Grace Hung on the Cross

Dr. Gary Glanville Sermon #4 April 5, 2020 “Grace Hung on the Cross”

Grace Hung on the Cross

            Have you ever given someone a surprise gift that completely overwhelmed them with gratitude?  I found a story you might appreciate that involves a gracious gift of kindness, a gift with no strings attached.

            On March 14, 2014, there was an article written about a gift Carl and Barbara Becker received who lived in Rixeyville, Virginia. Carl and Barbara, both in their upper 80s and married for 63 years, were having their customary afternoon snack they like to call ‘scrunch” at a local McDonalds.  Scrunch may be a new word for you as it was for me, but to the Beckers, it stands for a mid-afternoon snack between lunch and supper.  Carl and Barbara were enjoying their scrunch time at the Culpeper McDonalds’s franchise, when an employee starting cleaning in the area where they were sitting.  Since the employee did not want to wait or maneuver around the Beckers, the manager was informed and he told the couple they had to leave because their half hour was up and they needed to clean the floor.

            Carl and Barbara, not aware of any 30-minute time limit, left, doing their best to keep a good attitude.  But when Carl got home, he decided to write a letter to the editor of the local paper, the Culpeper Star Exponent, entitled:  Don’t Sit Too Long.  Shawn Moss, owner of Shawn’s Smokehouse Barbeque in Culpeper, read the story and could not believe how this senior couple in their 80s were treated.  So, Shawn decided to offer free “scrunch” one day a week for life to Carl and Barbara.  And, since 87-year-old Carl was also a WWII veteran, Shawn decided to do a Scrunch Day every Wednesday and offer free coffee to all seniors and veterans.  Not a bad gift – don’t you think? 

            I share this particular story with you because it speaks of grace, a gracious gift freely given.  And it is this theme of grace, what the Bible describes as an underserved gift or kindness we cannot earn, that I want to address today in our message. 

            I also realize today is Palm Sunday, the beginning of Holy Week, the day we traditionally think of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey as people waved palm branches and laid their coats on the road before Him.  So, let’s see if we can tackle a couple of ideas together, on this Palm Sunday, with a message I’m calling – Grace Hung on the Cross.

            Now I realize, as soon as I mention a cross, our minds immediately run to Good Friday, the day Jesus was crucified.  So, the question pops up, what does grace hanging from a cross have to do with Palm Sunday?  For those of you who have periodically joined me over the years, on Wednesday nights in the sanctuary, we often watched and listened together to historian and Bible teacher Ray Vanderlaan on DVD.  Well, Ray does a great job of explaining how Palm Sunday, Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, ties in with Passover and the cross Jesus would die on five days later. 

            Because of how the Jewish feast of Passover fell 2,000 years ago, what we normally refer to in the church today as Palm Sunday, back then, was also lamb selection day.  During Jesus’ day, this particular Sunday was the day unblemished lambs, spotless, without scab, disease, or defect, were selected for the Passover meal which would be shared amongst a minimum of 10 people.  And Passover, as you will recall historically, was first instituted on the very night before the great exodus under Moses, the deliverer, when the Jewish people had been held under slavery by the Egyptians, and now would be set free.

If you will recall, on that first Passover, blood from an innocent spotless lamb was spread around the doors of the homes of the Hebrew people.  And God told His people, at midnight, as a final tenth plague, death would pass through Egypt, and every firstborn son and every firstborn male animal would die, except, where God saw the blood of the lamb.  You see, where God saw the blood, death would pass over that home.  Therefore, those who followed God’s directive by obedience and faith, and did exactly as instructed, would be granted life.  They would be set free to travel to a new promised land.  Those he did not follow God’s plan would suffer the consequences.

            Fast forward now 1500 years from Moses to the time of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who became symbolically a sacrificial sheep as the Lamb of God.  When Jesus makes His way into Jerusalem on that special Sunday riding on a donkey, under shouts of hosanna, meaning save us now, and palm branches waving in the air like the stars and stripes in a patriotic parade, it’s almost as if God was announcing and asking on this lamb selection day, will you select My Lamb, My Son, My firstborn, so spiritual death may pass over you and you may gain eternal life in My kingdom?  As your heavenly Father, Who cares about you deeply, I have prepared a special home for you in a greater promised land, and no longer will you be held captive as slaves under the fear and curse of sin and death.  If you will select and receive My Son, My spotless lamb, you will be set free for all eternity.

            And five days later, on Good Friday, instead of blood being spread around a door as it was done on that first Passover, blood would spread along a crossbeam of wood as grace hung on the cross for you and me.  Christ, as the Lamb of God, would give His life for all of us.  His blood would become a covering, seen by God the Father, so death for all time would pass over us.  For out of mercy and grace, the Creator would choose to give His life for His creation.  Jesus would die upon a cross of wood and yet He made the hill upon which it stood.

            How was this possible?  It became possible because of the gracious favor and kindness and mercy of God.  And though we did not deserve this gracious favor, it was extended as a gift, offering both forgiveness and abundant life.  This amazing gift God gave out of a love we cannot begin to measure or completely understand; whose worth is far beyond anything we could ever repay or earn – because the price cost Jesus everything.

This grace that hung on the cross is far beyond what Shawn Moss did when he blessed Carl and Barbara.  However, the concept is very similar.  For Carl and Barbara hadn’t done anything to earn Shawn’s favor, his gracious gift, because he gave it freely to them.  He acted with a gracious kindness, giving something freely, though Shawn wasn’t required to give anything at all. 

Well, my hope today, is that you hear that Jesus did the same thing for you.  He freely gave the gift of His life to pay the penalty for all of our sins.  Through Jesus’ sacrificial death, the debt has been paid, the full obligation that the judgment of sin required has been met for all time.  The only thing left is for us to decide, to choose to follow Christ and receive this grace-filled gift that God freely offers.

            And although you and I may not understand it all, or how it all works in the plans of God, or that it just seems too simple – it doesn’t make it any less true.  Ask this question to yourself.  Is it absolutely necessary that you need to understand how everything completely functions, inside and out, before you believe something works and is useful?

            For instance:  I don’t understand a great deal about electricity, but that doesn’t stop me from plugging in the toaster for breakfast or turning on a bedroom light in the evening so I don’t trip.  To me, it would be much more foolish to sit around in the dark with my pride intact saying – I won’t believe in electricity or use electricity until I understand it completely.  It’s just too simple to accept it as a fact.  (Kind of foolish don’t you think?)  I think the same reasoning applies to Christ.

            Have you ever read 1 Corinthians 1:18?  “The message of the cross is foolish to those who are headed for destruction!  But we who are being saved know it is the very power of God.”  Well, how did the message of the cross ever become foolish to certain folks?

            The wisdom of the world told the Jews the cross was something to be despised.  It was meant for criminals, which it was.  Why even Deuteronomy 21:23 told the faithful Jew that “he who hangs on a tree is accursed by God.”  And so for a Jewish person, how could Jesus be God’s chosen one (God’s Messiah) and be accursed at the same time by hanging on a cross of wood?  To the religious Jew, God would not curse His Messiah, therefore Jesus could not possibly be the Messiah.  But that was exactly the reason why Jesus came, to take the curse of both physical and spiritual death upon Himself.  And how could Jesus do such a thing?  Look at Hebrews 12:2 for a moment: “…who for the joy set before Him (meaning Jesus) endured the cross, despising the shame….”  Because of our sin leading to our separation from God, Jesus would take upon Himself the shame and consequences of our sin to make a way open to God the Father.  Jesus endured the agony of the cross for a moment of time.  Why?  Because He could foresee the future joy for all of us for all eternity.  And because of that greater joy, He pressed forward.  What we could not remedy on our own, try as we might yet always falling short, God had a plan through His Son.  And that plan was grace hanging on a cross.  Still, for many of the Jewish legalists, the cross was a stumbling block.  It was utter foolishness to think of the cross bringing anything but shame.

            The wisdom of the world told the Greeks, a god was incapable of feeling, and for Jesus to be God incarnate, to become human flesh and suffer as we suffer and be tempted in all things such as we was utterly preposterous.  To the wise Greek who was intoxicated by fine words and silver tongue rhetoric, the message of the cross was too simplistic, too crude, too insulting, it was foolishness.

            And so, God chose the foolish things of the world and used them to shame the wise.  And God chose the weak things of this world to shame the strong.

            I remember reading about Carl Sagan, well-known scientist and author, who was married three times and died in 1996 at the age of 62.  Carl did not believe in a personal God but he did believe in extra-terrestrials.  Before Sagan passed away, he produced a PBS documentary entitled “Chariots of the Gods.”  During the broadcast, Sagan commented on the new optimism which believes there is life elsewhere in the universe.  And Carl Sagan, this very brilliant astronomer, astrophysicist, and cosmologist, made this interesting but sad remark – “It’s nice to think that there is someone out there who can help us.”  Sagan was wise enough to realize we need outside help, but unfortunately, his help was not God.  He preferred to blindly cast his faith upon an unknown source (space aliens) rather than the Lord who formed the cosmos (that he studied).  Yes, it would appear for many, believing in the message of the cross and following Jesus Christ was and is just too simple.

            It’s similar to an account I read many years ago of a leading manufacturing company which had developed a brand-new cake mix requiring only water to be added to the mix.  Tests were run, surveys were made, and the cake mix was found to be of superior quality to the other cake mixes on the market.  It tasted good, it was easy to use, and it made a tender moist cake.

            The company then spent a great deal of money on an advertising campaign before releasing the product to the general public.  But the results were perplexing as very few people bought the cake mix.

            So, the company spent more money to find out why the cake mix did not sell.  [It just did not make any sense since they knew they had a great product.]  Based on the results of the survey, the company recalled the mix, reworked the formula, and released the revised cake mix.  This time, the cake mix sold off the shelves.  What was the new ingredient, the magic formula which changed a dud into a dynamo seller?  Besides adding water, the directions required the usage of one egg.

            What the marketing people found out on their surveys was the first cake mix was too simple to be believable.  People would not accept a cake mix which did not involve some added work and ingredients, such as an egg.  The product was prejudged before it was ever tried.

            And what is so amazing and true to life is the same can be said about Christianity.  For some, Christianity is just too simple to be believable.  There should be more to it than simply accepting by faith God’s gracious gift of forgiveness and salvation by believing in Jesus as the way, the truth, and the life.  I should have to work at it somehow.  I should have to earn it. But the problem is, how do you earn a gift that is priceless, that is beyond measure? 

            And unfortunately, too many people prejudge the message of the cross before they try it and they miss out on true wisdom because it seems foolish, it’s just too simple.  Well God never intended the message of the cross to be complicated.  God’s plans were straight-forward from the beginning.  Paul reminds us the wisdom of this world cannot comprehend the plans of God.  Why?  Because the wisdom of this world system places itself above the plans of God and in so doing becomes utter foolishness.

            Years ago, one of the astronauts who walked on the moon was interviewed and asked, “What were you thinking about as you stood on the moon and looked back at the earth?”  The astronaut replied, “I remembered how the spacecraft was built by the lowest bidder.”

            Dear friends, we as Christian believers can rejoice that the plan of salvation was not worked out by the lowest bidder, but instead by the highest source possible, God’s own Son, Who gave His life on a cross, so we in turn may have life in abundance.  My prayer for us is that we would not stumble over the cross, but have the sound judgment to believe that grace hung from the cross for you and me.

            What is the saving grace of God like?  I offer one final story.

I’m going to assume many of you have scene documentaries on nature and how the cycle of life works.  I remember watching one such case on the internet dealing with predators in Africa and the migration of millions of animals seeking water during the dry season. 

A crocodile had grabbed a wildebeest, a gnu (antelope), crossing a river and was proceeding to drown its prey.  But for some reason on that day, some hippos decided that wasn’t going to happen.  One hippo in particular saved the wildebeest from the jaws of death and intervened, scaring off the crocodile and helping the gnu reach the shoreline where there was life.  The hippo granted a gift.  It wasn’t earned.  It wasn’t bargained for.  There was no payment made.  The hippo freely offered saving grace that the gnu could never repay. 

            And that my dear friends is the message of the cross.  It is freely offered by God’s gracious favor, kindness and mercy.  It can’t be earned and it can never be repaid.  You simple receive it as a gift.  For grace hung on the cross for you and me. 

And dear ones, you can receive that same gracious favor today.  There are no special words you have to say or particular prayers you have to recite.  Rather, it is an attitude of the heart that says I believe that Jesus died on the cross for me and I want to follow Him the rest of my days.  Lord, I ask you to forgive me for all that I have done and I ask that You would be my Savior.  If that expresses the desire of your heart, then I invite you to say “yes’ to Jesus today and thank Him for all He has done.

The Lord bless you, and keep you; the Lord make His face shine on you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance on you, and give you peace.’  (Numbers 6:24-26)