God, who created life, is dead. That’s the paradox of Good Friday. How can it be? God is dead, yet, God reigns eternally. But if we would look at God, we can do it in no other way than looking at Jesus. No one comes to Father but through Him. And His lifeless body has been taken down, and placed in a tomb. God is truly dead.
Tonight, as the forces of darkness descend, as the light is driven away even from this place as we acknowledge our sin, we do not read Luke’s Gospel, which records the darkness over the whole land. But John’s Gospel, in which it seems as if Jesus is the director of this great pageant, and the others are merely doing his bidding.
My kingdom is not of this world. You would have no power over me if it had not been given you from above. Jesus on the cross attends to his final earthy responsibility – he takes care of his mother. He is thirsty – but only so that the scripture may be fulfilled. And John is most explicit of all that Jesus picks the time of his own death. “It is finished” he cries. Tetelestai. One word in Greek. It is now finished, and it will stay finished. No more suffering for Jesus. He hands over his spirit. He takes his Sabbath rest. No more looking toward to the redemption to come. It is accomplished.
Paul says “We preach Christ Crucified.” There are those who would make the church into so much more than that, and in so doing, make it so much less. But the cross – the crucified Christ – is all we have. There is nothing else.
There are those who would make the church about inclusiveness, about belonging to community, about some time in the past when people interconnected more than now, and how we have lost that in our culture today, and we need balance and rest in this restless world.
That’s all so much worldly pablum. It sounds nice, don’t we all long for that? But you can get that at a Colorado ski resort, or at a summer camp sitting around the bonfire, or casting your line from a boat on the reservoir. It is an entirely worldly pursuit. Vanity of vanities. All is vanity. A chasing after the wind. The problem is not that we are disconnected or lonely. That we are overworked or restless. The problem is that we are sinners. And sin kills. More than that. It damns. We are walking dead men, sinful – and therefore condemned – from the moment of our conception. There is no earthly cure for this. And the church forsakes its high calling if it looks at the cross and sufferings of Jesus and says with Peter, “I will never let this happen to you.”
Today is what we are about. Those who will not preach Christ and him crucified this day ignore Jesus and his work. Those who refuse to come to hear of the death of Christ are refusing to hear of their own salvation. Today is the day when all the sin is brought together, and poured out on the one man who had none of his own. Jesus Christ, true God begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the virgin Mary – he is the one who takes your sin to the cross. He is the one who swallows that sin by his death, who swallows and kills your death by his death this day.
This is a day of deep darkness. The powers of Hell are at their greatest. They have convinced Judas to betray, the people to scream, the leaders to capitulate, and now God – who came to this earth to serve, have been killed by the very ones he would save.
And yet, this death is required for the salvation he came to offer. Without Jesus death, there is no good news. No church to proclaim it. We can moralize all the livelong day. We can offer a safe space with therapy for human brokenness. We can talk about how God is all about love.
But without the death of Jesus, that talk ends the same place as anything else – it is something to do to pass the time while we wait for the inevitable darkness of death to close around us. While we wait God’s righteous and unending wrathful judgment. The death of Jesus is all that stands between you and eternal condemnation. Why is this day – in which the Son of God died – called good? Because if it were not for this day, we could know nothing good. Nothing loving. Nothing except punishment for sins. The world can ignore this day. But the church can not. The world tells us all sorts of things we need to do if we want to be prepared to succeed in today’s world. But if it is not about Jesus Christ and him crucified, then it is not of God. It comes from the liar and the father of lies. The one who was a murderer since the beginning. Who overcame by the tree of the garden, but who was overcome by the tree of the cross. That ancient serpent who struck at Christ’s heel this day and killed him. On this day of darkness and death above all others, he seems to be the triumphant one.
But even as Satan struck at Jesus heel, Jesus heel was utterly crushing Satan’s head. Jesus cry, rings out “It is finished.” There is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Because he suffered that condemnation himself. He put himself in harm’s way. He not only went into death, he suffered the pains of hell so that you would have peace with God.
Yes, the Gospel gives hope and meaning to our lives. But that is a side effect of the forgiveness, life, and salvation given through Jesus. Yes, Jesus gives rest to the weary. But he can only do that because he finished the work given to him this day. We who were outcasts, strangers, and enemies of God have been gathered together and included among God’s children, because of what Jesus has done for us on the cross.
The meaning of life was always to fear love and trust in God above all things. It was sinful arrogance that led us away from that. And that sinful Satanic arrogance of Satan and the men who carry out the will of Satan leads God to the cross, leads Jesus to his death. Leads to the darkness over the land. And yet the darkness does not stay – soon morning will break on the tomb. And Jesus is not subject to corruption and decay. Death can not hold him. The grave grabs hold of him and so loses itself.
But none of that happens without the death. Today you see the terrible price of your sin. It cost Jesus his life, in exchange for yours. Today you see how very much God hates death. He sent his son to die in order to destroy death. Today see the sign of the cross, and be encouraged in your own sufferings, find strength for your own weakness. Look to Jesus in times of trouble and testing, in times of temptation. See him there, crucified for you. Know that if he would suffer all that, he will certainly not abandon you. Know that your sin is swallowed up in his death. That you are joined to that death in your Baptism, and are now a child of the most high God.
No more wrath. That was poured out on Jesus for you.