The Cross: A Revelation of Humanities Wickedness
Text: Philippians 3:17-21
Rev. Garry E. McCaffery
As we read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Christ, and as we let our minds eye paint the scene of those events, we cannot help but be stunned. To think that people could inflict such pain and be so cruel to another can boggle our minds. And if you have ever seen the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”, you have been brought face to face with the brutality and wickedness of the suffering Jesus endured. That movie presents to us an image of how torn up and bloody the flesh of Jesus was from enduring the Roman whip. If you saw that movie, or if you choose to watch it, you will be brought face to face with the cruelty of what crucifixion is. Through “The Passion of the Christ” we gain a better understanding of what Jesus suffered on our behalf so that our sins could be forgiven.
As we read the Gospel accounts of the crucifixion of Christ, we see how wicked humanity can be and is. We don’t just see the wickedness of one race or one group of people. We see the wickedness of all of us, yes, I’m counting you and me. All of humanity is responsible for Christ on the cross because, as we read in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We are all in need of redemption, forgiveness, and grace.
There is a remarkable unity to the human race. Regardless of our nationality, our skin color, or our gender, there is a common denominator to the human personality. All human beings love and all human beings hate. We all weep, and we all rejoice. We prefer the line of least resistance. We are inherently self-centered. We are more apt to do the expedient thing rather than the excellent thing. We easily fall prey to mob-mentality. We go with the flow even when the flow is going in the wrong direction.
It was these very same forces embodied in the institutions of society 2000 years ago that made the cross of Christ inevitable. They are deep-seated defects in the structure of human society. Since all of us are more or less dominated by these societal forces, we are, all of us, guilty of the same crimes that crucified Christ. All of humanity stands indicted of the wickedness and evil that put Christ on the cross.
There is a timeless truth in Paul’s statement here in his letter to the Philippians. Verses 18-19, “For many walk, of whom I have told you often, and now tell you even weeping, that they are the enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things.”
If we look at the wickedness and evil that crucified Christ, we will quickly see how these same forces still run rampant in the world and in us. Let’s look at some of these things.
The first is fear. Fear was an important element in the hatred and persecution that led up to the crucifixion of Christ. In fact, we find fear inspiring the persecution of Christ as early as his infancy. King Herod murdered countless innocent children from two years old and under in an attempt to wipe out Jesus. Why? He feared this newborn king of the Jews would usurp his throne. Herod would have no rivals to his power.
When Jesus began his public ministry, he attracted so much attention that the religious leaders feared for their leadership. The Pharisees, who were considered the last word in piety, were quite ticked off when they learned that Jesus had said, “Unless your righteousness exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, you can not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
Jesus often condemned the holier-than-thou attitude that was so characteristic of the Pharisees. The prevailing excessive legalism that the Pharisees prized and preached was also criticized by Jesus. Needless to say, this did not win him popularity points with them. Fearing their authority was being undermined, and fearing their prestige in the community might be lost, they were quick to focus their efforts on getting Jesus out of the way.
Another influential group among the Jews of the day were the Sadducees. This party was in control of the high priesthood and the temple. To their ears came the news that Jesus was proclaiming the possibility of direct access to God without the mediation of the priests. More than that, they heard he was teaching about the reality of the resurrection, a reality that the Sadducees denied. Furthermore, this Jesus disrupted the temple traffic when he drove out the money changers. Jesus messed with their source of income even though it was wrong. And we all know it's not wise to mess with sources of income even when they’re wrong.
To these Sadducees this Jesus was dangerous. As they were mindful of their vested interests and fearing his growing influence they wasted no time in plotting a way to get rid of him. Fear drove the Pharisees and Sadducees to work together to get rid of Jesus.
Pilate, the Roman governor, was also driven by fear to become party to the crucifixion. When the Jewish leaders said that he would not be Caesar’s friend if he permitted Jesus to live, he caved in. He would rather sacrifice Jesus than his position of power.
If we are honest with ourselves, and if we really take to heart what Jesus said as it is recorded in scripture, then we will admit that we are still afraid that Jesus’ teachings are too impractical, and too difficult, to live by. After all, their acceptance might overthrow some treasured tradition or endanger some vested interest that we have. If we accept the teachings of Jesus, then we might lose public favor, or we might be laughed at, or even persecuted for dedicating and committing our lives fully to him. Will fear cause us to crucify Christ by keeping him out of our life?
The second human element that crucified Christ was greed. Greed lay behind much of the fear that led to Christ being nailed to the cross. You see, Jesus stressed that human values, genuine care for people, was higher than material values.
On one occasion Jesus caused evil sprits to pass out of a man and into a herd of pigs. The pigs then rushed down a hill into the sea where they drowned. When the news became known, the community told Jesus to get out of their neighborhood.
In terms of Judas Iscariot, many explanations have been offered to explain his conduct. The chief cause was probably greed. Not greed for the 30 pieces of silver, so much as greed for some further reward from the priests to whom he betrayed Jesus. But, should we condemn Judas as the greatest sinner in history? Doesn’t the greed of a majority of people today place them, perhaps us, in the same category as Judas? Perhaps we won’t sell our souls or ideals as cheaply as Judas did, but the greed for gold instead of God, for silver instead of salvation, is no less apparent. We must guard ourselves from letting greed for things push aside, or crucify Christ, from our lives.
A third area of wickedness that continues today is that of unfaithfulness. At the height of his public ministry Jesus had a great following, but little by little their commitment cooled, and they deserted him. The record is brief and pathetic. It is recorded in John 6:66, “From that time many of his disciples went back and walked with him no more.”
What was the reason for their unfaithfulness? Perhaps it was natural to their character. They just couldn’t stay committed to anything. Perhaps they were unwilling to make the sacrifices required as a part of faithful discipleship. Perhaps they were unprepared to meet the ridicule and persecution they would face. Whatever the reason, the fact remains they proved unfaithful.
Even today, the fact that people are unfaithful is self-evident. Look at the increase in unchristian cults. Take note of the youth who drop out of church shortly after confirmation. Consider the number of people who just quit coming because the worship hour falls at “an inconvenient time”, or interest is just “lost.” Certainly we need to apply to ourselves the word which the risen Christ spoke to Thomas, recorded in John 20:27, “Do not be unbelieving, but believing.”
A fourth element of human wickedness that led to the crucifixion was that of sensation seeking. As human beings we love to seek the sensational. This is why “EXTREME” things are so popular. Many people in Galilee and Judea were disappointed in Christ. They wanted Christ to entertain them with great miracles and wondrous signs. Although he did perform many wonderful miracles, it was not with the mindset of satisfying those who came looking to be amazed. On several occasions Jesus rebuked the people for their unbelief. He would say, “unless you see signs and wonders, you will not believe.” They wanted miraculous works, not mighty words.
When Jesus was brought to Herod for trial, Herod was not interested in the merits of the case against Him. He merely hoped to get some diversion. He wanted to have Jesus walk across his swimming pool. Herod didn’t care whether or not Jesus was innocent.
Even when Jesus was hanging on the cross, there were many who wanted to see a great miracle. They were completely oblivious to the spiritual significance of what was taking place, they simply wondered if Jesus would be able to perform the miracle of coming down from the cross.
And the world still loves the sensational. Sensational shows and thrilling sporting events attract masses of people. It is even demanded that the church include sensational elements into its services in order to draw the crowds. Perhaps we’re as guilty of sensation seeking as Herod, and those who surrounded the cross, jeering and mocking Jesus to come down to prove He was the Son of God.
Wickedness, evil, sin, can never change its essence even though it may change its expression. The fear, greed, unbelief, and sensation seeking that is so abundant in our life is identical in principle with the combination of forces that crucified Christ. Yes, when we look at the background of Calvary and compare it with our society and ourselves, it becomes apparent that, we too, bear responsibility for Christ’s sacrifice. We all, because of our attitude of sin and selfishness, put Christ on the cross.
It is not comfortable to hear and think about these things. It is not comfortable to bear responsibility or acknowledge that we are sinners and that it was our sin that nailed Christ to the cross. Yet, its true. Sin is costly and it is destructive. Our sin separates us from God, and we owe a debt we cannot pay. Thanks be to God for Jesus! Jesus carried our sin to the cross and paid the debt of sin for us. Yes, our wickedness brought him to the cross, but he went and died to set us free, and He did it for one reason. He loves you and he loves me. Through his death on the cross we are freed from the consequences of sin. We are forgiven for our sin and given new life.
Through Christ and His work on the cross we have hope! We have salvation! And there is only one thing we have to do to receive it. Do you know what that is? Believe in Jesus and his sacrifice on the cross and receive new life! Then, honor the Lord by completely leaving the old life behind, living each day in a new way that reflects the change Jesus has made in our life. Glory to God! Amen.