This is my sermon for the Good Friday service yesterday at Second Baptist, Petersburg, as prepared for delivery.
Text: John 19:13-42
All too often our world can seem a cruel and cold place. It seems that death, destruction, and suffering have the upper hand, that these forces of brokenness and sin will win out and cover the Earth in darkness.
This week has given testimony to the power of death. Certainly since the last time we knelt at the foot of the cross we have had our fill of death, pain, violence, and hate. We are in very real danger of being overwhelmed. And in the midst of all that pain, we find ourselves kneeling, yet again, at the foot of the cross.
And as is so often the case, God is about to do something amazing, something profound, something unexpected.
It is easy for us, in the 21st century, to loose sight of what, exactly, crucifixion was and what it meant, before Jesus. Crucifixion wasn’t about executing criminals and enemies of the state. It was about totally humiliating them. It was about subjecting those that challenged Rome and Caesar to a fate that was so humiliating that it was illegal to subject Roman Citizens to it. It was cruelty for cruelty’s sake. The thought that the true messiah could end up on a cross was so ridiculous, so outlandish, that it was laughable. It was, as Paul put it just a few brief years later, foolishness.
We look back, through the lens of Christ and His work on Calvary, and we can see that Isaiah’s suffering servant is messiah. But this wasn’t clear for those in Jerusalem 2000 years ago. The conventional wisdom of Jesus’s day, the conventional wisdom of our day, tells them, tells us that messiahs come to set people free from the occupation, come to rule, come to win. They don’t come to suffer and die humiliating deaths at the hands of the occupier. You don’t win by being hung on a cross to die.
These are the thoughts that are running through the minds of Jesus’s followers during those long hours of Friday. Their whole world is upside down. Betrayal by one of their own. Denial by the very man that seemed so rock solid in his commitment to Jesus. And now, the one that was welcomed into the city just days earlier as a conquering hero is humiliated and dead. Death, Violence, and Sin seem to have won.
It would be appropriate for us the call this day Black Friday, or Death Friday, or Mourning Friday as it is in German speaking counties. Yet, we call it Good Friday. We are able to do this because we have perspective. Unlike those disciples 2000 years ago, we know what is coming. We know that, to borrow a phrase, it’s Friday, but that Sunday is coming!
The death and the resurrection of Christ are two parts of a whole, a pair. You can not have the one with out the other. We can not get to Sunday without first traveling through Friday and it’s cross. Yes, God is about to do something amazing, something profound, and something unexpected. And that is good.
But what is happening on Friday is also good, not simply as a precursor to Sunday although it is that. And not as a blood offering, as an atoning sacrifice, covering us and washing us clean of our sin, although it is that too. But, there is something else happening, something else for us to see on that hill outside of Jerusalem.
In a few minutes we are going to extinguish this light, this last candle, as a symbol of Jesus’s death. Jesus’s death. For Jesus to die, he had to live.
“And the Word became flesh,” John tell us, “and dwelt among us.” Now at the end, here at the cross, what of this fleshy Word? In John, Jesus doesn’t cry out after God, accusing God of forsaking him, as he does in Matthew and Mark. Nor does he extend an amazing other worldly forgiveness to both his killers and one being killed with him as he does in Luke. No, John’s Jesus, our Jesus, is fleshy. In the moments of his death this Jesus is concerned about his mama, making sure that there is someone to take care of her. And he thirsts. How wonderfully, pathetically human. He thirsts. The one who offered living water to the woman at the well thirsts.
John is reminding us that the living water; the true vine; the way, the truth, and the life; the light of the word; the good shepherd; the son of Man; the eternal Word of God has been made flesh. Jesus, Christ, messiah, the anointed one of God, God incarnate has come, put on flesh and through the cross suffers with and for us. The cross tells us that our God is not the cause of our pain and suffering and death. NO! The cross shows us that our God gets down into our pain with us. At the Cross He allows him self to be subjected to pain and suffering. He suffers with us, for us, even unto death to take something ugly and make it beautiful. Surely this makes this day Good.
“The word became flesh and dwelt among us.”
“It. Is. Finished.”