sight of crucifixion, He was again stripped naked, laid on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms just above the wrists. His knees were twisted sideways so the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and the Achilles tendon. He was lifted on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground, and left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. Jesus hung in unthinkable pain for six hours while His life slowly dripped away. Nightmarish, just as He had predicted.
After Jesus was laid in a tomb, He rose from the grave, just as He said. Hallelujah!
As we think about all Jesus went through, the most important question is, Why did He make the journey to Jerusalem? Why, when He knew what awaited Him? He could have turned around. So why did He go?
First, Jesus went in loving obedience to His Father’s plan. He said earlier in the text, “So that what was written in the prophets will be accomplished.” Hundreds of years earlier, Old Testament prophets spoke of what was to happen to Jesus. The prophet Isaiah spoke of the Suffering Servant.
“I gave my back to those who strike, and my cheeks to those who pull out the beard. I hid not my face from disgrace and spitting” (Isaiah 50:6).
And hear his words of the crucifixion in Isaiah 53:5-9:
“But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and by his wounds, we’re healed.
All we like sheep have gone astray; We have turned – every one – to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people?
And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth.”
The prophet Hosea says in chapter 6,
“After two days you will revive us; and on the third day, he will raise us up that we may live before him.”
All of Scripture points to Jesus and the cross. This is no accident. This is no “Plan B” because “Plan A” failed. The cross is not a tragic surprise. No! It was part of a plan.
Author and pastor Max Lucado put it this way:
“The ropes used to tie His hands and the soldiers used to lead Him to the cross were unnecessary. They were incidental. Had they not been there, had there been no trial, no Pilate, no crowd, the very same crucifixion would’ve occurred. Had Jesus been forced to nail Himself to the cross, He would have done it. For it was not the soldier who killed Him nor the screams of the mob. It was His devotion to us.”
This is no accident. It is God’s will being carried out to save sinful humanity – of which you and I are a part – from sin and death. The moment forbidden fruit touched the lips of Eve, the shadow of a cross appeared on the horizon. God’s master plan went into action.
All of us have sinned. All of us have fallen short of the glory of God. We’re polluted by sin. We’re captive to the power of sin. We’re separated from God because of our sin, and we live with the penalty of sin – God’s judgment and our death.
In this prediction of Jesus while on the road to Jerusalem, we see a determined God carrying out His will. He is coming after us so we might have a restored relationship with Him. Jesus will go on to make the payment for our sin with His sacrificial death. As Isaiah said,
“The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6).
He suffered the punishment that was meant for me. The wrath of God was poured out on Him as He cried out,
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).
I was dead in my sin but He died so I might live. Jesus goes to the cross not as a victim, but as a victor. He will rise again, victorious over the power of death.
This is the plan Jesus is talking about today. It is God’s plan, He tells His disciples. God’s plan was for Him to go to Jerusalem out of love for you and me. Billy Graham once said, “If you were the only person who ever lived in this world, Jesus went to the cross for you, to pay for your sins.”
Jesus’ disciples didn’t understand any of what He was saying. It was hidden from them by God until after the resurrection when the risen Christ said to them,
“Remember the words I spoke to you while I was still with you: Everything written about me by Moses and the prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44).
Their eyes were then opened, and they understood.
AHA! That is what Jesus meant. And they couldn’t announce this Good News fast enough. Everyone needs to know what God has accomplished through Jesus Christ for us. Everyone needs to trust in this and surrender themselves to His care, to His lordship in their lives. Everyone needs to enter into the kingdom of God and live with Him in a new life now, forever.
Christ’s death on a cross and His resurrection are central to our faith. It’s our foundation, our assurance that yes, we are loved. Look at what Jesus has done for you! The Gospel, in essence, tells us we are more sinful than we ever realized, and more loved than we ever dared hope. I repeat:
You are more loved than you dared hope.
Just look at the cross.
I want to close with a story from Christian author Brennan Manning. It is an amazing story about how he got the name Brennan.
While growing up, his best friend was named Ray. The two of them did everything together. They bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated together, went to school together, and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together, and fought on the front lines together.
One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the foxhole. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar, and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was spared.
When Brennan became a priest, he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan, and so he took on the name Brennan.
Years later, he visited Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea, when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE FOR YOU?”
At that moment, Brennan experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother, Mary, pointing to her Son saying, What more could He have done for you?
What more could He have done for you and me?
Friends, the appeal in this message today is quite simple but heartfelt. According to our passage from Luke 18, you and I have been loved.
You are loved. Trust in Jesus. Revel and glory in His love for you. Amen.
Pastor Steve Kramer