The town of Edmond, Oklahoma, has an obvious hole in its city seal.  There used to be a cross in that spot reflecting their religious heritage.  But after losing a religious establishment lawsuit, costing the city nearly half a million dollars to defend, that aspect of Edmond’s history has been expunged from the record.  Rather then replace the cross with a more politically correct symbol, the city officials decided to leave its place empty—a silent witness to the court’s absurd attempts to sanitize the present by altering the past.

You know, there are still people who are vehemently opposed to the cross.  They see Jesus as a threat to their beliefs, their freedoms, their ambitions, and their lifestyle.  So they go to extreme measures to eradicate the cross from public life.  But they are, in reality, creating a huge vacuum in the center of our heritage and our hopes

The apostle Paul wrote, “I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ.  Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame.  Their mind is on earthly things.  But our citizenship is in heaven.  And we eagerly await a Savior from their, the Lord Jesus Christ” (Philippians 3:18-20). 

In other words, the cross is a symbol of our past sins which have been forgiven, and of our future hopes, which are secured in heaven.

But we shouldn’t be surprised that there are still enemies of Jesus Christ.  Because from the time He first arrived on this earth, people tried to kill Him.  King Herod tried to kill Him when He was just an infant.  When He first began His ministry the people of His hometown of Nazareth tried to throw Him over the edge of a cliff because they disagreed with what He said.  And finally, after 3 ½ years of intense opposition the religious leaders were successful in nailing Him to a cross.  Now why?  Why was Jesus so hated by His enemies that they were determined to kill Him?  Why were they elated at the sight of Jesus being tortured on the cross, to the point they taunted Him in His death? 

Well let’s look at the cross today from the perspective of Jesus’ enemies, who were delighted by the crucifixion.  And this is important, because if you live the Christian life in the real world you will encounter some enemies as well.

I. THE REASON FOR THEIR ANIMOSITY: ENVY. (Mark 15:10)

The reason for their animosity is summed up in one word in the Bible, and that is the word envy. 

The Bible says Pilate knew that “it was out of envy that the chief priest had handed Jesus over to him” (Mark 15:10).

Jesus posed a genuine threat to the religious establishment of His day

Before Jesus arrived on the scene, the Pharisees, the Chief Priests, and the teachers of the Law were considered the religious authorities.  People flocked to them for teaching and for counsel.  But when this young 30-year-old Nazarene carpenter began His ministry, all of that changed.  Jesus performed spectacular miracles that the religious leaders could not duplicate.  Jesus’ teaching was fresh and insightful, while their teaching was old and superficial.  And Jesus had an anointing from God, He had a charisma from the Holy Spirit, and they lacked spirituality.  So the crowds left the religious leaders and began to follow after Jesus in droves.  And that made them very jealous.  They were like a 3-year-old when a newborn comes into the house.  All of a sudden the toddler isn’t the center of attention anymore, and he’s jealous. 

So these religious leaders did their best to ask Jesus tricky questions to try to make Him look bad in public.  But the more difficult their questions, the more impressive Jesus answers, and the more people flocked to hear Him.  They would say, “Should we pay taxes to Caesar or not, Jesus?”

And He said, “Well, render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.”

“This woman was caught in the act of adultery, and the Law says she should be stoned!  What do you say?”

“Well, go ahead and stone her.  But let the one who is without sin cast the first stone.”

“Jesus, you’re driving out demons by the power of the devil!”

“Oh no, a house divided against itself cannot stand.”

In Luke, the 13th chapter, verse 17, after one of these encounters, the Bible says, “When he said this, all the opponents were humiliated, but the people were delighted with all the wonderful things he was doing.”  They were so frustrated.  They couldn’t trap Him, and He was becoming more and more popular.  And they were envious.

And Jesus himself alienated them further by telling them the truth about their spiritual condition.  Leaf through the New Testament and you’ll find Him calling the religious leaders “hypocrites,” “blind guides,” whitewashed tombs,” “snakes,” “brood of vipers,” and “son’s of hell.”  Now that’s not exactly the way to win friends and influence people!  And so they were beside themselves with envy and anger.  And the fact that some were beginning to suggest that Jesus was indeed the Messiah only infuriated them more.  And so they were determined to eliminate Him.

You know, Christians today are going to encounter some enemies, too. 

Now I’m not talking about the people who are our enemies because we’ve made mistakes.  Sometimes we have sinned against people and we need to apologize for that.  And I’m not talking about the kind of enemies we have because of misunderstandings.  Sometimes there are false impressions and we need to openly communicate with people.  And I’m not talking about the kind of enemies we have if we’re obnoxious and offensive.  Sometimes we need to learn to be gentle and tactful.  But I’m talking about the fact that if you live a genuine Christian life in the real world, there will be times when people oppose you. 

In John 15, verses 18 and 19, Jesus said, “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.  If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own.  As it is, you do not belong to the world.  That is why the world hates you.” 

It wasn’t very long ago I saw that symbol of a fish on the back of a car.  But it wasn’t a Christian symbol, this one was different.  It had the word “Darwin” in the center of it and two little legs on the bottom.  It’s the evolutionists ridiculing and mocking the Christian symbol, saying the fish got legs and crawled up on the shore, and that that’s where we came from.  Somebody said that there is now another Christian symbol of the Christian fish swallowing the Darwin fish!  And there’s another one with the Darwin fish with his legs straight up in the air, and the caption reads: “Now it knows!” 

But there are some people who consider us enemies because they disagree with our theology

You believe God created the world; they believe we’re here by evolutionary accident.  And there is a contention.  You believe the Bible to be the Word of God; they believe the Bible to be full of myths.  You believe Jesus is the only way to salvation; and they believe one religion is just as good as another.  

C.S. Lewis observed that in any secular society Christians will ultimately be treated as an enemy.  “Why?” he adds.  “Because we maintain a dual loyalty which others misinterpret as disloyalty.”  Our primary loyalty is to Jesus Christ.  And that may set us against a boss who tells us to lie, or a co-worker who wants us to cover something over, or the government who tells us to be silent about our faith.  And there’s opposition because of our theology.

People may consider you an enemy because you have broken with your religious heritage. 

Sam Rosenberg grew up Jewish.  He attended a Christian Church for a number of years, and then he decided that he was going to become a Christian.  He invited his sister to attend his baptism.  And surprisingly she came, and she was even supportive.  And she said, “Sam, I hope you’re a better Christian then you were a Jew!” 

But you know, that’s not always the case.  Sometimes when people convert to Christ, or even change churches, family members can be alienated.  Maybe your parents brought you up in a particular denomination, and they really felt that was the only way.  But now you go to a different church and their feelings are hurt, their pride is wounded, they feel that you have abandoned your heritage.  But in Luke chapter 12, Jesus said, “Don’t think that I’ve always come to bring peace.  I’ve come to sometimes bring division” (v. 51).  And He says there will be five people in a family, and three will be set against two (see vv. 52-53).  And one of the reasons that there’s opposition in the family, even though they love each other, is because some members feel that you’ve abandoned your religious heritage.

Some people may consider you an enemy because they regard your church as a competitor

A number of years ago, when I was serving a church in Indiana, the baptistery in our building was undergoing some remodeling work and was out of service for a few weeks.  During that time a new couple in our church really wanted to be baptized, so I called another pastor, just 2 blocks away, and asked if we could use their church’s baptistery.  I said, “Hey, we have a new couple here who really want to be baptized as soon as possible, we’re undergoing some remodeling and can’t use our baptistery, so can we use yours?”  There was a long pause, and the other preacher said, “Well, I hate to tell you this David, but our deacons have a policy that we not share our church building with churches that we consider our competitors.”  Really?  I thought Satan was the opposition!

But some religious leaders see other churches as competing for their members, and they especially resent a church that is alive and growing.  And they would rather their members who have been inactive for years not go anywhere than to go someplace where they consider that church a competitor.

And other people may consider you an enemy because you pose a threat to their lifestyle. 

II. THE RESULT OF THEIR ANIMOSITY: CRUCIFIXION. (John 11:47-53)

Well, the result of the increasing animosity against Jesus was crucifixion.

Look at this morning’s text—John 11:47 and following.  This is a passage of Scripture that talks about the religious leader’s reaction after Jesus performed what may have been His greatest miracle, the raising of Lazarus from the dead.  Lazarus had been dead for 4 days. 

Verse 47 of John 11 reads, “Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.  ‘What are we accomplishing?’ they asked.  ‘Here is this man performing many miraculous signs.  If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.’  Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, ‘You know nothing at all!  You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish’” (vv. 47-50).  And John adds parenthetically, “He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, and not only for that nation but also for all the scattered children of God…” (vv. 51-52).  And verse 53 reads: “So from that day on they plotted to take his life.”  

 

These religious leaders formed a conspiracy to crucify Him. 

“Two days before the Passover,” the Bible reads, “the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill him.  ‘But not during the Feast,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot’” (Mark 14:1-2). 

Several times in the New Testament you read that they were afraid of the people.  They were afraid that Jesus was too popular with the crowds. 

But then they got the break they needed.  One of Jesus’ close associates, Judas Iscariot, came to them to betray Jesus.  He said, “I know where Jesus goes at nighttime.  I can find Him when He’s alone.  I’ll identify Him in the dark and you can arrest Him away from the people.”  And they jumped at the chance.  They arrested Jesus outside the Garden of Gethsemane and dragged him before the Sanhedrin, their highest court, late at night. 

Now it was illegal for the Sanhedrin to pass a law at night, but this was a desperate circumstance.  And their hasty trial was a fiasco.  They paid-off false witnesses to lie about Jesus.  But the liars’ testimony contradicted with each other.  And there wasn’t anything that they testified against Jesus about that was worthy of death.  But finally, there were two witnesses who were in agreement.  They said, “We heard Jesus say that if we destroyed the temple, He would rebuild it in three days!”  And of course, Jesus did say that, but He was referring to His own body and the resurrection.  And the high priest, who was supposed to be objective in the trial just like a judge, took the initiative to try and pressure Jesus into incriminating himself. 

Look at Mark 14, beginning with verse 60: “Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Are you not going to answer?  What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?’  But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer.  Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?’” (vv. 60-61). 

And Matthew’s gospel said the high priest said, “I charge you under oath to answer” (26:63).  Now they had a law that when you were charged under oath that you had to answer, you couldn’t plead the Fifth Amendment.

So Jesus said, “I am.”  And then added, ’And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.’  The high priest tore his clothes.  ‘Why do we need any more witnesses?’ he asked.  ‘You have heard the blasphemy.  What do you think?’  They all condemned him as worthy of death” (Mark 14:62-64).

Then look at what these sophisticated judges do.  “Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, ‘Prophesy!’” (Mark 14:65).  “Tell us who hit you, if you’re so smart!”

And then came the most crucial step in the conspiracy, and that was to get permission from the government to execute him.  The Jews didn’t have the authority for capital punishment, they had to get permission from the Romans.  So at dawn they cast their vote to make it legal, and then they dragged Jesus before Pontious Pilate, demanding that Jesus be crucified.

Pilate asked, “Why?  What crime has he committed?” (Mark 15:14).

And do you know what they said?  They said, “If he weren’t guilty of a capital offense, we wouldn’t have brought him to you!”

And Pilate said, “I’m going to find out for myself.”  So he took Jesus aside, interrogated Him, and came back out and said, “I find no fault in this man.”

And they cried all the more, “Crucify him!”

Pilate said, “Why?”

And they said, “If you don’t crucify him you are no friend of Caesar!”  In other words, “If we don’t get our way we’re going to report you to your authority, and you could lose your job!”

And Pilate was very sensitive to public opinion polls, too.  And so Pilate said, “Whatever!”  And they led Him away to be crucified.

And once Jesus was nailed to that cross the enemies gloated over His torture.  Look at Mark 15, beginning with verse 29: Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So!  You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’  In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves.  ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!  Let this Christ, this King of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe’ (vv. 29-32). 

Now this had to be galling to the friends of Jesus. 

You know, it’s one thing to be defeated, but it’s even worse to have them gloat over it. 

When Bill Hybels, mega church preacher at Willow Creek church and founder of the Global Leadership Summit, was exposed a couple of years ago of having committed acts of sexual misconduct with numerous women in his church, the New York Times the next day ran the headline: “Sex, Drugs, and the Hypocrisy of Preachers.”  You know, the world, in a sense, is just waiting to gloat over the fall of someone who claims a higher standard of morality. 

When the prophet Nathan confronted King David with his immorality with Bathsheba, Nathan said, “David, God can forgive you.  But you have given the enemies of God an occasion to blaspheme.”  And there are a number of incentives I have for trying to walk straight, but frankly one positive motivation is that I don’t want to give the enemies of the cross an occasion to blaspheme.  And it’s not just the leaders of the church that will cause delight when they fall, but it’s also true with the members.  Folks, I want to challenge you to take seriously your responsibility and be determined not to give the enemies of Christ an occasion to gloat.  You walk worthy of the calling you’ve received, that the name of Jesus will be held in high honor.

III.  THE RESPONSE TO THEIR ANIMOSITY: FORGIVENESS.  (Luke 23:34)

Well Jesus’ response to their animosity was forgiveness.

Jesus showed remarkable restraint on the cross. 

They said, “If you are the Son of God, come down!”  And you know what, He could have.  But He didn’t in order that He might save us from our sins.  He could have called 10,000 angels, and they would have come and wiped them out.  But He didn’t.  That would have been human nature.  It would have been natural. 

During an interview when Mohammed Ali was in his prime, he said when he was a boy his parents gave him a beautiful bicycle.  And he loved that bicycle.  But within days somebody had stolen his bike.  So he started looking for the boy who stole his bike, but couldn’t find him.  And a policeman asked him, “What are you going to do when you find him?”  And he said, “I don’t know.”  So the policeman took him into the gym to teach him how to box.  And Ali said, “I never did find my bike.  But to this day when I go into the boxing ring I look across at my opponent, and I say to myself, ‘That’s the guy who took my bike, and I’m going to get him!’”

It’s human nature to retaliate.  And here are these enemies gloating beneath the cross, saying, “If you’re the Son of God, come down!”  And do you know what Jesus said?  Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing’” (Luke 23:34).  And they really didn’t.  They really didn’t know that He was God in the flesh.  They really didn’t know that they weren’t taking His life; He was laying it down on their accord.  They didn’t know that Satan had entered into Judas, and that they were simply being used as pawns in the hands of Satan that day.  And so He said, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”  

And there are three lessons that we should learn from Jesus’ example about how to respond to those who are enemies of the cross today.

Number one: Speak the truth and don’t compromise it. 

Jesus was put on trial and asked, “Are you the Messiah?”  And all He had to do was hedge a little bit and He would have been set free.  But He told the truth.  And for the truth He died.

And there are times when our world is turned off by the truth.  And we’re tempted to hedge a little, or compromise, or say what is politically correct, so we don’t have anybody in opposition to us.  But the Bible says we’re to speak the truth even when it hurts.  We’re to speak the truth in love, but we’ve got to speak the truth.

I was asked to pray at a secular gathering years ago, and just before I was to have the invocation the leader of the activity said to me, “Now keep in mind that this is a pretty diverse audience, so try not to offend anybody.”  And I knew what he meant.  What he meant was, “Don’t use the “J” word.”  And so I prayed that day, and at the end of my prayer I said, “We pray all of these things in the name of the Lion of Judah.”  And nobody was offended because hardly anybody knew that meant Jesus.  And I thought it was pretty clever.  But then I got to thinking about that, “You know what, I wimped out.  Jesus Christ was not ashamed to die publicly for me.  And He commands me in His Word, ‘Whenever you pray, you pray in my name.’”  So I made a decision after that, that regardless of where I’m praying I’m going to end my prayer, “In Jesus’ name.”  And if you don’t want me to pray in Jesus’ name, then please don’t ask me to pray.  That’s who I am.

The second truth we ought to learn from Jesus is: We are to love our enemies and not retaliate against them. 

Now that’s really hard for me to learn.  Because you know when I see that fish with Darwin and those little feet, I want to ram that car right in the rear end!  You know what I mean?  But 1 Peter 2:21 says, “To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.  ‘He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.’  When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats.  Instead, he [just] entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (vv. 21-23).

So when somebody accuses you, or somebody makes fun of you, don’t retaliate.  Jesus said, “I tell you; Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45). 

And the last lesson we ought to learn from Jesus is: Consider the source and don’t blame people. 

When Jesus died, He knew that these people really didn’t know what they were doing, that they were being used of Satan.  And His real enemy was not the religious leaders, His real enemy was Satan.  Ephesians 6:12 says, “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” 

Our real enemy is not the Hollywood producer, or the rock musician, or the pornographer, or the head of the ACLU, or the head of a racist organization, or the greedy corporation president.  Our enemy is the Prince of Darkness.  And our task is not to hate people, or to retaliate against people, but to love the people who are being used by Satan so that they will want to come out of that life and under the banner of Jesus Christ.

A Methodist minister in Northern Virginia chose last year to perform a wedding of two lesbians.  Temporarily his ordination was suspended.  But a jury of Methodist leaders acquitted him and restored him to his position. I watched on television the coverage of his first Sunday back.  The media covered the demonstration outside that church.  There was confrontation, there was disagreement.  And one man carried a placard outside the church that read: “God hates fags!”

You know what, I think the preacher was wrong in performing that wedding.  That’s in direct contradiction to the Scriptures.  But whoever originated that sign was wrong, too—whether it was a misguided Christian, or whether it was a plant deliberately designed to agitate and stereotype the opposition.  But it was wrong.  God doesn’t hate people.  He loves people so much that He went to the cross to die for them.  And that’s our task to communicate to people.  You wonder how much God loves you in whatever sin it may be?  Just look at the cross.

Karen Balkin, a Christian writer, related that she received a phone call several years ago from a college classmate she hadn’t see in 15 years.  And he said, “I’m coming through town and I’d like to visit with you.”

She said, “Boy, I’d like to see you, too.”

He said, “Well, before you agree to see me, I need to tell you that I am now HIV positive.  And I have a friend with me who is dying of AIDS.  Do you still want to see me?”

And Karen Balkin wrote, “I sure disagree with that lifestyle, but I cared about Him.  So I said, ‘Certainly I still want to see you.’” 

So she prayed that God would use her in that incident.  She said, “When we met, my friend, though he’s 15 years older, looked perfectly healthy.  And it was easy for me to embrace him and say, ‘Boy, it’s so good to see you!’”  But then he turned and introduced her to his friend.  And she wrote, “He was just a prototype of a man dying of AIDS—just emaciated, weak, trembling, and sweating profusely.”  She said, “I was just overwhelmed with compassion for him.  And I reached down and gave him a hug, and I said, ‘I’m so sorry you’re sick.  But I want you to know that God loves you, and so do I.’”

Now let me ask you a question. Who has the best chance to win that dying man to Jesus Christ?  Somebody who holds up a sign that says, “God hates you!”; or somebody who embraces them and says, “God loves you, and so do I!” 

Even these religious enemies could not resist the love of God on that cross.  Because two months later Simon Peter stood up in the streets of Jerusalem and said, “You crucified the Son of God!” 

And the Bible says they were cut to the heart, and they said, “What should we do?” 

And Peter said, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ…” (Acts 2:38).  And 3,000 people responded.  And a few chapters later in the book of Acts we read, “The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly, and a large number of priests became obedient to the faith” (Acts 6:7).  The love of God revealed on that cross is irresistible if we can just present it. 

Maybe there is a hole in the center of your life today; there is an emptiness that you have not been able to fill.  If so, may I suggest to you that that place is reserved for the cross of Jesus Christ, that you will never find fulfillment unless He’s at the center of your life.  If that’s you today, won’t you come to the cross and put Jesus Christ at the center of your life today?  You come as we stand and sing.