3/13/2016 Sermon: As Bad As It Gets

Matthew 27:45-50

A few years ago Stephen King wrote a novel called Under the Dome.  Based on the author, you can already guess that it’s a bit of a scary story.  More specifically, it’s about a small town in Maine that is suddenly trapped in a clear, impenetrable dome.  It doesn’t take long for resources become scarce and dangerous personalities to run wild.  As King tells his tale of increasing mayhem and decreasing humanity, he repeats one line over and over:

This is not as bad as it gets.

Under_the_Dome_FinalWhen the people of Chester’s Mill discover the dome – and their imprisonment – King warns:  This is not as bad as it gets.

When the police chief dies and law turns to disorder:  This is not as bad as it gets.

When a teenager with an undetected brain tumor starts going crazy… and turning to murder:  This is not as bad as it gets.

On and on it goes, society devolving underneath this mysterious dome.  Reading the book there were many times when I hoped we were somewhere close to the turning point, the moment when the heroes would take control and bring back order to the little town.  But before I could get my hopes too high, there that line would come again:

This is not as bad as it gets.

This Lent we’ve been studying the last 24 Hours of Jesus’ earthly life.  I read this Passion story each year during the course of one week – Holy Week, the seven days preceding Easter.  Reading it over the course of six weeks feels like going through the events in painful slow motion.  If you open to Mark chapter 14, I’ll show you what I mean.

In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus agonizes in prayer (see Mark 14:32-42).  He begs God, “remove this cup from me,” but gives in to God’s will.  Meanwhile, his disciples can’t even stay awake to support him in prayer.

This is not as bad as it gets.

Judas arrives with an angry crowd (Mark 14:43-52).  The disciples rise to arms but Jesus calls them off.  They scatter.  Jesus is taken.

This is not as bad as it gets.

Jesus stands trial before the Jewish high council (Mark 14:53-65).  They question him and he remains strangely silent, only speaking to incriminate himself with the inflammatory answer, “I AM.”  Meanwhile, Peter has been brave enough to follow him to the courtyard but not brave enough to admit he knows Jesus – “the Rock” denies his master three times.

This is not as bad as it gets.

They take him off to see Pilate, the Roman governor (Mark 15:1-15).  Pilate asks Jesus to defend himself but Jesus says little.  Pilate offers to free Jesus but the crowd chooses a murdering insurrectionist instead.  Then they cry for Jesus’ crucifixion.

This is not as bad as it gets.   

The soldiers have him now (Mark 15:16-20).  They dress him in mock royal attire:  a purple cloak, a crown made of thorns.  They salute him like he’s king, but they don’t treat him like a king.  They beat him and spit on him.

This is not as bad as it gets.

They recruit a bystander to carry Jesus’ cross to Golgotha (Mark 15:21-32).  There, they hang him alongside robbers.  People passing by taunt him, ask him to save himself, dare him to come on down from his cross.

This is not as bad as it gets.

Darkness falls in the middle of the afternoon (Mark 15:33-37).  Jesus cries out quoting Psalm 22:  “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  The crowd’s interest is piqued – is he calling for Elijah?  But no; Jesus takes his last breath and dies.

This – this – is as bad as it gets.

This is the lowest point in Jesus’ story.  Almost all stories have a low point like this, but most of the time the hero is still alive.  In Under the Dome, even as people are killed and hoard supplies and generally go crazy, the main characters survive, which gives us hope that they will somehow make it out and create a happy ending.

But in this story, the main character dies.

This is as bad as it gets.  The Son of God hanging on a cross.

That’s what we remember on the Friday before Easter.  So it’s odd, isn’t it, that this is what we celebrate as “Good Friday.”

Good Friday?  What’s good about it?  Jesus Christ is dead on a cross!  Not just dead – humiliated, abandoned, betrayed, tortured, and then, dead.  THIS IS AS BAD AS IT GETS.  Where is the good in this?

But there is good.  And it begins in the events that led up to the event, because Jesus walked straight into this “good” Friday.

  • He went to Jerusalem with a plan (Mark 11:1-11).
  • He knew Judas would sell him out, but he didn’t stop him (Mark 14:17-21).
  • When the crowd came to take him away, Jesus didn’t let his disciples fight back (Mark 14:43-50).
  • When the Jewish high council questioned him, he gave them reason to turn him over to the Romans (Mark 14:62).
  • When he stood before Pilate he did not give him a reason to set him free (Mark 15:1-5).

In fact, all along Jesus predicted that this is what was going to happen to him (Mark 8:31-33, 9:30-32, 10:32-34).  “Good” Friday is not some unfortunate series of events that puts Jesus at the wrong place at the wrong time – no, Jesus intentionally went here.

Then, hanging on the cross, this “as bad as it gets” moment had purpose.  It was not a tragic, meaningless death.

  • It was the John 3:16 moment when God gave his only begotten Son to save the world.
  • It was the Romans 5:8 moment when Christ died for us while we were still sinners.
  • It was the John 10:11 moment when the good shepherd laid his life down for his sheep.

This is as bad as it gets, but it’s also the moment when all those most memorable Bible verses were fully realized.

But that’s not all.

What really makes this Good Friday “good” is that we know how the story ends, and we know that this is not the end.  We know what’s to come.  We look back at this from an Easter perspective.  We see Christ occupying that cross but we know he will vacate the tomb.  We see Christ beaten down and bloody but we know he will soon be raised up and restored.  We know that this is as bad as it gets – the very worst that it will ever get – but we know that Easter Sunday is as good as it gets.

This is the miracle that our God can work:  that suffering can have purpose, that defeat can become victory, that “as bad as it gets” can become “as good as it gets.”

So we remember this worst day in Jesus’ life.  We remember when it got as bad as it could possibly get.  But, as people of faith we stand and declare this bad day to be…


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