John 19:23-30 (The Horror of the Cross)

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Join us this Good Friday as we explore the horrors of the cross, the agony Jesus went through, and what it all means for us.

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There are very rare times when the Sun, the Moon, and the Earth align in their cosmic flight as they travel along in the
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Milky Way where the Sun will no longer give its light on Earth. When this happens, the
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Sun being 400 times further away than the Moon is from us and also 400 times larger than the
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Moon itself, but yet by God's grace and providence and creative agency has made them the same size in our sky.
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When the Moon aligns in front of the Sun, it covers it and the world falls into shadows.
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And we're preparing for that, I think, pretty soon next week, right? Massachusetts is one of those places where you can look at it, but don't stare up at it too long.
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You'll burn your eyes out. Now this sort of analogy
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I was thinking about this week is a lot like Jesus' final week.
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He's the light of the world. He was shining. He, when he rode into the city on Palm Sunday, things were bright.
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There was this hope that he was going to be the king that was anointed to sit on the throne of David. And yet with each day, things grew dimmer and darker.
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Until the final day, Thursday night, when you end up in the Garden of Gethsemane and everything is dark.
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John, as you read through the Gospel, and I would encourage you to read through it with a fresh read and look at this,
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John uses light and dark in very specific ways. Things happen in the light for a reason and things happen in the dark for a reason.
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The Garden of Gethsemane is the darkness encroaching upon the light of the world to diminish him, to squash him.
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You've got the enemies of God coming with little flickering torches because everything is dark on that day.
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Then they lead him to the sham trial where it's nothing but darkness. Then they lead him in front of Pilate and then in front of Herod and then in front of Pilate again.
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And as Jesus dies, you have John telling us that darkness overtook the earth, where the earth goes into a kind of deep darkness for three hours.
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It's very interesting that the Lord created the world with spoken light and now the author of life, when he dies, darkness comes back over the face of the earth.
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It's like a decreation moment where the old world is being ripped apart. Now today,
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I want us to examine that darkness. Today is a very interesting day in the
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Christian year. It is a day where we look at the ugliness, we look at the brutality, we look at the awful, grisly picture of the cross.
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And yet we don't mourn like those who have no hope. Through the cross and through the tragedy of it, we are the men and women who have great joy because we know that Sunday is coming.
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So if you will join me in John chapter 19 verses 23 through 30, if you are here every week, you will get to hear this preached again soon.
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But we're skipping ahead today. John chapter 19 beginning in verse 23.
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Then the soldiers, when they had crucified Jesus, they took his outer garments and they made four parts, a part to every soldier and also the tunic.
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Now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece. So they said to one another, let us not tear it but cast lots for it to decide whose it shall be.
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This was to fulfill the scripture. They divided my outer garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots.
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Therefore the soldiers did these things but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister.
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Mary, the wife of Clopas, Mary Magdalene. And when Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, woman, behold your son.
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And then he said to the disciple, behold your mother. From that hour the disciple took her into his own household.
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After this Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished to fulfill the scripture, said, I am thirsty.
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A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and they brought it up to his mouth.
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Therefore, when Jesus had received it, he said, it is finished.
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And he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. Let us pray. Lord, I pray that as we enter into this solemn, painful, and dark day, that Lord we would see the point of it all.
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That we would see what you were accomplishing. That we would see how deep your love is for us and how deep you had to go to rescue us.
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Lord help us tonight with sobriety and a somberness of heart to reflect upon all that you did.
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And Lord help us to be a people who have great joy. Lord, let the light look brighter against the darkness of this dark day.
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Help Sunday to be even more enjoyable, more joyful, more triumphant against the blackness of this event on Friday.
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Lord help us to see them rightly. In Jesus name we pray. Amen. For a moment,
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I'm going to read something because the details are important. So if you will, maybe you've heard some of this material before, maybe you haven't, but I'd like to I'd like to share it accurately and I'd like to share it exactly.
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It's nearly impossible for us to fully comprehend the utter brutality and depravity of a
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Roman crucifixion in its original context. John does not provide all of the gory details because he assumes that you have seen it.
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To help bridge this gap so that you and I can grab hold of how awful some of these things are, maybe we could compare it to an electric chair in our day.
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Which actually is a quite feeble analogy compared to what happened on that day. The electric chair, as odious as it was, at least allowed the condemned a mask over their face to preserve a shred of human dignity.
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On the electric chair, the death was meant to be quick. It was designed that way and it was designed to be outside of the public view.
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Crucifixion, on the other hand, was designed specifically to prolong a person's torture as long as possible.
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Crucifying them unclothed, naked, and ashamed while putting their debasement on full display for everyone to see.
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Crucifixion was a ritualistic, ceremonial act of dehumanization where the person was treated as sub -human garbage.
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They became an insect undeserving of the slightest dignity or mercy. Crucifixion was an advertisement that the wretch hanging on this beam had now become an outcast of society, the lowest scum of the earth, unfit to be considered part of even the human race.
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The verbal assaults and the jeering of the spectators was not simply allowed, but it was an integral part of this sadistic spectacle.
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The torturous process began with a vicious scourging as the victim was stripped naked and bound to a wooden stake to maximize their exposure.
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The Roman lictors wielded whips with straps of leather that would wrap around the body.
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At the end of these strips were materials like bone and metal, shards of glass, and broken pot shards, so that when the straps would wrap around the body, these sharpened objects would embed themselves like fishing hooks into the victim's back, buttocks, and leg.
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Then as the Roman lictors forcibly yanked these straps away, chunks of flesh, muscle, and tendon would be ripped out of the body.
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By the time the 40 lashes had ended, which the Romans observed was the maximum amount of lashings that a person could take before collapsing in circulatory shock, the person's skin hung in bloody ribbons.
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Their muscles and their nerve endings had become violently exposed, and their insides were grotesquely visible through their ravaged remains.
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This was not the end of the suffering. This was the beginning. This was meant to enhance the suffering that was soon to come.
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With every nerve ending and muscle fiber now exposed on the person's back, pushing up the rough wooden cross beam would become a particular kind of hell.
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In Jesus's case, the gospel records how a crown of thorns with razor blade, prison shank -like thorns, would be shoved down into his scalp, piercing his flesh, maybe even touching his skull.
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A mock purple robe was placed on his flayed body, absorbing some of the blood loss, but also heaping further excruciating pain, humiliation, and mockery, since purple was the color of the kings.
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This was unique to Jesus. This was not normal suffering that went along with a
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Roman scourging. This was put upon Jesus because he claimed to be king. After he was scourged and brutalized, he was paraded through the town with jeering crowds shaming him every step of the way toward Calvary.
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Before the rest of the city knew what happened, the holier -than -thou Pharisees gathered around him like hyenas, stalking their victim.
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On his meat -exposed shoulders, the splintered heavy cross beam was placed, causing every nerve ending in his body to writhe with pain.
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With every agonizing step, the load became heavier and heavier until he collapsed in the middle of the street, under the weight of it all.
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With the help of a bystander named Simon of Cyrene, Jesus eventually made it up the hill to his final destination.
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Upon arrival, he would have seen the wooden cross beam lying hauntingly upon the ground, along with the cross beam that Simon had carried, the cruel board that he was about to be put on that would now be called his home.
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With the crowds milling about in a maniacal fascination with a joy that could only come from demons, the dust from the hilltop that was stirred up through their sandals would have embedded itself in his exposed wounds and sores.
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With railroad spikes for nails, his hands were to be nailed through the wrists, not through the palms.
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Right through the gap between the radius and the ulna, because the soft tissue of your palm couldn't hold your body.
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After the cross beam was attached to the upright post, the feet were likewise nailed into place, and then the beam would have been lifted upright and dropped into a large hole with a pronounced thud.
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The g -force from this drop would have been excruciating. In the same way that you and I experience sensations when our bodies are dropped, every uncovered capillary on his body, scraping down the vertical pole, the nails yanking against his flesh, and they prevailed.
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It's at this point that the extended, agonizing process of crucifixion began. This is where crucifixion proper begins.
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All of that beforehand was just to prepare you for the crucifixion itself.
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With each exhaled breath came a tremendous amount of effort and pain, and while you were hanging on the cross, you became your own executioner.
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This is because the Romans had a PhD in torture. They understood that in that position, the way the body was nailed upon that cross, gravity would put pressure on your diaphragm, suffocating and asphyxiating you.
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The one who first breathed life into us is now dying by suffocation.
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In order to breathe, the crucified man would need to push his body up, using his pierced feet, pushing them against the rusty nails or his nail -pierced wrist, pulling his body up, dragging his exposed back against the splintered cross.
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This was an indescribably torturous undertaking, ravaging an already ragged body, but the part of it that was so ugly is that the one on the cross could not help but continue to do it, continue to participate in it, because in our human nature, we are not a people who will willingly suffocate ourselves.
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So again, and again, and again, he would push himself up the cross.
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In this state, death could linger for hours or even days, depending upon the strength of the victim.
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The elements would have certainly taken their toil as well. The Mediterranean sun would have scorched the exposed body, adding second -degree sunburns on top of organs that were opened.
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Insects, smelling the stench of coming death and the urine and the feces piled below the victim, would have swarmed, gathering and gathering in the open wounds, feasting on exposed flesh.
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An unquenchable thirst would have consumed every lucid thought of Jesus as his body entered in its final moments.
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All bodily fluids and functions from that moment would have become uncontrollable. The searing agony from the median nerve, being torn through the spiked wrist, repeatedly shot bolts of torment through the arms.
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With every pounding heartbeat, the body's weight pulled against the abrasive wood of the cross, threatening to become its executioner.
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Through it all, onlookers were hurling streams of blasphemous mockery and abuse, and they would spit on the condemned victim, ensuring their utter humiliation and annihilation of their personhood.
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No shred of dignity was permitted for the victim, even as their face was exposed to every sneering glance.
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God foretold this was going to happen in the passage that Dan read to us just a moment ago from Psalm 22.
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A thousand years before it happened with crystal clarity, God said that his own son was going to be forsaken by the
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Father. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? It's what Jesus said on the cross, quoting Psalm 22.
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The son was surely mocked by the crowds of people who surrounded him like the bulls of Bashan, Psalm 22, 6 through 8.
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The son was surrounded by his enemies in fulfillment of Psalm 22, 12 through 13. The son was tortured and in despair in fulfillment of Psalm 22, 14 through 15.
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His hands and his feet were pierced. Did you pick up on that when Dan was reading earlier? His bones were out of joint.
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His heart underwent what today we probably think is a periocardial effusion.
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His heart burst, filled with water and blood. His clothing was gambled for,
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Psalm 22, 18, and the worst sign of it all, the sign that he was nearing his final moments, was the dehydration that overtook him.
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And he said, I am thirsty, and they gave him vinegar to drink. And I want to end with that.
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Because for all of my life, I thought that the vinegar that they gave him to drink was an act of mercy.
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I thought for one moment, in the brutality of it all, that they were looking at him and saying, hasn't he had enough?
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And they gave him the vinegar on the sponge, and then he died. I don't believe that that's what they were doing, no.
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John 28, or John 19, 20 through 30 said, after this,
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Jesus, knowing that all things had already been accomplished to fulfill the scripture, he said, that's
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Psalm 22, I am thirsty. A jar of sour wine was standing there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine upon a branch of hyssop and brought it to his mouth.
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Therefore, when Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, it is finished, and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
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Instead of giving him a clean drink of water, they gave him this polluted sponge.
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It was not the object of most convenience. It wasn't the closest thing that they could have grabbed. This was a deliberate and extreme insult that you can barely fathom.
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In the ancient world in Rome, there were public bath houses, public latrines. If you've never been in the army, that means bathrooms.
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In those latrines, Roman citizens, elite Roman citizens and soldiers, would carry with them a particular stick with a sponge for cleaning themselves.
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The Roman toilets were made out of rock and there would have been a hole right in the in the center of it, similar to what we have today, and there would have been a hole in the front of it, and in the front of it was so that you could take this stick and take this sponge and reach down and clean yourself.
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What they realized over time is that people were getting infections because these polluted objects were unclean.
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So what they started doing is that they would soak them in vinegar as a disinfectant. It was the cheapest disinfectant that they had available.
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So when they put that stick that was soaked in that vinegar up to Christ, it was no act of mercy.
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It was to look at their God and say, this is what we think of you.
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The last taste on Jesus's lips when he said, it is finished, was that polluted liquid.
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And this teaches us something. He took upon himself the symbol of total defilement.
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Nothing can be more, can be worse than this. He took upon himself the symbol of total defilement because he was going to bring a total redemption.
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They thrust into the face of God this stick, and Jesus took it willingly.
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He could have called down 10 ,000 angels to stop this from happening, but he didn't. And I think there's a reason, and the reason is this.
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If you ever feel like that you're too far gone for Christ, I want you to look at how deep he went into the septic tank of humanity to pull you out.
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You are not farther gone than he went down to get you. As Jesus grasped for his final breath of air when he said, it is finished, he meant it is finished.
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Brothers and sisters, if you've been saved by the Lord Jesus Christ, he's yours and you're his.
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This is what he's done for you. On this night as we reflect upon the ugliness of this, we understand that sin is ugly.
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Do not gloss over your sin. This is a picture of how ugly sin is, that God himself was willing to endure this for us.
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If you ever want a picture of the ugliness of sin, think about the stick and the sponge. But more than that, it also shows how deep the
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Father's love is for us and what he was willing to go through in order to save us. And that is why we can have a peculiar kind of joy on this night.
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A joy mixed with sadness for sure, a joy mixed with sorrow for sure, but as I said before,
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Sunday is coming. I want to read you Paul's words as we close. Galatians 3 13 through 14, and as I read them earlier today, they took on a new depth for me.
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Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us.
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For it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree, in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the
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Gentiles, so that we would receive the promise of the Holy Spirit through faith. Let us pray.
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Lord Jesus, tonight we described some of the physical things that you went through Lord, and yet there's so much more that you went through than just the physical brutality of it and the poison polluted sponge that the
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Romans stuck to your lips and the jeering and the mocking of the Jews who are watching. When you cried out, my
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God, my God, why have you forsaken me? I can't even imagine. For all of eternity you've been in perfect fellowship with your
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Father. You came and lived a perfect life. You deserved no judgment, no sin did you ever commit, no even momentary lapse in speech caused you to ever utter a false report.
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And yet he who knew no sin became sin, so that we might be called the righteousness of God.
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Lord, let that gospel message teach us how much you love us, teach us how deep and wide is the
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Father's love, and teach us how secure and how safe that we are in your gospel.
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Because if you went through all of that, you are not losing a single one of us.