Behold the man! – A Good Friday Sermon

Crucifixion.andreas.pavias

Good Friday, 2014 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30

Living God, we thank you that in your Son Christ Jesus you accomplished for us what we could not accomplish on our own. Thank you that our whole lives are taken up into the sacrificial offering of your Son’s own life on the cross, and that in his death, we live. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

As he hung there on the cross, that torturous Roman instrument of death, the weight of his body bearing down on those nails that pierced his hands and feet, beaten and bloodied, he inhaled and with his final breath said, “It is finished.” I tell you, this small phrase is so vast and so deep that its treasures will never be exhausted. More was said in this one breath than has been said since and could ever be said. For in this phrase we get a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the gospel, that is, of God’s sacrificial and holy love for the whole wide world, and for you and I. Behold, Christ Jesus nailed to the cross! Behold the servant of the Lord in all his glory, exalted and lifted up (Is. 52:13)! Hear the broken cry of victory from his lips: “It is finished.”

Here we are, at the end of the long journey of Lent that culminates in this most Holy of weeks. This whole journey has been a set-up. That is John, the author of the gospel, has set us up to see what he has seen and thus, like him, to be witnesses equipped and ready to testify to the truth before the world. And that truth is not a concept or an idea, not a bumper sticker or an argument, that truth is Jesus the Christ, the one who at the end of our gospel reading, “bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” and died. Behold the Light! The Life! The Truth!

It is imperative that we hear these final words of Jesus from the cross in light of the very first words of John’s gospel: “In the beginning,” says John, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” (1:1-5). Even now – even here on the cross – the darkness did not overcome it.

During the whole fiasco of a trial that immediately preceded Jesus’ death, that “perversion of justice” (Isaiah 53:8) by which the Son of man was rejected by man, the Roman governor Pilate had Jesus flogged, dressed up like a king though his crown was made of thorns, mocked him, and struck him on the face (19:1-3). Pilate then brought him out in front of the crowds (“to let you know that I find no case against him,” v4), stood him there, and proclaimed, “Behold the man!” (v5). The man. Now, if we’re hearing all of this in light of, “In the beginning…” then we can’t not think of the man that was in the beginning, Adam. Indeed, some of the earliest Christians identified the place of Jesus’ crucifixion with the burial place of Adam. Thus, portrayals of the crucifixion quite often feature a skull at the base of the cross.

The new Adam, Jesus, brings salvation to the old Adam through his sacrificial love poured out on the cross.

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth,” (Genesis 1:26). God makes man (the Hebrew word there is adam from which we get Adam) and sets them in the garden. Why? To take it, all of it, and offer it back to God in praise and thanksgiving. That is, Adam was a priest and the whole earth was his offering. The gift received in love was to be offered back in reciprocal love, the glorious unity of God and man. Only, that didn’t happen. The sin of the first Adam, the old Adam, was to reject the giver of the gift, it was to take the gift and seek it for itself, quite apart from the giver. No giving thanks. No offering it back. No union of love. But this gift was nothing less than the very life of man, the rejection of which meant death. The words that we opened with this morning describe the sin of Adam: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.” The union between God and man, the union of sacrificial love, was up-ended and exchanged for the dis-union of enmity and strife. The old Adam was unable to finish the priestly work that he was made to do and thus unable to grow up into and attain to that perfect unity of sacrificial love, of giving and receiving, of laying down ones will for the will of the other.

And so, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned,” (5:12). The prideful self-assertion of the old Adam’s will over the will of the God who loved him and who he was made to love in return was a cancer that left no corner of creation untouched: “and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” We are, slaves, slaves to sin and death. Victim and perpetrator — this is us. We are the old Adam and he is us.

The new Adam, that is Christ Jesus, comes into the midst of our enslavement to sin and death and he too comes as priest to take all of creation, every last mangled and death-kissed bit of it, up into his own obedient offering to the Father. In his own flesh, Jesus assumes and takes on our humanness and identifies with us fully in the decay of our sin, though he himself is without sin, because he does this in perfect unity with the Father. The prophet Isaiah writes that, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain,” (Is. 53:10). And Jesus was crushed as Isaiah continues: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth,” (Is. 53).

And Jesus did this not reluctantly but joyfully, as Jeff preached about last evening. Indeed, Jesus thirsts to do this. “I am thirsty,” he says from the cross. Thirsty for what? Thirsty to drink the cup that his Father had given him to drink (18:11). And notice also, Jesus does not passively die, the victim. No, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (19:30). He gave it up, his final priestly offering that brought all other offerings to an end. What we see here, is the priestly offering of the new Adam, the offering of himself and of the whole cosmos in himself back to the Father. The obedient offering of reciprocal love. The gift given, and received, and returned, eternally. And this love, unites God and man forever in an inseparable union. The new Adam brings to fulfillment what the old Adam was unable to. And so, at the beginning of our gospel reading this morning, Jesus willingly, joyfully, enters into the garden that holds for him certain death (18:1), in order to deliver us from Adam’s death in the first garden of paradise (Cyril of Alexandria).

Why? Love. “He was wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” (Is. 53:5). His wounds – our healing. His death – our life: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,” (Is. 53:11). “Therefore,” writes St. Paul, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:18-19). And this, like all things we receive from the hand of God, is a gift: “For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many,” (Rom. 5:15). This is why the death of Christ on the cross is a victory rather than a defeat, because in his death he subverts death and turns it on its head, trampling down death by his own death so that life and freedom might come bursting in. And so it was, the blood of Christ, the new Adam, as it dropped from the cross, washed away the sins of the buried one, the first Adam (Jerome). Thus, the words of St. Paul were fulfilled: “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light,” (Eph. 5:14).

If it is true that the life of God is hidden in the death of Jesus, then it is true that our life is hidden there also. What is required of you and I, then? Is it some effort, some further sacrifice? No! What is required of us is not something that we can do — salvation is not a matter of self-improvement. What is required of us is, in a sense, the end of our doing, the end of self-improvement—what is required of us is nothing less and nothing more than our own death, more specifically, our own death in Christ’s own death.

When Christ’s side is pierced two things flow out, water and blood. The water is the water of baptism. The Crucifixion is Christ’s glorious baptism and when we are baptized it is into Christ’s death on the cross, and our whole life is taken up into God’s whole life so that we no longer live but Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20) This is a matter of fact. Indeed, many early baptismals were in the shape of a cross. The blood that spills out is the blood of the New Covenant which was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins”. This is the cup of wine which we share in the Eucharist. Christ’s blood, shed for us. And in consuming Christ’s broken body in the Eucharist we in all of our brokenness are taken up into Christ and become his body, broken and poured out for the world. And so, in baptism and the Eucharist Christ’s death is made present to us in a very real way, in such a way that you and I are gathered around the risen Jesus to form a community that is in the shape of the cross.

As we behold Christ lifted up on the cross here this morning, as we approach the cross shortly, would you come and die here with Christ, die here in Christ? Would we, like Jesus, lay down our wills and pick up the Cross and follow him? Would we give ourselves in sacrificial love for one another that we may be one? For this is the glory that the Father gave the Son and that the Son has shared with us, the glory of the Cross, the glory of total and utter unity of will between the Father and Son has been opened up to us that we too may lay down our wills and take up Christ’s.

May our common life increasingly be a testimony to the reality that in Jesus the old humanity, ruled as it was by sin and sin itself was taken and killed and buried in and with Jesus on the cross.

One person, Jesus Christ, has made an end of us as sinners and therefore has made an end of sin itself by going to death as the One who took our place. Let us live out of this new reality, and thus bear witness to Christ in the midst of a watching world. Amen.

***

Sermon was preached by Jonathan Turtle at St. Matthew’s Riverdale
on Good Friday, April 18th, 2014.

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