But if we walk in the light, just as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 1 John 1:7

Good Friday – 2024

Good Friday

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was one event in a sequence of saving events that needed to occur during the Lord’s last week of earthly life. He ate the Last Supper with his disciples. He was arrested and tried. He was crucified. And on the third day, he was resurrected.

All of these events needed to happen, so that God’s plan for our salvation could be unfolded and accomplished. But the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is not just one event among many.

There is an important sense in which this specific event is also an overarching truth of the Christian faith. It touches, and brings definition to, every other aspect of that faith.

The suffering and death of Jesus on the cross, for the forgiveness of our sins, can indeed be seen as the central truth of the Christian faith – like the hub of a wagon wheel, which holds together all the spokes of the wheel.

The resurrection of Christ – as important and necessary as that is – was not an undoing or negation of the crucifixion of Christ. It was the glorification of the crucifixion, and is a divine declaration to the world that the blessings of Christ’s crucifixion are now available to all.

That’s why the nail marks and the spear mark are still visible on the resurrected body of Jesus. The risen Savior is not an “un-crucified” Savior, and the message that the church now preaches is not a message of an un-crucified Savior.

St. Paul certainly believed in the bodily resurrection of Jesus. He emphasized this over and over again.

In his First Epistle to the Corinthians, for example, he wrote that “if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.”

But when Paul in that same epistle summarized the most fundamental component of the message that he was preaching, this is what he said:

“For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.”

No one, from any cultural or intellectual background, would expect the agony and humiliation of a cross to be the place where God was doing his most powerful and most loving work. But it was.

No one, whether Jew or Greek, would ever have imagined that knowing the meaning of the cross of Christ, is knowing the depth of all divine wisdom in Christ. But it is.

Paul also wrote to the Corinthians: “For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”

If you are a Christian, the focus of your faith is the person and work of Jesus Christ – God’s Son in human flesh. And the central component of his saving work is what he did, and allowed to be done, on the cross.

So, the preaching of Christ – when he is preached as he wants to be preached – is the preaching of the cross of Christ. Faith in Christ – as the one who justifies the ungodly – is faith in the message of his cross.

And being a disciple of Christ, is daily taking up your cross, and daily following him.

This is why the most ancient gesture that confesses one to be a baptized Christian, is the sign of the cross. This is why the universal symbol of Christianity is the cross.

Whether it is ornamented or plain; whether it is a crucifix with a corpus on it, or is without a statuary component, a cross always represents the cross. And it always represents, and reminds us of, the death of God’s Son upon the cross.

Do you want to know how displeasing your sins are to God? Look to the cross, where the one who bore your sins received their due punishment – in his flesh and in his soul.

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?,” is the prayerful “rhetorical question” Jesus asks from the cross.

The answer – which he knew – was because the world’s sin had been placed upon him; and because he had presented himself before the bar of divine justice clothed in this sin, inviting upon himself the hellish judgment that this sin deserved: that your sin, and my sin, deserved.

Do you want to know that God really is willing to forgive you now, and that he will not hold your sins against you? Look to the cross, where the one who endured there the greatest injustice, prayed for his tormenters – and through them, for you – “Father, forgive them…”

And listen to the words that he strains to speak at the end of his agony: “It is finished.” The penalty has been paid. The obligation has been fulfilled.

The righteousness that avails before God – for you and for all people – has been established. The forgiveness of all sins has been won: so that God’s justification in Christ, and God’s pardon in Christ, can now be distributed in the Word and sacraments of Christ.

And do you want to know if you will be with Christ, after your life in this world has come to an end? Is there an eternal hope for you?

Look to the cross, where the truest friend of sinners tells the penitent thief: “today you will be with me in paradise.” On the day Jesus told him this, this forgiven sinner would die. And yet he would live, with Christ.

On the day you die – resting in Christ; and trusting in Christ – you, too, will live, with Christ.

In the Lord’s Supper, which is available on every Lord’s Day in this church – it is, to be sure, the living Christ who comes to us in his body and blood, and not a dead Christ.

We have a sacramental encounter with a living Lord. And that encounter revitalizes us: in our faith toward him, and in our love toward one another.

But do note that the sacred words of this Supper, by which it is brought to us here and now, point back to the cross; even as the Lord’s first speaking of those words, to the original disciples, pointed forward to the cross.

“This is my body, which is given for you.” “This cup is the New Testament in my blood, which is shed for you and for many for the remission of sins.”

Jesus’ body was given on the cross. His blood was shed on the cross.

We don’t sentimentally transport ourselves back to the cross of Calvary when we commune – or when we receive the Lord’s absolution, or when we hear and believe the gospel in whatever form it comes to us. But the Word of God, in these various ways, does bring the cross – and its saving meaning and power – to us, here and now.

The Christian life, with its proper priorities – as Jesus describes them – also orients us continually toward the cross of Jesus, as he tells us in St. Matthew’s Gospel:

“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul?”

Dear friends, on this night – and on every night and every day – God does not want you to lose your soul. God does not want your soul to be polluted with greed and lust, or to be stained with pride and rebellion.

God does not want your soul to be clouded over with despair and fear, or to be weighed down by remorse and guilt. He wants you to be cleansed of all this, and to be liberated from all this.

God invites and implores you to see in your crucified Lord, a Savior who died for you, in order to put your sin to death. By his Word, and through faith in his Word, God enables you to say what St. Paul said to the Galatians:

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”

God invites and implores you to see in your crucified Lord, a Savior who speaks words of peace and hope to you: as you struggle with your weaknesses, yet as you also rejoice in his strength to save you, and to help you by his Spirit.

Jesus, who faced hell and death for you, can indeed help you to face all that challenges you, that threatens you, or that discourages you. As St. Paul writes in his First Epistle to the Thessalonians:

“God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, that whether we wake or sleep, we should live together with Him.”

O Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, have mercy upon us, and grant us your peace. Amen.