Good Friday and Easter are the climax of our Church Year. As we journeyed through Lent, our eyes looked toward Calvary. Now is the time to stand at the foot of the cross and look up. The mood is somber and so it should be. Yet as we see with eyes of faith, we realize this is a time of victory. Our Lord Jesus experienced death for us that we may share in His triumph over death. Our focus this evening hinges upon words from the prophet Isaiah that point to the cross: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows.”
On Good Friday, we deal with death up close. We stand not beside a casket of a parent, grandparent, child, or another family member; rather, we stand at the foot of the cross of Jesus Christ. We experience the reality of death, His death. We realize that death does indeed come close – to each of us. Death is the great enemy. It would be cold and dark and empty, except that Jesus has come close to us and has faced death for us. His death changes our experience of death. Now we stand before His cross and feel the impact of His love for us as He experienced death up close.
We are not immune to death. To live in our world means that we must face it. Death can be frightening. Sometimes it invades our lives with blazing speed. Sometimes it is slow and relentless as it stalks its target. Death comes in many ways, but it comes. It doesn’t always seem fair. It can surprise and shock us. It can pierce like a knife. They sky can be blue, the sunshine bright, the air crisp and clean – and then we receive that phone call of bad news and darkness descends. To be human is to live life that is fragile. Death does indeed come close to us. And death would indeed leave us terrorized and empty except for what took place one Friday, a day that we call Good Friday, a Friday when Jesus experienced death up close for us.
The prophet Isaiah painted a poetic picture of what this Friday would be. He described a Savior, a Suffering Savior, who would stand in our place and experience death up close. For us who are part of fallen humanity, death is justice. It is a verdict that fits the crime. We have disobeyed God and deserve death. But now the Suffering Savior comes near. As Isaiah describes it: “He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief. . . . Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. . . . He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities. . . . The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. . . . He was cut off out of the land of the living. . . . They made His grave with the wicked.” Jesus knew death in a way that we could never know, for He experienced death up close and all that goes with it.
There on the cross, as our Lord hangs for crimes He did not commit, He is mocked and despised. He takes the charge that is put forward by Pilate, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” You have to wonder why He would do something like this. Throughout His Passion, our Lord was mocked by the people regarding His supposedly being the Son of God, that if that fact were true, He could have taken Himself off the cross. The fact of the matter is they were right. As the Son of God, He could have taken Himself off of the cross. But what if He had? Let’s say that Jesus did take Himself off of the cross, what would that mean? It means that you and I would truly be damned. It is because our Lord stayed on the cross that He died. It’s because He stayed on the cross that God’s wrath was poured out upon Him instead of us. It’s because He stayed on the cross that His blood was shed. It’s because He stayed on the cross that His blood washes over you and forgives you all of your sins.
In all His sufferings, He looks so unglorious. Blood pours from every vein. He is kicked and hit and spat upon. He is nailed to wood. Worse than that, He is forsaken in the torture of hell. Divine wrath falls upon Him, greater than the Flood, greater than Sodom and Gomorrah, greater than all the catastrophes of earth put together. All of it, concentrated and foul and heavy, falls on this one Man’s shoulders, crushing Him down as if He was a shameful sinner, deserving of the worst treatment in history. No man seems so abandoned, so lost, so abused, as this Christ upon Golgotha.
But this is not all that is happening. The cross is not only shame. That is the external appearance. The far greater reality is this: the cross is the greatest glory on earth. It is the glory of the Son of God. As He says to Caiaphas, “From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of Power, and coming on the clouds of heaven.” Christ was not speaking of His Second Coming. He said, “from now on.” In other words, the Passion and Death that followed are the very glory of Christ.
For on the cross, Christ sets right all of mankind. On the cross, Christ destroys the power of evil as He crushes the serpent’s head. On the cross, Christ shows us as much of God as we can see in this life, the glory of God’s redemption poured out in bloody streams. His mercy is there, exposed to our eyes as nowhere else. Nowhere in history can you see God so clearly as in the Son of God dying on Calvary.
With His dying breath, our Lord cries out from the cross, “Tetelesti.” “It is finished.” He doesn’t mean that His life is now over and He dies. He means that God’s divine plan of salvation is now complete. That plan of salvation that was set in the motion from the near beginning of time is fulfilled in Christ’s sinless life, death, and resurrection. Everything that is necessary for your sins to be forgiven is made complete by Christ on the cross.
Because of Jesus, we can look into the eyes of death and see not a conquering villain, but an enemy that has been conquered. We can see victory in death. We can find hope in sorrow, for we have a Suffering Savior who experienced death up close and personal and overcame it. Our Lord swallowed death. He tasted it for us, and now we follow Him from death to life. Amen.