Friday, April 3, 2015

Sermon -- Good Friday (April 3, 2015)

MARK 15:37-39

In the name + of Jesus.

     When Jesus stood before the Roman court, Pontius Pilate pulled Jesus aside to interrogate him.  Pilate was alarmed that Jesus had allegedly claimed to be King.  Jesus had not demanded or sought this title throughout his ministry.  In fact, when people confessed that Jesus was the Christ, Jesus urged them not to tell other people.  Things took a bit of a shift on Palm Sunday, though.  On that day, Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the shouts and songs of the people.  Those shouts and songs were Messianic: “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13)  For once, Jesus did not refuse the accolades.  He is the Messiah-King.
     So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” (John 18:33) Jesus replied. “You say that I am a king.  For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth.  Everyone who is of truth listens to my voice.”  Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” (John 18:37-38) 
     Pilate is like everyone else in this world.  Truth is what we decide it is.  Though Pontius Pilate had formally declared no less than four times that Jesus had done nothing worthy of death or even punishment, Pilate found it more convenient to punish Jesus and to put him to death than to stand for what he knew was the truth.  Truth was negotiable to Pilate.  He chose what was easy over what was right.
     Week after week, we remember Pilate’s crooked and cowardly act: He suffered under Pontius Pilate.  We also remember our own crooked and cowardly acts: I have done what is evil and failed to do what is good.  We, too, abandon God’s truth when his truth makes life hard.  So, our truth is malleable.  We bend it according to the crowd we are in.  When the popular opinions of the day shift, we move our truth accordingly.  When the truth impedes our advantage, we go around it.  We even resort to lies and deceit to convince ourselves that we are standing in God’s truth.  The boyfriend and girlfriend who are cohabiting may argue, “Well, we’re not married, so technically we aren’t committing adultery.”  The employee may insist, “My employer makes tons of money off my work, so padding my expense account is not stealing.”  You may even convince yourself, “Well, as long as I don’t act on my jealousy or hatred, God is pleased.”  Even if you lie to yourself this way, understand that God is neither fooled by such lies nor will he be mocked by an innocent façade.  Lies will never make you righteous.  Repent.
     What is truth?  Truth is exactly what God says: The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the LORD abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man. (Psalm 5:5-6)  God, because God is holy and delights in the truth, God abhors all who bend it, warp it, or deny it.  The truth is that all men are liars.  All are sinners.  We all deserve the death we have coming.  We all should be damned.  The guilty deserve death and punishment.  This is the truth, and God will not bend it or negotiate on it. 
     God’s truth always stands.  It does not change in different countries, in different cultures, or in different generations.  Jesus came into the world to testify to the truth.  Everyone who is of the truth listens to his word.  And listen: Jesus does not deny God’s wrath against sinners.  Jesus does not soften the Commandments.  That truth stands, even if it stands against you.  Rather than soften the blow of God’s Law, Jesus has come to take the blows for you.  This is what Jesus proclaims: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.  No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6)  If you will stand before the Father and not perish, then it can only come by faith in Jesus Christ. 
     Jesus delivers you from your sins.  He pays the price for every lie you have told.  He covers the cost for every deceitful argument you used to try to defend your sins.  The truth is: The guilty deserve death and punishment.  And so Jesus upheld God’s truth: He took all of your guilt from you.  When his enemies accused Jesus of all kinds of crimes and sins, he did not dismiss or deny the charges.  He accepted them all as if they were his own.  In fact, he made them his own. 
     If he is guilty, then he must pay the price.  He must receive the curse.  He must be put to death.  And so he was.  The guiltless one became the guilty one.  Jesus received the blows for you—the blows of the fists, the blows of the scourge, the blows of the nails, the blow of the spear, and the death blow of God’s wrath.  Jesus Christ made himself the guilt offering on behalf of sinners.  And so the death has been died.  The curse has been poured out.  The guilt has been paid for.
     Pontius Pilate had dismissed Jesus by asking, “What is truth?”  His centurion responded differently to Jesus.  When the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)  The centurion saw how Jesus Christ had died.  He had undoubtedly been on crucifixion detail before.  He had seen how men die.  But when he saw Jesus die, he was convinced that Jesus was different.  Jesus did not fight death.  On the contrary, Jesus gave up his life.  Jesus died as he had chosen, as he had prophesied, and at the very time he wanted.  He was not a helpless victim who was in the wrong place at the wrong time.  Jesus’ trip to Golgatha was on purpose.  It was for the purpose of paying for the sins of the world.  It was for the purpose having your hope no longer rest on lies, but with the truth.
     The centurion confessed an undeniable truth: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)  Jesus had to be the Son of God if his death means anything for you.  The criminals who died on Jesus’ right and left did nothing to pay for your sins.  I cannot pay for your sins, and you cannot pay for my sins—no matter how bitter the death may be, no matter how much we might want to, and no matter how highly we think of each other.  Here is truth: Truly no man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life. (Psalm 49:7)  But Jesus was not just another man who died.  The centurion had it absolutely right: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39)  Jesus is God who pays for your sins.  The Son of God has personally attended to your salvation.  Since God has bled to pay for your sins, your sins are truly forgiven.  Since God was pleased to suffer and die for you, God truly loves you and saves you.
     The Lord does not work in relative truths.  His word is truth, and it is not fuzzy.  So, we no longer resort to deceptive arguments which attempt to redefine good and evil.  We no longer have to lie and try to convince ourselves and the world and God himself that we are good.  When God’s word condemns us, we confess our sins.  It is honest.  It is the truth.  So we say so.  Since God calls sins evil, we do not go back to our sins but flee from them and fight against them. 
     At the same time, God also proclaims our salvation.  His word on this is truth, too, and it is not fuzzy.  God tells us: “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” (Romans 10:13)  Therefore, the Church regularly gathers to call upon his name.  God says that faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:17)  Therefore, we flee to hear his word, both as it is preached and as it is attached to the sacraments, so that we truly partake in his grace and mercy.
     What is truth?  The centurion had it right: Truly this man was the Son of God. (John 19:37)  Truly, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. (Romans 8:1)  Truly, sins are forgiven, death has been put to death, the curse is lifted, and the way into heaven is open.  The Son of God has done this, and he does not deceive you.  “It is finished.” (John 19:30)  Salvation is complete.  Eternal life is certain.  And that is the truth.

In the name of the Father and of the Son + and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

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