Good Friday Tre Ore
Good Friday Tre Ore
Our Savior Lutheran Church, Grand Rapids, Michigan
April 22, 2011
Text: John 19:29-30: “A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished,’ and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” (ESV).
“When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, ‘It is finished’” (John 19:30). What is finished? The work of atonement. All that is left now is for Jesus to commend His spirit to His heavenly Father and breathe His last. In dying, Jesus releases Himself into His Sabbath rest. For death, too, is finished. Death is radically re-defined in the death of Jesus Christ. Outside of Christ, death is hell. Outside of Christ, death means the eternal forsakenness of God. This is a horror that we cannot begin to imagine. It is the lack of all that is good, for all good things come from God. When things are really bad for us, we are tempted to think that God has forsaken us. But He hasn’t. Not even close. God-forsakenness is hell. It is what Jesus suffered on the cross. It is that suffering, that God-forsakenness, that is finished. Death is re-defined. Death is no longer God-forsakenness. For those in Christ, death is but a peaceful sleep.
Death is difficult for us to talk about. We would prefer not to confront the subject. When we must, we resort to euphemisms and silly notions about the situation of the one who has died. We sing songs about “holes in the floor of heaven” through which Grandma is watching over you and me, or we point to a star and declare that it is our loved one shining down on us. This isn’t helpful. Somewhere deep down we know that we’re being dishonest. In reality, death is impossible to polish up or cover over. We live in a state of denial and we pass this denial on to our children. We either live as though we’re never going to die, or we treat death like a friend, like a natural part of life. Neither option is tenable. Because every death of a loved one is a slap in the face reminding us of our own mortality.
What we need instead of all the self-deception is a little frankness. Death is an enemy. Death is a brutal tyrant. It is the wages of sin (Rom. 6:23). God told our first parents not to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, “for in the day that you eat of it, you shall surely die” (Gen. 2:17). They ate, and they died. They died spiritually, which is to say, their relationship with God was destroyed. They began to die temporally, which is to say, they aged, their bodies began the process of decline, and they came to know pain, disease, and injury. And they were sentenced to eternal death, which is to say, hell. And what we have to understand is that in their death, we died. Because the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Two sinners always make a sinner. The disease of sin is inherited. And this disease is terminal. You’re dying, and you know it. You’ve been dying from the day you were born. You’ve been dying since you were conceived in the womb. You know it with every passing year. You know it with every ache and pain. You know it with every graying hair. You know it in the guilt that, despite your best efforts, you cannot repress.
You’re dying, and there’s nothing you can do about it. And that’s why God has done something about it. He promised it already after the fall of Adam and Eve, that the Seed of the woman would crush the serpent’s head. The Promised Seed would destroy our enemies, destroy sin, destroy death, destroy the guilt and punishment of the Law, destroy the power of Satan. St. Paul says that death is the “last enemy to be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26). What he means is that we still have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death. Unless Jesus returns first, every one of us will have to physically die. But death no longer holds the dread it once held. Death is still a tragedy, to be sure, because God did not create us to die. Still, because Jesus died for you and for me, death has been radically re-defined. Now death is but a slumber, a Sabbath rest, as we await the resurrection. Because your Lord has spoken. It is finished. Sin is finished. Hell is finished. Death is finished. The work of atonement is completed. Jesus has made full atonement for your sins and the sins of the whole world in His suffering and death. He has paid sin’s wages in full. God does not forsake you in death. He has done something about your death in the death of His Son Jesus Christ on the cross. He is with you precisely in death, to bring you to life. “It is finished,” declares Jesus, as He bows His sacred head and gives up His spirit. And then He takes His Sabbath rest in the tomb before taking up His life again on Easter Sunday, on the first day of the New Creation.
And you are baptized into this reality. In Baptism, you died with Christ, and so in Baptism, you are raised to new life in Christ now, and sealed for the resurrection of your body on the Last Day. Because death is finished. Jesus finished it on the cross. And that means you no longer have to euphemize or eulogize or make up fanciful delusions when it comes to death. You confront death head-on. That’s what we’re doing today, beholding our crucified Lord on this Good Friday. We’re staring death in the face through the lens of Jesus. He is the end and consummation of death. Now we can go to our own death with all confidence, knowing that the hour of awakening is fast upon us. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son (+), and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.