This morning around the country people are gathering at Cenotaphs and other War Memorials, in, and outside, churches. They are gathering at the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month to remember those who died and especially this year, 2018, to remember those who died in the First World War. For at 11 o'clock, exactly 100 years ago, in November 1918, the First World War's Armistice came into effect. The guns were then eerily silenced and the fighting ended. But there is something also particularly relevant to us this morning. For on so many of the War Memorials (as here) are inscribed those words - "Greater Love Hath No Man Than This". The words come from John's Gospel chapter 15 and verse 13. And that verse continues (in the King James Version), "[Greater Love Hath No Man than this], that a man lay down his life for his friends."
Now, in John 15 Jesus is speaking generally, and not exclusively about his own laying down of his life. So it is perfectly legitimate to use that text on War Memorials. But, of course, when those words were inscribed, people would have known that Jesus Christ was the supreme example of that self-sacrifice and laying down of your life for your friends. To have a verse of Scripture to honour those who died in the First World War reminds us that it was fought with people, in this country, still believing the Bible was important. For it was still believed to teach the truth about God, human beings, and the world. So a man joining up in the First World War was given three things: not only a helmet and a rifle but also a Bible. Interestingly, the Bible Society documents some of the testimonies of men whose lives were saved by their Bibles. For they had put it in their left breast pocket over their hearts. Bullets then lodged in, without getting through, the pages of these Bibles, which many would have regularly read.
However, that supreme self-sacrifice to which the War Memorials point, Christ's own sacrifice, quite appropriately is our subject this morning in our series in Luke's Gospel. For in this series we've reached the passage where, as our title has it, Jesus Foretells His Death, Luke 18 and verses 31-34.
And my headings this morning are, first, The Motive Behind Jesus' Sacrifice; second, The Need for Jesus' Sacrifice; and, third, The Challenge From Jesus' Sacrifice.
1. The Motive Behind Jesus' Sacrifice.
Look at verses 31:
"And taking the twelve [disciples], he [Jesus] said to them, 'See, we are going up to Jerusalem, and everything that is written about the Son of Man by the prophets will be accomplished.'"
Jesus has told his disciples twice before about his impending death in Jerusalem. But this time he is getting more specific. He is wanting his twelve disciples to understand that what is going to happen to him (using his favourite title, "The Son of Man") is what has been predicted by the Old Testament prophets in some detail. So it was clear to Jesus (God, the Son) that God, the Father, had a plan and a purpose. And that was confirmed by the Old Testament prophets, and Jesus wanted to fit in with that plan and that purpose. But what are the lessons for today from Jesus obedience and in the context of this Remembrance Sunday? Let me give one that is obvious but too many ignore.
It is this - that Jesus took the Old Testament seriously. And we all need to follow his example, for many don't. One of the first heresies of the early Church was that of Marcion. Marcion totally rejected the Old Testament and cut out much of the New Testament. He left 10 letters of the Apostle Paul (but not his Pastoral Epistles) and an expurgated edition of Luke. He said the God of the Old Testament couldn't be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the Old Testament God was a cruel God of law. Therefore, another gentler God of love must be Jesus' Father. Well, the early church said Marcion was absolutely wrong and he was excommunicated. For it is obvious that Jesus himself is committed to the Old Testament as seen in our passage this morning.
Yes, the Old Testament has to be understood in the light of the New Testament and so in the light of Jesus' teaching. But he is the one to whom the Old Testament points, as he is teaching here. Yes, we are living since the first coming of Jesus Christ in the age of Grace. And his kingdom does not come by force – in that Marcion was right. Jesus said this (when later on trial before Pilate):
"My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from this world" (John 18.36).
But there is another side to the work of Christ, now risen and reigning as King of kings and Lord of lords. And this is recognized in our Coronation Service, when the monarch receives the Orb. At that point the Archbishop of Canterbury says:
"Receive this orb set under the cross and remember that the whole world is subject to the power and empire of Christ our Redeemer."
For after his resurrection Jesus told us:
"all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me" (Matthew 29.18).
That is a staggering claim to Lordship not only in this universe of space and time but in any other existence. And, that authority of Christ (now risen and reigning), hard as it may seem, is somehow behind the appointment of the leaders of this world's nations. So Paul can say (Romans 13.1):
"let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God [and, we now know, from God the Son] and those that exist have been instituted by God."
And Paul was writing when the cruel Nero was Emperor of Rome. Of course, when a State governor orders you to do what God forbids or forbids what God orders, as the Apostles taught: "we must obey God rather than men" (Acts 5.29). However, in the interests of justice, the State, but not the Church, may (and often has to), use force. And relevant for today is the following fact. When Christ's authority has been recognized by nations, there has been adopted the Christian theory of the just war. This theory goes back to Augustine, a 4th bishop of Hippo in North Africa. And this is not to justify war. Rather it is to ensure that warfare is restrained by the moral standards that should apply to other acts of Government. So, for example, force is only to be applied to combatants and with the intention of depriving them of their ability to wage war. And there must be proportion. That is where no more force is to be used than necessary. And there are other principles, like a just cause, likely success, and legitimate authority.
So – and back to Marcion - none of this means there are two God's – an Old Testament one and a New Testament one. Rather it is simply that, on the one hand there is Christ's willingness to be obedient to his Father's plan requiring peaceful submission and going to Jerusalem to die a cruel death for our sakes. And, on the other hand, there is Christ's work now as King of Kings and Lord of Lords – the Lords of this world who have sometimes to exercise judgment and compulsion through force. And so, like Jesus, and not like Marcion, you must take the Old Testament seriously. For God's grace, love and mercy, which the New Testament majors on, is only meaningful against the background of God's holiness, law and justice that the Old Testament teaches.
2. The Need for Jesus' Sacrifice
Look now at verses 32 and 33:
"For he will be delivered over to the Gentiles and will be mocked and shamefully treated and spat upon. And after flogging him, they will kill him, and on the third day he will rise."
This is an amazing prediction by Jesus of what would happen to him. Jesus, by his use of the term Gentiles, is predicting Roman involvement and death by crucifixion. That famous chapter 53 of Isaiah (some of which we heard as our Old Testament lesson), written centuries before Christ's Crucifixion, is also an amazing prediction. For so much came true – that suffering servant (the Messiah) was to be oppressed, struck and slaughtered. Then there was that reference to his actual end – his "grave" being "with the wicked and with a rich man in his death." And Jesus, as most know, was crucified along with two "wicked" men deserving death; and, yes, he was buried in "a rich man's [Joseph of Arimathea's]" rock tomb. However, more significant is the reason why all this shocking treatment was needed.
Let me remind you of what we heard from Isaiah 53:
"But he [the suffering servant] was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities" (verse 5);
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way" (verse 6);
"he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people" (verse 8).
The need for Jesus' sacrifice is because of the sinfulness of men and women. For they are sinful and selfish by nature as a result of a primeval fall from Godliness. So ultimately wars are not caused by political or economic events but by people and their sinful characters. James 4.1 asks the question:
"What causes quarrels [or 'wars' – the more literal translation] and what causes fights among you? Is it not this that your passions are at war within you?"
Certainly you can argue that the first World War was connected with a specific form of human sinfulness. Of course, there was sin on all sides - on the Allied and the Central (the German) powers' sides. But, in the light of what we have been thinking, one thing may well have been significant.
For Germany in the 19th century was the European leader in what was known then as "modernist" theology. Today we call it "radical" or "liberal" theology. This is where, among other things, academic theologians virtually deconstruct the Bible and not least the Old Testament and the miraculous parts of the New Testament. If you like, they are modern "Marcions". This then causes people to doubt the Bible and for many to lose their faith. And they then can lose their Christian ethics and the restraints that "just war" tradition provides (as we certainly saw in the Second World War with Hitler and Stalin).
However, towards the end of the 19th century there was a Swiss theologian in the making, who studied theology under a number of these liberal German theologians just before the First World War. Before he died in 1962 he wrote about why he started a famous fight-back against this liberal theology. He says it was when he saw many of these famous German theologians publicly backing the Kaiser's war policies. He wrote:
"Disillusioned by their conduct, I perceived that I should not be able any longer to accept their ethics and dogmatics, their biblical exegesis, their interpretation of history; that at least for me the theology of the nineteenth century had no future."
The liberal theology of these theologians helped shape German culture and its leadership that took the nation to war. True, that liberal German theology came over here and had serious influence on British theology and church leaders. But, thank God for a number of British faithful scholars and preachers who meant Britain probably didn't sink so low. All that reminds us that the spiritual side of a nation is so fundamental. For a state or a nation is like a three-legged stool. You need a good political order and you need a good economic order. But you need a good spiritual order to provide the checks and balances on the politics and the economics. And through the gospel of Jesus Christ you start changing a sinful character and so sinful conduct (the state, of course, can only work the other way round with much less effect).
So the clear message of the Old Testament is that as a nation drifts away from God and his ways, it suffers and is judged. But as it returns to God, it is blessed. The Old Testament book of Proverbs (14.34) says:
"Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people."
That is why Isaiah chapter 53 is good news. For it not only outlines the problem, as we've seen. It also points to the solution:
"surely he [the suffering servant, the Messiah] has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows" (verse 4);
"he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (verse 5); and (verse 6) …
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and [showing the amazing goodness and mercy of God] the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
So Jesus needed to go to suffer in Jerusalem such a horrific death, because of God's justice requiring punishment for sinners, but because of his love wanting their acquittal. Romans 5.8 says:
"God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
For we have all gone astray by turning to our own way and not God's. That is the essence of sin. For some it is knife crime and murder. For others it is more civilized – greed and envy. For some it is sins of omission not commission – the good they have failed to do rather than the evil they have committed. But the guilt of all and every sin has been laid on Christ. As verse 6 says:
"the Lord has laid on him [the suffering servant – the Messiah – the coming one] the iniquity of us all."
As the old hymn puts:
"in my place condemned he stood,
sealed my pardon with his blood,
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!"
But Christ's death not only saves you from the guilt of sin. His Resurrection means that you begin to have the Holy Spirit's strength to fight the power of sin.
3. The Challenge From Jesus' Sacrifice
For we have not mentioned, in one sense, the greatest good news of all from Jesus' prediction. It is contained in the seven last words of verse 33:
"on the third day he will rise."
So not only can you be free from the guilt of sin and so from hell and for heaven. You also can be strengthened by the Holy Spirit to fight the devil and all his works and temptations and start to live more as God intended.
However, our final verse 34 says:
"But they [the twelve disciples] understood none of these things. This saying was hidden from them, and they did not grasp what was said."
The disciples probably could not understand Jesus' prediction because their minds were so fixed ideas of a victorious human Messiah. Jesus death on a shameful "Cross" was, to them, literally unthinkable. So his rising from the dead was out of the question. But once it all happened they remembered Jesus' prediction. And they discovered that his Resurrection was the greatest miracle in all history – with Jesus defeating sin and death and his body transformed into a new order of existence.
So - what, then, is the challenge for today from Jesus' sacrifice that results in a glorious resurrection?
Well, first, who this morning is like the disciples, and you don't understand, really, any of this – the need for Jesus death and the reality of his resurrection? If there are any such, can I encourage you to seek to understand. For a promise of Jesus himself is this:
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find" (Luke 11.9).
So do take a copy of Why Jesus? from the racks around the Church, and ask about our Christianity or Life Explored groups.
Secondly, if you do understand, but have never thanked Christ for his sacrifice personally, why not thank him this morning? Thank him for dying for you, so that, forgiven, you can start to live for God's glory, and others' and your own good? And then go public; and if you've never been baptized talk to one of us on the staff about baptism.
Thirdly, if you really believe that Jesus Christ has forgiven you and is risen and reigning, are you obeying him – practically, with your money and your time? Last week we read in Luke of Jesus warning a rich ruler who put money before God's kingdom. Do you need that warning? And on this Remembrance Sunday, and with this I conclude, let's remember that Paul not only warned Timothy, famously saying:
"the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil" (1 Timothy 6.10).
Immediately after that Paul told Timothy to have time to "fight the good fight of faith", which goes along with, he said, "righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness [and] gentleness" (1 Timothy 6.11-12).
So I conclude with this question on this Remembrance Sunday: are you fighting the good fight of faith as and when you can? Amen.