Good Friday, 2019
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
In the Name of Christ the Crucified +
They were afraid. They were afraid. Over and over, throughout the Passion of our Lord, we hear that people are afraid. When Jesus said to them, “I AM” they drew back and fell to the ground. The big, tough Jewish boys who were sent by the priests to round up the Troublemaker, they were afraid. And Peter, standing in the courtyard, he was afraid. Pilate was afraid – the priests complain that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God, and we hear, “When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid.” And Pilate was afraid of no longer being a “friend of Caesar” - Caesar's friends who stopped being his friend – well they ended up dead. And if we want to be honest about it, even the chief priests were afraid – afraid that Jesus was going to stir up a rebellion that would get Jerusalem destroyed. It's an understandable fear, because historically Jerusalem does get destroyed in a rebellion not even 40 years later.
They were afraid. That has been the way of the world since the fall. We often speak of sin unleashing death upon the world – and that is most certainly true – and we see what sort of death sin unleashes, humiliating and horrific death. But even before we get on to the reality of death, there is the anticipation of death. There is fear. That's the first thing Adam says after the fall - I heard the sound of You in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked, and I hid myself. I was afraid. I had sinned, and I know that the wages of sin is death, and there You are, LORD, walking in the garden, and surely that means that I am going to die.
And that fear dominates human history. Whether its the normal every day fears and worries we face, or the overblown fears that are mainly just in our heads, or whether it is the false bravado and bluster done to try to prove that we aren't really afraid – “don't you call me chicken” – fear is there. And fear drives us most cruelly. What is the reflex – fight or flight? That's what human history has been, that is what so often our own lives are. Stupid, senseless fights and lonely, desperate flights. And our fear is so strong that we fear even good things. We fight those who love us, we run away from people who care. Fear dominates human history – and all of it can be boiled down, drawn back to the simple, first fear. God is here, and I, a sinner, deserve to die.
And there is the LORD God, standing in another garden – not in the cool of the day, but in the chill of the night. He had been there with His friends praying, but they couldn't stay awake with Him. And then this Passion drama of fear unfolds and plays out. Of course it does – Adam was afraid when the LORD entered the garden, so of course when the LORD Jesus is in this garden fears are going to be all stirred up. Surely we have to do something, surely we have to stop this Jesus before there's massive death and rebellion unleashed!
And there stands Jesus Christ, true God and true Man, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God, sent to take away the sin of the world. The One Who knew no sin Who became sin for us. And did you note that throughout this swirling whirl of fear, Jesus is the only one in the entire passion account who isn't afraid? He's sorrowful – that's how Matthew describes Jesus' prayers as we heard this past weekend. Jesus knows that what is coming is going to be utterly wretched... but there He is, God Almighty, who had formed man out of the dust of the ground and breathed into His nostrils the breath of life. And there He walks amongst His creation, He walks with His friends, those whom He created to be His friends, and there's just a massive wall of fear. Sin separates man and God... the fear that flows forth from sin separates everyone from everyone else.
And so Jesus goes forth calmly and determinedly to destroy sin, to undo this pall of fear cast upon us. The fearful soldiers come to arrest Him – and without fear Jesus takes care of the disciples – gets them out of there. Jesus even calmly helps the soldiers – stay on task, folks, arrest Me. Oh, let Me heal that ear. Calmly, without fear.
Then, the sham trial. If anyone should be fearful, you'd expect Jesus to be. No, it's Peter in the courtyard who is freaking out – but Jesus, calm, utterly calm, even when they slap Him and mock Him. Even taking Him to Pilate, even when Pilate calls out authority – Do You not know that I have authority to release You and authority to crucify You? Why aren't you afraid, Jesus – why isn't your fight or flight kicking in? I've already beaten You and flogged You, why are you just standing there? Because, Pilate, you have that authority from above. I Myself gave it to you, so that you would help to protect people, especially in the midst of this sinful world full of fear. But no sinful man can do the job right, so I must put an end to fear and death, and you are going to use that authority I gave you to see it done, Pilate.
And then, and thus, to the Cross. The horrors there. The fear, the primal fear. Adam hid from the LORD in the garden because of sin; because of sin the LORD Jesus is dragged out of the garden and stripped of his garments (now gambled away), and hung on a tree, naked and exposed and brutalized. And even there, sin doesn't master Him. Even there fear doesn't dominate Him.
Jesus remains calm. John, take care of mom. I thirst – to fulfill the Scriptures, I am going to calmly point to everything in the prophets that pointed to Me. And from the cross, His own body battered, Jesus looks upon all that fear and sin and death, and He says, “It is finished.”
And Jesus dies.
What does this mean? St. Paul writes – For the love of Christ controls us. He writes – We regard no one according to the flesh. No, we no longer see simply through the eyes of fear – If anyone is in Christ, He is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to Himself. With His death, Jesus puts an end to sin and death. He undoes the root cause of your fear. John in his first epistle writes - There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because He first loved us. John is talking about this moment, the death of Christ Jesus. That word “perfect” is the same word as “finished”. Jesus, with His love that has no fear, says, “It is finished, it is perfect” and He does this to cast out your fear. He takes up punishment, all the punishment possible, to cast out your fear. To bring you into love again, His love.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, saw this, proclaimed it in the months just before Jesus was born. “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David, as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old, that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us; to show the mercy promised to our fathers and to remember his holy covenant, the oath that he swore to our father Abraham, to grant us that we, being delivered from the hand of our enemies, might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
And there, on the cross – it happened. It is and has been and is forever finished – your salvation is accomplished. You are saved and redeemed and rescued and forgiven. And Christ Jesus comes to you today, to make sure that you know this, that you have the knowledge of the forgiveness of your sins to strengthen you in the face of the sins and fears that you face. The Spirit which He gave up, He gave to you, He gives to you again and again in the preaching of His Word. The water which poured from His side is the same water that washes you clean in Holy Baptism. The Blood – yes, that is the blood that He gives to you in His Supper. Because of Christ, you are forgiven. This is reality, this is truth. And, as we shall see on the third day, because of Christ, you shall rise. +