The Sound Of Hammering
Whatever else is to be made of it, the cross of Jesus Christ is a dreadful fact—as black as a splash of ink upon the record of human history.
How did it happen—this appalling act? What sudden orgy of insanity overwhelmed the usually kindly human nature we know so well and swept it headlong into such a senseless deed? Surely it must have been something monstrous and demonic—something blown in from the darkness round about us that perpetrated the killing of the only perfect life ever lived. No, in fact it wasn’t. The great haunting terror of it all is that it was brought about by ordinary people like ourselves—kindly, likeable, good people, no doubt. Yes, what is so profoundly disturbing about Calvary is that it was not something demented or demonic that put Jesus there. He was nailed to His cross not by spectacular sins or horrible deeds, rather He was crucified by the decent ordinary, respectable, garden-variety sins of which I am a specialist. He was strung up to die by ordinary, hardworking, law-abiding people, the kind of people we fancy ourselves as being. To put that another way: Every attitude present on Calvary dwells in me now; every emotion that tugged at human hearts then tugs at my heart now; every sin that bubbled to the surface that day in Jerusalem has surfaced at one time or another in my own life. The people involved that day might well have borne my name and worn my face. I might just as well have hammered in the nails with my own hands. Peter is speaking to me when he says in the book of Acts, “This Jesus . . . you crucified.” I know that’s true because I was there, and so were you.
We were there, for example, in the Pharisees.
The Pharisees were religious people just as we claim to be. They were good church-going people. They prayed. They fasted. They did the things you would expect religious people to do. But they made one big mistake. They tried to keep their religion and their everyday lives in separate compartments, and consequently, they resented the dramatic wholesale changes Jesus called people to make in their lives. You see the Pharisees prayed long and hard, but it had little effect upon their characters. They went through the motions of the faith, but it never got into their hearts. They were rather like the three children who were discussing their fathers’ professions. One said, “My dad is an attorney. He practices law.” Another said, “My dad is a doctor. He practices medicine.” The third youngster was a bit apologetic, and said, “My dad is a Christian, but he’s not practicing it right now.” Well, I wonder how many of us that describes. Are you keeping the faith enough for anyone to notice, or would you have to say with John Bunyan, “I go to church on Sunday, and there I sing and pray with the foremost yet retaining my evil life”? That’s what I call the “Pharisee disease.” And here we sit, many of us, infected with that same disease, unaffected and unchanged by our worship and our prayers. We, too, try to keep God, and the things of God, separate from our everyday experience in the world.
Make no mistake, my friends. When Jesus Christ truly takes up residence in our lives, we shall be changed. “It is not I who live, but Christ who lives within me,” wrote Paul. Christ came to make us new—not to make us over, not to patch us up—but to make us new people living a new life, fueled by a new faith, and helping to build a new world. Of course, that’s precisely why the Pharisees turned against Jesus. They didn’t want their religion to get in the way of their everyday living. So while they were praying their prayers, singing their hymns, and worshipping in the Temple, they were also planning Calvary. They turned a deaf ear to Christ’s dynamic, life-changing call, and by so doing, they hammered nails into Christ’s hands and feet. The question is: Do we sit here like the Pharisees of old with the dreadful sound of hammering ringing in our ears?
And we were there in Judas.
Judas was a disciple of Jesus Christ just as we claim to be. In fact, Judas must have had the makings of a good disciple or Jesus never would have chosen him. How was it then that Jesus’ hopes and dreams for Judas came to such a tragic end? Well, it could have been that Judas was trying to hasten the pace of Christ’s mission. He saw in Christ qualities of leadership and authority which were astonishing, and yet Jesus seemed to have some reticence about exerting that leadership. Consequently, things were not getting better but worse. The opposition was plotting strategy. The peoples’ early enthusiasm for Jesus was beginning to wane. It seemed to Judas that the whole enterprise was drifting right onto the rocks. Some bold, decisive, vigorous action might save the whole venture. So Judas perhaps planned to put Jesus in a position which would force his hand and make him strike back. He had lost patience with his Master. He was looking for a shortcut. He found it. He took it. It ended in the horror of the cross.
The tragedy of Judas is that he refused to accept Jesus as He was, and he tried to make Jesus into what he wanted Him to be. He wanted Jesus on his own terms. It was his impatience with Christ’s methods. It was his thinking that he knew better than his Master. It was his attempt to run ahead of the Lord. That was the sin of Judas, and that brought Jesus to the cross with the sound of hammer hitting nail. Now think about it. Doesn’t that pierce your heart? It does mine. Are we not betraying Jesus in the same fashion? Is it not true that we want Jesus on our own terms? Is it not true that we get impatient with the pace of the Lord’s work in the world? Is it not true that we sometimes think our ideas about the way things ought to be are better than His?
When I was young, my grandfather introduced me to the writings of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. He was a French aviator who wrote beautifully about both flying and faith. I read practically everything he wrote and found him full of wisdom and inspiration. Saint-Exupery was recalled to military service in World War II, and he was flying an observation mission without any guns on his plane. On July 31, 1944, he was shot down by a young German pilot who, ironically enough, was in the process of writing a doctorial thesis on the work of Antoine de Saint-Exupery. When this young pilot learned that he had killed the man he so much admired, he was plunged into insanity. He spent the rest of his days in a psychiatric hospital, crying out over and over again, “I have killed my master. I have killed my master.”
That was the sin of Judas. He killed his Master. Oh my beloved, when the state of this world or of your life causes you to despair, and you grow impatient with the workings of God, beware lest you be caught with a hammer in your hand.
And we were there in the crowd.
They were kindly, decent, likable people just as we claim to be, but in the end, they were perhaps most responsible of all because they could have stopped it. They had the choice. Pilate gave them that choice, and when he did, he felt certain that he had found a way to free Christ. He knew of the crowds Christ had attracted. He knew of the long roar of rapturous welcome when He had entered in Jerusalem. He was aware of how many in the city Christ had healed and therefore, he felt sure that, given a choice, the people would set Christ free. Clearly then, Pilate was taken aback when there came that furious shout for Barabbas and not one single voice for Jesus Christ. The people in the crowd were silent. They knew Jesus. They knew all about Jesus, but they chose not to speak or stand for Him.
Let us remember that, please. For it is precisely in that way that Christ’s mission in the world today gets delayed and frustrated. Not through ill will, malice, hostility or opposition, but simply because people who could speak remain silent. So many of us are neither in nor out. We’re not really involved of living the Christian life. It’s like the story about the little boy who was talking to his mother about what he had been studying in Sunday school, and he had some questions. He asked, “Is it true, mother, that from the dust we came?” She said, “Yes, the Bible teaches that.” Then he asked, “Well, is it true that when we die we return to the dust?” She replied, “Yes, that’s true—from dust we came, to dust we shall return. But, son, why are you so interested in this?” The little boy said, “Well, I just looked under my bed, and there’s somebody either coming or going under there.” That’s where a lot of us are—neither coming nor going, neither in nor out. We’re silent when we should be speaking for the sake of Christ. Thomas a Kempis said it well a long time ago, “Jesus has many lovers of His heavenly kingdom but few bearers of His cross.” That’s our problem, isn’t it? It’s not that we’re hostile to Jesus Christ. It’s not that we’re against what He’s doing in the world. No, it’s just that we’d rather sit still and keep silent. Dear friends, please let not our indifference and our silence result in the sound of hammering again.
It is true, as Peter said, that we—you and I—have crucified this Jesus the Lord of Glory. It was not something monstrous, unthinkable, and obscene that brought Christ to His cross and that dreadful sound of hammering. Rather it was the ordinary little sins of decent, ordinary little people like you and like me. We put Him there. Yes, but just think of what He did for us there.
There was an artist named Stenberg who lived in Germany. He was commissioned to paint a picture of the crucifixion. Stenberg was not a Christian and had no intention of ever becoming one. But he took the assignment because of the money it would bring him. One day a young girl was in his studio and saw the still unfinished painting of Christ on the cross. It aroused her curiosity. She didn’t know who it was in the painting. So she said to the artist, “Who is that?” Stenberg replied casually, “That’s Jesus Christ.” The girl continued, “But what’s happening to Him?” Stenberg said, “It’s a painting of when they killed Him, but hush, I don’t have time to speak of such foolishness now.” But the little girl wouldn’t be put off, “Was He bad?” The artist snapped, “No, He was very good.” The girl cried, “Then why was He killed?” In exasperation, Stenberg proceeded to tell her the story though the words had no meaning for him. But the girl was deeply touched. She could hardly contain her emotion. She then said to the artist, “You must love Him very much, since He loves you so much.” Well, those simple words cut right through Stenberg’s heart. He looked over at the unfinished painting, and he saw something he had never seen before. He saw the love Jesus had for him. That painting wound up becoming his masterpiece, but more than that, it became his gateway into the love of God in Jesus Christ.
Do you hear what I am trying to say? The story of the cross of Jesus Christ is not a story intended for someone else. This is my story. This is your story. What greater hope and assurance could there ever be: Jesus died for me; Jesus died for you; Jesus is mine; Jesus is yours. I know these things are true, because you see, I was there…
and so were you.