Cruce Tectum

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

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Location: Moscow, Idaho

Friday, April 22, 2011

Good Friday Tenebrae

Good Friday Tenebrae: The Miracle of Good Friday[1]

April 22, 2011

Text: 1 Peter 3:18: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit” (ESV).

When we speak of the miracle of Good Friday, we speak of the miracle of God’s love for sinners. Only God’s love could explain what happens here. Only God’s love would result in the almighty Son of God humbling Himself, taking on our flesh, becoming one of us and one with us, and entering into our mess of a fallen world to redeem us. Only God’s love would result in Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, fulfilling the Law for us, in our place, because we could not. Only God’s love would result in the sinless Son of God in the flesh, the righteous One, suffering for the sins of the unrighteous, that He might bring us to God. This great mystery finds its only explanation in the depths of God’s love. This is agape love, the love of God that is not an emotion, but a divine decision to love that which is unlovable, to love rebellious sinners. Agape love is a self-sacrificial love. It does not pursue its own interests or its own pleasure, but is sacrificially bestowed without any thought of such love being returned. This love seeks only your interests, your pleasure, your salvation. This is the love of the cross. This love suffers. This love creates its own object out of that which does not love in return. This is love incarnate, even Jesus Christ, our Lord. God is love (1 John 4:8, 16). Jesus Christ is love crucified, that you may be brought back to God.

The sacrifice is a great mystery. It is mysterious in this sense: The righteous Redeemer redeems the unredeemable. There is nothing redeemable about you, or about any other human being. I know that’s not a popular thing to say, and it certainly isn’t politically correct. We always want to find something redeemable about the worst offenders. Many are the books written and the movies made about such a quest to find the good in one who has done evil things. But understand, in terms of our relationship to God, there is no good in us. St. Paul writes (quoting the Psalms): “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-12). There is no room for self-affirmation here. This is not about self-esteem. This is the sentence handed down by the righteous Judge in His holy Law: Guilty! Sinner! St. Peter, in our text, calls every one of us “the unrighteous” (1 Pet. 3:18). There is only One who is good (Matt. 19:17), God. Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, is the One who is good, the righteous One, and He suffers once for sins, that He might bring us to God. His death, as the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, changes the sentence. On account of Christ the divine sentence is now: Innocent! Righteous! Sinless! Because Jesus’ blood has washed your sins away. It is all by grace. It is a miracle. We have no right to expect it, or even to imagine it, but here it is, our redemption, a gift of divine love.

Luther expresses the miracle this way (you know the words): “I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father from eternity, and also true man, born of the Virgin Mary, is my Lord, who has redeemed me, a lost and condemned person, purchased and won me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil; not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death, that I may be His own and live under Him in His kingdom and serve Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as He is risen from the dead, lives and reigns to all eternity. This is most certainly true.”[2]

This is agape. This is the love of God in Christ Jesus. “For God so loved (agape) the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10). “(B)ut God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Behold, the miraculous love of God, lifted up upon the cross. For you. Here, beloved, in the death of Jesus Christ, is your righteousness, your salvation, and your eternal life. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

[1] The theme and many of the thoughts in this sermon are from Miracles of Lent (St. Louis: Concordia, 2011).

[2] Catechism quotations from Luther’s Small Catechism (St. Louis: Concordia, 1986).

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