To be crucified and to die
Good Friday, 2020
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Dear friends in Christ,
Today we cut out crosses made of black to remember the crucifixion of our Lord. We ask good questions as families, like “Why did Jesus have to die for our sins?” “Why do we call today Good Friday?” Today, we pound nails into the cross, symbolizing that “it was our sin—not someone else’s but ours—that held him there until it was accomplished.”
Tonight we look on as the darkness gathers, as the candles are snuffed out, as we sing songs of grief, as we hear Jesus’s last words from the cross, as we hear his loud cry. Tonight, I would invite you believe with all of your heart that this is a Good Friday. Tonight I would invite you to know with not just your head but with your whole being that darkness cannot prevail. Tonight, I would invite you see not just with the eyes on your head but with the eyes of faith that the death of Jesus is victory for us, that the violence of his crucifixion is peace for us, that the griefs he bears mean joy for us.
Tonight, we find that the purpose of Jesus Christ, and for the Christian, the purpose of all the Holy Scriptures, the purpose of all of creation, was so that Jesus the Christ would come to be crucified and to die.
Because not too far away from here is a woman who feels like she’s being crucified for her wrong choices. She’s diagnosed with a disease entirely of her own making, she’s torn between wanting to be done and wanting this never to have happened. She doesn’t know what to do, and today feels like anything but a Good Friday.
And not too far away from her is a family that is just barely making it. The money is drying up, the To-Do lists are growing, and they are getting desperate. They didn’t know how they would get through the summer ordinarily, and this, this feels like a kick when they were already down. Today feels like anything but a Good Friday.
And not too far away from them is a man who was just about to retire. He was days away from putting in for Social Security. He had worked hard and saved like they taught him, but right now, he went from the prime of his life to jobless, losing half his retirement, without a safety net, without a future, everything that he worked for down the drain. Today feels like anything but a Good Friday.
What do we say to folks as we all hurt together? What language do we use? How can we help when all that is so difficult is already out of our control? What makes today so Good? Two thoughts for tonight, as we consider the purposes of God on this Good and dark day. Purpose number one was that Jesus came to be crucified. Purpose number two is that Jesus came to die.
Purpose number one. Jesus came to be crucified. The catechism says it like this. In Jesus’s crucifixion, he took my guilt and punishment upon himself. He freed me from the slavery to sin.
Jesus suffered the capital punishment of his day. He received the fullest extent of the law for the very worst of crimes. He was counted, as Isaiah prophesied, among the sinners. Purpose number one, in other words, is that Jesus took upon himself the fullest punishment of the law.
The fullest punishment, as opposed to a less-than-full punishment.
I remember the worst grade that I ever got in grade school. It was a C- in 5th grade Spanish class. I remember my parents asking me what was going on, and the truth was that I didn’t like to memorize vocab. But I knew if I said that, I would receive a full punishment. So, I said that I just wasn’t good at Spanish, so that I would get a less-than-full punishment.
That’s our temptation. Either to think that Jesus doesn’t know everything that we’ve done, he doesn’t know and couldn’t possibly pay for it, OR to think that we know more than Jesus; we can see a way that he didn’t, we understand the limits of forgiveness and salvation more than he does.
But Isaiah says it like this: He bears the load of all our iniquities. He takes all of our stripes, and his wounds heal us. The great Gospel of Good Friday is that the punishment for the sin of the whole world is meted out on Jesus. There is no punishment left. There is no debt left unpaid; there is no crime left unjustified. All of God’s wrath, all of our sin, every bit of human suffering, Jesus has felt, he has borne, he has paid for, not with gold or silver, but with his holy and precious blood, with his innocent sufferings and death. Purpose number one is that to be crucified means that Jesus took upon himself the fullest punishment of the law.
Purpose number two. Jesus came to die. The catechism says it like this. Through his suffering, death and resurrection, Christ has triumphed over death. Since he now gives me eternal life I need not fear death.
For the ancient Roman Empire, like every other ancient empire, death was not the point of capital punishment; it was a by-product. The crucifixion of Jesus was three hours, from noon until 3pm. The others were still alive close to sundown, and so their legs were broken to quicken their death. The standard practice was to try and elongate life, because dead people couldn’t suffer and the point of the punishment was to make them suffer for as long as possible. Their death ends the punishment. Death was not the point; in those days, it was a by-product.
Because death was the end.
I remember being an 8th grader and reading one of my very favorite book series, called the Chronicles of Prydain, by Lloyd Alexander. It was five books long, and I read all five books within a few weeks (actually I read the fourth book about once a week for the next year), and I remember finishing the final book, The High King, for the first time, and just sitting on our downstairs couch and just wishing that it hadn’t come to an end. I could imagine another book. I could imagine what the characters would do next, but in the end the books had come to an end.
For everyone in our text, for everyone who was there that day, death was the end. There was no more. There was no revolution. There was no kingdom. There was no Messiah. Their last three years, and most likely their lives, were at an end.
But this is Good Friday because with eyes of faith we see this truth: death which was a wall, death which was an end, in Jesus Christ death becomes a doorway. Death that was the final stop has now become the gateway to new life. The darkest day in human history has given way to sunlight. The saddest day in human history has given way to joy that doesn’t have an end.
The kingdom of heaven is like a large church in a small town scattered into living rooms and kitchen tables, together and yet not together at the same time. The familiar truths of Good Friday wash over them in an unfamiliar way, and they find themselves amazed at how Good that Friday was.
The kingdom of heaven is like the body of Christ, scattered far and wide. They are tempted toward doubt, until they look at the savior hung upon a cross. They are tempted toward despair, until they look at the hope of the empty tomb. They are tempted toward weakness, until they look and see their savior, dying for their sins, and they find themselves amazed at how Good that Friday was.
The kingdom of heaven is like a young man who’s not as young as he used to be. These days are strange for him, as they are for so many. On the darkest days, the weight of it all threatens to overwhelm him. And yet for him, on the cross, the darkest day in human history has given way to sunlight. On the cross, the saddest day has given way to joy eternal, and once again, he finds himself amazed at how Good that Friday was.
Amen and Amen.
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