Editor’s note: Just like in past Easter seasons, CTA is offering seven FREE sermon outlines this year. Use these resources in church services, Bible study, mid-week classes, or anywhere else you’d like to help prepare your worshipers for Resurrection Day. This year, the theme is A Love That Never Dies, based on Jeremiah 31:3. You’ll find the fifth sermon below and be sure to download the entire packet of sermons in CTA’s Resource & Idea Center.
It’s ironic: The biggest dog in town is named “Tiny.”
It’s ironic: The psychic’s presentation, scheduled for this afternoon, is canceled due to unforeseen circumstances.
It’s ironic: The building destroyed by this morning’s fire in our town was . . . the fire station!
Irony involves a contrast between appearance and reality, between what we expect and what actually occurs.
It’s ironic: The name Judas means, not shame or treachery, but “praise.”
Writers like to use irony because it adds intrigue. Readers must focus to catch the full, underlying meaning. What’s more, real life is riddled with ironic circumstances. Thus, irony brings a writer’s work closer to the everyday lives of readers.
In the past few weeks, we have been exploring various aspects of our Lord’s suffering and death under the theme “A Love That Never Dies.” It’s ironic: To demonstrate a love that will never die, our Savior did indeed die; he died a gory, terrible death!
Let’s take a few minutes right now to explore a few additional ironies in the events from that first Good Friday, looking for the underlying meanings and their implications. These ironies do not appear by chance in the pages of the Bible. The Holy Spirit inspired the holy writers to include them for our learning and encouragement.
First of all, we note that the Romans customarily nailed each criminal’s charges to his cross. The offense was there for all to read. After all, the point of crucifixion was, in the eyes of Rome, mostly deterrence. The crosses that dotted the landscape across the Roman Empire told would-be criminals in no uncertain terms: “This could be you! Don’t risk it!”
The “charge” above Jesus’ head read—in Latin, Greek, and Hebrew: “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Latin was the language of Rome’s government. Greek was the universal language of commerce; it was spoken by almost everyone in the empire who bought or sold anything and by others as well. Hebrew was, of course, the language of the Jews.
It’s ironic: the “charge” against Jesus was true! Jesus was and always had been truly the King of the Jews. What’s more, he was King of the Romans, King of the Gentiles, King of every army, King of every government, King of every economy. No matter what language they spoke, no matter how they earned their livings, no matter how powerful or powerless any individual was, Jesus was King over them all. Yet, in a love that never dies, this King Over All hung, dying for those who had rebelled against his rule, against the rule of his Father.
Jesus is our King, too. Though we often rebel, though we often get our financial priorities mixed up, though we misuse our power or ignore the powerless when we could certainly help them, Jesus’ love for us never dies. It never ends. It receives us, forgives us, and sends us out again day by day to serve those around us in the world he so loves.
A second irony involves the two criminals who hung on crosses of their own, one on each side of Jesus. One of these men spent the last hours of his life mocking and reviling the Lord. The other criminal started his day in that same way. After a while, though, he came to his senses and defended Jesus:
One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39–43 ESV)
Perhaps the condemned man’s words were not so much ironic, but instead, a huge understatement: “This man has done nothing wrong!” Jesus Christ, and he alone, had been born without sin. Unlike any other human being, Jesus—truly human—was truly holy.
Both criminals who died that day deserved to die, but Jesus did not. He was without sin, and because of it, he could pay for the sins of the world. Truly God, eternally God, Jesus was born in Bethlehem as a true human being. Therefore, his suffering and death did what the death of no one else in all history could have done. Jesus had done nothing wrong, yet he hung on the cross, bearing the punishment for your wrongs and mine.
Both criminals had heard the first words Jesus spoke from the cross. It was a prayer for his enemies and for those who had nailed him there:
Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do. (Luke 23:34 ESV)
It’s ironic: Jesus’ enemies thought they knew exactly what they were doing—getting rid of a troublemaker, a blasphemer. The Roman soldiers also thought they knew exactly what they were doing—carrying out the orders of Governor Pilate, securing the Empire against rebellion and insurrection.
Only Jesus knew what he was truly doing: earning eternal salvation for all who would come to him in repentance and faith. His words of kindness, of forgiveness, communicated that mission so poignantly that the second criminal began to think something like this: “If Jesus could forgive the people most directly responsible for nailing him to the cross, maybe, just maybe, he could also forgive me. Maybe, just maybe, he could be a friend to a dismal failure of a dismal man like me.” In hope, he turned to the Holy Son of God to ask:
Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. (Luke 23:42 ESV)
What did he mean by that? For what was he hoping? That Jesus would give him a kind word of sympathy? Perhaps. Did he dare to hope that Jesus would forgive him of his sin? Surely, that’s just what Jesus did! Surely, that’s why Jesus died, died in a love that would not die:
Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise. (Luke 23:43 ESV)
The third and final irony we will consider comes in the taunts and jeers of the passersby:
“If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.”
So also the chief priests, with the scribes and elders, mocked him, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself.”
(Matthew 27:40–42 ESV)
Those first words, “if you are the Son of God,” should sound familiar. Satan hurled a similar temptation at Jesus at the very beginning of our Lord’s earthly ministry:
If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread. (Matthew 4:3 ESV)
If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down [from the highest point of the temple]. (Matthew 4:6 ESV)
It’s ironic: The people who claimed to be God’s people, even the priests, the scribes, and Israel’s elders were mouthing Satan’s temptations!
It’s ironic: These people mock Jesus by urging him, “Save yourself!” Our Lord needed no saving; those posing as spiritual leaders were the ones who needed saving—and we ourselves share in that need.
It’s ironic: Jesus could have walked away from the cruelty of the cross. He made that clear to his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane when they tried to defend him. “Put your sword back into its place,” he had commanded. “Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?” (Matthew 26:53 ESV).
Jesus rejected the disciples’ feeble attempts at rescue, knowing his mission on this earth as its Savior would not be completed until he had shouted those three powerful words from the cross: “It is finished!” (John 19:30 ESV). Then and only then, in his death, would our Lord have paid the full price of sin’s curse. Only when he had risen from the tomb in victory would the plan of salvation be fully complete.
It’s ironic: To save us, Jesus could not save himself. In a love that could not die, Jesus did die. His love held him to the cross and kept him there. Love for you. Love for me. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
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