This sermon was written for the saints at Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Las Cruces, New Mexico, to be preached during the hours of the cross on Good Friday, 2012.
John 18 - 19 + Isaiah 52:13 - 53:12 + Psalm 22
The Word of the Lord through the prophet Zechariah: Hear now, O Joshua the high priest, you and your friends who sit before you, for they are men who are a sign: behold, I will bring my servant the Branch. For behold, on the stone that I have set before Joshua, on a single stone with seven eyes, I will engrave its inscription, declares the LORD of hosts, and I will remove the iniquity of this land in a single day. (Zech. 3:8-9)
Today we remember that single day, that day of once-and-for-all atonement, that day of redemption called Good Friday.
So many things to remember from Good Friday: The before-sunrise trials before Annas and the high priest Caiaphas. The false witnesses. The spitting and mocking and striking. The early-morning trials before Pilate and Herod and Pilate again. The ripping of Jesus’ back to shreds. The purple robe. The crown of thorns. The Gentile governor’s attempts to free an innocent man. The Jews’ insistence that their king be crucified.
Of course, it’s Jesus’ six hours or so on the cross that we remember most of all. And it’s that striking Psalm, 22, that painted the picture for us a thousand years before the events took place. I am a worm and not a man, scorned by mankind and despised by the people. They have pierced my hands and feet. They divide my garments among them and for my clothing they cast lots. All who see me mock me. He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him! All my bones are out of joint. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to my jaws. You lay me in the dust of death. My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Isaiah has already told us why. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.
But even as Jesus cries out from the cross in agony, he is directing us back to the Psalm. And what we find there is not the hopelessness of despair and guilt and punishment, but faith in God in the midst of the deepest agony, the hope of an end to punishment, an end to suffering, and the ushering in of salvation. For he has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and he has not hidden his face from him, but has heard, when he cried to him.
It was about the 9th hour – about 3 PM when Jesus cried out from the cross, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachtani?” And it was about at the 9th hour – 3 PM on that Day of days when Jesus was delivered, his suffering ended. His Father delivered him, delivered him to death, but through death, to Paradise for his worthy soul, and to a Sabbath Day’s rest for his weary bones.
One perfect life had been lived. One perfect death had been died. A life of obedience and trust in God from start to finish – the life and death of the Man who is also God. It is finished!, Jesus cried. And was it ever! Satisfaction made. Redemption finished. Forgiveness won. For every sin of every sinner, including you.
This atonement finished by Jesus, this payment for sin made by Jesus is the firm footing for our faith. This is what is preached in the Gospel. This is what is delivered to us by God in the means of grace. Jesus Christ and Him crucified. Jesus Christ with his perfect righteousness, the only righteousness that avails before God. Jesus Christ with his finished work of redemption.
Now, what sin can the devil throw in your face and say, “Oh. That one’s too big. I’m sorry. Even Jesus’ blood can’t cover that one”? “Oh. You did that? You harbored a thought like that in your heart? And you call yourself a Christian? No forgiveness for you – not if God finds out about that.”
Foolish devil. And foolish you, if you believe him. It is finished, Jesus said. There is no sacrifice or payment for sin left to be made. Once for all, it is finished.
Or, what good work will the fool devil fool you into doing in order to make God “happy”? What good Christian sacrifice will you make for him, to hold it up next to Jesus hanging on the cross, “See, God! Well, Jesus did all that, but I did this! Look here! Look at me! I’m a good Christian, aren’t I?”
You might as well be one of the damned Pharisees who called for Jesus’ crucifixion. Because if you dare to hold up another righteousness before God than that of Jesus, if you dare to rely on any sacrifice but the sacrifice of Jesus, then you will be locked out of the heaven Jesus won for you. It is finished, Jesus said. God’s law has been satisfied. Don’t try to satisfy it some more.
Instead, trust in the satisfaction Jesus made! Trust in the crucified One. Hold his sacrifice up before God and say, “See! Look at this! Look only at this! Accept me because of this! Because of him!” That’s faith. You really want to make God happy? Then remember that it is finished, that God is already appeased by the sacrifice of Jesus, and happy with all who put their faith in him.
As the Psalm says, All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. Yes, the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the LORD, even as the Church has remembered for some 2,000 years, even as we are doing today. It is God’s will that you remember this Day of days, Good Friday, that you remember Jesus Christ and him crucified, that you worship him and tell of him to the next generation. But of all the events of Good Friday, of the crucifixion itself, God wants you to remember this, that it is finished. Salvation has been won, for you. Amen.