Friday, April 22, 2011

Homily for Good Friday


John 18:1 – 19:42; Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9; Isaiah 52:13 – 53:12

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani. These words our Lord Jesus uttered in His dying breath upon the cross. My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? But, you must understand that, though these words are words of great distress and anguish, they are not words of hopelessness or despair. Upon the cross we see the full meaning of the Incarnation of the Son of God. Jesus is a human man; He is not a Superman. He eats and He drinks, He sleeps, He laughs and He weeps, He feels anger, compassion, and love. He knows temptation. He knows pain and anguish. And, upon the cross, He knows what it means to be completely cut off and forsaken by God the Father, as a man.

It was according to His human nature that Jesus experienced the distress and anguish of separation from the Father, a separation that was the result of sin, your sin, and my sin. You should take notice that nowhere in the narratives of Jesus’ Passion is there a suggestion that Jesus cried out in agony at His scourging, at His beating, or at His crucifixion, though He surely did. The scourging would have left the flesh of Jesus’ back, arms, and legs in bloody ribbons as leather straps with biting shards of bone and stone would have cut, ripped, and torn His flesh with vicious furrows. The repeated vesting and then removal of His robes and clothing, combined with the savage beatings and slappings with hands, fists, sticks, and clubs would have opened His wounds all the more, even as bits of His flesh were torn away. Additionally, the blows to His head would have driven the long, cruel thorns of His crown into His brow, His temples, and His skull. Then, as spikes were driven, not through the thin flesh of His hands, but through His wrists and feet, and the whole weight of his torn and wounded body hung from them upon the cross, He surely writhed and cried out in excruciating pain and anguish. And yet, this is not recorded in the accounts of His Passion. And so, this fact serves to draw our attention to the one cry of Jesus’ anguish that is recorded for us – My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?

For Jesus, being forsaken by His Father was the greater anguish by far. As the Divine Only-Begotten Son of God the Father from eternity, there has never been a time that Jesus, according to His Divine Nature, did not know and experience His Father’s gracious presence. And, on the cross, that remained true; the forsakenness that Jesus experienced on the cross was not experienced according to His Divine Nature, but by His divinely assumed human nature. Thus, again, it was as a human man, as human as you and I, that Jesus experienced the distress and the anguish of being truly forsaken by His Father.

This is important for you to know and to remember, for, what Jesus suffered was not for His own guilt and sin, but it was for yours and for mine. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. Further, what Jesus experienced was much less the wrath of God the Father against sin than it was the separation from God that is the result of sin. For, forsakenness is being cut off from the Father’s gracious presence; it is to experience what is the necessary wage of our sin, death, for, apart from God’s gracious presence, left on our own, we are truly dead.

But, this is why the Son of God became incarnate, and this is why Jesus was forsaken by His Father and died, that Godforsaken men, that Godforsaken you and Godforsaken me, would be restored to the Father’s gracious presence. All that Jesus experienced in His life, in His temptation, in His suffering, and in His last hours and death upon the cross He experienced and suffered as a human man, as your brother, as your substitute, for you. Now you need never experience the forsakenness of God, for Jesus, as a man, has removed the guilt of your sin forever. God the Father always looks upon you in grace, love, and mercy in and through and for the sake of His Son who submitted to death, even death upon the cross, that you might live.

And, as He suffered the distress and anguish of separation from His Father, Jesus continued to place His fear, love, and trust in God above all things. Jesus did not despair, He was not without hope, but He prayed. He prayed the Psalms, the prayer book of the people of God. He prayed the words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” and Psalm 31, “Into Your hands I commit my spirit.” Popular Christian piety holds that Jesus silently recited all the lines of the Psalter that lie between these two verses as He hung upon the cross. Jesus always turned to the Word of God in time of need. According to the writer to the Hebrews, “In the days of His flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to Him who was able to save Him from death, and He was heard because of His [fear of the LORD].”

Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani? My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? Jesus was alone with evil and darkness, yet His words were a prayer, not a cry of despair. He wasn’t accusing God. He wasn’t screaming out in disappointment because the help He had hoped for failed to appear. This isn’t a cry from someone who has lost faith. It is a prayer that pours out from faith like a spring. But, at the same time, Jesus lets us know that He was truly forsaken by God and that He tasted the utmost extreme consequences of our fall from God. He shows us that He is still doing this in obedience to God’s will and that He still has perfect faith in God. So this verse fits very well with the other words of Jesus from the cross. When He says, “It is finished,” He means precisely the work that His Father gave Him to do. He did this when He kept the Law that we beak on every point and when He tasted the consequences of all our neglect and wrongdoing down to the last drop. And when He said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit,” He was also displaying the same obedience and faith. He was obedient unto death, even death upon a cross.

In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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