Friday, April 18, 2014

Sermon: Good Friday – 2014

18 April 2014

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

In the name of + Jesus.  Amen.

In Luther’s hymn, “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” we sing that when it comes to the devil, “one little word can fell him.”  Dr. Luther doesn’t tell us what word he had in mind, but a good candidate for such a single word appears in St. John’s detailed and agonizing account of our Lord’s crucifixion.  It is a single Greek word: Τετέλεσται.  It is one little word, but we need three English words to translate it: “It is finished.”

“It is finished!”

The English doesn’t really capture the meaning of the original language.  It’s really a daring and gutsy word, approaching what we might even call “trash talk.”  It is a declaration of conquest over a vanquished foe.  It is a fist raised triumphantly.  It is the war cry of the survivor.  It is a celebration that one’s mission has been accomplished.  It is the ticker-tape parade.  It is a shout of joy and of happiness.  It is victory.

“It is finished!”

And here, in the account of our Lord’s death, it seems so out of place – at least when said by Jesus as He bows His head and gives up His spirit.  It is not what we would expect at all.

Judas might have said: “It is finished” when his plan to betray Jesus bore fruit (as well as a payday).  But Judas ended up hanging himself.  Peter might have shouted “It is finished” after playing the hero and slicing off Malchus’s ear, but instead he took a scolding from Jesus and then turned into a sniveling coward.  The soldiers who arrested Jesus, mocked him, beat him, flogged him, and crucified him might have claimed victory by saying: “It is finished,” a term they knew from their military careers, but they ended up with a few pieces of cloth and wringing their hands in fear of the day’s events, proclaimed Jesus to have been righteous.  The high priest and the Sanhedrin might have proclaimed, “It is finished,” after illegally putting Jesus on trial and successfully getting him crucified by the Romans, but in fact they became shameful collaborators with their occupiers, murderers of one of their own.  Pilate might have claimed the right to boast, “It is finished,” when he asserted Rome’s power, but all he did was put an innocent man to death because of cowardice, unmanly fear of those over whom he ruled. 

Finally, Satan ought to have been able to claim “It is finished,” because of the crucifixion of Jesus, having murdered God in the flesh, having placed Him in unspeakable agony, and having wrought cosmic havoc on the earth and seemingly making chaos among the Godhead.  But, the crucifixion of Jesus was the very crushing of the serpent’s head prophesied in the Garden of Eden.  For in paying for our sins at the cross, our Lord Jesus Christ freed us from Satan’s power, liberated us from the curse of death, and redeemed us from our rightfully earned place in hell.  The hateful Satan has been thoroughly defeated by the greatest act of love in all of history.

And so, contrary to what reason may tell us, against all expectation, and beyond every expression of love ever imagined, our Lord Jesus Christ truly won this greatest battle ever in the history of the universe.  He has conquered the old evil foe, the serpent, Satan, our accuser, the tempter, the father of lies, the destroyer, the one whose rebellion inflicted sin upon God’s good creation.  With this one word, “It is finished,” his power was broken.  With this one word, he has been reduced to being of less worth than the lowliest one celled animal.  With this one word, he has become not merely impotent, but mortal.  With this one word, Jesus has signed the death warrant of the devil.  Such is the power of the Word.

“It is finished!”

To a world that admires Satan, that hates God and His commandments, that revels in sin, that worships raw power, that calls evil good, and good evil, that places a premium on selfish gain and holds love in contempt, to a world that loves to mock, that thrills at the spectacle of human beings suffering and being put to death, that cozies up to injustice if it appears to be beneficial, that lives only for the moment without regard to eternity – our Lord’s crucifixion appears to be the ultimate victory of evil over good.

Jesus was utterly overpowered, humiliated, inflicted with pain, robbed of all respect – and this was the master-stroke, the genius of the plan.  For in dying, Jesus destroyed death; in His obedience, Jesus overcame our disobedience; in suffering for us, His act of supreme love trumped all hatred.  And on this Friday nearly two thousand years ago, good triumphed eternally over evil.

“It is finished!”

The prophet Isaiah, who lived seven centuries before these events, who was likewise saved by our Lord’s sacrifice upon the cross, whom we joined in the liturgy singing “Holy, Holy, Holy” before the Triune God, and who suffered in his earthly life for the sake of his preaching about the coming Messiah, calling his countrymen to repent, whose preaching was largely ignored, Isaiah likewise joins with our Lord in crying out: “It is finished!”  For he prophesied about the cross, and indeed, it came to pass.

“It is finished!”

St. Paul, who suffered beatings and stonings and imprisonments for the name of Christ, whose preaching was attacked and whose confession of Christ earned him reproach in the community, and who was finally beheaded for the sake of His Lord by a tyrannical Caesar – likewise joins in unison with our Lord: “It is finished!”  “For,” St. Paul confesses, “the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all.” 

“It is finished!”

And we, with blessed Isaiah, with St. Paul, with our Lord and Savior, the crucified One, Jesus Christ, with all the saints of every time and place, with angels and archangels and all the company of heaven, cry out on this day that so baffles the world, the day of our Master’s death, a day for which we have the audacity to call “good,” celebrating the cross – a symbol of death, singing in a voice so united and so victorious that it causes Satan and his demons to cringe in terror, and rocks the very foundations of hell itself: “It is finished!”

For we confess with St. Paul: “For our sake, He made Him to be sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Our sins are no more, dear friends.  They are forgiven.  They have been expunged by the blood of the Lamb Victorious.  Our death is no longer something to be feared.  It has been ransomed for life – the life of our Lord given to us on the cross and shared with us in His holy body and blood.  Satan is no more a foe to be feared, for he was defeated by his own plot, luring Judas to deliver Jesus over to the very cross upon which He would defeat the forces of evil and finally deal the prophetic mortal blow to the devil.

It is finished, dear brothers and sisters.  That one little word makes all the difference in the world, in the cosmos, in the heavens themselves.  That one little word transforms our lives and the lives of all who are baptized and believe.  That one little word fells the devil and brings immortality and eternal joy to us.  Τετέλεσται!

“It is finished!”  Amen.


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