29 March 2013 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.
“His appearance was so marred beyond human semblance.” “His form beyond that of the children of mankind.” “No form or majesty.” “No beauty.” “Despised and rejected.” “Man of sorrows.” “Acquainted with grief.” “Men hide their faces.” “Despised.” “We esteemed Him not.”
“Stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.” “Pierced.” “Crushed.” “Chastisement.” “Wounds.” “Iniquity.”
“Oppressed… afflicted… slaughter.”
“Oppression and judgment… He was taken away… Cut off from the land of the living.”
“Stricken.” “Grave.” “Death.”
“Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him.” “Grief… offering… anguish.” “Poured out His soul to death… numbered with the transgressors… bore the sin of many.”
These are hardly the word-pictures of one who has triumphed, of a hero, a rescuer, the King of kings and Lord of lords. This is the last thing one would expect of God in the flesh, the conquering general who has crushed the head of the source of all evil forever. Instead, these are disturbing images of torture that one might expect in a dungeon, the fate of a horrific criminal suffering under the oppression of sadistic criminals in a horrific and oppressive justice system.
Dear friends, that is what Good Friday is all about. The prophet Isaiah paints a picture that is disturbing and repulsive, right out of our worst nightmares, something that could only have been dreamed up by the most deranged and evil people who ever lived.
For that is what we are. We are those who delivered the blows upon the innocent Jesus, by our sins in thought, word, and deed; by our sins and iniquities by which we have offended God. We surely deserve punishment both temporal and eternal. And that punishment is laid out for us in shocking graphic imagery by the holy prophet, “the holy, innocent, bitter sufferings and death” of the Lord’s beloved Son, Jesus Christ.
It is enough to make us hate ourselves and the sin-laden world we inhabit with billions of others just as deranged, disturbed, demented, and death-destined. It is enough to make us lose hope.
But dear friends, hope is exactly why this terrifying prophecy was fulfilled in Christ. All of the punishment we deserve was diverted to Jesus, to the suffering Servant, to the Lamb of God pure and holy, to the Atonement, the Sacrifice, the Scapegoat, to Him whose love controls us. The cruel passion and scandalous death of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a random act of meaningless violence, but rather the supreme act of love by the Supreme God who is Love in the very flesh, a flesh that was “pierced for our transgressions,” and “crushed for our iniquities.” For “all this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, Christ was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespass against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
The ancient enmity between God and man has been ended by God who is a Man, a Man who is God. The punishment demanded by divine justice was absorbed and fulfilled by divine mercy. The blood that had to be shed to pay the penalty was paid by our Lamb, for “He died for all.”
The Lord Jesus endured a heart-wrenching betrayal to save us. He allowed Himself to be taken into custody – even though the mention of our Lord saying “I am” hurled His captors to the ground by the sheer power of His Word, and by the divine revelation of who he is. He endured this to rescue us.
He allowed Himself to be bound and marched to kangaroo religious trials even as the wicked so-called high priest Caiaphas was to prophetically declare that Jesus is that “one man” who “should die for the people.” He suffered exactly that for us.
Our Lord was denied, struck, tried in a civil case under the mighty and cruel Roman Empire. He was again betrayed, this time by a mealy-mouthed politician. He was passed over and sacrificed by the people for the sake of releasing a terrorist whose name ironically means “son of the father.” He was flogged. He was mocked. He was crowned with thorns. He was exposed for ridicule in His suffering. And He did all of this so that we, who deserve the treatment He received, might be reconciled to God.
He was condemned. He carried His own cross. He was crucified. And though He was, is, and ever shall be, our true King, He was treated as an impostor by the real impostors. Even His only remaining possessions, His clothes, were stolen and made the object of a dice game. He was reduced to poverty in order that we might be rich. He suffered anguish so that we might be spared. He permitted Himself to taste the bitterness of death so that we might savor the sweetness of life.
“It is finished,” He proclaimed, fulfilling the demands of God’s perfect law. And even in death, He was still saving us by freely lavishing upon the world His atoning blood and saving water as He was indeed “pierced for our transgressions.”
And in a final act of humiliation in which was mankind’s redemption, the Lord Jesus was put into a borrowed tomb, where His lifeless corpse awaited a visit from the Marys, to be given one last act of kindness in the form of treating the body, an act that turned out differently than they expected.
For even though the universe-shattering events of these few days in April nearly two millennia ago were prophesied by Isaiah seven centuries prior, it is still shocking and surprising to us, still appalling to our ears, and yet music to our desperate and dying souls.
No, dear brothers and sisters in Christ, this is no random act of violence, but rather a carefully planned act of love, a heroic rescue, a redemption beyond that which any mere human author or tale-teller can come up with.
For “behold My Servant shall act wisely… high and lifted up… exalted.” “So shall He sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of Him. “The will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.” “He shall see and be satisfied.” “Many to be accounted righteous.” “He… makes intercession for the transgressors.”
This is the imagery of victory, of healing, of reconciliation, of the destruction of death. These are word-pictures of love, of mercy, and of everlasting life.
“For the love of Christ controls us.” “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come. All this is from God.”
“Therefore,” we preachers repeat to the beloved people of God, people redeemed by Christ Jesus, in the very words of St. Paul, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ…” “We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
We implore you, dear friends, on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For we know what is coming. We forgiven sinners loved by God know the great surprise that awaited the Marys. And with our fellow redeemed around the globe, we wait in joyful hope and expectation to see what they saw.
“It is finished.” Amen.
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