Christ church Banner_2

SERMON:  Good Friday Year A

April 10, 2020

The Rev. Eileen Weglarz

Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

The Cross struck fear in the hearts of the world. It was Rome's means of controlling the people. The idea was that trouble makers or criminals would witness these horrific executions and straighten up. But as we will see, Jesus gives crucifixion on a cross a whole new meaning.

Before the condemned person was nailed to the cross he was severely beaten and stripped of his clothes.  After being nailed to the cross, his cross was lifted up and placed in the ground so that all could see.  The person was left to the elements, their bodies preyed upon by rapacious birds.

It often happened that the person lingered on the cross for several days. To shorten his punishment, and lessen his terrible sufferings, his legs were sometimes broken.  This custom, exceptional among the Romans, was common with the Jews. In this way it was possible to take down the corpse on the very evening of the execution.

It is interesting that Jesus is eventually responsible for the abolishment of the cross as a means of capital punishment.  In the early part of the fourth century Constantine continued to inflict the penalty of the cross on slaves guilty of denouncing their masters.  Eventually he abolished this infamous punishment, in memory and in honor of the Passion of the Christ.  From then on, crucifixion was very rarely inflicted and finally the practice faded into history.  But, oh, how history has remembered.

As the week of Jesus' Passion is progressing to its close, it is well for us to reflect upon the cross. Martin Luther said, "Man must always have a cross." Jesus said: Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple."   Every one of us does have a cross to bear.  

There were two other men crucified with Jesus.  But which one of the three crosses is ours:  the cross on the right, the left, or the center?

The first cross represents the cross of rebellion. The purpose of crucifixion was to inflict a horrible death for those caught in rebellion against the state or against society. And it was used with great effectiveness.   

In the year 71 BC Emperor Crassus crucified over 6,000 Jews who had rebelled against Rome. Their crosses lined the Via Appia, what we call it the Appian Way, on either side of the road for 100 miles.  Another Emperor had crucified over 2,000 rebellious Jews around Jerusalem. The cost of rebellion was death.

The thief on the first cross was an anti-social rebel of sorts, although the term "rebel" perhaps gives him too much credit. He was simply a criminal of the streets. No one, Jew or Roman, was sorry to see him go.  Even in his death he is rebellious. He joins the enemies of Jesus in mocking him. He shouts to him: 'If you are the Christ then save yourself, and save us."  He did not turn to Jesus for mercy. He went to his death an angry and bitter man.

We, too, are rebels against God. What we deserve is the first cross, the cross of rebellion.  We display our rebellion in sins, which lead us to rebel even against salvation itself.  We are not conscious of needing a Savior, because we think we are doing quite well by ourselves.  

There are many like the thief upon the first cross. We rebel against God's mercy. We refuse to repent. We would rather die than ask for help and then repent.  Many find it quite impossible to admit or to even realize that they have committed sin in their words or actions.  The tragedy of the cross of rebellion is that this criminal is not only killed, but he also refuses eternal life that Christ alone offers.  He willingly chooses hell rather than paradise!

There was another cross on the opposite side of Jesus and this one represents the cross of repentance.  This criminal was just as bad as the other and just as deserving of punishment. Yet, at the last hour this man gains Eternal Life. 

What made the difference?  It was repentance. His genuine sorrow was evident when he confessed his rebellion:  “We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve.”  This was the beginning point of salvation. You see; if we do not think of ourselves as sinful people, then we do not see ourselves in need of a Savior.

Is repentance necessary? Jesus said that it was. He said simply: Repent or perish.  Why does God require repentance?   Friends, repentance is not for God's sake; it is for our sake. Its purpose is not to make us feel bad or guilty, but simply to admit reality and come clean.  And the reality is that all have fallen short of God’s intention for us.  But, repentance is just the first step. It is not the whole journey.  

Repentance does not do away with the reality of sin or the memory of sin.  It does not do away with the consequences of sin. It is simply a turning away from that which leads to death to that which leads to life.

After quieting his fellow criminal on the other side of Jesus, this repentant thief looks to Jesus and asks for mercy and forgiveness. "Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 

The dying Jesus replies: “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”  Faith and repentance.  That's all that it took. Baptism was not even required.  Simply faith and repentance.

The third cross, the cross of Jesus, represents the cross of redemption.  So that the world might know, Pilate put the sign up in three languages:  "Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews."  Even in the implied sarcasm there is irony.  For it is for the sins of the whole world that Jesus died.

This is the one cross that you and I cannot carry. This cross was for Jesus alone.  That is why many altar crosses in sanctuaries bear the name of Jesus, IHS, the first three Greek letters of Jesus name.  This cross is one of the few things that he could truly call his own.  Jesus was born in a borrowed manger.  He preached from a borrowed boat. He rode into Jerusalem on a borrowed donkey.  To feed the 5,000 he had to borrow the lunch of a small boy. He borrowed an upper room for his last supper, Passover, with his disciples.  He was laid in a tomb that was borrowed from Joseph of Aramathia.  But the cross—that was his and his alone.

The words of a hymn summarize what should be the understanding and desire of our hearts on this Good Friday, “Beneath the cross of Jesus, two wonders I confess:  The wonder of redeeming love and my unworthiness.”  

If you ever have any doubt as to the extent of God's love for you, look to the Cross of Christ.  It alone gives life.