We have come into this quiet church to spend three hours together in memory of the death of Christ. What I wish you to do first of all is to have a vivid picture of that scene in Jerusalem on the first Good Friday. I wish you to feel yourselves as part of that procession which followed Jesus on His way to Calvary. Note how blood-stained He is. Note His weakness, weakness so acute that lie falls down under the weight of the Cross which the soldiers try to make Him carry. Note how Simon of Cyrene is seized upon--an indifferent stranger--and is forced to bear the Cross the rest of the way. Stand among the crowds and watch the soldiers prepare the Cross, while the dear Master stands by till they are ready to lay Him upon it. Then the cruel nailing, the lifting the Cross to an upright position, and letting it drop into the hole dug to receive it, with a jar that must have wrenched every sinew and nerve. There He hangs--crucified.
But I do not ask you to look up at that Cross with its sacred burden as the timid friends of Jesus looked up at it. I do not ask you to share their despair, their helplessness, their bitter tears. It is no execution to which I bid you, though it was an execution. It is not even a death-scene to which I bid you, though it was a scene of agonizing dying. After that first Good Friday, came the first Easter Day. And then quickly came the final vanishing of Jesus, that He might return in superb might through the Holy Spirit to be with all His followers everywhere, at all times. Since that day of gloom and tears the Name of Jesus has brought to the world increasing joy. Out of the Cross came, as from a mountain spring, sparkling water of refreshing and comfort, which flows by us this very day a majestic river, widening, deepening every moment, till every human soul, having touched its healing waters, shall rise up to sing.
I wish you to see in that first Good Friday all that the beautiful Mother saw and all that the dearest friend John the Son of Zebedee saw. And then I ask you to see much more. I wish you to see some of the results of that dying, as even the closest friend on that day could not see them. I ask you to push back the curtains of your imaginations, and surmise, as in a vision, all that the endless years will tell of the sublime and gracious Day.
Doing this, obviously, you will see the physical suffering; and you will sympathize with it. But you will not remain in such a mood. You will not dare to pity the Divine Sufferer. You will not wish that, had you been there, you had been strong enough to drive the soldiers away and to rescue Him. You will not talk of execution. You will not even talk of dying. You will think of life--life crowded with action. You must tingle with a certain proud excitement because One you call your Master is so calm, so heroic. He dies in such a way that the only word you can think of is life. It is not like dying in one's bed. It is like leading an army to victory; the General of the world is in full command of His legions, and far ahead of His most eager soldiers He rides with fury against the hosts of Sin; and always, as He keeps looking back upon His friends, His eyes shine for them with love and courage. No wailing can come from us, but a high shout of victory:
Sound, Sound the trumpet; shrill the fife,
To all the sensual world proclaim,
One crowded hour of glorious life
Is worth a world without a name!
And we may not stop there. We are not watching the supreme victory of an admired hero. He who died in victory on the first Good Friday is to us more than hero. We cannot stand far off as strangers. He is in some way ours.
Let us forget all the figures I have used, and think of one more. Let us say that in all the days in which Jesus had gone in and out among men He had been preparing to assume the Kingship of the world. His followers longed to have Him like Caesar; and He told them frankly that there was to be a Kingdom, and He was to be the King of it. This made them think of a King in a palace, seated beneath a canopy, on a gorgeous throne. Jesus let them know that they were right when they looked forward to His coronation and enthronement. But His throne was as no other throne in history. He walked out through the gates of Jerusalem on Good Friday, and on Calvary He took His throne and His kingly power. His throne was the Cross.
So today let us stand about Christ on His Cross as about a beloved, most reverenced King upon His Throne. "I," He had said, "if I be lifted up will draw all men unto me." At last He had been lifted up. He was firmly established upon the throne of the whole earth. All nations, all generations, were destined to come and bow before it. He was now King indeed.
So these Three Hours together I ask you to stand about the Throne of thrones, and to listen to the words which fall from the lips of the King. They are not greater than the words which He spoke before His strange enthronement. But they are, if possible, more significant. They are the words of final authority. They ring out over the ages to tell us who is this Jesus of Nazareth whom we call Lord of Lords, and King of Kings.
Let us listen reverently to each sentence as it falls from His lips. And let us, as simply and clearly as we can, try to think what each sentence means for Him, for us, for the whole world.
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