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4501 Waller Rd E
Tacoma, Washington
INI
Fifth Sunday in Lent
March 13, 2016
Ascension Lutheran Church, Tacoma WA
Paul Naumann, Pastor

THE MOUNT CALLED CALVARY
Luke 23:33

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all, Amen. The brief text upon which we'll base our meditation this morning comes from the 23rd chapter of the Gospel of Luke, verse 33:

"And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left." These are the words.

In Christ Jesus, Who died so that we might never die, Dear Fellow Redeemed,

You got a little shock this morning, didn't you? I mean, when you arrived at church and picked up your copy of the Sunday bulletin. By now, you're used to seeing a little bit of tasteful art work in the upper left-hand corner of page two - right next to where it says "Fifth Sunday in Lent" - but I imagine your eyes may have widened a bit when you saw what was in that space this morning. A SKULL! Well, not just a skull, but a cross with a skull at its base. Maybe you thought the pastor got a little carried away this week: "Whatever gave him the idea of putting a skull in that picture!?"

Well actually, it's not my idea at all. The picture of a cross - with a skull at its base - is centuries old. In fact, it's one of the historic symbols of the Christian church. It's a symbol that stands for a specific place; a place that we're going to explore on the basis of our text for today. For today we arrive at-

THE MOUNT CALLED CALVARY
I. The dreaded Place of the Skull.
II. Either we must die there,
III. Or Jesus must die in our place.

The name "Calvary" is a little misleading. It sounds beautiful, doesn't it? There are many churches that use that for their name - Calvary Lutheran Church, Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, etc. But I'll bet you've never heard of a "Skull Lutheran Church!" And yet, that's what Calvary means. It comes from the Latin calvarus, meaning "of a skull". In Greek, it's kranion; in Hebrew, Golgotha. It's not really a beautiful name. It's a terrible name for a terrible place - Calvary: the dreaded Place of the Skull.

On Good Friday, Calvary was the end of the road for our Savior. He had been through a lot of suffering - whipping, beatings, torture, mockery -- but the worst was yet to come. Jesus was bleeding and exhausted as the soldiers prodded Him forward down the Via Dolorosa. The procession passed through a gate in the north wall of Jerusalem, and as they turned the final corner Jesus looked up and saw the place where He would die. Calvary, the Place of the Skull. It was the place where criminals were executed. Some scholars have speculated it was named "Calvary" because the skulls of past victims may have been scattered around the place; this is unlikely, though, because Jewish law strictly prohibited leaving any human remains unburied. The place probably got its name because the hill, itself, resembled a skull.

Have you ever personally had a feeling of dread? Have you ever experienced that awful sensation of knowing for certain you were about to undergo some terrible pain or suffering? Imagine the dread that must have fallen upon our Savior as that skull-shaped hill came into view! He knew what this place was. He knew that soon he would feel the nails being driven through the flesh of His hands and feet. The cross would be raised, and would settle into its place with a bone-jarring thump. He knew that soon the worst of His pain would begin - pain so great that it would overshadow all the tremendous agony He had so far experienced. As He looked up at the sinister hill, He knew Calvary for what it really was. He knew that this was a place of death.

The skull is probably one of the most universal symbols for death. As children, we were all taught to keep away from the drain opener and cleaning fluids that had the picture of the skull and crossbones on the back. That was a symbol even a child could easily understand - it meant "death." Calvary - the Place of the Skull - is also a sort of symbol for us Christians. It tells us, in the clearest of terms, that there is a price to be paid for sin. And that price is death! God's Word couldn't be clearer about that. Ezekiel said, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." The Apostle Paul confirmed, "The wages of sin is death." And the Apostle James laid out the inevitable progression of sin when he said, "Each one is tempted when he is drawn away by his own desires and enticed. Then, when desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death." (Ja 1:14-15). The justice of God is absolute. Sin must be paid for with death. As we view that skull-shaped hill of Calvary tonight, one thing is certain -- someone must die there. Either us or Jesus!

Who will it be? Us? Without Christ, it certainly would be us who would die! Every human being carries around with him an inner voice, called the conscience. It's the voice of God's Law, and it tells people - even the unbelievers - that sin isn't free. Paul says that even people who have never opened a Bible "…show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them." (Rom 2:15). Sin doesn't just fall into your past and get forgotten. It goes into an account, and that account must eventually be paid in full. Without Christ, you would have to pay that account, with death. Not with your physical death on a physical hill outside Jerusalem, but with something much worse - eternal death in hell!

The alternative is what faced Jesus that day. It was both horrible and wonderful. It was horrible because it meant that the sinless Son of Man would suffer the pain of the cross (and the worse pain of being separated from God), even though He was innocent. It was wonderful because, with His death, Jesus would pay the entire account of the sins of the world. And that includes you and me. Hebrews 2:9 says, "We see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone." It was a very bitter cup that Jesus tasted on Mt. Calvary -- the cup of death. But He drank it to the bottom and, thank God, there's none left for us. We will never have to taste the eternal death that we deserved for our sins!

"Jesus died on the cross as our substitute." -That is the most important teaching of true Christianity. In fact, that's what separates true Christianity from mere religiosity and outward piety. There are many people who are willing to call Jesus a wonderful Man, a great Teacher who showed us that we should love our neighbor, and who gave us an example to live by. Well it's true - He did do those things. But all of that would mean nothing if He hadn't walked those last few steps up the hill of Calvary. At the dreaded Place of the Skull He sacrificed His life in our place, as our substitute. He died so that we might live eternally!

I once read about a Lutheran pastor who sent out a questionnaire to every member of his parish. One of the questions he asked was this: "If you were to die tonight and stand before God, and He asked you 'Why should I let you into heaven?' what would you answer Him?" Ask yourself that question! What would your answer to almighty God be? This pastor was surprised by some of the answers he got. One man wrote, "I've lived a Christian life, loving and caring for my fellowman." Another responded, "I am a good person and love to help others." A woman wrote, "Lord, I've tried my best to do what you have expected of me." All of these answers are WRONG! Why? Because they all contain a common factor that has no place in God's plan for our salvation: the little word, I. Everyone emphasizes what I have done!

Thank the Lord - the message of Calvary is completely different. It has nothing to do with what we have done - we are saved by what Jesus did for us. At the dreaded Place of the Skull, the prophesy of Isaiah came true, "He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all." (Is 53:5-6).

I've often said that it's a good thing Christ did everything necessary for me to go to heaven -- because if even the smallest little task was left for me to do to complete my salvation, I've got a feeling I'd find a way to mess it up somehow. Maybe you feel the same way! But don't worry - your salvation has been completely accomplished. Nothing remains to be done; Jesus did it all on Calvary. That's why we joyfully confess, in the words of Luther's explanation to the Second Article, "Christ has redeemed me, a lost and condemned creature, purchased and won me from all sin, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy precious blood, and His innocent suffering and death -- "

Why did Jesus go to Calvary for me? " -- That I may be His own, and LIVE under Him in His kingdom." And the word live there doesn't mean merely to exist, but to be truly alive. They say that people who have gone through a close brush with death are the most "alive" people in the world. I experienced something like that once when I was deer hunting with a friend in the Glacier Peak Wilderness Area in the northern part of our state. To make a long story short, I nearly fell from a sheer rock cliff over 3,000 feet high. Nearly -- but not quite. And when I was once again safely back at camp at the bottom of the mountain, why, everything was suddenly so clear and sharp and wonderful! Every second, every minute of my life was suddenly precious to me, because I realized just how close I'd come to losing that life.

My Christian friends, Jesus died on Calvary to give us back our life. On Calvary, our Savior snatched us from the terrible jaws of eternal death and hell! Can we possibly be casual about that? Can we now proceed with our lives as though nothing particularly important had happened? NO! Each moment our lives, from now on, must be filled with the clear, sharp joy of knowing that we almost "fell off the cliff," but not quite. Our Lord Jesus saved us. He died, so that we might live - that is, live a fruitful life of service to Him here on earth, and live a life of indescribably joy with Him when we reach heaven. Indeed, that's just what Jesus promised His disciples, when He said, "I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly!" -- Jn 10:10.

May the message of Calvary continue to ring in our hearts. And, in the words of the hymnist, when we stand before the throne of the Almighty on the Day of Judgement…

E'en then may this be all my plea:
"Jesus hath lived and died for me!" AMEN.