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THE MANY AND THE FEW IN CRUCIFIXION WEEK

by Dr. C. L. Cagan

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord’s Day Morning, March 17, 2019

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).


Almost two years ago our church sent me to India to preach the Gospel. I went to poor villages and large cities. That place is crowded! India has four times as many people as the United States in a third of the land – so it’s twelve times as crowded as our country. In the cities, I saw street after street, mile after mile, with people standing and sitting three or four feet apart and stores only ten or twelve feet wide.

These countless millions live and die in spiritual darkness. I saw poor people walking barefoot to offer fruit and rice to Hindu idols. In one city I climbed up a tower. I looked down and saw tens of thousands of people, like a vast human anthill. How few of them trusted Christ! Millions ran this way and that – caught in spiritual deception by the Devil – all without Christ.

I went to three countries in Africa. It was no different. There were millions of people scrambling and moving – but how few were converted! Years ago I went to New York City on business. Was it different? Again I saw endless thousands brushing past each other on the streets without talking, seeking the false god of money. Some were nominal Catholics or Protestants – but how few were saved!

Almost twenty years ago our church sent me to Israel. I visited the city of Jerusalem. Was it different? No. Again it was a huge human anthill of people scurrying this way and that. Many of them were religious. Some dressed in black. They went to religious meetings every week, out of habit. How few of them had eternal life!

At this time of year, which the Catholics call “Lent,” leading up to Easter, we remember the last week before Christ died, especially His death and resurrection. In Jerusalem two thousand years ago, was it different? No, it was not. Human nature was the same as always – lost and depraved. How could it not be? In Jerusalem humanity – even at its best – showed its true self, and crucified the Son of God. What happened there shows us two important things.

I. First, the many reject Christ.

The great mass of men live and die without salvation. The Bible says, “There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12). Again, the Bible says, “They are all under sin” (Romans 3:9). All are children of Adam, with a heart born in selfishness and rebellion against God. You are a child of Adam, with a heart born in sin. Someone may think, “It’s not fair that so many are lost.” The answer is, “All are lost and deserve to be punished. It is a miracle of grace that anyone is saved.” Only the chosen receive that grace and are saved. Our text says, “For many are called, but few are chosen.” The great masses of men live and die without trusting Christ. Think of the people in Jerusalem that week.

First, there were the crowds. To be sure, they welcomed Jesus as he rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Carried away with excitement, they shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David: Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord; Hosanna in the highest” (Matthew 21:9). But did they trust the Saviour? No, they only shouted out of emotion, just as crowds do today. After all, Jesus was the celebrity of the moment. He was the preacher who healed the sick and raised the dead. Maybe He would free Israel from the Romans. They cheered and cheered, as people applaud celebrities and athletes now. But five days later, as Christ stood before Pilate, “they cried, saying, Crucify him, crucify him” (Luke 23:21). It was all emotion, not trust in Jesus. The crowds screamed for the death of the Saviour.

Then there were the Romans. They ruled over Israel with the sword. No one could raise his hand against them. No one could call himself King and get away with it. And so they crucified Christ, under the orders of their governor, Pontius Pilate. They scourged Him with a heavy whip and stripped the skin off His back until He was almost dead. They pounded heavy nails into Jesus’ hands and feet, nailing Him to a cross. There they left Him to die in agony.

We think of the Romans as cruel and mean, and so they were. But I said it was the best of humanity that crucified the Son of God, and so it was. The Romans built an empire that ruled for centuries. People still talk about it today. The city of Rome stood for eight hundred years before it fell. It was the greatest power on earth. And yet Rome the great gave Christ the death of a rebellious slave, hung on a cross naked in shame and blood. That was what the best of humanity did to Jesus.

Now think of the Sanhedrin. This was the court of rabbis (teachers, Bible scholars) that ran the religious affairs of the Jewish people, led by the high priest Caiaphas. They were the best of humanity. They believed in the true God. There were no idol worshipers among them; no adulterers, no drunkards. They were strictly observant of every detail of religion. They studied the Old Testament Scriptures deeply, including the prophecies about the Messiah. Many of them knew the Torah (the first five books of the Bible) from memory. Yet these learned, religious men rejected Christ because they feared losing their high positions. They had Christ arrested in Gethsemane. They condemned Him in an illegal trial. It was only because they had not the power to put a man to death that they took Jesus to the Roman governor. There they angrily demanded of Pilate, “Let him be crucified. Let him be crucified” (Matthew 27:22, 23). Through the Sanhedrin, the best of humanity shouted for the death of their God.

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You say, “I’m not like those people. I didn’t hammer nails into the hands of Jesus. I didn’t scream for His death.” But you reject Him all the same. Through your personal struggle, you turn away from Christ. You may think that your case is special, an exception, and that you have a good excuse. But in your struggle, you turn against Him in the end.

Think about two specific people. The obvious case is that of Judas. He was with Christ for three years. He took care of the money of the Disciples, for he “had the bag” (John 12:6). Money was his reason for following Christ. He took money out for himself, for he “was a thief” (John 12:6). One day he saw a woman take a pound of very expensive ointment, anointing the feet of Jesus. Judas exploded, saying, “Why was not this ointment sold for three hundred pence, and given to the poor?” (John 12:5). This was expensive indeed, for a “penny,” a denarius, was a day’s pay for a working man. Three hundred pence was almost a year’s pay. Judas could not put up with using up so much money. He wanted that money put in the bag for him to manage and to steal from. Things weren’t working out the way he’d hoped. It looked like he wouldn’t be rich after all. Not long afterwards he went out to betray Christ for thirty pieces of silver. Yes, Judas walked with Christ, but in the end he chose money and rejected the Saviour.

Now think about the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. He was a harsh man who used force to maintain the peace. He had put many to death. But he had his own inner struggle. As governor, he knew that Jesus had been acclaimed when He rode into Jerusalem five days earlier on a donkey. His wife told him, “Have thou nothing to do with that just man” (Matthew 27:19). When the Sanhedrin demanded that he put Christ to death, Pilate wondered why. He interviewed Jesus and brought Him out saying, “I find in him no fault at all” (John 18:38). He did not want to crucify Jesus. Instead, he sent Christ to be scourged. He thought that might satisfy the accusers without Jesus having to die. After that whipping Pilate said again, “I find no fault in him” (John 19:4).

Pilate had an inner struggle. He knew Jesus was innocent. He didn’t want to crucify Him. The Bible says, “Pilate sought to release him” (John 19:12). Why didn’t he let Christ go free? In his heart, above his sense of guilt and innocence, stood his job, his high position. That was his god, and the Sanhedrin knew it. They shouted, “If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar's friend” (John 19:12). They cried, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). They would complain about Pilate to the emperor in Rome. They would say he freed a man who called himself a King (even though Christ’s kingdom was “not of this world,” John 18:36, and Pilate knew it). Caesar would be angry with the governor, and Pilate would lose his position, even his head. Pilate chose what mattered most to him, and crucified the sinless Son of God.

Are you any better? You have your own struggle. You have your own reasons. You say, “I don’t have time to come into the church. I have other things to do.” You think that’s a good excuse. You think you’re a special exception. But you’re the same as everyone else. Everyone is called to “deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow” Jesus (Luke 9:23). You refuse to listen to God, and you reject Christ.

You say, “I don’t feel as happy here as I want. Some people left and I feel bad. And I have this or that problem. I have an inner struggle. I can’t trust Christ.” You think you’re a special exception. You’re the same as anyone else who puts themselves first. You’re just like Pilate and Judas, and if you don’t repent and trust Christ, you’ll go to Hell with them.

II. Second, God draws the few to Christ.

Jesus said, “No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him” (John 6:44). God draws some people to Christ. They, and only they, are saved.

Think of Peter. He denied Jesus three times. He was asked, “Art not thou also one of his disciples?” But Peter “denied it, and said, I am not” (John 18:25). To a woman he said, “Woman, I know him not” (Luke 22:57). That night Peter rejected Christ, denying Him three times. If Christ had left him in that condition he would have lived out his life and gone to Hell. But Peter was one of the elect, one of the chosen. Peter didn’t give eternal life to himself. Neither did the other Disciples. Jesus gave it to them. After the resurrection He “breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (John 20:22). As the great radio Bible teacher Dr. J. Vernon McGee said, “These men were regenerated [born again]. Before this, they had not been indwelt by the Spirit of God” (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson Publishers, volume IV, p. 498; note on John 20:21).

The Apostle Thomas was not there that night. He didn’t come to Jesus. He refused to believe that Christ had risen from the dead. Thomas said, “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). A week later Christ came, “the doors being shut” (John 20:26). Thomas didn’t go after Jesus. Christ came to him, through closed doors and walls! And Jesus said to Thomas, “Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing” (John 20:27). Thomas trusted Jesus and was converted! But the credit doesn’t go to Thomas. No, all the credit goes to Christ, who went through locked doors, came to Thomas, and offered him His own hands and feet!

I have talked of Christ’s Disciples. Now let me tell you about God drawing another man. I speak of a Roman centurion, the commander of a hundred soldiers. He had seen people killed. He had killed people himself. He had seen so many crucifixions that it was routine to him. But he saw something different about Jesus. After Christ died, the soldier said, “Truly this man was the Son of God” (Mark 15:39). Tradition tells us the man became a Christian. When he got up that morning, he wasn’t looking for Christ. He wasn’t thinking about trusting Jesus. It was Christ that showed him who He really was. Yes, God picks out some, often very unlikely people, and draws them to Christ to be saved.

Now I want to speak of another man who is not mentioned until later in the Bible. He was the most unlikely, yea impossible, convert of all. And yet he was the greatest Christian of all. I’m talking about Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul. His name is not given in the four Gospel accounts, yet it is right to say he was there. Saul was a very strict and religious man, “as touching the law, a Pharisee” (Philippians 3:5). He was brought up “in this city [Jerusalem!] at the feet of Gamaliel,” the great rabbi (Acts 22:3). He worked and studied so hard that he got ahead of the other young men (see Galatians 1:14) because he was “exceedingly zealous of the traditions of [his] fathers” (Galatians 1:14). Many scholars think Saul was a member of the Sanhedrin himself.

He lived in Jerusalem. Even if he was away, he would certainly come back to celebrate the Passover. Yes, he was in Jerusalem when Christ came into the city, when Jesus preached, and when He was crucified. What was the man thinking? He was against Jesus with all of his heart and mind. He approved of the Saviour’s crucifixion. We know what he was like, for he was there when Stephen was stoned for preaching Christ. The men who stoned him “laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul” (Acts 7:58). “And Saul was consenting unto his death” (Acts 8:1). Saul was in favor of killing Stephen. Then he went after the Christians even more. “Saul...made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). He went after the Christians with all his might, going into houses, pulling people out and throwing them in jail. Then “Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1, 2). He was on the way to another city to attack the Christians there.

Saul was a bitter enemy of Christ. He was filled with hate and persecuted the believers with tremendous zeal. He wasn’t looking for Jesus. He didn’t want Jesus. He hated Jesus. Yet he was converted a short time later. He was one of God’s elect. God had chosen him for salvation. God drew him to Jesus when that was the last thing he wanted.

Saul didn’t come to Jesus. Jesus came to him! Christ spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 9:5). Saul was awakened then and there. He was converted a few days later and became the Apostle Paul.

Paul didn’t take the credit for his conversion. He never spoke of the greatness of his own trust or the nobility of his heart. Quite the opposite! A few years later Paul wrote, “It pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, to reveal his Son in me” (Galatians 1:15, 16). In those few words Paul gave all the glory to God. God separated him from his mother’s womb. That is, God chose him before he was born. God “called [him] by his grace.” Paul didn’t want to trust Jesus. God called him by grace. Paul didn’t learn how to trust Jesus or study his way into salvation. He said it was God’s grace “to reveal his Son in me.” It was all of God, all of grace!

God has elected some to be saved. Some of them were people who no one would expect to be converted, like Paul. But chosen they were, and converted they became. I was one of them. I was a selfish, greedy unbeliever. Being converted was the last thing I wanted. Yet God reached out to me and drew me to Christ, and here I am today. And so it may be for you. Whoever you are, whatever sin you have committed, if you trust Jesus you will be saved forever. Christ died on the Cross to pay for your sin. He shed His Blood to wash your sin away. He rose from the dead to give you life and conquer death forever. If you trust Jesus you will be saved today! If you would like to speak with me about trusting Christ, please come and sit in the first two rows. Amen.


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“Is It Nothing To You?” (by Jane E. Hall, 19th century; stanzas 1 and 3).


THE OUTLINE OF

THE MANY AND THE FEW IN CRUCIFIXION WEEK

by Dr. C. L. Cagan

“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).

I.    First, the many reject Christ, Romans 3:10-12, 9; Matthew 21:9;
Luke 23:21; Matthew 27:22, 23; John 12:6, 5; Matthew 27:19;
John 18:38; 19:4, 12, 15; Luke 9:23.

II.   Second, God draws the few to Christ, John 6:44; 18:25;
Luke 22:57; John 20:22, 25, 26, 27; Mark 15:39;
Philippians 3:5; Acts 22:3; Galatians 1:14; Acts 7:58;
Acts 8:1, 3; 9:1, 2, 5; Galatians 1:15, 16.