2013 Lenten Meditation Theme is: CROSS/PEACE
Ash Wednesday – A STONE’S THROW
Luke 22:39-46 – “Jesus went out of the city to the Mount of Olives as He usually did. His disciples followed Him. When He arrived, He said to them, “Pray that you will not be tempted.”
Then He withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, knelt down, and prayed, “Father, if it is Your will, take this cup of suffering away from Me. However, Your will must be done, not Mine.”
Then an angel from heaven appeared to Him and gave Him strength. So He prayed very hard in anguish. His sweat became like drops of blood falling to the ground.
When Jesus ended His prayer, He got up and went to the disciples. He found them asleep and overcome with sadness. He said to them, “Why are you sleeping? Get up, and pray that you will not be tempted.”
The text this evening sets before us the introduction to our Lord’s passion. It is during the season of Lent that we give our attention to our Lord’s suffering and death. The season of Lent prepares us to appreciate the message of Easter – the message that we are at peace with God through the forgiveness of our sins – that we have the promise of life everlasting. The message of the Lenten/Easter season is that we have peace with God through the Cross of Christ. So we call the theme for our Lenten meditations this year – CROSS/ PEACE.
In the narthex of the church this evening you can see a cross with other items which make up a CROSS/PEACE display. Each week when you come to church you will receive a piece of the display. Each piece is to help remind us of the peace Christ has won for us on the Cross. This past Sunday morning crosses were given out. We have enough crosses for each member family of our congregation. Be sure to pick one up tonight if you did not do so on Sunday. Display it in your home in a prominent place – on the TV or on the dining room table – so that it will be a regular reminder of the peace we now have through Christ.
The piece for your CROSS/PEACE display that you will receive this evening is a stone (show sample). It was mentioned in the text for the sermon. Did you catch it? HE (Jesus) WITHDREW ABOUT A STONE’S THROW BEYOND THEM.
Jesus had been with His disciples for approximately three years. He had been very close to them. He walked with them, talked with them, touched them. Now He withdrew from them, about a stone’s throw away.
We have all had the unfortunate experience of having been very close to someone, and then something happened which caused a feeling of distance. It happens in friendships. It happens, also, in marriages. You have seen it happen – a couple that was very close during courtship, so much in love; “a perfect couple,” everyone felt. There was the engagement, the wedding, then as time passed something happened, or a series of things happened. The man and woman experienced a feeling of distance, a feeling of separation, a fracture in the relationship.
We may all have experienced much the same thing even with Christ. Most of us can remember a time when we felt really close. Maybe it was at the time we joined the church. Everything seemed so spiritually strong then. Or maybe it was during the Sunday School years, or at the time of your Confirmation, or during adolescence when you wrestled with the burning issues of life – Jesus seemed so close, so real that you could almost reach out and touch Him. Then something happened, or a series of things happened, and the intimacy was no longer there. Maybe you moved away, or went to college, or got very busy in your job. Maybe you began to question God’s existence, or His love, or His involvement in your life. Maybe then – and perhaps even now – you felt very distant from Christ. He was never really very far away from us though; He is never more than a stone’s throw away.
We can also feel separated from Christ on account of sin. Sin separates us from Him. Sin separates a husband from his wife, a friend from a friend.
Sin is a simple word. It’s origin is from archery. If a Roman soldier at archery practice were to miss the target, it would be said that he sinned, he missed the target, missed the mark. That is a rather simple non-religious definition of the term, but such an understanding can be helpful to us in understanding the effects of sin.
Every relationship we have has it demands and obligations. For instance, in a friendship, each friend makes some demands or has some expectations of the other. You expect a friend to help you when you need help. That is what friendship is all about – people you can depend on. When a friend lets you down, when he misses the mark so to speak, you feel sinned against – you feel hurt. Then maybe you let your friend down, you sin against him, and so on. The warm friendship begins to grow cold and there is separation, distance.
In a marriage, one partner lets the other down, or misses the mark in some way. Perhaps the partner fails in sensitivity, or in caring, or in being considerate, or in loving – then they begin to sin against each other, and sin separates them.
Sin separates us from God. God made us and we are His. We were created in a relationship with Him and in that relationship He has made certain demands. His standard for us is high – righteousness – absolute, perfect righteousness. And we are not allowed to miss the mark, not even once. But we do miss the mark. We fail in our relationship with Him again and again, and as a result of our failures, we separate ourselves from Him. And, too often, like the first sinners, Adam and Eve, when we fail, we blame not ourselves but God. We say, “God, why did You let me fail?” “Why did You let me sin?” “Why did You let this situation arise where I could not avoid sin?” We sound like Adam. When he was caught in sin, he blamed everyone else. “This woman!” he exclaimed, “That YOU gave me!” … When we miss the mark, when we break relationships, we, like Adam, often blame others – it is the friend’s fault, or the spouse’s fault, or it is God’s fault, but never our own. As a result of sin friends separate, marriages fall apart, and distance between us and God seems to increase. But even though we separate ourselves from God, God never separates Himself from us. No matter how sinful we are, no matter how rebellious and unfaithful we become, He always remains faithful, and He is never more than a stone’s throw away from us.
In this evening’s text, Jesus separates Himself from His disciples. Literally, the words say, He “tears” Himself away. It is a final a final separation, because He is soon to be arrested. Luke wrote that, HE WITHDREW ABOUT A STONE’S THROW BEYOND THEM.
Jesus knew what lay ahead. He had had His last supper with them. He had washed the feet of His disciples, teaching them by example about love and humility. He had sung some hymns with them, and now he had gone out to the garden to pray. Jesus knew, this was it. He entered now His time of suffering. He had to do this alone. He separated Himself to complete the work that would forever unite us. He tore Himself away – a stone’s throw away – to complete the work that meant we would never be separated from Him again. Jesus went to the Cross to suffer and to die on our behalf in payment for our sins.
God’s demand of us was perfect righteousness. Our response was sin. Sin separated us from God. And like Adam we blamed God. But God out of His rich love for us wanted a reconciliation. So God became one of us. He humbled Himself in the relationship and became a human being in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. In Jesus, He fulfilled all of His righteous requirements for us, in our place, on our behalf. In Jesus, God effected a full and complete reconciliation. It was all done on God’s side; It was all His initiative. He now proclaims to us, “your sins are forgiven.” He proclaims that we who rebelled are at peace with Him through the Cross of Christ. That same peace – peace through the forgiveness of sins – can and should extend into our lives permeating all of our relationships. When your friend sins against you and you feel distance, be forgiving – do not get even. When your spouse sins against you and separation begins, you take the initiative, reach out and be forgiving. God has given us the example. As He has forgiven us through the merits of Jesus Christ, so we also ought to be forgiving to one another. Forgive as He has forgiven us.
This season of Lent is to remind us that He forgives, that He is always near, never more than a stone’s throw away. This evening when you leave the service take with you a stone. As you place the stone on your CROSS/PEACE display, and as you see it from time to time in the coming weeks, let it remind you that no matter how separated you might feel from Christ, He is never more than a stone’s throw away. Your peace with God is always right at hand.
In the name of Jesus, who won peace for us. Amen.