By Bob Hiller –
We’d prefer something else tonight. I mean, sure, it’s good for us to come and remember Jesus dying. It makes us feel a bit more holy because we are the ones on this Friday night being so very good: going to church contemplating the suffering of our enfleshed God. Oh, we can explain this death, tell you how He did it for us, and feel pretty good about our well-educated confession.
But, quite honestly, we’d prefer something else. Focusing too much on the crucified Jesus might be a good history lesson in theology, but we all know that we live in the reality of Easter! No crucifixes here! We have an empty cross and an empty tomb. Curiously, one never wants an empty manger, but that’s because we kind of like our God being cute. We like how it makes us feel. We like how Easter makes us feel. We like the empty tombs and Easter lilies. But, we don’t like Jesus on the cross. We don’t like how this makes us feel.
I worked in a Christian bookstore while I was in college. I was usually scheduled for Fridays. At this particular store, we did not close on Good Friday. I remember asking my boss if I could have the night off to go to church. “Why do you want to go to church on a Friday?” She asked. “Uhhh…Because it’s Good Friday.” I said, somewhat confused. “You’re not Catholic,” she said. “No, but we do have church on Good Friday. It’s the night Jesus was crucified after all.” Her response, “We don’t worship a crucified Jesus, but a risen one. We’re not Catholic, so we aren’t closed.” It was a far cry from St. Paul’s “I desired to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ and Him crucified.” So I went to work.
See, we weren’t going to allow something as dark and sad and depressing as the death of Jesus to stand in the way of God blessed commerce at our Orange County store front. We are in SoCal! We don’t like the dark and the depressing. We like sunshine and beaches. We don’t like to think of Jesus on a cross; we don’t like to think about death and dying. But, you can’t have a happy Easter without a sad Friday, so we’ll go through the motions and try to get around this cross as quickly as we can.
But, you can’t move away from it. In fact, trying to get away from the cross puts us in pretty bad company. Remember Jesus’ conversation with Peter? After Peter declared that he and the others believed Jesus to be the Christ the Son of the living God, Jesus told Peter and the others what that meant: that He had to suffer, die, and rise. Peter, of course, had to correct Jesus on what Messiah’s actually do. To which Jesus replied: “Get behind me, Satan!”
Trying to keep Jesus from His cross is the work of the devil. To have Jesus without a cross is to have a demonic Jesus, but this is our way. We want a salvation without death, forgiveness without repentance, freedom without cost, reward without sacrifice, wine without blood, empty tombs without bloody crosses, Easter without Good Friday, and Gospel without Law. But Jesus comes under the opposites and works salvation in a bloody, horrifying death. You can’t have Jesus without a cross. He is bound to it.
But, now some of you more astute Bible scholars are quick to point out, I’m sure, that it was the devil at work with Judas who helped get Jesus to the cross. Remember that? Just before Judas was off to betray Jesus, Luke records that “Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot.” I mean, if Satan can’t control Jesus by keeping him from the cross, then he’ll seek control by putting Him on the cross. Judas’ sin and the devil’s desire to control God work together to crucify our Lord. And, aren’t we right to say that it is our sin that put Him there? Isn’t He dying for our sins? Isn’t it our fault He dies for?
Why, yes, now that you bring it up! It is your sins that held Him there. It is your disobedience, your self-righteousness, your desire to control your life as though you are God, your pride, your lust, and your stillborn, wicked heart that put Him on the cross. You, in league with Judas and Satan, are complicit in waging war against God and seeking His death blow on the tree. You crucified Him!
But, what then? I mean, how are we to rightly think of this? If I try to separate Jesus from His cross, I am in league with the devil. However, by sinning against God, and seeking to be my own God, I crucify Him, and I am also in league with the devil. It’s as if I can do nothing right with this Jesus. It’s as though I can do nothing right before this cross. Can I do nothing right before God? I’m damned if I do and damned if I don’t!
Yes! That’s it! That is the whole point! You can do nothing right here. You are bound to sin, and it is bound to you. You will not honor God rightly, you will not deal with the cross perfectly, your prayers and your faith will falter. Your sins put Him there, and you are on the side of Satan if you try and get in His way of going there. And that is precisely why He came to die: to forgive you and free you from that bondage! He alone does what is right, or righteous, before the Father. He alone deals with the cross rightly, because He alone dies on it. He alone suffers the full wrath of God. He alone binds Himself to the cross to free you from your bondage.
Perhaps this is why we don’t want to stay too long at the cross. For the death of Jesus is the death of us. It is the death of our pride in thinking that we know better than God what Jesus should do. It is the death of the naiveté which says I have something to contribute to God and to my salvation. It puts to death our desire to be God, for we want to be gods in power and glory, not in suffering and death. It exposes how contrary our thoughts are from his and kills any presumption we had about being like Him. And, it is the death of any view of myself which suggests I deserve something more than hell from God. Because, the only one who deserves anything from God, the enfleshed God himself, hangs in bloody agony, in my deserved place.
So what can we do with this Jesus and His cross? Stop and listen. For there, He will preach to you and set you free. From there, He will pray on your behalf, “Father, forgive them! They know not what they do!” Hear His dying woes, His prayers for you from the cross, and His forgiveness purchased with His blood. It is from the cross that I am to deliver this message to you tonight, that you are not damned if you do and damned if you don’t. He is. In your place. On your behalf. Jesus takes your doing and your not doing. He takes your damning. And you who are bound to only sin against Him, He bound Himself to the cross for you and from that cross binds Himself to this promise that I declare to you now: You who can’t seem to get it right with God are right with God because Jesus died for you.
You get no other Jesus than the crucified One, and praise God for it. Tonight, do nothing with the cross. Jesus will take it for you. Out of the anguish of His soul, you are counted righteous. Because He bore your iniquities, you are free from them. Your bondage is broken. Stop and listen, for from the bloody crucifix, this message rings eternally and tonight the ringing has come into this sanctuary, and the message rings for you: You are forgiven. You are free. AMEN.