‘Baptism, Communion, the Crux of Victory!’

Hebrews:10:16
This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord:
I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds”,

            Foretold from the Fall that He would be injured, the serpent crushed; that the offspring of Eve would destroy sin, death and the devil (Genesis 3). Promised to God’s ancient people, a suffering servant, offspring of David and God Himself (Isaiah 52-53; Ezekiel 34). His death sung by Isaiah in his prophecies and in the psalms. Despised by all, abandoned by His closest friends, pierced and lifted up, surrounded by enemies, lots thrown for His clothes. He cried out this Psalm 22, His prayer in His crucifixion. Dry in the dust of death, but you O Lord are my strength, deliver/rescue/save me from my enemies. The last line of that Psalm, they will proclaim to a people yet unborn, that He has done it. It is finished. Christ is Victor!

            This is the second part of the Divine service of Easter, after the command to share Christ’s love, and before the Glorious, Wonderful Day of His proclamation. Here today the victory is won. The wonderous New Covenant is cut, as the old Hebrew goes, This new relationship between God and His creation is made here on the cross. We are draw into it by the Holy Spirit in Baptism and Holy Communion. This Covenant cut in Jesus, the relationship born on the cross. Water and blood flowing from Him, baptism and Holy Communion where we grow in this relationship. Last night Jesus proclaimed it, a relationship grown over a meal; His Blood of the New Covenant. Now Today, we see what this relationship, this mystery means. He carries the burden of our sin, as we might carry the failure of our child/friend/worker, He carries the failure of the Jewish leaders, the guilt of those who called for the death of an innocent man, the sin of Pilate, He carries the sin of the whole world on His shoulders as He carried that cross beam to the place of the skull (1 Peter 2:24). As The High Priest, Jesus mediates with God on our behalf, to deal with our sin; and as The pure sacrifice He takes on our sin and dies with it. Jesus is victorious over sin.

            He who is Life, Truth, He who is our righteousness, Jesus in the same way as He healed by touching others and overpowering their illness, Jesus touches us and destroys sin, death and the devil in our lives. The pure water and blood that poured from His side are brought to us by the Holy Spirit, for our purification in Baptism and Holy Communion. This is why we renounce the devil and die to sin, how we proclaim Christ’s death until He comes. There is no other way besides Jesus for our reconciliation with God Almighty, and this is why the author says: “Therefore, siblings, since we have confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.”

            As we cling to Him, the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Good Friday

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.

Good Friday

The Text: Matthew 27:15-26

 

It had been a long night as Jesus was accused and taunted before the Jewish Council and the high priest Caiaphas. Even under the cover of darkness when evil seems to get the upper hand, they had not been able to make their feeble accusations stick. And yet Jesus was still alone. Peter had denied Him as He had predicted. The other disciples were off in hiding, and Judas was filled with despair over the betrayal he had committed for a few coins. It’s at this point that they drag Jesus before yet another judge. As the highest official in Roman occupied Israel, Pilate is the only one who is authorised to sentence someone to death. And so the cowards come, seeking someone else to do their dirty work.

As much as Pilate has received a bad rap over the years, he is no fool. He quickly works out that Jesus is innocent of any crime and so he does his best to have the crowd release Jesus. He chooses the worst of the worst in prison at that time. Barabbas the terrorist. A murderous, thieving, hate-filled criminal who was waiting to be crucified. Pilate is convinced that regardless of the Jewish leaders’ request, the crowd would rather have Jesus roaming the streets than this notorious prisoner from death row.

And so Pilate asks the crowd which of the two they want him to release. Barabbas they scream. Angry that an innocent man is about to be killed, Pilate washes his hands and declares that he is innocent of Jesus’ blood. And at this point the crowd makes what is perhaps the most shocking statement in the whole passion narrative. “His blood be on us and our children,” they declare. As if it wasn’t enough that they willingly take the blame for Jesus’ crucifixion, they are happy for His blood to be on their children as well!

And so with that Barabbas walks free and Jesus is handed over to be crucified. Barabbas – a name which ironically means ‘son of a father’ – is released and the true Son of the Father takes His place to be put to death. The son deserving to die is let off, and the innocent Son of the Heavenly Father is sacrificed in his place.

Dear friends we are all Barabbas in one way or another – sons and daughters of earthly fathers. Children born of natural descent and living out our lives on death row due to our inherited sin – not to mention the sin we commit daily. But the Son of the Father – none other than the Lord Jesus – put up no fight when He was pitted against you and me in the person of Barabbas. Instead He willingly accepted the verdict and submitted to the Romans that He might be put to death for the sins of the world, for all those who have been born of an earthly father and found to have fallen short of the glory of God. Like a lamb led to the slaughter, Jesus did not open His mouth, but took Barabbas’ place, my place and your place, and suffered what we deserved.

Barabbas is no two-bit criminal. He’s not waiting execution by accident. He was due to get what he deserved. But Jesus is chosen and He takes on the guilt of this terrorist, and Barabbas in declared innocent. The sweet swap some have called it. Jesus gets our sin and we get His righteousness, innocence and blessedness. Jesus endures the fullness of God’s judgment on sin, and we are declared innocent – not because we deserve it any more than Barabbas did – but because Jesus came to do just this so that we would not be lost for eternity.

And so as the name Barabbas points to the innocent Jesus taking the place of sinners like you and me, so also that shocking statement from the crowd points to His work in an even greater way. “His blood be on us and our children,” they shouted as they sought to have Jesus executed.

When we come to Good Friday each year it is sobering for us to recognise our part in the crucifixion of Jesus. To recognise that the denials and cowardice of Peter are never far below the surface in our own lives. To accept that in the crowd calling for His crucifixion we can hear the voice of our sin. And in gazing upon the cross we realise that it is indeed our sin which held Him there. But for all of that, I don’t think too many would want to identify themselves with these bloodthirsty people in crowd who said, “His blood be on us and our children.”

But again, with no small amount of irony, the crazed words of this murderous crowd point to exactly what Jesus will accomplish over the next three hours. As He hangs crucified, the innocent suffering servant, Jesus endures the wrath of God for all who have sinned and fallen short of His glory. He is abandoned by God the Father. He is crushed in punishment for every sin of every person. Purchasing forgiveness with His own blood – the same blood the crowds called down upon themselves and their children. This blood flows and freely offers new life even to those who would be guilty of spilling it.

While they were prepared to have the guilt of Jesus blood on their hands and the hands of their children, Jesus offers up His blood for a better purpose, even for those who called for His death. As the letter to the Colossians says, Jesus has made peace between sinners like us and our Heavenly Father, through the blood of the cross. This blood, this death, offers forgiveness and freedom to all who believe.

It had been a long night and an even longer day as Jesus hung on the cross while the sun did not shine. As He gave up His spirit and died at the ninth hour, all the dark schemes of men and demons, all the hate-filled words and injustices meted out upon Him, all our sin and the death we deserve, all of this was consumed in His body as He wrestled it into the tomb on our behalf.

Dear children of God, the silence of the tomb over the next days is not the sound of defeat. It is the beginning of the sound of victory for our God, as sin and death and the devil are finally defeated in Jesus’ body and lie speechless as He conquers them in our place.

When Barabbas should have died, when the crowds should have been punished, when you and I should stand condemned – Jesus dies and we are set free. In the midst of death, the Lord lives and so will we! Amen.

Good Friday

Isaiah 53:5
But he was 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.”

            Today we remember again the death of the one who loves us and gave everything for us. Betrayed by His friends and followers, first Judas, then the rest, even Peter three times disowning Him; betrayed and condemned by the Jews and their leaders, those who had waited for His coming for many years and generations; flogged and crucified by those He had come to save. This is your king, crowned on His wooden throne, for all the world to see His power. But we still see a naked man torn and bleeding, dying on that cross; He who had given so much, bread to the 5000, healing throughout Judah, even raising the dead, now himself dying. As Isaiah said 700 years before, we consider him punished, struck down and afflicted by God.

            But God’s word is certain, He spoke the world into being and continues to sustain all creation, the world has not ended yet. Isn’t it amazing that He gave those words to the Israelites 700 years before it happened. And even before that, David sung of the coming Messiah, even telling of how He would suffer, how His clothes would be divided (Psalm 22). God’s Word and promise was true and sure for Isaiah and the Kingdom of Judah, and for David and the United Kingdom of Israel, even though they did not see it. These and the other prophets, speakers of God’s Word, were desperately waiting and looking forward to the fulfilment of God Almighty’s promise (1 Peter 1:10-12). They had a glimpse of what was to come, and they faithfully pointed forward to the wonders and marvels that God would do for all people in Jesus Christ. And today we again remember that wonder, that marvel, that Christ Jesus, Son of God and Son of Man, was afflicted and killed, pierced for your transgressions, crushed for your corruption. Struck down, He bore all your sins, took your guilt and shame, the sickness of sin that all people are born with, that desire to go our own way, away for life and toward our destruction. Jesus took all that onto Himself, He died and with Him died your sin and guilt, upon Him was the punishment that brought you peace, and with His wounds you are healed. These are the sure words of God, they will not pass away even 2000 years after Jesus said, ‘it is finished’, even still now, with His wounds you are healed.

            We who trust His words, who follow Him in the only way to life, we remember today, but also every time we see the cross, or the crucifix, this deathly event. But don’t forget what Christ’s death means for you, for me and for all people, whoever believes will not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16). Don’t forget the wonder of God’s Word coming to fruition, like a flower finally blooming, this is the event that all God’s people look to, both before and after; it is right to date our calendar back to the life of Jesus, this is the focal point of all creation, time and space. We everyday battle against the desire to focus on other things, to live for work, family, power, wealth, even ourselves, and not live with Jesus; to go our own way. But it is not your boss who gives you life, your strength cannot heal you, money does not take your sin away and destroy it, only in Jesus are you safe and free from the destruction you bring on yourself. But there, Jesus enthroned on the cross, there all our sin, our evil, is dealt with, and God frees you and me, freely He gives peace, joy and love, even counting us righteous, forgetting every one of our betrayals and restoring you and me to the wonderfully merciful, just and loving arms of our Heavenly Father, with Jesus by the Holy Spirit.

            By His wounds you are healed.

And the peace which passes all understanding guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus, crowned on the cross. Amen.

Pastor Joseph Graham.

Good Friday

Text: John 19:28-3028

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished,and so that Scripture would be fulfilled,Jesus said,“I am thirsty.”29A jar of wine vinegarwas there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.30When he had received the drink, Jesus said,“It is finished.”With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.It is finished

We wonder why Jesus’ ministry had to end this way.Why was it necessary for Jesus to die?They are very reasonable questions, but they are not questions that we would ask if we truly understand what Jesus promised.Take St Peter for example.Jesus prophesied that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.Peter objected and said, “Never, Lord –this will never happen to you”.But did Peter hear Jesus properly?It is very likely that Peter didn’t hear fully what Jesus said.It is likely that once he heard Jesus say that he must be killed that he stopped paying attention.And that’s what death does.When we hear about death, especially about the death of someone we love it can also make us wonder why.Why does life end?Why is it necessary to die?But Peter needed to listen to Jesus and the totality of what he said:asHe said that after he was killed, on the third day he would be raised to life.But even as Christians we don’t always think of that when we are confronted with death.We don’t automatically think of eternal life when someone we love dies.We are usually so grief stricken thatwe cannot see past the reality of death.Even St Paul acknowledges that when he speaks of Christ’s victory over death.He says: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” Thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.Whereas death no longer has victory because of Jesus’ death and resurrection it certainly still carries its sting.And that sting is evident every time we sit at the bedside of a loved one –as we watch the coffin lowered into the grave, as we visit the gravesite of our loved ones –the sting of grief in death remains.But Paul also reminds us that we grieve but not as those who have no hope.We have hope because we know that the grave will not hold Jesus for long. We know that on the third daythat he will rise.But those 3 days are so long when it’s someone we love.Even though we know that we will be reunited with all our loved ones as we await the resurrection, it is so hard because the grief is so deep.Asking “why” about death or questioning God’s love because of death won’t remove the sting of death from our experience.Our loved ones will continue to face the reality of death and we shall continue to face the reality of our own death.Death is a reality of life.The only way to truly findcomfort in death is to listen carefully to what Jesus said about his own death.On the third day I will be raised to life.Without death there can be no resurrection.Without Jesus’ resurrection,we can never see death in any other way than an horrific event.Even Jesus’ own death is meaningless without that final part that Peter missed –on the third day I will be raised to life.To outsiders, a battered and broken Jesus who could no longer hold his head up and died in humiliation and defeat could not possibly be anything but a reminder of the pain and finality of death and no hope at all. But to those who believe into him, the true Son of God has completed his great work of defeating death and he cries out “it is finished”.But what is finished?Death’s victory is finished.As St Paul says, “the message of the cross if foolishness to those who are perishing but to us who are being saved it is the power of God”.And the power of God is,that just as Jesus has been raised from the dead,we too shall be raised to eternal life.Jesus’ announcement, “It is finished,” is clear and simple. No long explanations of how –no detailed sermon of what you have to do.Just “it is finished.”Jesus has completed his task that God sent him to do. He came so that you and I can have forgiveness and eternal life. He came to give us the victory of death –the same victory over death that he achieved. He came to ensure that we would enter his kingdom of heaven and live forever.That’s why Jesus had to die because in order todefeat death he had to die and rise from death.And just as Jesus has risen from the dead, we too shall live a new life when we die.Thanks be to God who gives us the victory over death. Amen

Everything is complete!

Text: John 19:28-30

Jesus knew that by now everything had been completed; and in order to make the scripture come true, he said, “I am thirsty.” A bowl was there, full of cheap wine; so a sponge was soaked in the wine, put on a stalk of hyssop, and lifted up to his lips. Jesus drank the wine and said, “It is finished!”

It was three o’clock. Jesus called for water. He could hardly speak. A soldier fixed a sponge on a spear and held it up to his lips. It was terribly bitter but it was enough. He strained to raise his head and look up to heaven. “It is finished,” he cried and then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

At the time, the moment was filled with too much emotion for those words to sink in and to ponder what they meant. But later as the early Christians read John’s Gospel and heard again those words, it dawned on them just how powerful these dying words of Jesus were. John wrote his Gospel in Greek, and those last words of Jesus are just one word in Greek – tetelestai (pronounced te-tel-es-sty).

The expression “It is finished” or tetelestai was well known to them. It was a part of everyday language.

When a servant had completed a difficult job that his master had given him to do, he would say to the master – tetelestai – “I have overcome all the difficulties; I have done the job to the best of my ability. It is finished”.

When the Jewish people went to the temple with their sacrifice, the High Priest would examine what was brought. Most likely, he didn’t speak Greek but he would use the Hebrew equivalent of tetelestai – meaning, “Your offering is accepted; it is perfect”.

When the merchant at the market place made a sale and the money was handed over, he would say, “tetelestai – the deal is finished, complete. The price has been paid in full. I am satisfied”.

When an artist had finished a painting or a sculpture he would stand back and say, tetelestai – it is finished; there is nothing more that can be done to make this piece of art any better. This painting is complete.

When a boy recited to his father a difficult passage he had learnt from the Scriptures or a girl showed her mother the bread she had baked for the family, they would say tetelestai and the parents responded with, “Well done, my child, I am very proud of you.”

When Jesus spoke those final words he wasn’t just saying, “This is the end of me” as if there was nothing else to do but to give in to his enemies and die. His last words weren’t a final surrender to the power of Satan as if to say, “You have won. I’m done for”. These words don’t tell us that Jesus was dead now and that’s all there is to it. He is finished and so is everything that he stood for and promised during his earthly life.

All those who heard the word tetelestai – the servants, those who offered sacrifices at the temple, the buyers and sellers at the market place, the artists and parents and children understood that Jesus is saying that his job of saving the world has been completed.
He has finished the task and nothing can be added to what has been done.
Jesus has paid the price in full – he has cancelled all debt.
His sacrifice has been a perfect one, acceptable to the heavenly Father who, looking down on his Son hanging lifelessly from the cross, said, “Well done, this is my dear Son with whom I am well pleased”.
Tetelestai – it is finished. Everything is complete!

What is it that is finished when Jesus says, “It is finished”?

Reconciliation is finished. The word ‘reconciliation’ has been used a lot in connection with the relationship between the aboriginal people of our country and the rest of the community. The terrible things that happened in the past have caused a rift between black and white people. Efforts have been made to heal the differences, to close the gap caused by past actions, to restore friendship, to be reconciled.

A terrible gap has come between God and all humanity caused by sin and evil. Our offences, our disobedience, the hurt we have caused God and others have destroyed our relationship with God. Recall a time when you have done something that has hurt someone else and because of that your friendship with that person has been damaged, a gap has come between you, and you felt uneasy when you met that person, in fact you may have avoided that person. All of that doesn’t change until you put aside your differences and friendship is restored.

In the movie Grand Canyon, a tow truck driver is threatened by five troublemakers as he attempts to rescue a terrified motorist. He says, “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this. Maybe you don’t know that, but this ain’t the way it’s supposed to be. I’m supposed to be able to do my job without askin’ if I can. And that dude is supposed to able to wait with his car without you rippin’ him off. Everything’s supposed to be different than what it is here.”

And he’s right. Everything’s supposed to be different. God created a perfect beautiful world and he made people to live in harmony and peace with one another. But look what’s happened. We all know what an effect our poorly chosen words and lack of consideration have on our relationship with family members and friends. Greed and selfishness destroy friendship and separate people and nations. That tow truck driver hit the nail on the head when he said – “Man, the world ain’t supposed to work like this”.

Sin has a devastating effect on our relationship with God. Sin separates us from God and if we want to have any hope of going to heaven to be with God, then someone had to deal with sin and restore our relationship with God. So God sent his Son into the world for this very purpose.

Jesus died on the cross to get rid of the power of sin to condemn us. His death bridged the deep gulf between God and us. “Salvation is finished”, Jesus cried. The restoration of the friendship between God and humanity has been finished. The task for which God’s Son came to earth has been completed.
He has won forgiveness for all people.
Nothing else needs to be done.
Salvation is complete. “It is finished”.

That’s why we call today “Good Friday”. It certainly wasn’t a good day for Jesus. He endured pain, soul-wrenching agony, hanging by the nails in his hands for hours, death on a rough wooden cross, for our sakes. We call today “Good Friday” because the cross is proof of the powerful love that God has for each of us. No one, not even God, would do something like that unless he truly loved us. Here we see a love that was prepared to endure the ultimate in order to rescue us.

We have known love to do some very powerful and strange things. A teenager Arthur Hinkley lifted a farm tractor with his bare hands. He wasn’t a weight lifter, but his best friend, eighteen-year-old Lloyd, was pinned under a tractor. Arthur heard Lloyd screaming for help and Arthur somehow lifted the tractor enough for Lloyd to wriggle out. His love for his best friend somehow enabled him to do what would normally be impossible.

There is the story of a priest who offered his life in place of a teenage boy in Nazi Germany. His offer was accepted and the priest died to save the boy’s life.

And then there was the young soldier who had been condemned to death by Oliver Cromwell. He was to be shot at the ringing of the curfew bell. His fiancée climbed the bell tower and tied herself to the clapper of the giant bell so that it would not ring. When the bell did not ring, soldiers went to investigate and found the girl battered and bleeding from being bashed against the sides of the bell. Cromwell was so impressed by her love for the young man that he was pardoned.

Because of love, people do extraordinary things for others. They give us a glimpse, a small glimpse, at the kind of love that God has for us. God the Father sent his dearly loved Son into dangerous territory. He allowed his Son to be treated cruelly. He stood by and watched his innocent Son be nailed to a cross and to hang there in agony. He could have rescued him and cursed those who were treating him so brutally and maliciously. He allowed his Son to carry the sin of all humanity and so become repulsive even to his own Father. I don’t think we can fully appreciate what it meant for the Father to abandon the Son and let him died at the hands of evil people. When Jesus cried out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” we sense something of the terror of bearing the weight of the sin of all humanity.

God did all this for us. He did all this because of his love for us.

Paul writes, “God has shown us how much he loves us—it was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us! … We were God’s enemies, but he made us his friends through the death of his Son.” (Romans 5:8,10). That’s how much God loves us – Jesus died for us even though we don’t deserve it. His death has made us God’s friends.

Jesus’ announcement, “It is finished” is clear and simple. Jesus has completed his task. The reason why he came as a human has been fulfilled. He came so that you and I can have forgiveness and salvation. He came to give us the victory. He came to ensure that we would enter his kingdom and live forever.

Today we’re going to do an “Altar Call”. You don’t have to get up; you don’t have to raise a hand or say a word. All I want you to do is close your eyes. For a short while, I want you to think about what Jesus has done for you through his death on the cross. Visualise in your mind the suffering Saviour. Think about the love that God has for you, and thank him. Ask God to wrap you tightly in his love – forgiving you, watching over you, guiding you. If you feel that Jesus and his love for you are not real for a large part of your life, ask for his help.

pause

We pray:
Loving God,
what you have done for us in Jesus’ death on the cross is far more than we deserve. His death has made us friends with you again. His death has given us forgiveness and the hope of life forever. Everything is complete. We thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Amen.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

He died for us

Text: Romans 4:25
He was delivered over to death for our sins.

They nailed him to a cross.  We say that sentence so easily.  They nailed him to a cross.  It’s at the core of our faith in Jesus our Saviour and those words slide off our tongue so smoothly.  He died on a cross.  Those words are powerful and comforting but it’s easy to forget what lies behind those words.

The cross was anything but easy and nice.  It was much more than an instrument of death.  Roman historians who were accustomed to seeing people crucified describe crucifixion as the worst kind of pain and suffering that any human could endure as life slowly, ever so slowly, dripped from the body and every breath was extreme agony.  The crucified was totally humiliated, stripped naked and often endured other inhumane bodily tortures by the Romans and onlookers depending on the crime.

What had this man from Nazareth done to deserve such a torturous and horrible punishment?
What had he done to deserve the humiliation of such a public execution, and the sneering and the mockery of those who stood around to watch his suffering?

Two men were executed with him – we can understand why they were nailed to crosses.  They were criminals but why was the man in the middle nailed to wooden beams?
He had been the most kind and compassionate person that anyone would ever want to meet.
He had helped so many people,
he had talked about the love and forgiveness of God,
he had made friends with lepers and tax collectors – people everyone else tried to avoid.
He was the love of God in human form and did no-one any harm.
What had Jesus done to deserve this terrible excruciating and torturous way to die?

The answer is simple – nothing.  Jesus was the most innocent person you would ever find.  It wasn’t what he had done that caused him to suffer like this –
it is what we have done
and every person who has ever existed in the past
and every person who will be born into our world in the future.

It’s true that it was a Roman soldier who held the hammer that drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.  But we are the ones responsible for those nails – we are responsible for his agony and death.  He suffered on the cross because of our sin.

St Paul simply says, “He was delivered over to death for our sins” (Romans 4:25). And there is no greater truth than this – it was my sin and your sin that nailed Jesus to the cross.

Jesus’ suffering and death was horrible, brutal, cruel, bloody, sickening – enough to make us turn our eyes away from the man whose love for us is so persistent, so warm and so sincere.
Yet today we are drawn to the cross; we focus on images of Jesus on the cross.  We know that the cross is a symbol of suffering and pain but today we are drawn to the cross because of what it means to each of us.

Come to the cross and bring your sin.
I don’t know why we do it, but far too often we carry our sin around with us and let it eat away at us.  The bad feelings, the guilt, the shame, the feeling sorry for ourselves, the broken relationships – it is just for these that Jesus was nailed to a cross.  He carried our sin on his shoulders on the cross.
Trust him to take that burden from us.
Trust him to renew and refresh your life.
Come to the cross, bring your sin and receive forgiveness.

Come to the cross and bring everything that frightens you and everything that weighs you down.
If your own death or that of a loved one fills you with grief or fear;
if sickness and surgery cause you to worry;
if you are confused and unsure about the future;
look to the cross.
There you will see love in all its brilliance – God’s love for you.  He knows the burdens you are carrying.  He promises, “Come to me all of you who are tried from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest” (Matt 11:28).  The love shown on the cross is a clear sign that Jesus is prepared to help you with anything, absolutely anything that life might throw at you.

So bring to the cross whatever heavy load you are carrying.

Come to the cross and bring your thankfulness.  As you remember what Jesus went through for you, how he has taken your place, given you forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life, do so with gratitude.  Without those nails and that cross we would be in serious trouble.  Without Jesus, God’s judgement on our sin would be a terrifying thing.  The cross is the only way to be forgiven.  Thank God for the cross.

Come to the cross and stand beneath its shadow and be assured when the day comes for us to leave this life, our sin will no longer condemn us because Jesus died in our place and has given us eternal life.  Jesus died for everyone –for you and me!

The man who was crucified next to Jesus saw his past, present and future in a different light when he looked at the Son of God dying next to him.  As guilty as he was, he appealed to the grace and mercy of Jesus asking, “Jesus remember me when you come into your kingdom”.

As we reflect on the cross and the reason for it, we do the same.
Without any excuse and without any pretence of somehow being better than we are and acknowledging our own weakness and vulnerability, we also appeal to God’s mercy and grace and ask,
“Jesus remember me”,
“Jesus, do not hold my sin against me”,
“Jesus, have mercy on me”.

We gladly make this appeal because Jesus has done it all for us.  He has given us complete pardon for all our sin and new life and hope for the future.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy

He is taking the blame

Good Friday

StMarksIn the Garden of Eden we fell into sin and to begin to understand the depth and seriousness of what happened with the tree in the Garden of Eden, we need to look at Jesus on the cross. There is Jesus, on the cross suffering and dying and taking the punishment for the broken relationship.

He is taking the blame for people’s sin and on the cross Jesus calls out the opening words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” It is the cry of people down through the ages who have felt the suffering that people go through because of their broken connection with God. Jesus closed that gap and he still reaches out, with his arms stretched out to all the people who are on the other side.

This includes people who want nothing to do with God. It includes people who are as evil, and it includes you and me, and even enemies.

When we look at Jesus on the cross we begin to grasp the depth of sin. Our guilt becomes clearer to us. Our sin is destructive and it hurts God.

Looking at Jesus on the cross, we begin to see how deep and costly is the love of God for people.

The depth of God’s love reaches out to enfold his enemies. The love of God goes deeper than our sin. It reaches out wide enough to include all people on this earth. The love of God that overwhelmed the thief on the cross next to Jesus,

and it reaches as far as you and me. The love of God is a healing love. It connects us up with God again like a new family.

Yet we humans are still weak. It is a one-sided relationship. God is the strong one. But it is a new beginning and it gets better as the Holy Spirit reaches out to us in the Scriptures to strengthen us. The Spirit that brings Jesus to us in Baptism, and again and again in the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit that brings us to trust in the truth. Jesus: the one who died on the cross in our place.

At school we might have collected footy cards. Actually I never did but I have in the past several years been the financier of such a practice were cards are bought, then swapped and traded with other such parties. On the cross Jesus swaps places with us and traded not the discards for something better, but traded himself for the discards so that he could call them, call us his own.

Today is called Good Friday because we can focus on Jesus on the cross, and know that he is there for each one of us.

We know that, no matter what comes, we are loved with a love that is deeper and stronger than any of our enemies. The love of God that reaches down deeper than death. It reaches out to rescue us from the worst evil powers that might attack us. It reaches deeper than any sin that has been a part of our lives. God doesn’t say to us, “If you show a bit of good heart to me for a change, I will make it up with you.” He doesn’t even say, “If you’ve got some good intentions about spiritual things I’ll accept you back again.” No. He reconnects us to himself even when we humans are killing his son. In Romans 5, verse 10, the Spirit of God assures us, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son.” God accepts you and me despite the mess we might have made with our lives. God does not accept you and me because we have lived a respectable life, but only because of Jesus.

The good news on Good Friday runs against the grain of our human nature so much that we need to hear the news again and again. The Christian faith is not about looking inside ourselves all the time. Saving faith is to look at God’s love and faith focuses on what Jesus does for us, especially what he did for us on the cross.

We conclude with the words of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:38 and the following verses about God’s love.

“And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t.

Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen.

Broken but mended

           Good Friday

 

                

 

It seems that every time we hear or listen to the news that a tragedy has occurred. Tragedies that will affect family members and communities for years and maybe even for the rest of their lives. Terrible times and hurts that can never be downplayed because for those involved and close to them something is lost and things may never be the same again.

Yet the greatest tragedy of all happened in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis records how the close connection between God and the people is broken. They had been as close as any wonderful family could ever be. But then they became divided as only the closest flesh and blood families can become separated. The brokenness continued from years to hundreds of years to thousands of years.

To understand the depth and seriousness of what happened with the tree in the Garden of Eden, we need to look at Jesus on the cross. There is God, on his tree, his cross suffering and dying and taking the punishment for the broken relationship. He is taking the blame for people’s sin. On the cross Jesus calls out the opening words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” A cry of people down through the ages who have felt the suffering that people go through because of their broken connection with God.

Now Jesus closes the gap. Only God can bridge the gap that separates people from him. Jesus reaches out with his arms stretched out to all the people who are on the other side. This includes people who want nothing to do with God. It includes people who are as broken as the thief on the cross next to him. It includes you and me, and even our enemies.

When we look at Jesus on the cross we begin to grasp the depth of sin. Our guilt becomes clearer to us. Sin is destructive and sin separates and as we look at Jesus on the cross, we begin to see how deep and costly is the love of God for people. The depth of God’s love reaches out to enfold his enemies. The love of God goes deeper than our sin. It reaches out wide enough to include all people on this earth. The love of God overwhelms the thief on the cross next to Jesus, and it reaches as far as you and me.

The love of God is healing love. It connects us up with God again like a new family in a relationship and that it is a one-sided relationship in that we are still weak and God the strength, that does not threaten to again fracture the relationship, but rather strengthen and maintain it as it was meant to be in the first place. In total trust and reliance on our Lord we are given a new beginning as the Holy Spirit reaches out to us in the Scriptures to strengthen us. The Spirit that brings Jesus to us in Baptism, and again and again in the Lord’s Supper. Jesus: the one who died on the cross in our place.

At school, like they do now we might have collected swap cards, maybe of sporting heroes, or music idols. We traded our cards looking for the best ones and the one’s we didn’t have. On the cross Jesus swaps places with us. He sees us as the best card, the card He doesn’t have and so traded everything He had for us so that he could call us his own. He traded himself.

Today is called Good Friday because we can focus on Jesus on the cross, and know that he is there for each one of us. We know that, no matter what comes, we are loved with a love that is deeper and stronger than any of our enemies. The love of God reaches down deeper than death. It reaches out to rescue us from the worst evil powers that might attack us. It reaches deeper than any sin that has been a part of our lives.

God doesn’t say to us, “If you show a bit of good heart to me for a change, I will make it up with you.” He doesn’t even say, “If you’ve got some good intentions about spiritual things I’ll accept you back again.”

No. He reconnects us to himself even when we humans are killing his son. In Romans 5, verse 10, the Spirit of God assures us, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son.” God accepts you and me despite the mess we might have made with our lives. God does not accept you and me because we have lived a respectable life, but only because of Jesus.

The good news on Good Friday runs against the grain of our human nature so much that we need to hear the news again and again. The Christian faith is not about looking inside ourselves all the time. Saving faith is to look at God’s love. A healthy faith focuses on what Jesus does for us, especially on the cross.

Jesus our Saviour who saved us as described in this poem:

Through His sorrows, we discover the depth of Jesus’ meekness and surrender to His Father’s will. This surrender is revealed in what He did not do…

He didn’t defend Himself;
He didn’t revile others when He was reviled;
He didn’t turn away from those who beat Him;
He didn’t slander others when He was falsely accused;
He didn’t hide His face from those who spat upon Him;
He didn’t come down from the cross when He was mocked, and ridiculed.
Meekness is not weakness. He who is Almighty could have called an army of angels to rescue Him from His sorrows, but instead, He chose to go to the cross and freely gave His life so you could find your life in Him.

The author of that poem is unknown but the subject matter most definitely not as we see Jesus with untold power at His fingertips refuse any inclination or temptation to do so, so that rather than His power be used to save himself, He directs it all to save us.

His saving power given to and for us that we hear these words in Romans 8:38, see our God’s love, see our Saviour on the cross and know most assuredly them to be true for each of us:

“And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Something’s broken!!

Good Friday

 

Something terribly shocking happened in the Garden of Eden. The third chapter of Genesis records how the close connection between God and the people is broken. They had been as close as any family could ever be. But then they became divided as only the closest flesh and blood families can become separated. The brokenness continued for years. Hundreds of years. Thousands of years.

To begin to understand the depth and seriousness of what happened with the tree in the Garden of Eden, we need to look at Jesus on the cross. There is Jesus, on the cross suffering and dying and taking the punishment for the broken relationship.

He is taking the blame for people’s sin and on the cross Jesus calls out the opening words of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me!” It is the cry of people down through the ages who have felt the suffering that people go through because of their broken connection with God. Jesus closed that gap and he still reaches out, with his arms stretched out to all the people who are on the other side.

This includes people who want nothing to do with God. It includes people who are as evil, and it includes you and me, and even enemies.

When we look at Jesus on the cross we begin to grasp the depth of sin. Our guilt becomes clearer to us. Our sin is destructive and it hurts God.

Looking at Jesus on the cross, we begin to see how deep and costly is the love of God for people.

The depth of God’s love reaches out to enfold his enemies. The love of God goes deeper than our sin. It reaches out wide enough to include all people on this earth. The love of God that overwhelmed the thief on the cross next to Jesus,

and it reaches as far as you and me. The love of God is a healing love. It connects us up with God again like a new family.

Yet we humans are still weak. It is a one-sided relationship. God is the strong one. But it is a new beginning and it gets better as the Holy Spirit reaches out to us in the Scriptures to strengthen us. The Spirit that brings Jesus to us in Baptism, and again and again in the Lord’s Supper. The Holy Spirit that brings us to trust in the truth. Jesus: the one who died on the cross in our place.

At school we might have collected footy cards. Actually I never did but I have in the past several years been the financier of such a practice were cards are bought, then swapped and traded with other such parties. On the cross Jesus swaps places with us and traded not the discards for something better, but traded himself for the discards so that he could call them, call us his own.

Today is called Good Friday because we can focus on Jesus on the cross, and know that he is there for each one of us.

We know that, no matter what comes, we are loved with a love that is deeper and stronger than any of our enemies. The love of God that reaches down deeper than death. It reaches out to rescue us from the worst evil powers that might attack us. It reaches deeper than any sin that has been a part of our lives. God doesn’t say to us, “If you show a bit of good heart to me for a change, I will make it up with you.” He doesn’t even say, “If you’ve got some good intentions about spiritual things I’ll accept you back again.” No. He reconnects us to himself even when we humans are killing his son. In Romans 5, verse 10, the Spirit of God assures us, “While we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his son.” God accepts you and me despite the mess we might have made with our lives. God does not accept you and me because we have lived a respectable life, but only because of Jesus.

The good news on Good Friday runs against the grain of our human nature so much that we need to hear the news again and again. The Christian faith is not about looking inside ourselves all the time. Saving faith is to look at God’s love and faith focuses on what Jesus does for us, especially what he did for us on the cross.

We conclude with the words of the Holy Spirit in Romans 8:38 and the following verses about God’s love.

“And I am convinced that nothing can separate us from his love. Death can’t, and life can’t. The angels can’t, and the demons can’t.

Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, and even the powers of hell can’t keep God’s love away. Whether we are high above the sky or in the deepest ocean, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”