Sermon delivered March 29, 1997

by Pastor Donald J. Gettys

McDonald Road SDA Church

McDonald, TN

A Look At Calvary

(Easter communion sermon)

Matthew 27:36 (KJV) speaks about the soldiers. And it says that these soldiers came, they crucified Jesus and as they hung Him on the cross, in verse 36: "And sitting down they watched him there." Now I couldn't do that. I'm the type of person that couldn't shoot a deer with a gun: an innocent deer that never did anything wrong to me. I couldn't do it. And I don't know how those people could hang Jesus, who never hurt them, never did anything wrong. I don't know how they could do that. And how they could sit there and watch a man in agony and torture... I mean, when you drive nails through somebody they are suffering and they sat there and watched. I don't understand that.

Now, May 10, 1869, is one of the most famous dates in American history. America was joined together by the transcontinental railroad at Promontory Utah, just north of the Great Salt Lake. Twin ribbons of shining steel stretched from coast to coast: San Francisco to New York. It basically joined the two oceans with steel, East and West. In the celebration two gold spikes, a silver spike and a spike of three metals (gold, silver and iron) were hammered into the wooden cross ties to commemorate this ceremony. The crowd cheered wildly!

I can think of another even more famous day when again four spikes were pounded into wooden beams. This time they were not silver, they were not gold. They were rusty iron spikes. One each in the hands of our Savior. One each in His feet according to the picture I see in the book, Desire of Ages. Four spike were used, and they pinned Jesus to the cross. Again the crowd cheered wildly as the heavy hammer impounded the arms and legs of Jesus on the Cross almost 2000 years ago. That event joined Earth to Heaven together.

Finally the crowd that was there, watching this event of Jesus, thinned out but some stayed by. The soldiers especially. Matthew 27:36 "And sitting down, they watched Him there." I can hardly imagine the cold cruelty of any subhuman who could sit down and watch someone being tortured by slow death. But the Bible says that after hanging Jesus and the other two criminals, the Roman guards sat down to watch the agony. This was standard operating procedure for these brutal executioners.

You know, as they sat there, they looked at Jesus. You can't look at Jesus very long before something happens to you. I want you to notice what happens to these soldiers when they looked at Jesus. An amazing thing took place. Verse 54 says these hardened men came to believe in Jesus, that He was the Son of God. Matt. 27:54 "When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" They believed in the Savior. They were changed. By Beholding Jesus they were changed. They believed Jesus was the Son of God.

What changed their heart? Think of the possible factors: Maybe it was.....

  1. - Jesus forgiveness....... when He said: Father forgive them for they know not what they do. That was amazing!
  2. - Jesus' amazing Love. These military men saw Jesus' unselfish love for His mother when He asked John to care for her in His absence.
  3. - Jesus saving nature. When He forgave the one thief and became his personal Saviour.
  4. - Jesus' silence under rebuke. Matthew 27:39 "Those who passed by hurled insults at Him shaking their heads and saying, 'You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!'" Jesus didn't respond: He didn't say anything. In verse 42, "'He saved others,' they said, 'but he can't save himself! He's the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, 'I am the Son of God.'" 44 In the same way the robbers who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. And what did Jesus do?
  5. - Maybe it was the absence of profanity. Jesus never swore. There were probably people swearing on both side of Him, at least at the beginning.
  6. - Maybe it was the confident trust and look of absolute peace on the face of our Savior. Have you ever thought about how He looked on the cross? I imagine He had a look of peace and His peace was because His faith was founded in God. Now I looked at the TV news of those people who committed suicide near San Diego. They said that they were happy to do that. They seemed to have a look of peace, but it was a false peace. I tell you, when you base your peace on the bible and the solid word of Jesus Christ, you have a hope and peace in your life. They didn't have any hope at all, in fact, those people died lost as far as I'm concerned. They died without Christ.
  7. - Maybe it was the violent revolt of nature: (verse 45)When you see the sun go dark for three hours attempting to shut out the Light of the world: *The sun refused to shine as the spikes tried to shut out the light of the world. *The rocks revolted in an earthquake as they tried to kill the Rock of Ages, and it didn't happen.

Whatever it was, we are told in Matthew 27:54 that the Centurion who was in charge of the execution and his soldiers experienced a change in their heart as they beheld Jesus.

At this springtime as we sit here at the Lords Table, the Communion Table, ready to partake of these symbols of our dying Saviour in the Lords Supper, the biggest thing that we need is what these soldiers needed. We need a change of heart.

Most of you have in your hand, courtesy of some people that picked these this morning: a beautiful dogwood blossom. If you look carefully at the blossom it speaks about our Savior. As He was on the cross, four spikes were driven into His extremities. One into each hand and one into each foot. You see a little red "blood-stain" at the back of each tip of the petals. I'm sure there were blood satins on Jesus' hands. You see in the middle the crown of thorns. You'll see they're white, pure white. When you go looking in the woods and you see this flower, this is one of the whitest objects in the whole woods. Jesus died, pure. The only thing that stained Him was the giving of His own blood for us. I tell you, I appreciate my Savior. When I look at the dogwood, I'm reminded of the Savior, the bent nature of this tree. Jesus sacrificed His life for us.

I think we need to behold Jesus. I think we need to learn a lesson from these Roman soldiers that tried to kill Jesus and we need to behold Jesus. That's our greatest need today is to look at Jesus to see how He dies\d for us, to see how His blood can blot out our darkest sins. To see how Jesus died a violent death just for you. To behold His sinless perfect life. Do you know how we're saved? He lived the life we cannot live so that His perfect life may be accounted to us free of charge, and by His perfect righteous life we may be saved.

Promontory Utah is famous for driving spikes. So is Calvary. One set of spikes provided transportation across this great land. The other set of spikes provided transportation across the open skies all the way to Heavens Shore. Praise God for what happened on that old rugged cross.

This transportation is free of any and all charges. You get it by beholding Jesus; falling in love with Jesus; accepting Jesus as your Saviour! And because He is your Savior you want to do all you can to live the life that will honor Him because you love Him.

At this time when we think of Jesus' Resurrection, when we see Good Friday, and we see the world celebrating Easter Sunday, here we are, not on God Friday, not on Easter Sunday, here we are on Sabbath, doing the same thing that Jesus did on Sabbath: resting. This is our day of rest, and I appreciate my Savior. I invite you to give your heart to Jesus. I want to appeal to you. Maybe something has happened in your life this week. Maybe things aren't just right with you. Maybe you need to re-consecrate your entire life to Jesus. Maybe you need to say, "Lord, I have blown it. I need you in my life now more than I ever have." Would you be willing to stand either for the first time to give your life to Jesus or to re-give your life to Jesus? I want you to re-commit your life, or if for the first time, to give your life to Jesus.

Let us pray: Dear Father in heaven, Thank you for sending Jesus. Thank you for His perfect life. Thank you for the example of the centurion and beholding Jesus. Help us to behold Him. He is our Savior. Help us to look steadfastly at Him, to gaze upon Him every day, through the Word, through prayer. Bless each person that is standing here this morning. Please change our hearts. Take the old heart away and help us make room for Jesus to come into out lives and to live out His life within us. I pray this in Jesus' name, Amen

Now while you're still standing, we're going to separate for the Ordinance of Humility and as we exit, the ladies will go to the fire-place room and the men will go to the room beside that and the couples may go upstairs. When we come back try to be seated in the main area of the sanctuary. May God bless us as we separate for this portion of our service.

(At the end of this sermon, our congregation separated to several rooms to perform the Ordinance of Humility, the foot-washing as Jesus showed us in John 13:1-17. Usually we pair off at random, men with men and women with women and recently married couples to wash each other's feet. This is a solemn occasion for us as we set aside any differences or problems between us. Some select a person that they may have offended or been offended by and a plea for forgiveness often renews old friendships. We think of the foot- washing as an equalizer that places each one of us on the same plane as everybody else, none greater, none less. We often have prayer together and hug each other when we are finished.

Then we all return to the sanctuary where we partake of the of the symbols of Jesus body and blood.)

Now we have returned and one of the elders begins:

Reading from 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 KJV: ... The Lord Jesus, the same night in which He was betrayed, took bread; and when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, "Take, eat: This is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me." After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, "This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do show the Lord's death till he come.

As we have now washed one another's feet, It's with the assurance that Christ, through His Holy Spirit, has been there to convict and to soften our hearts. That same Jesus who washed the feet of Judas longs to wash our hearts of every stain of sin. After having made that preparation we come to the Communion knowing that who comes with their faith fixed on Jesus finds a very special blessing in this service. Jesus being God Himself, offered himself up as the sin-bearer, suffering the pain and humiliation of the cross, and worst of all, being sinless, He bore the weight of the guilt of all our sins. As we think of these things, each Communion service is a very special event. It is a wonderful opportunity of spiritual renewal, and of committing ourselves to the Lord anew, for He made it possible for us to become children of God, and to be joint heirs with Him in His kingdom.

Let us kneel for prayer: Heavenly Father, Jesus has told us that He would not henceforth drink of the fruit of the vine until He may do it on that day with His redeemed in His Father's kingdom. Truly this is pointing to His second coming. As we are very much aware of the events that are going on in this world, we know that that Day will be soon, and we long to see His appearing.

We ask, this morning, that you will renew us spiritually. We want to commit ourselves to you. As we commemorate the great sacrifice that Jesus made for us when He offered up Himself, the giving of Himself, we ask that you will bless this bread which reminds us of His broken body, and that you bless the cup which reminds us of His spilled blood for us that we might have eternal life. In Jesus' name we pray, Amen.

Now the deacons distribute the bread and the wine (non-alcoholic) to the congregation. Organ is playing "I'd Rather Have Jesus."

Pastor: You are holding in your hands the symbols of what Christ did and His agony on the cross. Certainly this symbol of His body and His blood... We can't be saved without what He did on the cross. His death was absolutely necessary. We only have one life to give and if we give it, it's all gone. He gave His life that we might live. As we look at the bread, it's just a little piece of substance, and yet, what this represents is everything to the Christian. Jesus said to His disciples, "Take, eat. This is My body which is broken for you." (In unison we all take and eat the bread.)

"In the same manner they took the cup." The cup represents the pure, expensive, precious, saving blood of Jesus Christ. It's His blood that blots out our sins. Without that, we can't be saved. And so we do want to drink it all. Jesus said, "Drink ye all of it." (Again, together, we all partake.)

You will probably notice that the dogwood blossom you were given is beginning to wilt. You may say, "I invited Christ into my heart years ago." That's okay, but let me tell you, you need new experience every day.

Closing song: 526 "Because He Lives"

I Corinthians 1:18 --- "The preaching of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God".

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