Well, the best laid plans of mice and men. When I started this Lenten series, it was my intention to post every day of Lent. But, in my defense, I did word it like this: ” It is my hope to contribute a post every day throughout Lent. God may have other plans. We’ll see.” I’m not going to blame my falling way short on this on God; however, for various reasons, I have fallen considerably short. In any case, back to the series. In my previous posts I was going through the servant songs in Isaiah. I’ll get back to that series in the next post. But before I resume that series, I have decided to insert a guest post.
When I was a boy in the 1960s, attending a small Baptist church in Greensboro, North Carolina, I had an absolutely wonderful pastor, the Rev. Donald Maconaghie. I mentioned him before in a previous post, “I Am Baptized.” He was a wonderful preacher; his sermons were grand and majestic—because he preached on grand and majestic themes: the glory of God, the person of Jesus, what Christ accomplished by his life and death and resurrection. When he resigned as pastor of that church, another man was eventually called to be pastor. This new pastor did “okay”; but frankly, the sermons sere kind of fluffy, and just didn’t have the same grand and glorious content. Sunday night after Sunday night I would come home from church disappointed.
One Sunday night, as I was lying in bed, going up and down the dial on my transistor radio (yes, this was the 60s), I happened to tune in to AM 1530, WCKY out of Cincinnati. I came across a religious program that caught my interest. The speaker had a very distinctive voice; but, more than that, he was preaching a grand and glorious and majestic gospel. He was focused on the person of Christ, but not in not some trite, cliché way, but in such a way that Christ’s person was exalted, and his crucial significance for contemporary life was demonstrated. I wondered what program this was. After he finished preaching, a magnificent choir sang a beautiful and stirring anthem. Finally the program came to an end with a sign-off something like this: “You have been listening to the Back to God Hour. This is Joel Nederhood, radio minister of the Christian Reformed Church, which has brought you this broadcast, proclaiming the historic Christian faith.” For the next few years, Joel Nederhood was my radio pastor. I even named my first son, Joel, after him (and partly after the prophet Joel).
So here is a guest post by my former “radio pastor,” Joel Nederhood. The sermon below was first broadcast on February 16, 1975. It is entitled, “The Grand Scenario.” Many of my former students, as well as persons who have heard me preach during Lent, will perhaps remember me saying that if we were to think of the passion narratives in the gospels as “Passion Plays,” we would have to think of Jesus Christ as not only the main character, the chief actor in the play—we would also have to think of him as playwright, producer, director, even casting director. Well, it is this sermon by Joel Nederhood that first got me thinking in these terms. I have reproduced the sermon for you below. I have deleted three paragraphs from the original sermon, consisting of illustrative material from the 1970s that would not be all that pertinent today. I hope you will be stimulated and driven toward worship by this sermon.
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The Great Scenario
“We are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will turn him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified. On the third day he will be raised to life!” (Matthew 20:18-19)
Several years ago, before many of us were born, the word scenario was a very innocent word. A scenario is a plot, an outline, a synopsis of some dramatic action. It brings the complex events of a play together in a short paragraph and shows how each event affects every other event and how everything will finally turn out.
Today, though, the word scenario has taken on a rather threatening meaning. For it is used now, as you know, in connection with attempts to anticipate the future. Sometimes scenarios are constructed in terms of world resources, and projections are made for the next century or so. Sometimes they are made in connection with foreign affairs. Sometimes they are made in connection with such limited events as a war that is going on at the moment the scenario is being made, or in connection with market trends for short term investment.
So the word scenario now stands for our ability to perceive events that will occur in the future and for our attempt to determine how they will interact. In some respects scenario making is fascinating. But mostly it is exasperating. For, unfortunately, most scenario builders construct two, or even three to cover any period, each one representing a real possibility. The result is that we are nearly as ignorant about the future as we were before, but we are a little more intelligent about our ignorance.
Such in the nature of scenarios. They are imprecise, and they are frightening. And no matter how impressive they may be, we always know that things will not work out exactly as the scenario suggests they will. For it is one thing to write a scenario for a play and then work the play out so that it follows the scenario exactly. But that’s not possible in real life. One cannot write a scenario and then have life follow the scenario perfectly. It cannot be done.
That’s wrong. It can be done. It is possible to construct a scenario and have it work out perfectly. It has been done. It has been done in connection with the most important person who has ever lived. The scenario for His life was put together with great precision and each detail actually occurred. Do you know who that person was? That person was Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
Whenever you think about Him, the Bible wants you to remember that there was nothing haphazard, unlucky, unfortunate, or accidental about His life. Everything about His life was laid out before He ever set foot in this world. Everything He did and everything that men did with Him and to Him was under the control of the master maker of scenarios—God Himself. Every element of Jesus’ experience while in this world was part of the great action of God that had to occur before it would be possible for people like us to experience deliverance from our often bleak, frequently tragic, and occasionally terrifying life experience.
Do you know that Jesus was perfectly in control of everything that happened in His life? Do you know that all the events of His life were designed by God to pay for human sin? Or do you believe, as is sometimes suggested, that Jesus was a very brilliant young prophet who unfortunately made several mistakes that caused His untimely death as a criminal? Do you believe that Jesus’ death was one of the millions of ironies that have marred human history? Well, Jesus’ death was not an accident, an unforeseen event that finally brought Him down and shattered His career.
In Matthew 20, there is a record of a conversation which occurred between Jesus and His disciples, a conversation which evidently was duplicated rather often in one form or another. This is what we read: “And as Jesus was going up to Jerusalem, he took the twelve disciples aside, and on the way he said to them, ‘Behold, we are going up to Jerusalem, and the Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes, and they will condemn him to death, and deliver him to the Gentiles to be mocked and scourged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day'” (17-19). You see, as Jesus moved toward the city where He was going to be condemned to die, He explained to His close associates exactly what was going to happen. And what He said was going to happen did in fact occur, exactly as He had said it would.
This was not the first time Jesus had spoken to His disciples about His approaching death, but it was the first time He spoke so specifically and precisely. His words must have frightened them even more than they already were. They knew the tensions were mounting in the city of Jerusalem and that Jesus would be in great danger when He went there. When Jesus told them exactly what would happen, they knew that all the ingredients for the fulfillment of His words were certainly present in the city at the time of the Passover which was now upon them. They had heard Jesus speak something like this before and they shouldn’t have been surprised. For example, when Peter had confessed that Jesus was the Christ the Son of the living God, the Bible says, “From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised” (Matthew 16:21). Peter had resisted Jesus’ words then, but Jesus had made clear that not even the power of the devil would be able to deter Him from following His course.
The precise scenario which Jesus laid out and which described the exact events that were going to happen to Him and cause His crucifixion are significant because they are part of a description of Jesus’ sacrificial death that spans the entire Bible. What happened to Jesus was not only an event that He knew and controlled, but it was one that had been known for centuries before Jesus’ birth.
At the dawn of human history as we know it—that is, human history contaminated by sin, there was already an announcement, veiled to be sure, but an announcement nevertheless, that described Jesus’ death on Calvary’s cross. The language needs interpretation, but those who are thoroughly familiar with the Bible’s terminology know what the message is. God spoke in the hearing of fallen humanity which stood before Him in the persons of our first parents and announced that the power of Satan would be crushed in a mortal combat that would not leave the victor unscarred (Genesis 3:15). The Old Testament abounds with prophecy that tells of Jesus’ coming. And here and there, specific passages reveal the agony which the Savior would experience as He would walk the road of suffering.
Psalm 22 begins with the very words Jesus used to express His abandonment on the cross, and then describes circumstances which were a perfect scenario of what Jesus went through: “All who see me mock at me, they make mouths at me, they wag their heads; [They say] ‘He committed his cause to the Lord; let him deliver him, let him rescue him, for he delights in him'” (7, 8). That was written about a thousand years before Jesus died, and yet that is exactly what His mockers said when they saw Him hanging on the cross!
Isaiah 53 always stands as high point in the Old Testament description of Jesus’ suffering, and anyone who reads that chapter now, written about seven centuries before Jesus’ actual death, cannot help but be astonished at its graphic description of what He went through. Besides its touching description of Jesus’ wretched suffering, Isaiah 53 even describes the details of His burial. It says, “And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death . . .” (v. 9). And that is exactly what happened. Matthew concludes his account of Jesus’ crucifixion this way, “When it was evening, there came a rich man from Arimathea, named Joseph, who also was a disciple of Jesus. He went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. . . . And Joseph took the body, and wrapped it in a new clean linen shroud, and laid it in his own new tomb, which he had hewn in the rock and he rolled a great stone to the door of the tomb, and departed” (27:57-60).
Isn’t it startling that something as complicated as a person’s life could be laid out with such accuracy years before he lived? In the book of Genesis, in Psalm 22, and in Isaiah 53 which we have just noticed, the broad outline of Jesus’ life was projected and specific events of His life were described. What Jesus told His disciples about the events that were going to happen in Jerusalem must be seen against this great background. He knew the scenario, you see. He wrote it. And He made it come to pass. He was in total charge of His own life . . . . and of His death . . . . and of his resurrection.
Perhaps all this seems very extraordinary and strange to you. It should. When we think about Jesus, it is a mistake to think about Him as an ordinary man who because of some accidental events became world famous. The Bible never gives us that impression. The Bible represents Jesus as the only begotten Son of the living God, and it represents the events of Jesus’ life as events that God arranged to make sure that Satan would be destroyed, sin would be paid for, and the foundations for the new creation and the new Jerusalem would be laid. The events of Jesus’ life that came to such a gruesome conclusion when Jesus was nailed to the cross were elements in a great work of salvation whereby God Himself was providing the great sacrificial lamb that would be needed to take away the sin of the world. It was not that a man Jesus just happened to do something great and God was pleased by it, but God the Father deliberately arranged human history so that His only begotten Son would be laid on the altar and slaughtered for the sin of mankind.
God wrote the scenario for salvation, you see, and God in His great power guaranteed that everything happened according to plan. Even Isaiah, when he described the suffering servant of Israel, left no doubt that the origin of the sufferer’s ordeal was God. Isaiah said, “It was the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief. . .” (53:10). Sometimes we talk about God being love. Well this is the love of God in action: God arranging all of human history so that His beloved Son would be given in crucifixion for human sin.”
All of these things were on Jesus’ mind as He spoke to His disciples. Those who know the Bible well can sense how each of His words carried eternal significance when He told His disciples of His coming death. He called Himself the Son of man—”The Son of man will be delivered to the chief priests and the scribes,” He said, “and they will condemn him to death. . . . ” When he called Himself the Son of man, he referred to the glorious description of the Messiah found in Daniel 7:13. The Son of man was a magnificent personage, associated with clouds and splendor. But, said Jesus, He would be condemned by the religious establishment. And they would turn Him over to the Gentiles for crucifixion.
So Jesus revealed the dimensions of the great scenario God had written for salvation to his frightened disciples as He walked resolutely forward to do the will of His Father in heaven. The scenario not only included precise information about the events that were going to happen, but it also included the perfect obedience of Jesus Himself who came to do the will of His Father in heaven. No greater price was ever paid than that which He put down for human sin, and no price was ever paid with greater self-consciousness and deliberation. And as Jesus moved toward Jerusalem into the very court of the Roman rulers who condemned Him to death, He realized that he was playing out a drama that had been written in heaven.
When He stood before the Roman governor, Pilate said to him, “Where do you come from? . . . Do you refuse to speak to me? Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” (John 19:9, 10). This is the way Jesus answered him, “You have no power over me that was not given you from above” (v. 11). Nothing, you see, about Jesus’ crucifixion was accidental. God was directing it all.
Now, don’t draw the wrong conclusion. Though everything about Jesus’ crucifixion was planned, the people who were involved in it are called lawless men in the Bible. Peter described it this way: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). Yes, men were involved in that crucifixion, too. But over all the things that happened and that finally brought Christ to the point of death, there was the great scenario of salvation that God wrote, directed, and guaranteed would actually come to pass. And it was not until that great scenario of salvation was finished, that your salvation and mine became a possibility.
This is something you should consider very seriously. When Jesus traveled to Jerusalem on that last journey before his crucifixion, He knew exactly what was going to happen to Him. In fact, when Jesus came into the world, what was going to happen to Him was certain and sure. Even though our race fell deeply into sin, God kept control of the reins of human history and He carefully guided and directed all things so that one day Jesus died on Calvary’s cross to pay for sin completely. God laid out human history and He made certain that everything had occurred just exactly as it had to occur to make salvation possible. God Himself became involved with lawless sinful people like us so that the sacrifice could be paid.
That was the great scenario—God planning man’s salvation, and God working it out so that it could become a reality. You know, God has planned your life, too. When we read of the way Jesus Christ, who is God, expressed the perfect control of God over human affairs as He went to the cross, we must remember that God controls all of human history that way. And the same God who carefully arranged events so that the great sin problem could be solved has also arranged that you would come in contact with this salvation.
Perhaps you have heard a great deal about Jesus in your lifetime. But there is a better chance that you have heard very little about Him. And if I were to come to you and say, “You should believe that the death of Jesus on the cross is your only hope for salvation,” you might be inclined to say, “Why should I believe? That was just an accidental event that happened in somebody’s life a long time ago—it attracted a lot of attention—but what can it mean to me today?” If you would say that, I could understand. But now you see that it wasn’t an accidental event. Jesus knew exactly what he was getting into. He was working out something that had been planned in the very courts of heaven.
I know how strange this all sounds. But human beings are saved nowadays when they look to Jesus Christ and they look at the cross and they confess: “I am a sinner and I can be saved only if I am washed in the blood that was shed on Calvary’s cross.” That’s what I mean when I say that people must believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. They must believe that when He died, He carried out God’s great plan of salvation. And then they must surrender themselves to Jesus.
Maybe you thought your life was crashing all out of control. You didn’t know what has happening to you. You didn’t know where you were going or what your future would be. But now I hope you understand that it is not out of control at all. The very same God who is in such perfect control of human affairs that He worked out the scenario for salvation perfectly, has also brought you to this point of meeting Christ. God is showing you Jesus His Son who deliberately walked the road to death so that a person like you might be saved.
The great God who carefully prepared a way of salvation by giving His only begotten Son now comes to you in His grace. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and the scenario of your life will most assuredly include abundant and unending joy.
April 1, 2014