When it comes to illustrating Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross, one of the most popular stories to use is the legendary tale of the bridge engineer and his son. It’s dramatic and emotional. It’s a story that breaks my heart every time I read it. I’m sure you’ve heard me use it, perhaps more than once. Remember? It’s about an engineer who, back before automation and computers made his job obsolete, spent every day operating a drawbridge that spanned a mighty river. He used a control panel of levers and switches to set into motion a huge set of gears that either lifted the bridge so that boats could pass underneath, or lowered it back into its original position so trains could cross the river. He, of course, had a set schedule that he followed day in and day out.
One day this bridge operator took his son to work with him. He delighted in telling his little boy how everything worked and how important his job was, since hundreds of people relied on him to raise and lower this bridge so they could travel safely from place to place. The little boy beamed with pride as his father explained his job. He also greatly admired all of the switches that controlled the huge gears. But after a couple of hours of observing his father work, the boy grew bored, so his father sent him out to play. A short while later, the bridge operator realized that it was almost time for him to lower the bridge so the 5 p.m. commuter train could cross. But, as he was about to pull the switch that would lower the bridge, he glanced out the window to see that his son had apparently been climbing on the gears; and his foot was stuck. In fact, he was wedged between the huge gears–;alive, but trapped–;and unable to free himself. The engineer was about to hurry to help his son when he heard the train whistle in the distance. Suddenly he realized that he did not have sufficient time to free his son, return to the control box, and lower the bridge in time for the passenger train to cross safely. But if he pulled the switch to lower the bridge, his little boy would be crushed in the massive turning gears in which he was entangled. He was forced to make a horrible choice: either his son would be killed, or a trainload of passengers would plunge to their deaths in the river below. This dilemma mandated an impossible decision, but the engineer knew what he had to do; so he reached for the lever and pulled it; and, in so doing, sacrificed the life of his son so that the people on the train would live.
As he agonized over His son’s death, he looked up to see the passenger train rumble by. With tears streaming down his face, he looked through its windows to see hundreds of people oblivious to the sacrifice he had made on their behalf.
Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that this familiar story IS powerful. And, there ARE parallels in it that help us to understand God’s giving his only Son for you and me:
- For example, like the bridge operator, God could not save man without killing His Son.
- Plus, the bridge operator’s heart was full of grief as He acted to save the train by pulling that lever and sacrificing his son, just as God’s heart was full of grief as He allowed Jesus to be sacrificed on our behalf. Do you remember the huge tear drop that seemed to fall from heaven in Mel Gibson’s movie, THE PASSION, as Jesus died on the cross–illustrating God’s great grief in that moment?
- Here’s another parallel: Just like the story, while hundreds flew by the operator’s control booth unaware of what their safety cost him, today many people are just as oblivious to Jesus’ death for them on the cross of Calvary.
So in several ways, this popular story does indeed serve to illustrate what Jesus did for us all on the cross. But in at least ONE very important way this story is DIFFERENT. There is at least one aspect of it that does not parallel Jesus’ death on the cross. Listen to Peter’s words from Acts 2, and see if you catch what I’m referring to:
"Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through Him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put Him to death by nailing Him to the cross."
Did you catch it? Did you see the difference between Jesus’ death on the cross and the death of that bridge operator’s son? In case you missed it, here it is: Jesus’ death on the cross was part of, "God’s set purpose and foreknowledge." Unlike the story of the bridge operator, Jesus’ death on the cross for your sins and mine was no accident. As MAX LUCADO puts it,
"Jesus’ death was not the result of a panicking cosmological engineer. The cross was not a tragic surprise. Calvary was not a knee-jerk response to a world plummeting towards destruction. The death of the Son of God was anything but an unexpected peril."
No, it was part of a plan. It was God’s calculated choice.
I think this is the main thing our Advent study of all these Christmas B. C. texts has shown us. Jesus’ coming to die for our sins was God’s purpose all along. Remember? As we learned in our study of the very FIRST Christmas B. C. text in Genesis 3:15, even then, immediately after the first sin, God promised to send a Redeemer, Someone Whom He said would one day come to crush Satan’s head, which Jesus did on the first Easter Sunday morning! But as we have learned, that was just the FIRST prophecy of the coming Christ. His character and work was spelled out for us in Isaiah’s prophecy; a Christmas B.C. text that told us Jesus would be the Wonderful Counselor, the Mighty God, the Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace. And then, as we learned yesterday, Micah 5 shows us how God planned the exact PLACE for His Son to be born.
As I said a few weeks back, these are only a few of hundreds of prophecies about the Messiah, predictions given hundreds and thousands of years before the first Christmas night, prophecies that not only told of His birth but also the manner of His life, death and resurrection. So, the cross was ALWAYS God’s plan. It was not an accident. As it says in Isaiah 53:10, "It was the Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer." The cross of Calvary was drawn into the original blueprint of Creation. The moment the forbidden fruit touched Eve’s lips in the Garden of Eden, the shadow of the cross appeared on the horizon. Between that moment and the moment the Roman soldier with the hammer placed the spike against the wrist of God, a master plan was fulfilled. This means that, in Jesus, God planned His own sacrifice, literally from the dawn of creation. He loved you and me enough to plan to do this. Understand–;it also means He didn’t have to do it, but He did. Like the poet says…
He Maker of the universe
As Man for man was made a curse;
The claims of laws which He had made
Unto the uttermost He paid.
His holy fingers made the bough
Where grew the thorns that crowned His brow;
The nails that pierced His hands were mined
In secret places He designed.
He made the forests whence there sprung
The tree on which His body hung;
He died upon a cross of wood,
Yet made the hill on which it stood!
In a very real sense, Jesus was BORN crucified. On that first Christmas night, the angel said as much to those shepherds. Do you remember his proclamation? "For unto you is born this day a SAVIOR which is Christ the Lord." So a cross-shaped shadow was always over Jesus’ life…from the moment He was laid in that manger.
And, as incarnate God, we must remember this was no surprise to Jesus. All of His life He was aware that death on the cross was His life’s purpose. Remember? Facing Pilate, his crucifixion imminent, Jesus said, "For this reason I was born, and for this reason I came into the world…" (John 18:37). Knowingly, willingly, NOT ACCIDENTALLY, Jesus died for you and me. In John 10:18 He said, "I lay My life down on My own initiative. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again…." So the ropes the soldiers used to tie His hands were unnecessary. It was not the nails that held Him there, but rather His love for you and me. That AMAZING LOVE–;the love that God has for you and me–;this is what prompted Him to make this eternal plan, and work for centuries to bring it to fruition. I like how Ron Mehl puts it:
"If the almighty, eternal Son of God had to become a human being, He would do it. He would lay aside His mighty power and the splendor of His majesty, and come into His own creation as a tiny baby. AND HE DID!
If He had to face down Satan and the jeering, slithering powers of Hell, rejecting their temptations, He would oppose them to the end. AND HE DID!
If He had to endure rejection, humiliation, mocking, and scorn, becoming a ‘Man of Sorrows, acquainted with grief,’ He would do it. AND HE DID!
If He had to die on a Roman cross for our sins, He would do it. If He had to drink the full cup of God’s wrath for our sins, He would drink it. If He had to taste death in order to free us from its power, He would submit to it. AND HE DID!
Nothing stopped Him from bringing His message and accomplishing His plan. Not tradition. Not distance. Not darkness. Not Satan. Not Hell. Not even death itself."
That’s the extent of God’s love! He has always loved you! He has always had a plan to make it possible for you to experience that love! Nothing has stopped Him from bringing it to fruition.
Each Christmas Eve we observe communion to remind us of God’s loving, eternal plan. We partake of the Lord’s Supper to help us remember that, as part of that plan, just beyond the manger there stood a rugged cross. And as we do so tonight, let me invite all Christians present to partake with us, even if you are not a member of this church. If you are a Christian, if you are His, this is Yours.
THE ORDINANCE OF COMMUNION