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The Shadow of the Cross (For Palm Sunday)
We celebrate Today an event that stands alone in the sacred life of Jesus, the solitary occasion on which He was publicly honoured and escorted into Jerusalem amid popular rejoicings the central Figure in a grand procession of triumph. Palm Sunday is a day of triumph, but still there is something sad even in the triumph, and so we take our text from Lamentations.
I. The Shadow of the Cross. The week which opens with a triumph closes with a death and a burial; the brightness of Palm Sunday fades only too soon into the still, solemn quiet of Holy Week and the gloom of Good Friday. On Palm Sunday with the glad shouts of Hosanna ringing in our ears, the sight of the waving palms before our eyes, we are tempted to forget the life of sorrow. But even in His brief days of earthly triumph His Passion has already begun. He can read the future. Is it hard then to understand the 'affliction and misery' even in this very triumph? Think of that scene with the excited, rejoicing crowd, and in the midst the only sad face, His, to whom all this homage was being given. He knows how brief the triumph will be; what a terribly different scene will in a few short days be enacted by the walls of Jerusalem. And so as He rides along a dark shadow lies across the sunlit path before Him the shadow of the cross and Jesus sees it there.
II. The Attitude of the Disciples. Look again. See His disciples full of joy and pleasure. It is a glad day for them. They think that at last He is going to assert His rights and be an earthly conqueror; that He will become King of Jerusalem and redresser of His country's wrongs. They love Him, these chosen ones. Will they ever forsake Him? Yet one of them is a traitor! He will betray his Master with a false kiss. It is that which hurts you more than anything when your best friend turns against you, one whom you have loved and trusted. Others may revile you, misjudge you, but when your bosom friend turns and curses you, that breaks the heart. Here was such an one, and Jesus knew it. And what of the other disciples? In His darkest hour, in His sorest need, they will all forsake Him and flee. When He stands before His murderers He will stand alone. And He knows it. Yet how He loves them, how He yearns over them in prayer! His 'little flock'. Ah, we may well remember His 'affliction and misery '.
III. Our Attitude. Now shall we forsake Him in this Holy Week? Ah, we say, we could never be like Judas, or even like Peter and the others. Think again. When you are among those who serve Him, in the midst of waving palms and glad Hosannas, it is comparatively easy to be true. But when you are among those who jeer at religion, and the fear of God, and doing right, have you never felt ashamed of Him? Have you never denied Him? When He has asked you to share His cross have you ever rebelled against Him? Then let our past offences bind us closer to Him now, that we may learn through this Holy Week the lesson the cross will teach about sin and the way it may be overcome.
The Reason of Hope
We should inquire into this 'therefore'. It ought to be to us like a great gate of entrance into a king's house. If the logic fails here it fails everywhere. We must keep our eye upon the therefores of Divine and human reasoning and providence.
I. It is as if insanity suddenly emerged into sobriety, self-control, and a true spiritual realization of the meaning and purpose of things. The very memory of the gall and the wormwood makes me hope; I have had so much of them that there cannot be any more to have; it has been so terrible that now surely it is going to be summer-time and joy. This man handles life well. He is a true poet; he sees somewhat of the measure of things, and knows that at a certain time the dawn cannot be far off. I tell you I will number the hours and give you a forecast I have been here in this prison of gloom and doubt and desolateness one hour, two hours, three hours, all the winter, all the summer, all the winter again; it must now be not far from morning. We need those great prophetic voices. Sometimes we need the very biggest soul that ever lived, and we seem to need him every whit all his brains, all his heart, all his music. He is not too much for us because our grief is so deep and so sensitive, and the whole outlook is a horizon of blackness, and darkness has no history and no measuring points.
This is where the religious element enters into life with great copiousness, and where it should be received with unutterable welcomes. This is not as if one human being were addressing another; the words certainly come through a human medium, but they bring a Divine meaning with them. Words have an atmosphere. It is the atmosphere that is, as we say, supernatural, Divine, transcendent.
II. The vital point in the text is the word 'therefore'; and it comes upon us suddenly, unexpectedly, it is as a flaming bush at the foot of the mountain, the mountain all grim barrenness.
'Therefore.' I have never seen the stars except in the darkness, therefore the night may have something to show me as well as the day the night of loneliness and desolation and bitter sorrow. There may be a. star on purpose; one star in all the uncounted millions of stellar points was marked out as His star as if the jewels starry were already appropriated and labelled, as if for personal acceptance and enjoyment.
III. Intellect grows, therefore character may grow. The little may become great, the weak may become strong, that which is far off may be brought nigh, and that which is barren may be fruitful. Yesterday's providence should be Today's prophecy, hope, and poem of assurance. And, said one who wrote that bitter chapter against the day of his birth, He hath been with me in six troubles and in seven He will not forsake me. Who can draw a line at six and say the Deity ends here, or here Providence finally stops? No one. I will take the whole six as meaning the culminating seven. God Himself is an odd number; He is One or He is Three: and He will deliver me out of the odd number of my affliction and sorrow. Seven shall not frighten the Trinity.
Joseph Parker, City Temple Pulpit, vol. Iv. p. 88.
Reference. III. 21. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xi. No. 654.
It Is of the Lord's Mercies
No text expresses more perfectly the old Puritan temper and faith than this: 'It is of the Lord's mercies that we are not consumed'. The Christianity it uttered was not completely normal, but there were elements in it for lack of which our modern religion is suffering.
I. To begin with, the old Puritanism was profoundly aware of the tragical element in life, and met it fairly. That element remains with us, and science has brought it nearer. Whose heart has not fluttered at the sight of a telegram? The skies above us are charged with possibilities of tempest and destruction. We hold nothing securely. We walk continually by the edge of a precipice. We go to sleep knowing that next day may bring us news which will darken all the days to come. 'It is of the Lord's mercies' if it does not. These bolts strike us oftenest from an unclouded heaven, and make the very earth reel under our feet. So often is the lesson read that fear looks out even from innocent blue eyes of hope, and a nameless sudden chill falls on the most rapturous hours. How are we to master this? Not by the murder of nobler thought and sweeter instinct, not by the substitution of casual lusts for faithful affection, not through trampled and conquered love, but through victorious faith. There is enough in life to make us sober to moderate moods of triumph, to teach us that there are worse things than death. The Puritans knew this; and they knew also that, strange as it seems, the Christian may realize peacefully that the things which are seen are temporal. Not by loving less, but by loving the creature in the Creator, are we fortified to take the worst that time can do, saying, 'The things which are unseen are eternal'. What came into this sphere of time may vanish from it; what we loved in God abides in God, and we go to find it. Thus after 'the wreckful siege of battering days' there often comes over the worn and furrowed face that blessed light of childhood, with its sure hope of happiness. Thus we may rise to say, 'Whom have I in heaven but Thee, and there is none on earth that I desire beside Thee,' and know the secret of loving God with heart and soul and strength and mind. Thus we may learn not merely to bless God for the stroke averted, but to bless Him in the moment of its falling; to arise at midnight and give thanks because of His righteous judgments.
II. This Puritan motto gives us the true viewpoint from which to apprehend the Cross. That form of Calvinism which sought to destroy humanism, and to treat the Church as a body whose members have no relation with the world, is dead. The doctrine that human nature was demonic, a doctrine which practically denied any lingering trace of the image of God, is no longer held anywhere. But modern teaching has largely swung to the opposite extreme. Men hear so much about God's need of them that they do not think as they should about their need of Him. People sit listlessly while the preacher tells of the Divine craving, but do not understand the terrible love of God:
So great that saints dread more
To be forgiven than sinners do to die,
and they never will understand it till they cannot so much as lift up their eyes unto heaven till they feel that it is of the Lord's mercies they are not consumed. As McLeod Campbell has said, this is a doctrine for all. 'The true protection from any limiting distinctions as to the forgiveness which we receive, and which we are to cherish and to manifest, is seeing ourselves in that light of truth in which we thankfully and with the utmost self-abasement cease from the hopeless task of weighing our own unworthiness by putting sins and ignorance into one scale, the ideal of good in the other, in order to raise our hope of mercy by taking from the demerit of our sin, and bless God that, taking the lowest ground, and as being the chief of sinners, we still find all our utmost need met in the forgiveness which the Gospel reveals.' The beginning and the end of Christianity is the death of pride.
W. Robertson Nicoll Ten Minute Sermons, p. 159.
References. III. 22, 23. J. Vaughan, Sermons (11th Series), p. 13. III. 23. T. G. Selby, The Imperfect Angel, p. 64. A. Tucker, Preacher's Magazine, vol. xix. p. 323. III. 24. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. viii. No. 451. III. 27. W. Brock, Midsummer Morning Sermons, p. 1. J. Thain Davidson, Forewarned Forearmed, p. 19. III. 39. H. Melvill, Penny Pulpit, No. 2216. III. 57. Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxx. No. 1812. IV. 22. Ibid. vol. viii. No. 480. V. 1. A. P. Stanley, Sermons on Special Occasions, p. 310.
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Nicoll, William Robertson, M.A., L.L.D. "Commentary on Lamentations 3". Expositor's Dictionary of Text. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 8 / Ordinary 13