Near The Cross
Imagine we were present in Jerusalem on the day Jesus was crucified. I wonder if we would have stood at the foot of the cross?
We sing the great old hymn – “Jesus, keep me near the cross…there a precious fountain”, but how near the cross would we have been if we were there to witness Calvary?
In today’s text there were some people who stood near the cross.
1) Four Roman soldiers – they were there out of duty.
2) Four women and the apostle John – they were there because they loved Jesus:
a) Mary, the mother of Jesus
b) Salome (His mother’s sister)
c) Mary Magdalene
d) Mary of Cleophas
e) John, the disciple
So, the soldiers were there out of duty, and had no heart for Jesus. Many today go to church out of duty and call themselves good people and Christians and have no real heart for it all. Out of duty they wear the cross, hanging around their neck without true heart for the Son of God hanging on that cross.
Today's message is about these who were there out of love.
Most of His followers forsook Him and fled, and if they watched the crucifixion it was from a distance. We know that many went into hiding.
Would you have hidden, unable to see what was going on? Would you have watched from far away, gazing straight at that hill on the horizon? Or would your proximity to the cross have forced you to look up, because you were with Him all the way...so close that drops of blood spattered upon you?
If we were there at the foot of the cross, we would have heard things no one else did. Hammer on nails. The Centurion's whip. A dense thud as the cross was dropped into a deep hole. Intense, anguished moaning and screams of unfathomable pain. Mocking and taunting. Cursing and reviling. We would hear 7 statements from the Christ so profound we could ponder each for a lifetime. We would have heard one of the thieves express his belief in Jesus, and like him, we would have heard the Lord's affirmation that he was about to wake up in paradise!
We talk and sing about Kneeling at the Cross, At Calvary, Beneath the Cross, Lead Me to Calvary, When I Survey, and how There's Room at the Cross, and that There is a Fountain, and there's Pow'r in the Blood ... but what does it truly mean? In reality, I am not talking about a literal physical presence at the cross, though that's powerful to ponder!
I am referring to a spiritual position of proximity. I am talking about a special relationship to Jesus Christ. Let's consider these five people who stood near the cross, when Jesus was crucified, and try to understand what it meant to them to be near the cross.
1) Mary Magdalene - A Place of Redemption.
Luke [8:2] tells us that Mary Magdalene was a woman out of whom Jesus had cast seven demons. She had been in bondage to Satan for a long time. Those demons made her do horrific things. The devil was at work in her life to destroy her, wreak havoc, and wreck her physically, emotionally and spiritually. Mary was in a hopeless and helpless situation.
Then Jesus came along and cast out the demons. He delivered Mary from her bondage and set her free. Mary Magdalene was miraculously saved from her fearful dilemma. She was redeemed and bought back from bondage. She was delivered through a powerful encounter with Jesus.
When we talk about the deliverance that Jesus provided for Mary Magdalene I think of what Jesus said in Acts 26:18...
To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.
When a person trusts in Christ for deliverance from the bondage of sin, these same marvelous changes take place in their life. They go from darkness to light (mentally, morally, spiritually). They go from the power of Satan to the power of God (God takes control). They go from being guilty to experiencing forgiveness. They go from being spiritually impoverished to becoming spiritually wealthy (heirs of the Kingdom).
This is what Jesus did for Mary Magdalene. He redeemed her and bought her out of her miserable condition.
But, redemption is a costly thing. When Jesus delivered Mary Magdalene it cost Him something. Standing there at the cross she saw the price being paid. Jesus had to die that she might be spiritually redeemed and bought back from sin's bondage.
Yes, redemption is a costly thing:
(a) For me to move out of darkness into light, Jesus had to move from the light of heaven into this darkened world.
(b) For me to be delivered from the power of Satan to the power of God, Jesus Christ had to be forsaken by God, and put under the devil's power.
(c) For me to be delivered from guilt to forgiveness, Jesus had to be made sin for us, as if He were truly guilty and in need of forgiveness.
(d) For Jesus to make me rich with blessings, He had to become the poorest of the poor.
Yes, redemption is a costly thing. [free but certainly not cheap!]
It is no wonder Mary Magdalene was standing there near the cross. It is no wonder that she was there at His burial. It is no wonder that Mary Magdalene was there at His resurrection. She had experienced redemption and she stood near the cross because it was the place of redemption!
2) Salome - A Place of Rebuke. [see Mark 15:40]
Who was Salome? She is the sister of Mary, the wife of Zebedee and the mother of James and John (Matt. 20:20-23). As the mother of James and John she was the one who once asked Jesus a very selfish request, “Can my two sons have places of honour in glory?” She wanted one of them to sit at the right hand of Jesus’ throne and the other to sit on the left. She wanted the best for her two sons. But what she asked of Jesus was very selfish and ill-advised. [expecting preferential treatment?]
Jesus responded by saying that she didn’t know what she was asking. “Can they drink the cup that I'm going to drink?” (referring to his death).
Did her two sons deserve thrones? Thrones are not given away, you have to earn them. Salome had forgotten the true cost of reward. She did not realize that suffering comes before reward. There is no crown without a cross. There is no feasting at the Lord's table without the drinking of His cup of suffering. Even Jesus Himself did not return to the throne of heaven except by way of the cross.
The apple didn't fall far from the tree - the sons of thunder were ambitious like mama.
She did not realize the price that her two sons would have to pay. Remember James was martyred and John was exiled before they went home to glory. Salome must have been greatly rebuked while standing at the cross, realizing what it cost Jesus, the Son of God, to make heaven possible. Jesus gave up His glory above and became a servant for us by giving his life for us below.
As we contemplate the cross, I wonder if we stand rebuked because of our selfish desires. Jesus says to us, “Are you willing to drink this cup?” We say, “Oh no, Lord, we just want blessings and answers to our prayers!” Jesus continues, “Are you willing to suffer for me?” We respond, “Oh no, Lord, I just want things to work out for me, not the suffering!”
Salome says to each one of us this morning, “The cross is a place of rebuke”. When we think about what Jesus gave up for us, and what He endured and suffered in our place, the foot of the cross becomes a place of correction from our own selfish desires and ambitions. Remember, He purchased us, our life is not our own ... we are His. He is the Lord and Master and we are the servants!
3) Mary, the Mother of Jesus - A Place of Reward.
Mary was Jesus’ earthly mother and He did not ignore her while He was on the cross. The Lord rewarded her by sharing His beloved disciple with her, “Woman, here is your son.” And this disciple will not be martyred or taken from you.
[His exile and suffering would have been after her death]
Why did Jesus reward His mother? We have just concluded that rewards come at a high cost. What was the cost for Mary? What suffering did she endure?
Luke 2:35 reveals a prophecy concerning Mary,
(Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,)
How did she suffer?
Yes, a sword shall pierce your side, Mary!
She felt the climax of Simeon’s prophecy at the cross, when her son died, and she suffered because of 1) The way He died (on a cross, numbered with the transgressors) and 2) Where He died (openly, publicly, shamefully). And Mary stood there feeling the pain of the sword go through her soul.
Countless times over the years she had held the hands that now were held in place with nails. She had bathed and caressed the skin that now hangs in ribbons. She would remove every splinter He got in the carpenter's shop, and now large thorns have been driven into His skull. She would do her best to clean her boy's teeth, which now have been knocked out by the cruel blows of sadistic men. She was, for years, privileged to gaze into the eyes of the Son of God for hours on end, and now she couldn't even identify Him as her son if she had to.
But Jesus saw her and had compassion on her and assured her of His love for her. What was He doing? He was establishing a new relationship with His mother.
“I am going back to heaven. Because of this you and I must have a whole new relationship. I am your God and your Savior, just like all others who believe on Me. You are special to me, but no more special than anyone else I am dying for now. But in order to give you peace in this world, and in order to heal up your broken heart where the wound has pierced so deeply, I’m giving you John as your new son.”
Jesus felt her sorrow, He knew her loneliness, and He rewarded her by giving to her the disciple who loved the Lord so dearly. Jesus didn’t have any possessions to give to anybody. The soldiers had gambled for His clothes. What could He give Mary? He gave John to Mary. And from that very hour John took her into his own house (v.27).
It may not have seemed like it at the time, but for Mary, to stand near the cross was to stand at a place of reward. Ultimately, God rewards those who suffer or have suffered for His sake. Jesus knows our trials and our needs. The Scriptures teach us that, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with Him.” Jesus was ultimately rewarded, but it came by way of the cross.
4) Mary of Cleophas - A Place of Relationship.
Yes, a third Mary! And she's family. It's not clear who she was. But she is the 'other Mary' also present at the empty tomb three days later. [Mark 16:1] We know she is the mother of 'James the Less', who was younger than the prominent James, son of Zebedee. So yes, two of the Marys each had a James as their son! Some believe she is a cousin or sister-in-law of Jesus' mother. One secular historian records that Cleophas was Joseph's brother. On the road to Emmaus the resurrected Jesus appeared to Cleophas and one other, which was likely this Mary. They didn't recognize Him until He vanished out of their sight!
Whoever she was, all the possibilities say she was a relative. Even if not, she still was spiritually a part of the family of God. And so are we. The bride of Christ! Are we a faithful bride? Do we serve our love? Would we be there, standing by His side, near the cross?
5) John, the Disciple - A Place of Responsibility.
For John, to be at the cross was to stand at a place of responsibility.
John stood at the cross restored. He, along with the other disciples, had forsaken Jesus and fled for his life at the garden of Gethsemane. But, John came back to the cross. He was restored and forgiven there.
Christians may stray and deny our Lord, but we can still come back to the cross. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done. The cross is the place to go for forgiveness, deliverance and restoration.
For John to be near the cross was probably not the safest or easiest place to stand. It would have taken courage and great love for John to come back to the cross. Remember what John wrote years later in...
1 John 1:9
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.
Jesus not only restored John but He gave him some responsibility.
“John, I will no longer be on earth to watch over my mother, so you are going to take my place. You are going to take care of my mother, and you are going to be a son to her.”
For John, the cross was a place of responsibility.
All believers today are taking His place here on earth. John 20:21 tells us that, “As my Father hath sent me, even so, send I you.” You and I represent Jesus to others. To acknowledge the cross is to acknowledge our place of responsibility. If you and I have come to the cross, we have a huge responsibility to carry the cross ... to love the Lord Jesus (because He has first loved us), to love others (just like John loved Jesus’ mother), and to love others the same way Jesus loves us. The cross is indeed a place of responsibility.
“Near the Cross” – that is where the Lord wants us to be. If you've never been born again, then you might as well be one of the soldiers hammering the nails. It was our sins that fastened Him there! But one of those soldiers believed on the Son of God. That could be you today!
The five others tell an amazing story as well:
1) A place of redemption – if you have never trusted the Lord Jesus, the cross is the place to start. Like Mary Magdalene, you can be set free from anything, and join God's team.
2) A place of rebuke – all of our pride and selfishness just fades away as we stand at the cross and see the Lord Jesus suffering for us. Like Salome, we can be reminded of what it's truly all about.
3) A place of reward – Jesus knows our struggles and will reward our faithfulness. God cares for us as much as He did His own mother.
4) A place of relationship – we're part of the family too ... by adoption, and by blood - the blood of Christ. Let's be a faithful bride.
5) A place of responsibility – when we come to the cross through faith, we cannot hide ourselves, but we must go and do the work He has called us to do. We are now His mouth and hands and feet on earth!
[idea and partial outline from great sermon by Martin Scarse]
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