In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… who suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried.” We know these words well. They’re part of the Apostles, or Baptismal, Creed and sum up what we Christians believe, teach and confess about Good Friday. But I wonder if our familiarity with them has not in fact bred, if not contempt, then at least apathy towards them. Does this gory execution, which we confess in all three of the Church’s Creeds and which we’re witnessing again today, really mean all that much to us anymore? Or has Good Friday become nothing more than a once-a-year blip on screen of our life?
Why these questions, you ask. I suppose I could blame the world, for it has always had an apathetic attitude towards sin: It’s wrong pretty much only when you get caught. I could also point to the many false religions in our world today, which minimize sin’s effect on us and teach that our sacrifices to God also merit his grace and forgiveness, even as does Christ’s sacrifice on Golgotha.
But what really bothers me is what I’m hearing from those who regularly confess that Jesus “suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried” – from the elderly lady who feels little need for Holy Communion because she doesn’t get out enough to sin, from the teacher who boasts of all the good fruit he’s borne and is still bearing for Jesus in his “ministry”, from the Professor at a Lutheran College who told his class, “Everyone knows that Jesus was perfect. The Sermon on the Mount teaches us what we must do to be like him.”
Is this possible? Can the very people who confess that Jesus suffered, was crucified, died and was buried be so totally oblivious to their sins and utter sinfulness? Who demands that his pastor re-instate Private Absolution so that he can unburden himself before God and hear his comforting Absolution on a regular basis? Who, before he goes to bed at night, ponders the evil deeds that, once again, dominated his behavior in the day now past and then prays, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner”? Who really believes with the Psalmist, “If you, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand” (Ps 130:3), and confesses with Moses, “For we have been consumed by your anger and by your wrath we are terrified. You have set our iniquities before you, our secret sins in the light of your countenance” (Ps 90:7-8)?
Let’s face it, for many Good Friday has become only a once-a-year blip on the screen of their life. For others, it’s not even that anymore, because sin is no big deal anymore. We do it. So What? It won’t be the last time.
To counter such apathy toward sin, we would do well to ponder the words of the hymn we just sang:
If you think of sin but lightly, Nor suppose the evil great,
Here you see its nature rightly, Here its guilt may estimate
Mark the sacrifice appointed; See who bears the awful
load – ‘Tis the Word, the Lord’s Anointed,
Son of Man and Son of God.” (CW 127 stanza 3)
This is why Christians the world over gather together on Good Friday. It’s not to feel sorry for Jesus, nor is it to slap ourselves on the wrist and say, “Aw, I’ve got to do better. I really owe that to Jesus.” Instead, we’re here today for only one reason, to mark the sacrifice that God himself made on the cross of Golgotha. Though let me warn you, it’s not a pretty sight.
It begins back inside the walls of Jerusalem, in the torture chamber of the Praetorium, where Jesus has been tied to a post. A soldier reaches back and then snaps the scourge against his back. This he does again and again, and each time the scourge hits, it literally shreds his flesh. Then they take him off the post and set him on a stool where they beat him, slap him in the face and spit on him, after they had pressed a crown of thorns into his skull. Finally, the soldiers drag him out to Calvary, where they drive nails through each of his limbs to fasten them to the wood of his cross, which is then raised in place, so that the entire weight of his body pulls down on those nails causing excruciating pain. There he will hang for six hours in the heat of the day, while the chief priests and Pharisees, the two robbers being crucified on each side of him, the Roman soldiers, even Jews who just happened to be passing by, all hurl insults at him and mock him, until he dies.
Oh, may these wicked Jews and heathen Romans pay for what they did to our dear Jesus! Yes, that’s right. Blame the Jews and the Romans. It’s an effective way to escape the guilt, that is, until you hear blessed Peter. “You killed the Prince of Life,” he told the crowd that had gathered outside Solomon’s porch (Acts 3:15), but he might as well be speaking to all of you, because you killed him too by your sins!
You see, the scourge should have ripped your flesh, the thorns should have pierced your head, the limbs into which the nails were driven should have been your hands and feet, and your body should have been tortured to death, because you were the ones whom God had cursed and condemned for sin. But at his Baptism in the Jordan, Jesus became sin for you, and now you see the consequences. He’s the one who’s cursed and condemned. He’s the one who suffers the hell you deserved.
My friends, as you today “mark the sacrifice appointed” and “see who bears the awful load,” how can you be apathetic about your sins? How can you witness such gory agony and not be terror-stricken by them instead? But even more than that, how can you watch Jesus suffer and die and not breathe the deepest sigh of relief that, “The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6), that he ”himself bore our sins in his own body on the tree”(1 Peter 2:24), that, “God made him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21)?
Look again to Golgotha. Look at what the “appointed Sacrifice” does for you. He drinks sour wine vinegar. That’s what he puts into his tortured body before he dies. But that’s not what comes out of his body after his death. Instead, when a soldier pierced his side with a spear, the Evangelist John tells us, “immediately blood and water came out”. Jesus receives what is rotten and spoiled into his body, and after his death that which is good and life giving comes out of his body. Jesus takes our sin, our death, into himself, and by his death, forgiveness and life flow out of himself in the form of water and blood! Do you get the message? This Sacrifice, which God himself appointed to die in your place, gives to you the life that he gave up for you through water and blood, through the washing of holy Baptism!
Now you know how to deal with your sin. It’s not to be apathetic about it, as if it doesn’t matter. Nor is it to fall into despair over the fact that by it you crucified the Prince of glory. Since “Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord… suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died and was buried,” you now have a better way to deal with the sin that has lived in you from the moment you were conceived. It’s to wash your bodies in the font and then o feed the same at the Altar, for in the water and blood that once flowed from his side, the Sacrifice becomes a Sacrament and gives to you the very life that he died on this day long ago to win for you.
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. §