THE WAY OF THE CROSS

Sermon delivered on the Palm Sunday the 9th April 2017 by Bishop Nicholas JG Sykes in the congregation of St. Alban's Church of England, George Town, Cayman Islands.

Scriptures: S. Matt 21: 1-11     Isaiah 50: 4 - 9a     Philippians 2: 5 – 11     S. Matt 26:14 – 27.end

Isaiah 50: 6-7: "I hid not my face from shame and spitting. For the Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been confounded; therefore I have set my face like a flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame."

THE SUFFERING SON OF GOD
These profound words became part of Sacred Scripture many years before the Coming of Christ. Scholars differ over how or why or even by whom the words were first said. They are spoken in the Old Testament of the chosen Servant of God who, representing his people, must suffer for their sake. Our Lord saw these words applying to the Royal Son, that was also foretold in the psalms and elsewhere in Scripture. He recognised His own unique call to be that divinely Royal Son who would suffer for the redemption of mankind. He recognised the hitherto unrecognised truth that the Son of God must suffer.

MENTAL BLOCK
Every teacher finds that there are parts of his syllabus which pupils often have difficulty in comprehending. As a former maths teacher I also recognise the difficulty that children who have been instructed by rote in multiplication or division by 10 or 100, have in getting the answer straight away by understanding the place-value of numerals. Jesus' own disciples had what we might term a mental block against part of Jesus' teaching. I wonder, Could this have been partly due to the customary nature of the rabbinical teaching of that time? When Jesus talked about His suffering His words fell on deaf ears. They could accept well enough that He was the specially anointed one, the Messiah: the Messiah, the Christ, who the rabbis anticipated to be the victorious one who would bring peace to Israel and victory over her enemies. That was as far as they could go. But Jesus foreknew His suffering to be the key to the Messiah's role. After the Resurrection the disciples saw how He had tried to teach them this part of the syllabus, but they had been completely deaf to it.

CALLED TO A DANGEROUS ROAD
In contrast to their perplexity and fear on the road to Jerusalem the disciples would have been surprised and pleased when they arrived to find themselves part of a procession met with popular acclamation. Such recognition was what, at least in part of their minds, they had all along wanted. Temporarily, they forgot about the danger to which the public display exposed them all. Jesus had told them that He would be delivered to the chief priests and scribes, in other words, the Jewish religious authorities who held powers of arrest and trial in Jerusalem. When He came riding into Jerusalem on a colt to the acclamation of the crowds he was certainly teaching the people of Jerusalem that He was the Messianic king, because the well-known prophetic words in their Scriptures in Zechariah declared, "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout, O daughter of Jerusalem: behold thy King cometh unto thee: He is just, and having salvation: lowly and riding upon an ass, even upon a colt the foal of an ass." But for Him to act this way and to accept the acclamation of the crowds was to issue a direct challenge to the established order. They could no longer afford to delay His prosecution. How they were to react to the challenge Jesus had known and foretold all along, but it was to this that the disciples had always been deaf, in spite of His teaching. And when the crowds hailed Him with the cry, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is the King who comes in the Name of the Lord! Peace in Heaven and glory in the Highest!", they did not possess a real commitment to the words they were declaring. The crowds saw the expression to be appropriate because Jesus was acting out the prophecy of Zechariah; but in St. Matthew's Gospel the answer they gave to those who asked them "Who is this?" was merely that this was Jesus, the prophet from Nazareth of Galilee. They had not committed themselves to Him as the Christ.

OBEDIENCE UNTO DEATH
But Jesus, unlike anyone else, knew that the time of His royal suffering had come. So the fact that the noisy acclamation of the crowd and His own actions were provoking the reaction from His enemies that He had foretold did not influence Him to turn back from that lonely road he was travelling. He was already travelling to Calvary's cross, in the midst of the crowds. As St. Paul said, "He humbled Himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name which is above every name." For Jesus the calling to be the Messianic King was united with the calling to suffer for us for the sake of our redemption.

BE PREPARED FOR OUR HOUR
After centuries of the practice of the faith in the life of the people of God, the Body of Christ on earth, we are even now not unlike Jesus' disciples or even the crowds in their deafness to part of His teaching. We want to be recognised as the followers of the royal and victorious One; but we do not usually care to be seen as the followers of one that was mocked and scorned. We are often afraid of what those in authority think of us or will do to us if we are too bold in showing our true colours. But the authority-figures of our world today are not necessarily more faithful to the purposes of God than they were in Jesus' day on earth. Jesus has gone before us, sticking to a true course without being swayed by the suffering it entailed. He neither avoided nor resisted the redemptive suffering that was to be undertaken for the amendment of mankind. Likewise the Church in this twenty-first century that is determined upon the way of faithfulness to the word and will of God must not expect to avoid mockery and contumely, even from people we most wished would praise and approve us. If we will be sons of God, part of the divine Royal Family, so to speak, then we must anticipate the call to a measure of redemptive suffering also, because this is the way that God will effect His purpose and the establishment of His Kingdom in our own time. We are called to show out the historic apostolic Church of God to the Cayman Islands and the wider world today, to teach what the Church has always taught and to live in accordance with those teachings. But whenever we do this, it will present a challenge, and there will be times when our own hour will have come too. We must not be caught off balance by the reaction. The way we avoid, resist or take up that cross that God has given us, especially in the critical hour, will either be a hindrance to God or a service to Him in the fulfilment of His purpose. Let us firmly know, especially in the time of crisis, that the way of Jesus' cross is the royally victorious way, the way of victory over, within and for the human heart, and so let us choose to accompany Him and be faithful to Him in our way and in our walk, whatever the personal cost may be.