This Easter at Nairobi Chapel Karen we held a special interactive service, based around 5 stations of the cross, or events taking place before, during and after the crucifixion. Here is what I shared, along with a few pictures of the stations:
- Pre-crucifixion – Peter’s Denial
As we reflect on the path that took Jesus to the cross, I hope that as much as possible we seek to participate in what Jesus went through. This has been a long standing tradition in the church for over a thousand years, and there are different ways to do it but basically it is about remembering what happened, mourning the pain and agony that Jesus went through but also celebrating the victory He won for us. It is about our participation in the events that led to our salvation being won.
I’m not totally sure, but I believe that for many of us living in Kenya we haven’t gone through significant pressure to deny Christ. Maybe you were in campus or at a party or somewhere we have felt that being a Christian was holding us back, less trendy, but I believe that few of us have been actually threatened because of our faith or persecuted to deny Christ or face consequences. Of course we know it has happened around us, even in Kenya – people on a bus being asked if they are a Christian, people being shot as the sit inside a church service, but I know that I personally have never been in that situation, and you may not have either. Many of us have never experienced what believers in India, Iraq, Syria, Sudan, Malaysia, Indonesia and many other places go through every day.
It is easy to look at Peter’s denial with a very dismissive attitude, and think wow he failed so quickly, or how could he deny Christ more than once? But I think it can be difficult for us to truly place ourselves in his situation, and to think how severely he could have been treated if he had publicly taken on a role as Christ’s disciple. He could also have been arrested, beaten, and it is hard to know what kind of punishment he could have faced at that time.
I have wondered before what I would say if a gun is placed to my head and I know that if I say I am a Christian, that I will die. It is not an easy question. I hope and believe that I would stand strong in that situation, that I would not deny Christ, but I know that it is only with Christ’s strength that I can do so. On my own, my desire to save my life is too strong. I believe that all of us have the capacity to fall away like Peter did, but that we can take courage that Peter was restored by Jesus, and went on to take a significant leadership role in the early church. After this experience of falling and restoration, I believe that Peter had a completely different understanding of grace, mercy and love – to see and feel exactly how much God had forgiven him. He would never take that for granted again.
- Pre-crucifixion – Pilate’s Trial
The second situation we experienced today was the trial of Christ under Pontius Pilate. Pilate was the representative of Roman power in that area, the governor. The Jews didn’t have the legal power to execute anyone, so if they wanted the death penalty they had to do it through the Romans.
Jesus was completely innocent, and did not deserve death. One of the most amazing things I find about the trial and sentence of Jesus is that despite this being such a miscarriage of justice, God was able through an act of evil, an act of betrayal, an act of injustice, to accomplish an amazing and wonderful good – the good of our salvation, of salvation for all those who accept Christ as live with Him as their savior and Lord.
Two things come to my mind when I think of Pilate and the experience Jesus had during the trial – one is how I respond when I am treated unjustly. Jesus didn’t call down the legions of angels he could have, but allowed himself to be killed. I’m not saying that we should allow injustice to happen, either to ourselves or to others, but Jesus did not respond when he was accused, and at times we should also respond as he did – which is almost never my response when I am accused of anything.
The second thing that comes to my mind is do I participate in injustice? When I have read the stories of the trial, I have often felt sympathetic to Pilate, and he tried to set Jesus free, he didn’t want to crucify him. But ultimately he didn’t stand firm in his conviction of Jesus’ innocence, he gave in to the pressure of the crowds and the Jewish leaders. Sometimes we also end up participating in injustice, not because we are setting out to hurt people or do the wrong thing, but simply because we don’t have the courage to remain strong when the pressure comes. Pilate didn’t push through with what he wanted to do, and he will forever be remembered in history as the one who sentenced Jesus to be crucified.
- The Cross – Crucifixion
It is very difficult for us to truly appreciate the cross in a fresh way, since for most of us we have seen crosses around us our entire life, and it has become such a widely used symbol that even rappers, musicians, movie stars and other non-Christian celebrities will wear a cross, even if they have no idea what it means, or if the music they make and the life they live is a complete repudiation of the cross. Familiarity can be the greatest enemy of wonder. But the cross is an instrument of death, plain and simple. That is all it is. It was a way to torture and kill criminals – just like a noose, or a firing squad, or an electric chair, or a fatal injection. The cross was not an ornament, or a decoration, or a nice symbol to hang up in your house or your church. It was something that people feared and hated and avoided at all costs.
Jesus calls us to each carry our cross, and that serving Him requires that we all take up a cross. Not all of us will die for being Christians, but we all have a cross to carry. All of us must crucify our old self, our sinful nature, the evil designs that try to take over our lives, and we must kill them, destroy them, annihilate them from ourselves completely. We must practice radical amputation of everything that remains of our sinful desires. We must also replace these with the new things of God – seeking His will, doing righteousness, doing justice, and helping others.
- Torn curtain
From the time of tabernacle, God’s dwelling in Israel was represented by a physical place, first the tabernacle, and then the temple, built by Solomon and then later rebuilt after the exile. Within the tabernacle and the temple, was a special area, designated as the Holy of Holies. This was a place that no one could enter, on pain of death, except for the High Priest once a year, on the Day of Atonement. Even when the high priest went inside, they used to tie a rope to his foot, so that if anything happened, and God struck him dead, they could remove the body without putting themselves at risk. The curtain marked the entrance of the holy of holies, and was a very significant barrier that no ordinary person could ever hope to enter.
During the time of the law, ordinary people could not approach God directly. You had to reach God through the priests, who would offer sacrifices and offerings on your behalf, to forgive your sins, and to keep your clean. When Jesus died, He completely changed how we relate to God. For once and for all, as Hebrews tells us, He took care of our sin through His sacrifice and His death. We no longer need to offer lambs and goats to cover our sin, because all of our sin has been covered! All of it. We are free! Our victory has been won.
It is only a few verses in the gospels, but the tearing of the curtain is among the most significant events of the entire New Testament. The curtain tore from the top to the bottom, signifying that God initiated it, that He Himself personally removed the barrier, opening up access to the Holy of Holies – not only to priests, not only to Levites, not only to Jews, but to all people. No longer was God restricted to the Holy of Holies, but God now resides within us, since we are described as the temple of the Holy Spirit. For those living before Jesus, that very idea was crazy – you being the temple? It would be considered blasphemy to even think such a thing, but God opened up the access to Himself, and as Hebrews tells us, we all have access to the throne room. All of us can access the throne of God himself when we pray.
Heb 4:16 Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. NIV
- Empty tomb
Finally, we experienced the open tomb, which represented the resurrected Christ. After Jesus died on the cross, Joseph of Arimathea took him to a new tomb, one that had never been used. A tomb is a place of death, and it is a place that ordinarily, you cannot ever escape from or depart. Once you enter a tomb, throughout human history, that is it! Tombs don’t have doors, once you are in the entrance is sealed. People don’t come back.
But when Mary and the other women came to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away, the tomb broken into, and Jesus was not inside. He had overcome death to defeat the devil and the powers of evil once and for all. We now live because of an empty tomb two thousand years ago. When we face death, we can now face it with hope that God has given us eternal life, and that death no longer has any hold over us. The open tomb is what sets Christianity apart from every other religion. That is what baptism is all about, that we die with cross, are lowered into the water, and then rise up again in new life. As Paul says in Galatians, I have been crucified with Christ, and the life I now life I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me. My hope and my prayer is that you have also been crucified with Christ and that you now live through the power of His son.
As we close, I’d like to invite anyone who desires to experience God’s resurrection power in their life to come forward so I can pray with you to receive Christ in Your life.
Let’s pray together.