Sermon by Rev Sydney Maitland for Sunday 17 October 2021.
• First Reading: Isaiah 53: 4-12 (The Suffering Servant – pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities)
• Epistle: Hebrews 5: 1-10 ( He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him)
• Gospel: Mark 10: 35-45 (The Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many)
Please sir, it wasn’t me – it was him’. ‘It was not my fault.’ ‘I had an unhappy childhood, I was born and lived in the wrong area, I never go the change to improve myself.’ And so on.
It goes back to the garden of Eden: ‘Lord, it was the woman YOU gave me who gave me the forbidden fruit.’ ‘Lord, it was the serpent YOU created that beguiled me so I ate the forbidden fruit.’
The excuses go back to the beginning of time, to the time when humanity first knew the difference between what was right and what was not. While they may have become more sophisticated, somehow the sense of personal responsibility always seems to slide away.
But the strangest thing of all is that God has actually accepted the blame. He always knew that once the human race had fallen from its place of love and favour in His sight then there was never going to be anything it could do to recover it.
Its good works were never going to match the glory and majesty of God, and while they may look fine in the scales of human wisdom and morality they would never match the measure of the glory of God.
And so God took responsibility for restoring His creation to His pattern and purposes. He could have just pressed the reset button and like a magic word all would be well again.
But that would be a short cut to His holiness and would not do. He would do something different – and this time would get personally involved.
He would live among the human race as a man, and He would undergo all the temptations that humans have felt. The technology of sin might change but the nature and personal impact would never change.
And so Jesus came and lived upon the earth. He lived in a religious society that was expecting that special deliverer but had become set in its own ways and in its own wisdom.
He showed what it was to live the perfect life – but only upset the authorities. He taught what it was to live faithfully in the sight of God and they only blamed Him for their own refusal to do so.
He showed them the areas where they were most distant from God, in their own self-righteousness and in their oppression of one another. And they only hated Him the more.
And so rather than change and allow themselves to be led, personally and one soul at a time, back in to the love of God they had their own oppressors, the Romans, kill Jesus by crucifying Him.
In dying, Jesus was taking the blame for all the sins and rebellions against God that had ever and would ever arise in the human race. As He died, Jesus spent six hours on the cross and yet the whole of human history was visited upon Him.
What humanity could not do for itself, God had done, willingly and yet without personal fault.
This is what made Jesus both the priest who offered the sacrifice and the victim of the same sacrifice.
And having done this freely and without personal fault, God honoured Jesus and raised Him from the dead. Even death was now defeated and its power to terrify humanity was stripped away.
This now leaves us with some choices.
First, will we believe that this is what God has done and done in love for us? Will we accept that this was God’s initiative and not a human design or fable? Will we accept that this happened at a given time and place in history?
Second, will we take it personally? Will we make Jesus’ resurrection our own resurrection? Will we allow Jesus to have died, not just for the sins of all of humanity but for our own personal sins as well? Will we allow this to be personal and specific to us in our own lives and life stories?
More than that, thirdly, will we make Jesus our own lord and savour? Not just that for society or the whole world but for me in my life as well?
Now it becomes far more personal for when Jesus was dying on the cross it was for my sins and our personal sins that were pinning Him there and which were draining His body of life. It was my sins that were there as He cried out, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me.’
This was no simple reciting of the Psalms of the Old Testament, but a cry of dereliction, forsaken by God who was Himself turned away in grief at the loss of His Son and at disgust at the sins that made it so.
When James and John were asking for the positions of honour in heaven, Jesus was looking at the cross. He would only come to His place in heaven once He had suffered and died and there would be no other way.
And so He looks at each of us and asks us to follow Him: through life, and to the cross that each of us encounter in our own ways. He wants us to be victorious in our lives, but it is a victory entered only through Him and never apart from Him.