Violence & The Cross: Good Friday

Before Easter I was scouring the bookshelves of the Salvation Army story at a local shopping centre.  As I browsed, I heard some shouting outside the store. A wild looking young man was shouting at a young woman. I decided to investigate. The couple was at close quarters and I assumed the man was grabbing the woman. As I got near to the couple, to my amazement, she had hold of him. She had a grip on his jacket that would crack a brazil nut. He swore and threatened her. I urged the woman, the shop manager, to let him go. Whatever the issue, it was not worth getting hurt by this crazed fellow and eventually she released him. He skulked off, full of wild threats, limited and often repeated vocabulary.  He was soon arrested.

Talking later with the young woman it transpired that the man had been stealing clothes from the store, and stashing them into a bag. He saw her watching him and ignored her. He continued stealing and she refused to let him get away with it.

How many businesses would like to have employee loyalty like that?

She said she had been foolish, but could not bear to see the shop robbed. It turned out he had a bag full of goods he had stolen from other shops in the mall as well. 

Our Aunty May, who is eighty odd, was shopping the other day and an aggressive young woman came up to her on the street and demanded money. Aunty May is so tiny she makes Nathan Van Berlo look like a ruckman.  It is a violent world we live in.

Our cars are locked right now, and probably at least one of them will have an alarm go off before we have finished. You locked your homes before you left today, or did you? You may have set an alarm system.

Some of you would be aware of the vicious little world of mobile phones. A sixteen year old girl loosely linked to our church received a death threat from another girl the other day. The internet is used to attack people through false Facebook comments and photos. This is to say nothing of the violence we see in places like Zimbabwe, which still only receives ‘tut-tut’ rebukes from the organization of African Unity.

In Iraq and Afghanistan the invading forces made a major mistake of assuming that all the population will work together peacefully to begin new eras, not blow each other up.

Then think of the 27 million people who are enslaved in countries like Brazil, where they live powerless in poverty and tyranny.  And of course, daily numbers are added to the 30,000 people killed each year in the US through handguns.

Sometimes violence is more sophisticated; verbal bullying, the abuse of processes, influence and authority. Or even more simply, a letter or an email demeaning someone.

All that is to remind us, that this is a violent world in numerous, diverse ways. Violence takes many forms: physical, spiritual, emotional, procedural and more and it is an increasingly violent world as the Christian veneer is stripped away and unredeemed human nature is evidenced. The Sunday School-Free Generation is making itself known. C.S. Lewis wrote that you can’t expect back what was never given in the first place.  What they were never given as children, you cannot expect as adults.

This is my first and longest point; it is a violent world on many fronts.

My second point is that Scripture teaches that there is a long history to violence.

Adam and Eve had been given everything they could want for a long and beautiful life, but in an act of spiritual violence they turned on the Lord. They ejected him from their lives. They decided that each of them, with the devil, could do a better job than with their Creator. They ejected him from their hearts and so death came and intimacy with the Lord died. The original sin, the blot of the original copy that was printed out on every subsequent copy, continued on through the human family. Cain and Abel came to blows because Cain could not accept that the Lord delighted more in Abel’s gifts and attitude than his.

All through the Old Testament this continues; from the treatment of the Jews in Egypt, to Moses killing his Egyptian aggressor, through the violent book of Judges which demonstrates faithless community, all the way down to the national captivity of the Jews. Moab, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece then Rome.  Then to the time Jesus Christ walked on earth.

His world was at least as violent as ours. Do you remember in Luke 14 when some people came to tell him that Pilate had killed some Jews who were making sacrifices. He had them knifed.

His cousin John the Baptist was decapitated after a girl had danced a lustful dance before King Herod. Herod’s father had also slaughtered little ones in Bethlehem.

Rome crushed Jerusalem and nearby regions in 70 AD, until it was itself destroyed by barbarians in 410 AD.

Third, what it is important for us to see is that almost every form of violence noted this morning, was enacted on our Lord, on Good Friday and before.

Good Friday shows that there was One, who had every form of violence thrown at him, but in the end he exposed it and conquered it. Not much had changed in human nature since Jesus walked the earth. Take away the iPhones, iPads and broadband, and we find human nature and behaviour are pretty similar.

The enlightened, scientific, rational ethos that pervades our culture, hypnotizes us into believing that with every biomedical breakthrough and fresh psychological insight, we are progressing as a species. That’s a lie.

Mark Galli says, ‘Violence lies beneath the surface ready to spring out at the slightest provocation, from a mistake on the road to a slow checkout experience.’ On Good Friday and the lead up to it, we see virtually every form of violence we have touched on. Our Lord experiences physical violence, scuffles, false arrests, people hitting him, whipping him or crowning him with barbs.

There was the violence of injustice. A corrupt court approving charges as false as a Fincorp Prospectus. There were priests, who should have known better. A governor entrusted with legendary Roman justice, who jettisoned it all in an act of weak appeasement.

But above all, there was spiritual violence.

On the cross the Lord was being ejected by people from His world. No more violent act has ever taken place than happened to Jesus Christ, and the spiritual violence was the worst.  We have acted this way towards the Lord too saying, ‘Jesus, get out of our lives, stop messing in our world, leave me to my unbelief and compromises.’ We re-crucify him daily when we say and do the same things in the present.

‘Leave me along, I’ll do what I want, with my life, my money, my sexual practice, my politics my time, my values. Leave me alone.’

And another nail goes through his hand.

Isn’t there a song, ‘Even today, we crucify still and drive in the nails………’

Violence both physical and spiritual put him on the cross – from Judas, Peter, Caiaphas and Annas. Religious leaders who betrayed their calling, and political leaders who conspired to get rid of him. From the man who struck Jesus, to the people who blindfolded him and called out, ‘Who hit you?’ The soldiers who did the nailing, and stole his love-woven garment, and the thief who abused and mocked him.

Fourth, let us consider how we can respond to violence in our world, and potentially in ourselves in light of the Cross.

How do we respond to it? One way is seen in the dramatic rise in the number of people doing martial arts. Are martial arts the way to go?  Break an arm in Jesus name or let people own handguns to protect themselves. A bumper sticker says, ‘Fight crime, shoot back.’ But even if we could do all that, would much change? Perpetrators would not be changed if they survived and perhaps plotted revenge. Weapons are often turned against the user.

Another way is to get more police; bolster numbers, train more detectives to replace those poached by the Federal Police. More patrol cars and stations. But they can only do so much. Jails can hold so many people, and there, inexperienced criminals become better at crime.

The answer to violence lies in defeating it, not by out muscling. By overcoming it.

All the violence of human history gathered around our Lord and pressed him onto the cross. Violence did its worst, but God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit check-mated it.

The Father showed that violence never has the last word in His world.

Resurrection followed the violence of the Cross. Death died. Violence was violated. The Cross of Jesus showed humanity at its worst, but God at His best. Violence may have had short term victory but the Father decrees that resurrection healing follows.

Fifth, this means we need to make the Cross of Jesus central to our lives and witness.

We modern Christians are not as strongly cross-centred as we could be. People then as now did not want anything to do with the Cross. Paul said Jews demanded miracles as proofs of God’s sovereignty, not a Cross. 

The Greeks wanted to by-pass Cross talk and get back to Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. Both groups despised the Cross and many early Christians were similar. Are we like that too? We want an acceptable Jesus and so do some PR work on him.

We point to Jesus’ compassion, his kindness, his miracles, his healing; all true and valid. But the centre of his whole ministry; in His coming and His life is the Cross. Are we ashamed of that? A dead Saviour, until raised.  Do we minimize the Cross or maximise it, in our faith and testimony? Where God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself? Are you like the Jews and Greeks, trying to avoid witnessing to the Cross?

The sooner we can get to the Cross in our witnessing to others, the better. It gets to the heart of humanity’s violence and God’s solution. Power from that crucified Saviour helps break the power of violence in converted people.

Do you need help to overcome any violent tendencies in your life, perhaps verbal, perhaps emotional, perhaps in rejecting the Lord? The Cross of Christ has dealt with it. You can be a new person.

Maybe you are someone in a position of authority and you are tempted to misuse your power on occasion against others under you. Let Christ destroy any longing for revenge. Do you need more of that Christ power in your life? Do you have tendencies to misuse speech, attitude, authority, skills and responsibility? Jesus delivers us from unbelief and unholy aggression. 

The other day in the gym, I was listening to the Christian radio station and an ad for Compassion came on. It is a strong ad which talked about how children are in such tough circumstances that they find it hard to believe that Jesus loves them. A woman walked in, heard it all, looked at me with incredulity and asked, ‘Do you want to listen to that? in a contemptuous voice. 

I said, ‘Yes, it sounds good to me.’

The offence of Jesus drove her from the gym and she didn’t come back. A fortress had been built to keep Jesus out. It was under attack, so she got out of its way. We do live in a violent, rejecting world. It will become more so as the Christian influence disappears. But the Cross is the power and wisdom of God. And resurrection is God’s answer to violence as it defeats it.  Bring your need to the foot of the cross.

By George Robert Iles