Audio HERE. (Includes Choir and Solo after sermon)
Every year, we prepare for Easter joy by hearing of the death of our Lord. It makes sense. Resurrection can only happen if there is a death. Easter joy can only happen because of Good Friday. Paul says that, if Christ is not raised from the dead, we are above all people to be most pitied. Not just because we hope in a dead Savior. But because we hope in a resurrection that will never be. But that resurrection requires a savior to die. Satan has spent a lot of years trying to convince the world that Jesus didn’t really rise from the dead. But a Jesus that didn’t die would be just as useless. No payment for sin. No redemption. Our salvation can not be purchased with silver or gold. The atonement requires blood. The blood of bulls and goats is not sufficient. They only point to the once for all sacrifice of Jesus. He enters the holy place. He sprinkles his own blood on the altar to cleanse us. He suffers and dies on the cross for the sins of the world.
Today is the day when all our lies are exposed for what they are. We want to earn our salvation. The cross shows us what it cost. How dearly it was purchased. How futile all our best efforts really are. We want to add a little bit to it. Somehow make a beginning, or finish it up. What can you add to Jesus death that even the mere mention would not be obvious egotistical rambling. God gave up his throne and suffered death for you. What can you offered of any value compared to that? In the shadow of the cross, talk of “giving your heart to Jesus” or “dedicating yourself to him” sounds not only insignificant, but self-centered to the point of mania.
We want a fluffy God that’s always happy and sends butterflies and rainbows and lots of worldly success. We get God dead and buried, and the promise that if you follow him, you will get the same. Your best life now puts you squarely in front of a corpse, his blood draining into the dirt.
We talk of God hating the sin but loving the sinner. Good Friday shows that you can not have a sinner without sin. And when you see what God did to his own dear son, you realize that it’s not only a platitude, but a dangerous one. It sounds truthy. If it were true, then we could continue in our sin at least for a little while, because God still loves us when we sin. Sin isn’t that bad, is it really? We’re only human. We’re trying. Or maybe, we’ll try tomorrow.
Look at the cross, at the bleeding wreck of a man – not even a man anymore. A worm, practically flayed alive, and hung on that tree along the road to die and serve as warning for others. That’s what God thinks of sin. That’s how God punishes sinners. Jesus knew no sin, but stepped into the role of sinner for you. See what it got him, as you consider continuing in your own sin. Realize that perhaps it isn’t just harmless fun. It isn’t just do whatever you want, and God will forgive you later. Repentance has fruits. The cross exposes the lie of cheap grace – that we can go on sinning so that grace may abound. What grace was there when Jesus was crucified? That happened to the Son of God. Do you really want to risk offending the just judge who allowed his son to suffer all this for you? Perhaps the time has come to be in terror over your sin. To recognize that on Good Friday, hell is not only real, it is brought to earth and poured out on one person.
We want to sanitize and beautify everything so it’s nice and tidy and pretty. We want an inspirational message. Many treat the message of scripture as a self help book. As one 20th century theologian put it, “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a Kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a Cross.” Today all of those lies are exposed. All of our feel-good thoughts get left behind. The lie – whichever one you tell yourself is tempting. But it leads away from Christ and his suffering. The lie leads to your own thoughts about how the justice and judgment of God should work. The lie says that God must conform to you and what you want him to be.
Today, you see the brutal reality. The justice and judgment of God over sin works by killing. Yes, there really is a hell. And today we read about it. The most bitter Passion and death of our Lord Jesus: The agony and bloody sweat; the bonds and stripes; His sacred body buffeted and smitten; the spitting upon His face; the false judgment pronounced by Caiaphas; the mockery of Herod; the painful crown of thorns; the purple robe of mockery; the most unjust condemnation; the footprints to the place of death; the tearing off of garments; the cruel straining of the sacred limbs; the dread crucifixion; the upraising of the cross; the prayers and tears; the insults; the shedding of the most precious blood; the patience and humility; the love with which He loved us to the end: It is finished. And then, death. The body cools as the sun re-emerges and then sets. Night is falling. The darkness descends.
Try the platitudes and lies as you stare at dead Jesus, and see how it goes. God loves the sinner? He condemned even his own son who was without sin. God wouldn’t punish good people… Laughable. For your salvation he put his son through hell. Aside from Jesus there is no one who does good, not even one. What will the judgment be against you, a sinner, if you reject the salvation Jesus earned for you?
This is a one and only chance sort of thing. The world mocks it. Our flesh is tempted to discount its significance. We want there to be some other way than a dead Son of God. But there is no other way. Salvation is only through the crucifixion and death of Jesus. It’s so offensive that many even in the church can not put the image of the body on the cross. They refuse to celebrate this day. The Christless cross, sold under the pretense of resurrection and glory, is tempting. Let’s skip straight to the good times. Why must we put away our festive words for six weeks, and come to extra church services? Why must we dwell on all of these sad things? It’s too much. Let’s just cut that part out. Make the judgment of God a little more sanitized. A little more acceptable.
And once again, the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom. The dead man on the cross is our salvation. The weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength. There is nothing weaker than death. Our Lord consented to that weakness, and so conquered the strong. His death is stronger than all the forces of hell and damnation.
There are those now who try and tell us that we abuse children by telling them of the death of Jesus for sin. That we make them feel badly. That we shouldn’t be so quick to Baptize, to impose our beliefs on them. Let them make that decision for themselves. And indeed, if it did not have God’s promise behind it, we certainly would not dare to baptize anyone. We make Satan and the world an enemy in the Blessed water. We defy death and the grave by that action. We’re just asking for trouble. Even more, we join even the infants to Christ and his death on the cross. In Baptism we join them to all that happens today. All that we have heard and seen, as it has been told unto us. That’s what we give our children in Baptism. And that’s why we must baptize. Because this is all there is. The only salvation God offers is through the crucifixion of Jesus. There is no other way.
And if we would be saved, if we would give that promise to our children, we must join them to the cross. We must join them to the death of Jesus. Because resurrection can not happen without death. You either die with Jesus, so that you can be raised with him, or you die without Jesus. These are not trifling matters. These are not stories for children. This is a life and death struggle, where the one who dies conquers and wins the victory. The one who goes into death becomes the Lord of all.
It is not enough to know that Christ died. Even the demons know that. Judas knew that Jesus would die. It was of no use. It must be that he dies for you. In the death of Jesus your sins have been swallowed up by death. Your sins were placed on him. So you must leave them there, and not take them back up. You must not restore your sins and so doubt the salvation Jesus gives. You must not pull those sins back from death and wear them proudly, reveling in your sin and so mocking his death. But neither can you pull them back from death and wear them as chains of shame. Continuing to dwell on the sin that has been forgiven in Christ. The sin has been swallowed in his death. You must leave those sins on him as he dies. You must let the sin die with him. Trust that he alone makes satisfaction for your sin. And that in doing so, he has taken the sins away. God no longer sees your sin. He sees the sacrifice of Jesus for you. So also, you must look at Jesus work, not yours. Jesus alone can – and has fulfilled the anger of God. And when Satan brings up the sin, when he tries to get you to doubt the forgiveness of God, point him right back to that cross, that death. Look to Jesus, yes, Jesus who hangs lifeless on the cross for now. Look to him as the source of salvation.
And be comforted. Not only comforted that your sins are forgiven. But comforted as you suffer under crosses of God’s choosing in this world. Comforted as Satan and the Word join with your sinful flesh to tempt you. Be strengthened by Jesus work so that you may turn aside from those temptations, hiding yourself in the wounds of Jesus.
The wounds of Jesus that help us even to exit this world in peace. We fall asleep in Jesus wounds. Even death can no longer frighten us, for we have been promised salvation and eternal life in Jesus. His death suffices.
Soon, very soon, we will see the empty tomb. We will hear the word of the angel. But now, with Jesus, rest. Rest in the mercy and grace of God, who died on the cross for you. Rest knowing that his death has paid the penalty for your sin. You sin has been taken away. Your guilt atoned for. Amen.