We finally get to the death of our Lord. We heard again the words of horror and comfort: It is finished. Our Lord goes into death, taking our sins with him where they are swallowed up totally, never to be returned.
On the day of greatest sorrow, we hear John’s account. And John, right from the beginning, has Jesus in charge. Even the people coming to arrest him fall down before him. Jesus only gets arrested because he allows them to arrest him. Caiaphas – under the control of Satan as he seeks to kill the Son of God, manages to prophecy about Jesus work. “He will die for the people.” Jesus even uses his own enemies to glorify himself. And this is the moment of Glory. Jesus prays to his Father and declares it the hour of his glory. The hour of Jesus death is his hour. It is why he came. He must face all the powers of hell, and he must do it alone. But it is not, as many would say, that Jesus got too big and it all spiraled out of his control. Look at how John records the events of this day. Pilate thinks he is in charge of all Judea. Jesus belittles him. “You would have no authority over me if it were not given you from above.” He doesn’t mean the emperor in Rome who sent him to Judea. Even the emperor is in office only because Jesus Father allowed it and placed him into office. Jesus is tied into powers Pilate can’t even comprehend. Pilate thinks in terms of the powers and authorities of this world. The might of Rome and her armies. Jesus dismisses it with a word. My kingdom is not of this world. The world is concerned with many cares and troubles. But they are of no concern to Jesus. The political games people play, The power struggles – it all means nothing to him. He has greater work – he will destroy death. That’s what Jesus is about. Let the people play their politics. All the striving of Babylon, and Greece and Rome over the centuries, it’s all there to bring about what needs to happen in this moment: The greatest work that ever will be, Jesus on the cross for the salvation of the world. For your salvation. The cross – that ancient symbol of shame – becomes his throne. He is lifted up – exalted Jesus says. This isn’t what we would consider exaltation. But it is how Jesus sees things. Because he sees them not through sin-darkened eyes. He sees things as they truly are.
John records the people choosing Caesar over God. “We have no king but Caesar they say.” The people threaten him, and make clear that Pilate must also choose between Jesus – the pitiful fool from Galilee – and Caesar – the ruler of the known world. Pilate chooses the lesser. He chooses Caesar. Jesus is crucified.
Jesus does his work, declares it finished, and gives his spirit over to his Father. He declares the work finished. He decides the moment of death. And even in death, Jesus is controlling things – they don’t break his bones, to fulfill the word spoken by the prophet. Who gave that word? Who is the Word of God? The word made flesh now hangs lifeless. But not powerless. Even in death his word still controls, still reigns. And the Romans think they are running this show. But Jesus was sent by His Father for this moment. To go into death in just this way, at this place, in this time.
Jesus is the pulling all the strings. Today when our emotions are at their peak, is it any wonder that we hear the most powerful and comforting of the Gospel accounts. The one that has Jesus leading the soldiers from place to place. That has him directing Pilate, that has him choosing the moment of his death.
Today, our grief at the death of our Lord is too great to hear the word recorded in Matthew or Mark “My God My God why have you forsaken me.” Because today we face the terrible reality. Our sins put him there. No way around it. We are guilty, he was innocent. And yet, on this day, we are comforted even with the word recording his death, because that word shows Jesus in control from start to finish. He is no crazed pitiful fool. He is the Almighty Son of the Eternal Father, who has laid aside His power and glory to become the sacrifice for you to save you.
And this is the true glory of God. This is the real exaltation of the Son. That he shows love and mercy even to the point of death, yes, even death on the cross. This is not a defeat. We do not leave here cowed by the world as the disciples were on the first Good Friday. We hear the word of salvation. We weep and shed tears over our own sin, and over the suffering that Jesus endured for us. But we know that he did it in great love for us. And we know that the cross ends in an empty tomb. That’s why we dare to preach Christ Crucified. The two thieves were crucified as well. We don’t preach them. They are still in their tombs. Many victims of this torture suffered and died over the centuries. They are mostly forgotten, turned to dust and ashes.
But Jesus – we preach his crucifixion, we dare to bow our heads not in fear, but in reverence at the instrument of death, because it is the throne on which Jesus was exalted. It is the instrument of our salvation. And our Lord is no longer dead. He now reigns. The exaltation of Jesus begins at the moment of greatest humility. It begins with him raised up in mercy to save you. And that mercy is without end. No matter how great your sins, no matter how great your unbelief, no matter how great your idolatry, your rejection of him, today look and see that his love is greater. His mercy is greater. His forgiveness is greater.
A byproduct of our sin is regret. Pangs of conscience for hurts inflicted, for loved ones we have hurt, for wrongs that can never be made right in this world. We relive them in our dark moments Satan parades them before us so that we doubt the forgiveness of the Lord, so that we despair and abandon our salvation. Our regret over sin can never be undone. Our conscience betrays us because of our sins, and we are filled with a longing that can never be filled. In Jesus and his death, we have death undone. We have sin taken away. We have our conscience cleansed. And we are given the promise of life instead of death. His death undoes all the sadness, all the weeping and the tears. And in the end, we will rejoin those who have fallen asleep in the faith, and the regrets will melt away like snow on a summer day. They will be gone, and will be remembered no more. Our conscience will not only be finally and completely cleansed, it will be healed, without scars.
We weep today, We weep because our sins killed Jesus. But we do not weep as those who have no hope. Jesus death will be undone. And it is only the first of many death to be undone. Eventually, even your own death will be undone in the resurrection. Look on the cross – look on your salvation. Look at your sins swallowed by him and taken away never to return. We glory in the cross. Because our Lord was glorified on the cross.