Good Friday Sermon 2017
A few years ago I was out with some work colleagues at lunch. In our conversation someone asked if any of us had ever seen a movie so bad that it made us walk out of the cinema. The response of one particular person struck me. She said that the only movie she had ever walked out of in her life was Mel Gibson’s ‘The passion of the Christ’. I asked her why she walked out, and she said that it was too violent, so violent in fact that she found it highly offensive. As I thought about what this woman said, I thought to myself the cross of Jesus is supposed to be offensive!
I wonder if for us whether sometimes the cross has in some way lost its impact on us. Many of us have a cross on the walls of our homes; the cross is prominent in our church, as it should be. The fact that the cross is central to our worship is important as its presence gives focus to our altars as holy places. Many of us even wear a cross around our necks as jewellery. But does having these crosses make the impact they should? With its exalted status as the focal point of our faith, I wonder at times whether the cross has lost its power to scandalize us, to offend us, to wake us up. Perhaps we have lost somehow the reality that the cross was an instrument of extreme torture and death and in doing so lose the fact that Jesus went through this death for our sake.
The truth is that what we remember on this day is not nice. This is not a good news story that we remember on this day. We hear and think about Jesus being abandoned by those close to him; his being bullied by the chief priests; his standing before Pilate; the ferocious anger of the crowd yelling, “Crucify him!” We hear and think about the brutal violence that was dished out to Jesus, violence that is beyond our imaginations; and we remember his brutal death. And in this we remember that Jesus, the innocent one, was punished and went through all of this for our sins. Isaiah 53 says these words about Jesus: “5 But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7 He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth”
As Jesus was being subjected to this unthinkable violence he was silent. In taking on the sins of the world, our Lord was silent. Many who are the victims of violence in our world do not speak out, they suffer alone, are unable to speak openly, but for Jesus to be silent when he could easily speak suggests that there is more going on here. The violence that many suffer in this world is not a result of their choices, the same is true for Jesus, but for Jesus it was different. It is easy to see Jesus here as a victim, that things just happened to him and that he had no choice in the matter, but the reality is that he did. He chose to walk this path. What makes the brutal violence that Jesus suffered even more remarkable is that Jesus knew that it was coming. He knew what he was going to have to walk through. This was no easy choice for Jesus to make. In fact he really wrestled with whether he was going to follow through with it and there is no doubt that if wanted to he could have decided not to go through with it; he could have chosen a different path. There is a moment when we see Jesus really wavering. You see this clearly in Matthew’s account of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where we see Jesus wrestling with his Father. Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.” In that moment he does not want to go through with it, and yet he says, “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.
Being silent in the face of violence many would see as a weakness, but for Jesus his silence is a sign of his strength. It is a sign of his confidence in his Father’s plan. It is a sign of his trust. For Jesus this decision to walk that horrific journey to that cross was a decision as to where he was going to follow his Father’s will. And he had already decided that he was going to. Jesus did not need to defend himself because he made this decision knowing what was about to happen and what was in front of him: knowing that he would face the desertion of his disciples and feelings of abandonment; knowing that he was going to face the abuse of chief priests and hard-hearted religious leaders and face their false accusations; knowing that he would have to face the anger and the total rejection of the people before Pilate; that he was going to walk through extreme physical suffering; that he would have to face a very brutal death by crucifixion.
And knowing all of this, he silently chose to be obedient to his Father. The fact that Jesus followed his Father’s will and made this choice so that you and I would receive the benefits is incomprehensible.
Our world easily deceives itself by thinking that violence is the responsibility of others. But what Jesus’ journey to the cross clearly shows us is what our sin is capable of: the power games, cruelty, abuse, brutal violence, mockery and injustice. All of which we see all around us today. No matter how much we as humanity want to deny it, these things exist because of our sin, the very sin that Jesus was taking to that cross.
As Jesus was hanging there on the cross he spoke. And what he said shows us something of God’s heart. In today’s Gospel reading in verse 26 it says: “26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home”. Here is Jesus hanging on a cross in extreme pain and suffering, yet he speaks words of comfort to his mother and his disciple. He was thinking about them even in the midst of his suffering. This is taken further in the Gospel of Luke, where it was not just his mother that he was concerned about, but all of us, even his enemies. As Jesus was hanging on the cross in Luke 23: 34 it says: “Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’” Even as he was hanging there he was thinking of and interceding for those who had treated him with such cruel violence.
As Jesus died on the cross that day it showed the extent of God’s love, in that he loves his people so much that he gave his only Son Jesus and that Jesus willingly chose to obey his Father’s will and gave his very life for us so that our sins may be completely and freely forgiven. Through his sacrifice the very thing that hardens our hearts, our sin, is taken away so that we can be in a right relationship with our God. This is the very reason why Jesus so determinedly went to that cross, so that you and I can be right with God, so that our sins are not a barrier between us and that we can have access to God through what Jesus has done.
John’s first letter chapter 3:16 says: “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.”
Knowing all that Jesus went through for our sake should compel us to respond to him by seeking to follow him, walking in the path that our Heavenly Father wants us to walk, and seeking to follow Jesus by laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. Jesus’ death on that cross should not be just navel gazing and marvelling at what he has done for us, though we all need to do this from time to time, but as Christians and followers of Jesus it calls for us to respond to others in their need, and not to become complacent, just as he has responded to our deepest need for salvation and life.
Violence, sin and death are clearly seen in the crucifixion account of our Lord; there is no way of escaping it, because this is the reality of life that we live in this sinful world. In order for Jesus to conquer death and sin it meant going through this. And it is here that the heart of the matter is. Jesus went through all of this, to conquer sin and its violence which leads to death, once and for all. Jesus went through this so that you and I could have life. He went through all of this so that you and I could have complete forgiveness of sins.
On this Good Friday I encourage you to meditate and think about these things.