This sermon was used on Good Friday 2012 at Sycamore Tree Church. During Lent this year, we picked up a stone each week representing the burdens we carry.
In the beginning God created . . .
Did you know those are the first words of the Bible? Genesis tells us that God spent 5 days creating, getting this world ready, preparing the earth for His ultimate creation. He made the sunlight, the night, vegetation, everything you and I would need. He created a perfect world just for us.
The author of Genesis goes on to tell us that in those days right after creation, before there was sin in the world, “God Walked in the garden in the cool of the day.” In those first days, Adam and Eve got to talk to God face to face. They walked with Him and spent time with Him. From the very beginning, God wanted a relationship with the humans He had created. He wanted them to be His friend.
God did ask one thing of His friends. You see God had planted two trees in the garden, two trees that grew fruit. One grew the fruit that would give life. He wanted His friends to eat this fruit every day. The other tree grew the fruit of the knowledge of Good and Evil, and He asked His friends to not eat the fruit from this tree. He even told them why, “if you eat from it, you will die.”
Some wonder why that tree had to be there, but the truth is that a friendship that can’t withstand any kind of testing is no friendship at all, and God wanted a true relationship with His creation. Unfortunately, we all know the end of the story. A snake came, a snake that was jealous of Adam and Eve’s friendship with the almighty. And that snake made the pair a better offer, or at least what seemed to them to be a better offer, and Adam and Eve picked up their first rock.
All during Lent we’ve been picking up these rocks, reminders of the burdens we carry, hurts, habits, broken relationships, sin. Adam and Eve were sent away from the Garden of Eden, gave up their perfect relationship with God and picked up one rock after another. And the rocks the father and mother of all mankind picked up are rocks that we all have to carry. It’s called original sin, and unfortunately, there’s no escaping it. Each one of us now has to carry these rocks. The rock of:
• thinking we know better than God – and the rock of
• working hard every day. We are forced to carry the rock of
• sin and deception, and the worst rock of all, the rock of
• denial . . . yep, that rock that insists all of the other rocks are someone else’s fault.
God created a perfect relationship, but Adam and Eve went and messed it all up. Ever since that day, though, God has been giving us opportunities to restore that perfect relationship. Over and over again, throughout scripture, we read the history of God attempting to allow us to be His friend.
Even when the earth got so bad, His only choice was to destroy it, God gave mankind another chance. You think the world is bad now. When Noah walked on the earth, He was the only one who did enough good for God to save, fortunately for his sons, they got to come along too. You’d think watching everyone else die in a flood would have been enough to convince you to be a true friend to the One who saved you, but not even one generation passed before humans messed up again and Noah picked up the rock of drunkenness and overindulging and Noah’s son, Ham, picked up the rock of disrespect.
God started over again with Abraham. Instead of trying to be friends with the whole world, He decided to befriend the children of this one man. But Abraham picked up the rock of trying to rush God’s promise. Instead of waiting for the son God had promised to his wife, Sarah, Abraham slept with his maidservant. Yep, the rock of not trusting God’s timing produced Ishmael, the father of all who, today, call themselves Muslim.
David was called the man after God’s own heart. He wrote more than 100 Psalms of praise and crying out to God. God spoke to Him and told Him secrets about the future. Despite this intimate friendship David had with the Creator of the Universe, David picked up more rocks. David’s rocks were the rocks of lust and adultery, burdens he carried and sins that tormented him and David’s rocks put a block between him and his Friend for the rest of his life.
The history of the Old Testament reveals generation after generation of men and women with whom God tried to be a friend. But like Noah, they overindulged, like Abraham, they wouldn’t wait for God, they thought He moved too slowly, and like David, they gave into their own human desires, sometimes it was adultery, sometimes it was greed and sometimes it was just being Lord of their own life.
And those were just the rocks that the ancients picked up for themselves. That doesn’t include the rocks that folks carried that were given to them by someone else.
Moses carried the rock of separation from his family because his mother knew the only way to save him from Pharaoh was to give him away. Joseph carried the rocks of betrayal and false accusations as he sat in prisons for years for nothing he had done. Elijah carried the rock of abandonment when an evil queen banished him, and he felt all alone.
And all of these rocks, every single hurt the world faced whether self-imposed or placed on them by someone else, each and every one separated them from the person who just wanted to be their friend. You see, that snake had it figured out from the very beginning. He used to live in heaven with God. He was God’s friend, but Isaiah tells us that Satan told God, ‘I will go up to the heavens and will raise my throne above the stars of God. I will go up above the clouds and will make myself like the Most High.” So God threw him out of heaven. Ever since then this snake doesn’t want any of us to become God’s friend. He knows that if he can get humans to quit trusting God, to rely on their own strength instead and convince them that God isn’t everything He says He is, then humans won’t have a relationship with God either. Satan’s plan is to keep everyone on earth from having a friendship with God, and for some reason, just like Adam and Eve, we believe the lies, and we pick up these burdens that separate us from the One who loves us more than we can imagine.
For 4,000 years this went on. God had tried everything you can imagine to show humans His love. He had saved them from a flood, given them a land with bunches of grapes so big it took two men to carry them and kept them safe even while they were being punished. Still, humans chose to carry around the burdens and believe the lie.
But God had a plan to show humans once and for all just how much He wanted to be our friends, He resorted to something you and I can’t even imagine. God desires our friendship so much that He sent His Son . . .
You see that’s what Jesus came for. He came to restore that perfect relationship between His Father and humans. That’s what John 3:16 means. It’s the most familiar verse in the world, but we take it for granted: “God loved the world so much that He gave His One and Only Son, so that whoever believes on Him will have eternal life.”
God knew that the only way to restore us to that relationship He wants to have with us was to offer His Son in exchange for our rocks. Jesus came to take on all of those burdens, and He did that on that Friday that we call “Good.”
Mark 15:1-37 says:
1 Very early in the morning, the chief priests, with the elders, the teachers of the law and the whole Sanhedrin, made their plans. So they bound Jesus, led him away and handed him over to Pilate. . . .
6 Now it was the custom at the festival to release a prisoner whom the people requested. 7 A man called Barabbas was in prison with the insurrectionists who had committed murder in the uprising. 8 The crowd came up and asked Pilate to do for them what he usually did.
9 “Do you want me to release to you the king of the Jews?” asked Pilate, 10 knowing it was out of self-interest that the chief priests had handed Jesus over to him. 11 But the chief priests stirred up the crowd to have Pilate release Barabbas instead.
12 “What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them.
13 “Crucify him!” they shouted.
14 “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
15 Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed him over to be crucified.
16 The soldiers led Jesus away into the palace (that is, the Praetorium) and called together the whole company of soldiers. 17 They put a purple robe on him, then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on him. 18 And they began to call out to him, “Hail, king of the Jews!” 19 Again and again they struck him on the head with a staff and spit on him. Falling on their knees, they paid homage to him. 20 And when they had mocked him, they took off the purple robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him. . . .
22 They brought Jesus to the place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). 23 Then they offered him wine mixed with myrrh, but he did not take it. 24 And they crucified him. Dividing up his clothes, they cast lots to see what each would get.
25 It was nine in the morning when they crucified him. 26 The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.
27 They crucified two rebels with him, one on his right and one on his left. 29 Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” . . .
33 At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34 And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” . . .
37 With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.
That sounds like this Friday was anything BUT good. God loved the world so much He sent His only Son, and the world despised and rejected Him, the world refused to see who Jesus was, the world drove nails into His hands and His feet and hung Him on a cross.
But God had a plan . . . All God ever wanted was a relationship with humans, He simply wants to be my friend and yours, and to make that happen God did the unthinkable, He sent His Son as a substitute, a payment for our rocks.
You see, Satan, that snake, is the one who gives us those rocks, those burdens that separate us from God, and once we take them, we can’t get rid of them without a price. Those burdens, those rocks, are like a bad cell phone contract. We get the phone for free, but the service they promised is horrible and the cost to get out is outrageous. Just like that, we pick up the burdens, our rocks, at no cost, at the time we didn’t realize how heavy they would be, and we had no idea the cost involved in getting rid of them, because each rock cost Jesus His life.
But that’s what makes this Friday so Good! Jesus did it willingly. He wants to be your friend. He longs for a relationship with you so desperately that He went to the cross without a fight. He told God, it’s OK Dad, I’ll be happy to do that for you, and for them.
Those rocks you’ve been carrying around all during lent, the burdens you’ve picked up throughout the years, they’ve been paid for. The blood of Jesus was shed so you don’t have to carry them around anymore. God wants a relationship with you. He loves you more than you can imagine, and that’s what makes today Good.
So tonight, I want you to name those rocks you’ve picked up over the last six weeks. What do these rocks represent? Which burdens in your life are you ready to tell the snake, “This is not mine to carry, Christ has paid the price.”?
There is no rock to small or too big. Christ has paid for all of them. His blood was all that was needed.
Perhaps you came to God years ago and accepted Christ as your Savior. Maybe you’ve confessed your sins to him and given Him your burdens. Maybe you already consider yourself God’s friend. That is where God wants you to be, but you need to know that as long as we live on this earth, that snake will lie to us. Throughout the years, you have probably found yourself picking up rocks from time to time. Tonight is the night to bring those burdens to Christ, to let Him carry them.
Maybe you have accepted Christ, but never felt like you could call God friend. You don’t feel worthy of friendship with the Almighty. I want you to know tonight that is what God desires more than anything else. He sent Jesus to have friendship with you. When you bring your rocks to the foot of the cross tonight, leave those burdens and thank God that He wants to be your friend. Start that relationship with Him.
And finally, you might be sitting here tonight and never made any kind of commitment to Christ. Maybe you pray every now and then, but you’ve never said, “Jesus Christ, I am so sorry for all the rocks I picked up that caused your death on the cross. I’m sorry that you had to die to pay for my mistakes, my sins. I want to give you all of my burdens and accept your blood as payment for my sins. I commit my life to live as your friend.” If you’ve never prayed a prayer something like that, tonight is the night. Jesus Christ is waiting to become your best friend. He promised to never leave us, never turn His back on us.
Tonight one by one, I invite you to bring those rocks. Carry them down here and put them at the foot of the cross. As you do, remember the price has been paid. Jesus has taken every rock, every sin, every burden upon Himself so that you can be called God’s friend.