And Then There Were None

Agatha Christie & Martin Niemöller

Little did I know when I chose the title, "And Then There Were None," for this sermon that Agatha Christie actually wrote a book by that name. It is a mystery where ten unpunished murderers are invited to an island where, one-by-one, they are knocked off. I can't really say it's original title in a public setting, but it was "Ten Little" N-word after a nursery poem of the same name (the deaths in her plot paralleled those in the poem). It was also published and filmed under the title "Ten Little Indians."

I do not know how it turns out since I haven't read the book; whether anyone actually survives (and who the murderer is…or I suppose…who the murderers are)…but let me assure you that the novel does not parallel my sermon…not to mention that those of you sitting before me won't suddenly meet some terrible doom, one-by-one. 🙂

[ These are quick sermon notes…not cleaned-up…and missing the "extras" that come out in the audio (which is available here). All quotes are from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted. ]

Now…separately…a well-known saying by the famous anti-Nazi German Christian minister, Martin Niemöller [nee-merl-ler] did to mind as I was pondering this talk. Perhaps you will remember it:

In Germany, they first came for the Communists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Communist; then they came for the Jews, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Jew. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I didn't speak up because I wasn't a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn't speak up because I was a Protestant. Then they came for me—and by that time no one was left to speak up.1

I wasn't able to learn the context to Niemöller's statement. If there is anyone during the lead-up to World War II (and the war itself) who didn't hesitate to speak up, at great personal cost, it was Niemöller. However, the sense of being "all alone," as communicated by his words, fits the spirit of what we'll be discussing today.

All Alone

How about you?

Have you ever felt "all alone"?

Job Search

This has come to mind some for me recently because as I have searched for work sometimes the silence can be deafening. As anyone who has looked for a new job in a bad economy knows, the most common response to an application is…well…nothing. At best you might get some automated response saying they received your submission, but usually those are very clear in also communicating (to paraphrase), "You won't hear from us unless we think you're worth it."

However, those aren't near as painful as the ones that show some early (and significant) interest and then suddenly go quiet. Hot prospects go cold…no more calls…no more e-mails. You finally reach out and either, again, get no response or an explanation that makes you really wonder if there is something they aren't telling you just to save your feelings.

But perhaps the worst job-hunting experience is when a friend tells you he thinks you would be great in a position at his company, and not only do you not hear back from that business—your buddy goes silent too.

Of course, when I use the word "you" I really mean "me"…but I suspect many of you can empathize from personal experience. As I sit in front of my computer screen, day-after-day, watching my inbox and caller ID, there are times I feel very, very alone.

Love and Friendship

Perhaps some of you have never had trouble finding work (up until January this year I didn't when I really needed it). However, I do suspect you've sensed deep loneliness otherwise.

Have you ever courted someone (or been courted by someone)…and again…things look really positive…only to have the person stop calling (or answering your calls)…avoid you in public…and so on? You were so in love…and they seemed so in love too…and then they treated you like a leper?

How did that feel?

Or maybe a friend agrees with you on a difficult issue…tells you that you should stand up for X, Y, or Z…and then is totally silent when you are attacked by others who disagree?

How did that feel?

Perhaps even worse…to have it turn out to be your friend or your son or your daughter or your boyfriend or your girlfriend or your wife or your husband…was the one working against you the whole time?

How did that feel?

Like the rug was pulled out from under you?

Like you were truly "all alone"…no matter how many people on Facebook sent their condolences, shared your righteous anger, or told you they would pray for you?

Something Else?

Even if I haven't touched on any circumstance that hits home for you, I have a hard time believing you cannot personally come up with multiple situations over your life where you've feel a deep, depressing, and overwhelming sense of loneliness. For instance, I still can still picture my grade-school self sitting all alone against the brick wall of Canaan Elementary School with my head between my knees. Why? Because nobody wanted to play with me since I was a goody-two-shoes brainiac (a judgment reiterated every time I was the last one chosen for a team).

What are your loneliness stories?

Pity-Party

Now, I haven't mentioned my experiences, or suggested you should think of yours, so we can have a pity-party…or to have you feel sorry for me.

Instead, we are going to talk about the ultimate case of being "all alone"…and I really, really want you to understand as much as you can how it must of felt.

Truly Alone

In our examples we were never truly alone—it just felt like it. We are about to read of the most absolute type of loneliness…one that is unsurvivable.

Triumphant Arrival

But before we do, we are going to join our Savior on a donkey during passion week, something that is totally appropriate considering today is Easter. Let's turn to Matthew 21:6-9:

6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them. 7 They brought the donkey and the colt and put on them their cloaks, and he sat on them. 8 Most of the crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 And the crowds that went before him and that followed him were shouting, "Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!"

What we just read there is something that we Christians remember on Palm Sunday. The ESV Study Bible explains the significance of these words:

21:8 Cloaks on the road symbolized the crowd's submission to Jesus as king (cf. 2 Kings 9:13). Branches (palms) symbolized Jewish nationalism and victory (see John 12:13). They were connected with prominent Jewish victories (e.g., 1 Macc. 13:51) and with the Festival of Tabernacles; palm motifs were common on both Jewish coinage and synagogue decoration.

21:9 Hosanna. Hebrew, meaning "O save" (cf. 2 Sam. 14:4). Son of David. The crowd acknowledges that Jesus is the Davidic Messiah (see note on Matt. 9:27).2

Basically the Israelites were announcing and celebrating the arrival of their king and Messiah.

Please remember this fact as we quickly skip to the end of the Passion Week. Israel is like a girlfriend or a boyfriend who has told you how great you are and how much they love you. Or, for our younger members, it is like the Jews have sent Jesus a text message signed with "BFF" (best friends forever).

Predicting the Future

After seeing how the masses told Jesus how great He was, let's look at some assurances from His own disciples. We'll stick with Matthew for most of our discussion today, so let's head to Matthew 26:30-35:

30 And when they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives. 31 Then Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away because of me this night. For it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.' 32 But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee." 33 Peter answered him, "Though they all fall away because of you, I will never fall away." 34 Jesus said to him, "Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times." 35 Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same.

Jesus was no dummy. He knew what is about to happen and He "knew what was in man" including His disciples (see John 2:24-25). He predicted that when the times got tough the tough would get going, only to be told…

Peter said to him, "Even if I must die with you, I will not deny you!" And all the disciples said the same."

Based on the reception He got coming into Jerusalem and the assurances He received from His apostles, Jesus should have been riding high. The people He had come to free from the bondage of sin and His closest confidents where emphatically showing their support.

In the Garden

Let's continue reading in Matthew:

36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, "Sit here, while I go over there and pray." 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, "My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me." 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will." 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, "So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak." 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, "My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done." 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, "Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand" (Matthew 26:36-46).

Hmmm…it's not looking too good. "All the disciples" said that they would never deny Jesus (especially Peter), yet Peter, James, and John couldn't even force themselves to keep their eyes open (as requested) while their good friend was in extreme emotional pain. As Luke shares in Luke 22:44, "And being in an agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground."

This does not bode well…let's keep reading…

47 While he was still speaking, Judas came, one of the twelve, and with him a great crowd with swords and clubs, from the chief priests and the elders of the people. 48 Now the betrayer had given them a sign, saying, "The one I will kiss is the man; seize him." 49 And he came up to Jesus at once and said, "Greetings, Rabbi!" And he kissed him. 50 Jesus said to him, "Friend, do what you came to do." Then they came up and laid hands on Jesus and seized him. 51 And behold, one of those who were with Jesus stretched out his hand and drew his sword and struck the servant of the high priest and cut off his ear. 52 Then Jesus said to him, "Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword. 53 Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels? 54 But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?" 55 At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, "Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me. 56 But all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled." Then all the disciples left him and fled (Matthew 26:47-56).

Well, there we go. In Matthew 26:35 we hear "all the disciples" in the context of all the disciples promising Jesus they would never leave Him…and that was in response to Jesus predicting they would all be scattered.

Now we read "all the disciples" again.

As in "all the disciples left him and fled."

And then there were none.

Jesus was left all alone.

And then there were none.

Nobody willing to join Him in chains as He was taken away by those with swords and clubs.

And then there were none.

After His Trial

We are going to fast forward again. We just saw Jesus being abandoned by His disciples, and soon after…he was damned by Israel's leaders. Luckily Rome didn't allow the rebellious Jews to carry out a death sentence themselves, so Jesus got His time before Pilate, a man smart enough to know our Lord was innocent. We join Matthew's narrative once more as Pilate tried a fairly ingenious way of releasing Jesus against the wishes of the Jewish leaders:

15 Now at the feast the governor was accustomed to release for the crowd any one prisoner whom they wanted. 16 And they had then a notorious prisoner called Barabbas. 17 So when they had gathered, Pilate said to them, "Whom do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?" 18 For he knew that it was out of envy that they had delivered him up. 19 Besides, while he was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent word to him, "Have nothing to do with that righteous man, for I have suffered much because of him today in a dream." 20 Now the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus. 21 The governor again said to them, "Which of the two do you want me to release for you?" And they said, "Barabbas." 22 Pilate said to them, "Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?" They all said, "Let him be crucified!" 23 And he said, "Why, what evil has he done?" But they shouted all the more, "Let him be crucified!"

24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, "I am innocent of this man's blood; see to it yourselves." 25 And all the people answered, "His blood be on us and on our children!" 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified(Matthew 27:15-26).

His disciples had fled.

And then there were none.

The Jewish rulers had damned him.

And then there were none.

The people who greeted Him as king and Messiah less than a week before chose a "notorious prisoner" over Him.

And then there were none.

The Roman governor who knew He was innocent "delivered him to be crucified."

And then there were none.

And Then There Was Truly None

Now think back to the time you felt most alone…

How do you think Jesus felt?

Not a single soul in this world was standing by Him during His greatest time of need.

However, it wasn't as bad as it seems. If we rewind a little bit back to His last hours with the disciples and turn to the Gospel of John, we learn Jesus wasn't 100% alone:

32 Behold, the hour is coming, indeed it has come, when you will be scattered, each to his own home, and will leave me alone. Yet I am not alone, for the Father is with me (John 16:32).

No…Jesus was not alone…His Father was with Him…when the disciples fled…when the rulers condemned…when the people rejected…and when Pilate sentenced.

The Cross

And Pilate's sentence was carried out. Jesus was flogged and hung on a cross. We return to Matthew's gospel:

45 Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour. 46 And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" 47 And some of the bystanders, hearing it, said, "This man is calling Elijah." 48 And one of them at once ran and took a sponge, filled it with sour wine, and put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink. 49 But the others said, "Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him." 50 And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice and yielded up his spirit (Matthew 27:45-50).

2 Corinthians 5:21 says, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God." That explains why, just before Jesus died, His Father left, causing Jesus to cry out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

His disciples had fled.

And then there were none.

The Jewish rulers had damned him.

And then there were none.

The people who greeted Him as king and Messiah less than a week before chose a "notorious prisoner" over Him.

And then there were none.

The Roman governor who knew He was innocent "delivered him to be crucified."

And then there were none.

His Father treated Him as sin and left Him alone on the cross.

And then there were none.

And then there were truly none.

So Much More

Now, I really don't want to stop here, but I'm afraid the rest of this talk is going to have to wait until next week.

Yes, I know this has been more of a "Good Friday" sermon than a "Resurrection Sunday" one.

However, it is probably good that we take a week to reflect on just how alone Jesus was before He "yielded up his spirit."

I don't care how lonely you have felt…you were never really alone.

Jesus was truly, utterly, completely alone.

Not because of anything He did.

Because you…because I…because we all have in our lives joined the disciples, the Jewish rulers, the people, and the Roman governor in choosing sin over our Savior.

And that Savior was made "to be sin…so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."

We are the reason that…

And then there were none.

Footnotes

1Green, M. P. (1989). Illustrations for Biblical Preaching : Over 1500 sermon illustrations arranged by topic and indexed exhaustively (Revised edition of: The expositor's illustration file). Grand Rapids: Baker Book House.

2Crossway Bibles. (2008). The ESV Study Bible (1865). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.


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