"Christ's Forgiveness: He Chose the Nails"

March 9, 2008 Psalm 32 / Col.2:9-15

(adapted from 'He Did This Just for You' Church Outreach Kit by Max Lucado, excerpts from He Chose the Nails)

On a Hill Far Away and Long Ago

Imagine you could be transported in time back to days long past. Imagine deciding to return to the final hours of Jesus on earth. You witness the drama of the Last Supper. You hear His magnificent parting message called the Upper Room Discourse. You gaze at the agony of Gethsemane and then the chaotic events of Jesus' arrest. You are there when a disgruntled mob angrily calls for His death. You hear Pilate's 'kangaroo court' sentence Christ to die on a Roman cross. Shortly after, you recoil at the brutal humiliation suffered by Jesus as he is beaten, whipped, mocked and spat upon.

Then, outside the city of Jerusalem, you follow this entourage of death to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. Like vultures, a crowd of onlookers stands and gawks at the battered 'King of the Jews.' You flinch as Christ is shoved to the ground. You hide your face as a brawny soldier prepares to nail the Galilean's exhausted body to a rough beam of timber. Jesus turns his face to see the nail just as the soldier lifts a hammer to strike it. For both - the carpenter and the soldier - this is the last opportunity to reverse the events.

Thoughts flash across your mind. Why doesn't Jesus stop this miscarriage of justice? After all, isn't He the one who calmed the raging sea and raised the dead? Only hours before in Gethsemane, you watched Jesus send a whole group of soldiers sprawling backwards to the ground with just a simple reply (Jn 18:6). You yourself heard Him speak of the legions of angels who could and would come to his aid if asked (Mt 26:53).

But Jesus doesn't ask. And he doesn't speak. And he doesn't resist. The hammer falls, the nail pierces the flesh, and the blood begins to flow. WHY? Why did Jesus allow this moment? Why didn't God intervene? Because He loves us? Yes; but that's only part of the reason. Jesus surrendered to this moment because of some things he saw, beyond the merely visible. And we can see those same things through faith.

The Hand was the Hand of God

In the movie The Passion of the Christ, an interesting bit of trivia is that when Jesus' hand is about to be nailed to the cross, it's director Mel Gibson's forearm that's seen holding the nail. A websource says Gibson "feels his telling of the Passion holds all humanity responsible for the death of Jesus. And, he has said, 'I'm first in line for culpability. I did it.'" [http://urbanlegends.about.com/cs/celebrities/a/gibson_cameo.htm]

But there's a more significant Director's hand involved, other than the one holding the prop. The hand on the cross was the hand of God. The same fingers that formed Adam out of clay. The same hand that toppled Babel and split the Red Sea. The psalmist declares, 'You drove out the nations with Your hand...It was Your right hand, Your arm, and the light of Your countenance" (Psalm 44:2f NKJV).

"When the LORD stretches out His hand, both he who helps will fall, and he who is helped will fall down" (Isaiah 31:3 NKJV).

The hands of Jesus were the hands of God. When Jesus touched, God touched. And when the hands of Jesus stretched themselves on the cross, those were the hands of heaven stretching themselves.

Jesus also saw that...

The Nail was the Nail of God

People have supposed the purpose of the hammer pounding at the crucifixion was to affix the hand of Christ to a cross. But that's only half the story; they don't see the other half. But Jesus did. And, through faith, we can too because of Colossians 2:14: "He cancelled the record that contained the charges against us. He took it and destroyed it by nailing it to Christ's cross" (NLT).

We routinely receive in the mail, lists of our debts - phone bills, credit card statements, tax notices. These institutions keep a careful record of every debt we incur. When Jesus was asked what was the greatest commandment, how did He respond? What are the two most important things to obey in all Scripture? "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbour as yourself." (Mt 22:37,39) If these are the two most essential things to do in life, by implication then, every time we fail to love God and our neighbour as we should, we incur a spiritual debt. We owe a big one. God has a detailed record of every mistake, every sin, and every evil and selfish choice we ever make. What if we received THAT bill in the mail this week?!

But the good news is that we won't. Here at Calvary we find out what happened to that list. It's not that heaven does not know of your sin, it's just that heaven knows what to do with your sin.

Between the hand of Jesus and the cross is a list - a detailed, itemized accounting of all our mistakes: our lusts, cruel words, selfish actions, our filthy thoughts, our deceptions. A list of our sins. You might even say Jesus Himself in His flesh BECAME the list: "God made Him who had no sin to BE SIN for us..." (2Cor 5:21)

Can you envision that scene? That long list rolling down Calvary's hill. You may be able to see it, but heaven chooses not to. Jesus' hand covers the sins, and Jesus' blood rushes down over them.

This is like the Passover. In Exodus 12(23) Moses explained, "When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down." The people were safe with the blood over their doorways, being protected from judgment.

Jesus saw the list, so in order for our sin-debt to be destroyed, He refused to close His fist and reject the nail. He could have resisted, but He didn't. He knew the price of those sins was death. He knew we were the source of those sins. And when forced to choose between living without us and dying for us, He chose the nails.

Had the soldier hesitated, we could suppose Jesus Himself would have taken the hammer and driven in the nails. He was a carpenter, so He knew how to hammer. He knew what it meant to strike a nail. He was also a Saviour. He knew what it meant to die for men and women. In pictures we see a soldier hammering, but really it was heaven driving the action. The crowd was mistaken too. More than merely a hand stapled to the tree, it was our sins. As the hands of Jesus opened for the nail, the doors of heaven opened for sinners.

Because of this we can make the astounding claim, "I am forgiven." We can say it with absolute certainty. Paul wrote to Timothy, "This is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance...that we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe." (1Ti 4:9f) John wrote to the early church, "the blood of Jesus, [God's] Son, purifies us from all sin...He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world." (1Jo 2:2) A third apostle, Peter, wrote, "He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree...by His wounds you have been healed." (1Pe 2:24) The New Testament writers were absolutely agreed that Jesus died to clear up our sin mess. We may be burdened about things, but when we're believing in Jesus and washed by His blood, sin should never be one of them.

In this short video, Max Lucado uses the analogy of listing construction errors in a house as a parallel to our own shortcomings. He describes how Jesus on the cross is taking away our sin-list so we can be re-constructed in God's righteousness...[video: I Forgive You]

A Strange Gift / Doing Time

Recently someone treated us with a special gift: a box of light and dark chocolate truffles. How tasty they were - melt in your mouth, slide down the throat. But with the earth's springtime orbit come warmer sun's rays. We made the mistake of leaving the metal box near a window; the tasty truffles became sweet dark puddles. Although we've relocated the box, they'll never be quite the same as they were before!

Today God wants a strange gift from you - the gift of your mess-ups Have you let Jesus forgive all your sins? Or is there something in your past that you have tried to hide from God? The gift God wants from you today is the gift of your mistakes. Have you accepted Christ's forgiveness completely? You can trust Him to deal with your worst errors and faults.

Near the city of Sao Jose dos Campos, Brazil, is a remarkable facility. Twenty years ago the Brazilian government turned a prison over to two Christians. The institution was renamed Humaita, and the plan was to run it on Christian principles. With the exception of two full- time staff, all the work is done by inmates. Families outside the prison adopt an inmate to work with during and after his term.

Chuck Colson visited the prison and made this report: "When I visited Humaita I found the inmates smiling - particularly the murderer who held the keys, opened the gates, and let me in. Wherever I walked I saw men at peace. I saw clean living areas, people working industriously. The walls were decorated with Biblical sayings from Psalms and Proverbs...My guide escorted me to the notorious prison cell once used for torture. Today, he told me, that block houses only a single inmate. As we reached the end of a long concrete corridor and he put the key in the lock he paused and asked, Are you sure you want to go in?' 'Of course,' I replied impatiently; "I've been in isolation cells all over the world.' Slowly he swung open the massive door, and I saw the prisoner in that punishment cell: a crucifix, beautifully carved by the Humaita inmates--the prisoner Jesus, hanging on a cross. My guide said softly: 'He's doing time for the rest of us.'"

Christ has taken your place. There is no need for you to remain in the cell. Praise God, the lock has been sprung, in Christ you are forgiven and released! Let's pray.