The Grace and Peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Let’s join in a word of prayer: Loving God and Father, today we gather with all those who mourn over the fall of humanity. Sin that required the sacrifice of a sinless Son of God, our Saviour Jesus Christ. Help us to experience, in a tangible way, Your presence in our lives and our worship today. Open our hearts and minds to your plan for our lives that has been worked out through Christ Jesus our Lord, in whose name we pray. Amen.
Recently, I revisited Max Lucado’s book “He chose the nails”. Max encourages us to encounter the mysterious gifts that Jesus chose to give us through his sacrifice. The gifts of Good Friday and Easter Morning are the most precious gifts any person could ever receive because they cost God so much to give. The Apostle John records those words of John 3:16: ‘God loved the people of the world so much, he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him will have everlasting life and not perish.”
God did this for us—just for us—because he loves each one of us so much.
When Jesus was taken from his disciples, abused and bound, he knew the humility that sin binds to all people. Yet Jesus chose to become one of us.
When Jesus stood falsely accused before the chief priests and teachers of the law, he knew the guilt that sin cries out against all people. Yet Jesus chose to forgive us.
When Jesus stood before the crowd in the hands of the soldiers of the Roman Governor, he knew the rejection and isolation that sin brings upon all people. Yet Jesus chose to invite us into his holy presence in eternity.
When Jesus felt the hatred of those crying out for him to be crucified, he knew the cruel sentence that sin brings upon all people. Yet Jesus chose to love us forever.
When Jesus suffered the lash and the cross, he knew the awful suffering that sin casts upon all people. Yet Jesus chose to give us the victory in his own crucifixion.
And yet, as Chad Bird writes in his book: Finding God in the Most Unexpected Places:
The glory of God was revealed on the cross of crucifixion. And yet ‘seeing God on the cross, we do not see. That is, unless our spiritual eyes have been transferred to our ears. Unless we see him through the prophecies of Isaiah about the Servant who would be “despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces”. (Isa 53:3)
The Servant who would be “pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (v 5) If the Word of God, not the vision of our eyes, defines what is real, then we shall really see God on the cross. We shall bask in the glory where no glory is to be seen. On the cross and only on the cross, the scales shall fall from our eyes so that we finally get it: ‘God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring in the presence of God’. (1 Cor 1:27-29)
The Cross is God’s veiled unveiling. It is his absent presence. It is heaven dressed up as hell. The cross defines how God has always worked and always will. This is radical life-changing realization. Beginning in Genesis, and continuing even now in our own lives is the God of the cross. … He conquered the cosmos by suffering defeat in death. He made his life our own, by letting humanity murder him’. (‘Your God is Too Glorious – Finding God in the most unexpected places’ by Chad Bird, Baker Books, page 24)
So here we are together, honouring the sacrifice of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God. A sacrifice through which Jesus offers the precious gifts witnessed by this holy week.
We didn’t see the star in the sky on the night he was born in our humanity. We didn’t hear the witness of shepherds about the visit of angels. We didn’t see him turn water into wine, or calm a storm, or feed 5000 with two fish and five loaves. We haven’t seen him teaching and healing in the Temple. We haven’t seen him being questioned by the religious leaders, and the Roman Governor. We haven’t seen him being whipped for our transgressions. We haven’t seen him ridiculed by the pagan soldiers. We haven’t seen him hanging lifeless on a cross. And yet, we believe. As Jesus would say to Thomas after his resurrection, “You believe because you have seen me. Blessed are those who believe without seeing me.” (John 20:29 NLT)
We have learned from the ancients of faith, that God prepared the world through his prophets for the arrival of a Saviour, a Messiah. The arrival they only hoped for. The arrival we have heard about from the Scriptures that witness what we have not seen, and yet believe.
We have received the encouragement from the Apostles that the faith we have in our Saviour is as precious, as valid, as powerful, as important as the faith of the Apostles, the Prophets, the Ancients of the Faith.
We have cherished the reality of Scripture, received from our nearer forefathers of the Reformation, that we are in a right relationship with God our Father, through the faith we have in Christ Jesus who offered forgiveness from the cross.
When Jesus whispered from the cross that “It is finished,” we can be assured that it was the end of the old. And a new beginning of God’s presence among us. The beginning of life in the presence of God’s eternity. The call to discipleship, and the unfolding of history into the future from creation to Apostles to modern Christianity.
As Jesus said, “If any of you wants to be my follower, you must give up your own way, take up your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to hang on to your life, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for my sake, you will save it. If anyone is ashamed of me and my message, the Son of Man will be ashamed of that person when he returns in his glory and in the glory of the Father and the holy angels.” (Luke 9:23–27 NLT)
The gifts that Jesus chose to give us in his death and resurrection show us the unfolding plan of God for us all. With a sure conclusion of the utter defeat of the devil; and the ultimate victory of God’s plan. A plan for those through time and place who receive Christ Jesus, those who believe in his name, those to whom God has given the right to become his children.
We are part of God’s ultimate plan in the ultimate victory of Christ Jesus. Because Jesus Christ fulfilled God’s plan for salvation, as he cried, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”
For us now, in our generation, in our time, and in our place, we are called to be faithful in living the faith we have received by the Holy Spirit working in word and sacrament.
We are warned from Hebrews, ‘Without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Think of ways to encourage one another to outbursts of love and good deeds. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.’
As we approach the conclusion of our age, and the revealed victory of God’s plan for life, we are given the task to hold onto the faith we have received. To witness that faith by our actions, our attitudes and our words, as we live out our part of God’s plan as children of God who can be trusted. To encourage each other, as we all face those times when we are tempted to doubt God’s care for us.
To find enjoyment, fulfillment, and purpose in meeting together in fellowship as our hearts sing together the praises of our Saviour who died for us.
This is especially important now that we are closer to our Lord’s return than ever before in history. When we witness events and hostilities that surely point to the end of times. As one sign recently said, ‘one in hundred years drought, fire, flood and pandemic, all in 18 months.’ And yet, we realize as Jesus tells us clearly that only the Father knows when he will wrap up this age, and usher in a new age of peace and love. And that will be wonderful.
Because of Good Friday, we can hear the words of Hebrews with a new direction in our life, ‘dear brothers and sisters, we can boldly enter heaven’s Most Holy Place because of the blood of Jesus. This is the new, life-giving way that Christ has opened up for us through the sacred curtain, by means of his death for us.’
And so, today, as we grieve the suffering and death of our Saviour, and we prepare to celebrate His awesome resurrection, let’s hold onto these words of Hebrews, ‘without wavering, let us hold tightly to the hope we say we have, for God can be trusted to keep his promise.’ And may the grace and peace of God keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. AMEN.