Friday, April 02, 2010

Sermon: Good Friday

2 April 2010 at Salem Lutheran Church, Gretna, LA

Text: John 18:1-19:42 (Isa 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor 5:14-21)

In the name of + Jesus. Amen.

Imagine the confusion among those first Christians, the sense of failure, the feeling that they had wasted years of their lives as followers of a charlatan, as they observed the horrifying events of Good Friday unfold. Their whole world had come undone, and did so with a rapidity that made it impossible for their brains to take it all in.

The disciples had followed Jesus for three years. They heard Him preach and teach like no other rabbi. They saw the miracles, the changed lives, the lepers cleansed, demons exorcised, the blind and the lame and the deaf cured. They were there when Jesus fed thousands by miraculously multiplying bread. He even raised the dead.

Were these all tricks? Or worse yet, was Jesus a devil? Maybe they were all hallucinating. Maybe their own minds were betraying them. But now, reality was crashing in all around them, imploding on them while they watched helplessly.

First, Jesus was betrayed by one of the twelve. There was a violent scuffle with the police. Jesus was arrested. He was tried by the Jews and convicted quickly of blasphemy. He was roughed up and sent to the Romans for yet another trial, this time for sedition and treason against the government. The mobs were seething with rage. The Governor had Jesus cruelly flogged. And yet this was not enough to sate the blood-thirst of the crowds.

Finally, Jesus was crucified. There was nothing left for the disciples but to watch their seemingly false Messiah suffer and die, forsaken by God, stricken, smitten, and afflicted, mocked and humiliated, His lifeblood oozing from His broken body. The dream was over. It was finished.

Where was their God now? And what would happen to them? They were now officially a terrorist cell, and the number one terrorist had been executed. Would they live the rest of their lives on the run? Would they too end up on a Roman cross?

Such confusion. Such terror. They could not eat or sleep. They had no place to go. What a strange beginning for a church, for a vibrant organization of people that includes billions around the world today – even as the Roman Empire is nothing but dusty ruins.

The first disciples were confused. They expected a different end to the story. They should have listened more closely to the prophet Isaiah. For he prophesied: “Behold, My servant shall act wisely; He shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted.” But God had something in particular in mind when He said “lifted up.” The Messiah was to be lifted up on a cross, as the prophet explains: “His appearance so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the children of mankind.” What a strange definition God has of what it means to be “exalted.”

For the Lord’s Kingdom is “not of this world.” The “King of the Jews,” who is also the King of the Universe is also the “Lamb of God that takest away the sin of the world.” He is also the One who has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows… wounded for our transgressions… crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”

St. Paul understood this substitutionary rescue mission of Christ crucified, describing the happy exchange of the atoning work of our Blessed Lord in this way: “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus is the King of Peace, because He purchased peace by winning the war. He defeated Satan, He conquered death. He took away our reproach to make peace between rebellious man and righteous God. For “He bore the sin of many and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

But on this first not-so-Good Friday, the disciples did not see any of this. They only saw an ugly death, excruciating pain, bloody wounds, the agony of suffocation, and a racing heart, amid the roar of mocking crowds milling about like virulent and violent dogs. The disciples saw man at his very worst: cruel, hateful, bloodthirsty, greedy, envious, and self-destructive. And they saw themselves included in this loathsome mirror of their own true nature.

And later, in the coming days and weeks, they would begin to make sense of it all. They would understand the ironically true utterance of the impostor High Priest Caiaphas, speaking of the True High Priest, when he said that it would be expedient that one Man should die for the people.

Jesus Himself would teach them one last time from the cross, His final word being instruction as well as proclamation: “It is finished!” This is a victory cry, an ancient Greek expression of military triumph. To someone ignorant of the struggle going on, to someone who has rejected Jesus as the Lord’s Messiah, this is a curious statement. Why would a dying man, a condemned terrorist, a seemingly defeated and exposed charlatan call a defeat a victory? Was this the last desperate and disturbed utterance of a delusional and pathetic man?

Unlike the first confused disciples living as these events quickly unfolded, there is no confusion on our part. We have the hindsight of history, the comfort of one thousand nine hundred and eighty Easters behind us, and another yet to come on the first day of this next week, yet another new week of creation, an eternal eighth day of glorious life ripped once more from the twisted mouth of death.

We know how those events played out. We know how the Marys would find the tomb. We know how Thomas would come to believe. We know how the disciples would indeed die for the sake of their True Messiah, some themselves on Roman crosses. We know how St. Paul would proclaim the Crucified One to the ends of the known world, and how our own ancestors would come to faith by the testimony and proclamation of the Church’s growing army of missionaries. We know the hope and the truth that we, the Church, continue to proclaim, even to the very same mockers and unbelievers that the Lord Himself died for, and prayed for. We are still derided by twisted mouths of death, asking “Where is your God now?” those who believe in fairy tales, like self-creating matter and beneficial mutations, over and against the obvious – that we are fearfully and wonderfully made creatures of a God who not only created us, but loves us enough to redeem us.

But today, this Good Friday, we join the first Christians to look upon the “sacred head now wounded,” to see Him “led to the slaughter, like a sheep before its shearers… silent.” We ponder His holy wounds, His passion and death, and His Sabbath rest in the tomb – all for us men and for our salvation, all for the forgiveness of sins, all to make all things new. We consider the wretchedness of our own sins and the boundless love that impels Him to die for us. And yet we are not confused. It is truly Good Friday.

And in anticipation of His bursting from the spiced tomb and awaiting His coming again to create a new heavens and earth, we join St. Paul in confessing and proclaiming: “The love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.”

It is finished! Amen.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

1 comment:

George said...

What a beautiful crucifix! Although I can imagine that it would give some people conniption fits. :) Blessed Easter to you!