Note: This sermon was preached at Dallas Baptist University‘s 6th annual Easter Eve service on April 4, 2015.
My first car was a 1966 Dodge Dart. Detroit has never produced a more misleadingly-named vehicle. “Dart” implies speed, quickness, agility. My car should have been called the Dodge Snail. The Dodge Sloth has a nice ring to it.
My parents eventually took pity on me and bought me a 1967 Mercury Cougar. A significant improvement for a guy in high school. Very fast, very cool. Its engine rumbled so loudly that you heard it before you saw it.
However, the car I always wanted to drive was a 1969 Mercury Cougar convertible. 1969 was the first year they made the convertible. It was one of the best-looking cars of the era, in my opinion. I haven’t seen one on the streets for decades. Until yesterday, that is.
I was running around White Rock Lake early Friday morning, and there it was. In pristine condition. Parked at the lake for a photo shoot. In that moment, the era it represents came back to me. On July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first man on the moon. In 1969, the Boeing 747 made its first flight; Laugh In was TV’s most popular show, followed by Gunsmoke, Bonanza, and Mayberry R.F.D.; Sesame Street made its debut; John Wayne won Best Actor for True Grit.
As I stared at that 46-year-old car yesterday, it brought the past into the present. Historical artifacts have that power.
Consider the Shroud of Turin, on display beginning two weeks from tomorrow. No cloth in history has been more controversial. Measuring 14 feet long by three feet seven inches wide, it has been the subject of hundreds of books and scores of documentaries. CNN recently did a prime-time special on it.
Some believe it to be a medieval forgery, but a growing consensus of scientists date it to the first century; many believe it is the actual burial cloth of Jesus. Whatever we believe about its authenticity, there is no question as to its accuracy. It depicts what Jesus suffered on Good Friday as well as any source in history.
Tonight let’s visit the Shroud together. Under its guidance, let’s remember what our Lord did for us on Good Friday. Then we’ll be ready to respond with grateful and courageous service on Easter Sunday. And on all the days and years to come.
The Shroud and our Savior
Here’s what we know about the person whose sufferings are documented by the Shroud of Turin:
- His humerus was dislocated, leading to paralysis of one arm. He suffered violent trauma to the head and the chest, suggesting that he collapsed under the weight of a heavy object, falling forward and suffering neck and shoulder paralysis. His right eye orbit was also damaged.
- There is evidence of double wrist-nailing, causing retraction of the thumb. Nails were driven between two rows of carpal bones in the wrist.
- Two nails were driven into the soles of his feet as well.
- There are stains of blood and serum from the chest consistent with stabbing by a spear. The bloodstains show his blood type was AB.
What explains such gruesome wounds? What do they tell us about the victim buried in the Shroud?
First, he was flogged. A whip was used with iron balls tied a few inches from the end of each leather thong. Sharp sheep bones were tied near the ends. The iron balls would cause deep bruising and even fractures, while the leather thongs would slash the skin. The sheep bones would gouge the skin and pull it from the bones. Muscles were severed, and blood loss was horrific.
Then he was made to carry his crossbeam to Calvary. The patibulum weighed between 75 and 125 pounds. His arms were tied to it; when he fell, he had no way to break his fall and likely fell on his face, fracturing his right eye orbit and dislocating his shoulder.
Nails were driven through his wrists, since the palms would not support his weight. The patibulum was hoisted onto the upright post, and his heels were nailed to it. A typical victim lost the use of his arms and legs, could no longer lift his weight from his lungs, and suffocated. In Jesus’ case, he said “it is finished,” then he “bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (John 19:30).
All of this, his disciples knew. So when they were arrested for preaching his gospel, they responded not with cowardice but with courage. Peter, the apostle who had cowered before a servant girl, now stood boldly before the Sanhedrin, the ruling council who condemned his Lord to death. And he testified to his crucified Savior, with some of the most significant theological statements in Christian history (Acts 4:10-12).
With this result: “When they saw the boldness of Peter and John, and perceived that they were uneducated, common men, they were astonished. And they recognized that they had been with Jesus” (v. 13). Because the apostles responded to Jesus’ sacrificial, tortured death with grateful, courageous service. Once they knew what Jesus had done for them, there was nothing they would not do for him. Because he had paid any price for them, they would pay any price for him.
The Spirit and our service
Do we need such grateful courage today?
Islamic militants attacked a Christian school in Kenya last Thursday, killing at least 147. This after the Islamic State has been murdering Christians for months on end. According to John Allen’s The Global War on Christians, followers of Jesus comprise 30 percent of the global population but suffer 80 percent of religious persecution; 90 percent of religious martyrs are Christians.
We’re seeing an increasing antagonism against our faith in America as well.
Believers who choose not to serve same-sex weddings are losing their businesses and facing fines in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. The owners of Memories Pizza, a restaurant in tiny Walkerton, Indiana, were asked by a television reporter if they would serve a gay wedding. When’s the last time someone ordered pizza for a wedding? It was a silly question, but they answered truthfully that their religious convictions would not allow them to do so. They received so many threats that they were forced to close. One person tweeted, “Who’s going to Walkerton with me to burn down Memories Pizza?”
If the Supreme Court makes same-sex marriage the law of the land this summer, will there be religious exceptions? Or will churches in Texas be required to perform gay weddings, as is the case in Canada and across Europe today? Will they lose their tax exemption if they do not?
There’s an even larger issue at work in our culture, one of which gay marriage is only a symptom.
In 1992, Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy stated that the core of liberty is “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” His definition replaces objective truth with subjective opinion and undermines the rule of law. If he’s right, anything goes. If he’s right, tolerance is what matters most. Except, of course, when we think someone else is intolerant. As when they stand for biblical truth in a decadent culture.
And that’s where we are as a culture today. Adlai Stevenson once noted, “A free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular.” We no longer live in that society.
We shouldn’t be surprised that the number of Americans with no religious commitment has grown from two percent to 19 percent in recent decades. According to a study released by Pew Research yesterday, their number will nearly double over the next 35 years. When we stand for biblical truth, increasingly we stand alone.
That’s one reason why I am so grateful for Dallas Baptist University. No school in America stands more unashamedly for Christ and his gospel than this one. From the gleaming white chapel and cross held high, visible anywhere on the campus and for miles around, to the biblical citations fixed across the campus and in its classrooms, to the vision and mission of this school, to the faith of its president and leaders—DBU stands for Jesus.
DBU serves Jesus, because Jesus served us. I believe this school deserves all the support we can give to her. And the One this school serves deserves all we can do for his glory as well.
So we come to the question: how bold will you be for your Lord? As tonight we remember the horrific torture he endured yesterday for us, will we be courageous to serve him tomorrow? Next week? At what price? When last did it cost you something significant to serve Jesus? Can he lead you anywhere, ask you to do anything, to speak to anyone, to pay any price?
Not so he will love you, but because he already does. Not so he will bless you, but because he already has. Serve him out of gratitude for his grace. Give others what he has given to you. Pay any price, because he paid any price.
Here’s how: verse 8 specifies that Peter, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” stood courageously for his Lord. Peter was submitted to the Spirit of God, yielded to his power and purpose, following his leading, speaking his words. And so he was able to be bold for the one who had been bold for him.
Tonight I want to invite you to do what Peter did. Ask the Holy Spirit to fill you, to control and empower you. Ask him to give you the courage to serve Jesus out of gratitude for his grace. Whatever it takes, whatever the cost, whatever he asks. Not in your strength, but in his. Not for your glory, but for his.
Remembering what he did, what will you do?