(30) When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Here today we recall the greatest day in the history of mankind. Here we have a day and an hour which stands riveted in the life of our world. This moment stands central in the life of all of God’s people. As a result of this happening nothing will ever be the same again.
The moment: a man hanging on the crudest and cruellest form of execution ever known in the history of mankind: strung up between two criminals: The whole weight of his body pulling down on his weakened muscles; Tearing away at the spot where the nails were driven through his hands. The pain and torture would have been unbearable.
However, the physical pain would have been nothing compared to that which he was bearing as a result of carrying the weight of the sins of the whole world on his shoulders: being punished for everything that you and I and everyone else has done that is less than perfect – our very rebellion against God. There on the cross he is taking the full wrath of God against sin, on himself, for us: Being abandoned by his Father and rejected by his own people.
There in the midst of this agony he cries out in victory, “It is finished!” and he bows his head and gives up his spirit.
Now to mere mortals, death is such a tragedy. How can anything positive be in it or come from it. We so often look in horror at such an event. We look at that and say what a dreadful, terrible thing to have happened to one so great and so innocent – betrayed, rejected, punished and killed, even though he had done nothing wrong.
How could such an event hold any importance or value: The sooner we can push it from one’s mind the better: The real important and valuable events have to do with power: with the miraculous and mighty show of strength. It has to do with life here and now. Even within the church there are many who refuse to see the centrality of this event to all of history, and its basis for any discussion and thought with regard to our Lord and other matters of the faith. It is very quickly brushed over.
Instead, the focus is placed on Jesus’ teachings, his power, the Holy Spirit, our decision and living the good life, and many other things. We promote the things that we must do as of utmost importance. And we pick the passages here and there which suit our thinking in this regard. We do almost anything to shift the focus off of the cross.
How often don’t we ourselves, like to see Easter Sunday and the resurrection as the high point of Easter; as that which is of greatest importance. Today remind us too much of our own weaknesses and inadequacies: It reminds us of the blackness that is there in our lives. Good Friday and Jesus death on the cross reminds us too much of how terrible we and our world really are. We hate to think that it is you and I who put our Lord up there on the cross. We would sooner focus on Easter and joy and power and that kind of thing rather than that which was absolutely essential for our salvation.
However, we cannot and we must not do that. Because after all here we have the most important event in the whole of history; Here we have the focal point of all true Christian life. And it is here that our faith stands or falls. It is not my decision to follow Christ that saves me. It is not my display of the gifts of the Holy Spirit; or my living the good life or whatever, that is going to be the determining factor as to whether I will be going to heaven. It is Jesus death on the cross that has saved me from being cast into hell; hell on earth as well as in eternity. His death alone saves us; and it is there that I must look; and it is there alone that I must trust.
Sure, when I look to the cross, there I see the results of my life’s work and ambitions: No matter what I do or have done, there is what I deserve. Even my very best cannot achieve God’s approval. Nothing I do can save me. All I deserve is to be forsaken by God and cast into hell.
But there on the cross I see that someone else has taken my place. There is another person taking the punishment that you and I and all the people out there deserve. He is suffering the wrath that you and I should have faced. Now of course that someone hanging there is no ordinary person: That is God’s very own Son, Jesus Christ. Come into our world to identify in every way with us; but with the specific purpose of dying in our place, so that we might be forgiven. He deliberately went to the cross for you and me and all the people out there. He wanted very much to provide a way out for us: to make it possible for us to be forgiven; and so that he can share life with us here and in eternity.
This death of Jesus was essential for our wellbeing. So in his hanging there on that rough wooden cross he finishes his work of saving us. After suffering everything, without giving in to the temptation to walk away from that suffering, he could then give the victory shout, “It is finished!” He has won salvation for you and me.
And now as we look to Christ and the cross we can see that there is nothing that can separate us from his love. There is nothing that can bar us from eternal life with our God. It is there for us all. The door has been opened to a living, loving relationship with our Lord. Now we can have everything that God has promised for us: the best of everything.
Surely, this is by far and away the greatest thing that has ever happened for you and me? Surely, this is so significant that we cannot help be overwhelmed and transformed by this event and what it means for us, and our lives, both here and beyond death. In light of what has been done for us we will see Jesus and what he has to say and what he would have in mind for us as all important.
So instead of turning our back on Good Friday and the cross of Jesus Christ; ignoring its importance for our salvation and Christian life; let us focus on it and live in light of what it means for us. As a result of Jesus’ death on the cross, let us now live as forgiven people; people who have been given a chance to really live. Yes as humble people, who recognise that we are weak, and sinful, and that we constantly fail to be the people that God would have us be. But with huge awe and respect for this one who has done such a great thing for us. Always looking up to Christ and his cross, and prepared to listen and follow him: Recognising that he truly is Lord: in fact Lord over all lords, because of what he has done for us on the cross: Remembering always that he has taken care of our most important needs, so trusting him in every other aspect of life also.
Yes, Good Friday, Christ and the cross has made a big difference to life. Let us not forget it and try to place other things as more important. Instead, let us continue to hold the Lord Jesus and his death on the cross as central to everything we say and do. For it is there, and there alone, that there is any victory, power and life for us.
Yes it is a sombre day; and a serious day; a day of reverent awe. But at the same time it is a victorious day; because there our Lord ascended to his throne, the cross, and took up his Lordship over sin, death and the devil, and gave us life, here and in eternity. His work is finished, and our life has begun. So let us be humbled by that; but also let us be extremely thankful for it as well. Let us in doings so hold Christ and his death on the cross as supreme. To him alone be all glory and honour, now and always. AMEN.
Pastor Roger Atze
Glandore/Underdale Lutheran Parish