Cruce Tectum

Cruce tectum, hidden under the cross, a blog for Epiphany Lutheran Church, Dorr, Michigan

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday

Good Friday (Tenebrae)
March 21, 2008
Text: John 19

What is it that is so good about this Friday? How can we call this Friday Good when the events on which we meditate are so tragic and so unfair? The innocent, holy Son of God dies a shameful death on a Roman cross this Friday. He is mocked. He is stripped. He is beaten. His flesh is ripped by scourging and pierced by nails. He is fastened to crude wood and lifted up, naked and bloodied, for all the world to scorn. He does not deserve it. Pilate’s verdict is that He has done nothing deserving of death. He bears no sin of His own. Still we call this Friday Good. It is good because, while Jesus has no sin of His own, He bears our sin and suffers our punishment. He dies so that we do not have to die. He suffers hell on the cross so that we can enjoy heaven for all eternity. In His death He breaks down the dividing wall of hostility between us sinners and the holy and righteous God, so that in Christ, we, too, can call God our Father. That this Friday is tragic does not preclude its being good. It is good for us, because on this day Jesus won our forgiveness, life, and salvation in His death on the cross. Behold, the Lamb of God, pure and holy, who takes away the sin of the world.

Notice that we call this day Good Friday and not Happy Friday. In our culture, “good” usually equals “happy.” A thing is only considered to be “good” if it is accompanied by feelings of happiness. If it feels good, do it. By “feels good,” we mean “happy.” But is that what “good” means for a Christian? I can think of any number of examples of things that are good, but do not make me happy. It is good to do the right thing no matter what the consequences, but such virtue is not always rewarded with happiness. It is good to take responsibility for our actions, especially when those actions cause pain to others. But it is never a happy thing. It is good to sacrifice our own desires, our possessions, and even our very selves for others. “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends” (John 15:13; ESV). It is good to crucify the old sinful flesh and to bring our body into subjection. But none of this is pleasant. It isn’t happy. Oftentimes it is cause for great sadness. But it is good. And there is joy in it, for joy does not mean the same thing as “happy” either. Even in the midst of great sadness, a thing can be good, and we can be joyful, and at the same time not be happy.

In this way it is good for us that Jesus suffered and died. And it is good for us to meditate upon that suffering and death, especially on this Friday that we call Good. The Passion of our Lord Jesus Christ is not a pleasant thing on which to meditate. That is why we cringe, for instance, when we watch Mel Gibson’s movie, The Passion of the Christ. Many of us even cover our eyes. It is hard to watch, and it should be. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t good.

Yet as hard as it is to meditate on the sufferings and death of our Lord Jesus Christ, as contrary to our thinking as it is to call this Friday Good, such meditation is good for us in two ways. First, it strikes terror in our hearts when we are secure in our sins. If we think that sin is no big deal, if we find that sin does not particularly bother us, or if we find in ourselves the attitude that since Jesus forgives us anyway we might as well sin, let us behold Jesus on the cross and realize with terror that we nailed Him there. You and I are just as guilty as the Jews and Romans in the matter of Jesus’ crucifixion. We pierced His holy flesh. His blood is on us and upon our children. Yet Jesus willingly, in love for us, submits Himself to death. And this brings us to the second way in which meditation of the Passion of Christ is good for us. It is a great consolation when we are broken by our sin and our conscience is terrified. For God did so love the world that He gave His only-begotten Son into death on the cross, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. In the cross of Christ, all our sins are removed from us as far as the east is from the west. The cross of Christ allows us to live before God as His forgiven and justified children. Luther says it this way:

"Take your sins and throw them on Christ. Believe with a joyful spirit that your
sins are His wounds and sufferings. He carries them and makes satisfaction for
them, as Isaiah 53:6 says, “The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Peter
says, “He Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree” (1 Peter 2:24). Paul says,
“For our sake, He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might
become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). You must rely on these
verses from the Bible with all your might, even more when your conscience tries
to kill you. You’ll never find peace if you miss this opportunity to quiet your
heart. You’ll despair because of your doubt. If we dwell too much on our sins,
going over and over them in our conscience, keeping them close to our hearts,
soon they become too much for us to manage and will live forever. But when we
see our sins laid on Christ and see Him triumph over them by His resurrection,
and fearlessly believe this, our sins are dead and become nothing. Our sins don’t
stay on Christ but are swallowed up by His resurrection. Now you see no wounds,
no pain, no sight of sin at all in Him. That is why Paul says in Romans 4:25 that
Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification.” In
His sufferings Christ made our sins known and was crucified for them. By His
resurrection He makes us righteous and free from all sin. If you are not able to
believe, then pray to God for faith. This is entirely up to God."[1]

God gives faith through His Word and Sacraments. Thus if you need this consolation of God, that His Son has died for you, for your forgiveness, you know where to find it. If you need this faith, if you need the benefits of the cross, you know where to find it. You do need it. And the Holy Spirit bestows it upon you freely in the Holy Scriptures, the preaching of the Word, your own Baptism, the Holy Absolution, and the Supper of Christ’s body and blood. There the cross is delivered to you along with all its benefits. There the idea that this Friday is Good is no longer abstract. There the Good of this Friday is delivered to you in full as your Lord Jesus washes all your sins away. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] Martin Luther, How to Mediate on the Passion of Christ, Paul T. McCain, trans. (St. Louis: Concordia, 2004) pp. 8-9.

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