Sermon for Good Friday, 2021

Text: John 18-19

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

The cross is the most commonly-used symbol of Christianity. We rarely give it any thought. We wear crosses as jewelry, we hang them on our walls, we wear them on our clothing. In fact, we tend to see crosses everywhere we look. We see two intersecting lines anywhere and our mind instantly goes to the symbol of the cross. Doors with raised panels look like crosses. Intersecting support beams for a building or a fence look like crosses.

A cross is more than simply a decoration, though. It is an instrument of death. More than that, it is an instrument of humiliation and torture. When criminals are executed by means of the death penalty today, we do it as humanely as we can. The cross is different. The cross extends the process of death over several hours. The cross was the most evil way to bring about death and was used by the governing authorities to scare people into submission.

Jesus tells us to “take up our cross and follow him.” For some of the disciples, they would literally do just that. That is, they would suffer and die for their faith. They would be martyrs. As recently as one hundred years ago, in fact, Christian men, women, and children were crucified in Muslim Turkey for being Christians. The apostles and martyrs boldly confessed the faith rather than forsaking it even though it cost them their lives.

Thankfully, the cross is more of a metaphor for us most of the time. We speak of difficulties that we have in our lives as crosses that we bear. We may be tempted by this or that thing. We may deal with injury or disease. Aging, conflict, despair, and loneliness are all crosses that we bear. Christians today may suffer financially for their faith as they may reach a point where it would violate their conscience to do what they are asked by secular authorities. The truth about all of these crosses, though, is that they are products of our sinful condition.

It’s completely different with Jesus, of course. Jesus, when he was handed over to be crucified, took up his own cross and was led out to the place of the skull, that is, Golgotha. That’s where Jesus was crucified. Jesus bears a literal cross, the instrument of his death. But the metaphorical cross that he bears is yours. The metaphorical cross that Jesus bears is the cross of your sin. He takes it up and dies in your place.

We call today Good Friday because of this. It’s good for you because you aren’t the one suffering and dying. You benefit from the cross because God pours out every bit of his wrath on his only-begotten Son Jesus at the cross instead of you. This is what we call the blessed exchange. You trade your sin in for Christ’s righteousness won on the cross. You are Barabbas, the murderer and insurrectionist who is set free rather than facing the death penalty. To our evil world, this just seems wrong. It seems unjust and arbitrary. Christians look, at the very least, strange, and at the worst sick and demented as we look to the cross and call it good, and, in turn, adorn our sanctuaries, homes, bodies, and clothes with this symbol that appears evil. This has even led some Christians to abandon the use of the cross. They don’t want the outside world to see them using an instrument of suffering and death as a celebrated decoration.

Here’s what all of those who object to the image of the cross: Jesus goes to the cross willingly. God is not arbitrarily punishing Jesus for your sins. Jesus is, of his own free will, taking your place. Yes, the cross is a symbol of death. Or at least it was. Now the cross is a symbol of love. It is a symbol of the love that the Father has for you. He loved you in this way: he sent Jesus to die for you. The cross is a symbol of the love that the Son has for you: the Lamb goes uncomplaining forth. This symbol of love is not just for you, though. The love of Jesus is for all. Jesus prays to his Father that those who nailed him to the cross and mocked him might be forgiven. The Jews cry out: “his blood be on us and on our children,” and it is so. The blood of Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, is great enough to cover the sins of even his fiercest enemies. The cross is where true love is found. The world defines lust as love and looks at this true love of Christ as foolishness. Jesus defines love this way, though: “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.” This is the love displayed by Jesus at the cross. The love that Jesus displays at the cross brings life. Out of death comes life. The cross, a symbol of torture and death, is now a symbol of life and salvation.

Today is a good day. Today we gaze upon the cross and recognize it as good for that is where our salvation was accomplished. From today, our eyes look to the tomb and beyond: to the joyful expectation of the resurrection.

In the name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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