Friday, April 19, 2019

Sermon for Good Friday - 2 Cor 5:14-21

                                                                                                Good Friday
                                                                                                2 Cor 5:14-21

            In October of last year, Horace Roberts was released from a California prison.  He had been imprisoned nineteen years earlier for the murder of a Terry Cheek, his co-worker and girlfriend.  The problem was that Roberts didn’t commit the murder.  As he had maintained all during the nineteen years he was in prison, Roberts was in fact innocent of the crime.  He didn’t do it.
            Roberts and Cheek were both married.  However they began an affair, and eventually Cheek and her husband filed for divorce.  Cheek regularly drove Roberts’ truck, and gave him a ride to their workplace.  One day, Cheek never showed up, and then several days later her body was found.  Roberts’ truck was found about a mile from her body, and a watch was found at the scene that was believed to be his.
            When police interviewed Roberts, he at first lied about having an affair with Cheek.  Eventually he admitted to the relationship, and confirmed that he thought the watch was his. The lie about the affair, the presence of truck and the watch, served as the basis for the conviction provided by the jury.
            Roberts never ceased to maintain his innocence.  He declared that his punishment was unjust.  Eventually lawyers from the California Innocence Project pursued his case.  Advances in DNA testing had now made it possible to get results from Cheek’s clothes and under her finger nails. 
            Those results demonstrated that Roberts had not been present when Cheek died.  Instead, the new DNA evidence showed that Cheek’s ex-husband and his nephew had committed the murder. Cheek’s ex-husband had murdered her for cheating on him, and then enjoyed the fact that Roberts went to prison for it.
            A recurring theme in the accounts of the Passion of Our Lord that we find in the Gospels is the fact that Jesus was innocent of all the charges brought against him.  The Jewish leaders of the Sanhedrin brought forward false witnesses in the attempt to justify his death.  Their charge of blasphemy, was of course, entirely wrong because Jesus is the Son of God.
            We hear in our Gospel lesson tonight that Pilate knew full well what was happening.  He was being used.  The Jews weren’t allowed to kill someone, and so they were going to get Pilate to do their dirty work.  When Pilate asked them what accusation they brought against Jesus, they evasively replied, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.”  After examining Jesus, Pilate eventually came out and said, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.”  Finally, the Jewish leaders maneuvered Pilate into a corner as they said, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar's friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.”  Protecting his own position as governor, Pilate acquiesced and condemned Jesus to be crucified.
            In the epistle lesson tonight, the apostle Paul explains what was happening in this event. And what he tells us reveals that the death of Jesus was far more than just a miscarriage of justice.  After all, sadly, that happens more often than it should.  That is what happened to Horace Roberts.  He was imprisoned for almost twenty year of his life for a murder he did not commit.
            Roberts was innocent of the crime.  However, he wasn’t innocent before God.  In fact, it was sin that caused the circumstances in which he became ensnared.  He broke the Sixth Commandment by committing adultery with Cheek. If he hadn’t done this, there never would have been a connection to Cheek in the first place.  He never would have been charged with a crime, and it is possible the murder never would have happened.
            Jesus Christ had done nothing that deserved death in the mechanism of human justice.  Yet unlike Roberts – and unlike you – he had not in fact committed sins of any kind.  He had not sinned in thought, word, or deed.  Paul tells us in our text that he “knew no sin.”  Jesus was perfectly holy.  He loved the Father with all that he was.  He loved his neighbor as himself.  He was the embodiment of love which fulfills the law.  Christ was born under the law, and he perfectly kept the law.
            He did this because you don’t.  You put so many different things before God.  You fail to give God thanks.  You ignore and despise preaching and his Word.  You disobey authorities, and fail to carry out the responsibilities of your vocations.  You hate and fail to help. You lust and fail to love your spouse. You protect neither your neighbor’s possessions, nor his reputation.
            You sin, and by your sin you have rebelled against God.  You have rejected God by rejecting his will.  Created in God’s image – created for fellowship with God – you became an enemy of God.  Oh, we like to minimize these things. The world will certainly tell you that many of them are “no big deal.”  But we are talking here about the your standing before the holy and almighty God.  We are talking about your standing before the Judge – the One who gets the final word on the Last Day.  He announces in his Word that sinners who sin will receive his wrath and eternal punishment. They will receive hell.
            Yet this is not but God wants to do. At the beginning of Lent on Ash Wednesday we heard the words of the prophet Joel: “Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster.”  God is holy and just.  Yet he is also gracious, merciful and loving.  He does not want you to be an enemy to him.  He wants you to be reconciled to him.
            This was not something we could ever pull off.  In fact, we were so trapped in our sin that we didn’t even realize we were enemies with God. We didn’t recognize the depths and meaning of our own sinfulness.  If there was to be reconciliation, it could only come from God. Only he could do it. And so Paul tells us in our text: “All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;
that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.”
            In order for there to be reconciliation, it required God not to count our trespasses – our sins – against us. He desired to do this because he is gracious, merciful and loving.  But God has revealed that he could not be true to himself if this violated his holiness and justness.
            So in his love, the Father sent the Son into our world as he was incarnate by the work of the Holy Spirit and born of the virgin Mary.  The Son of God took on our humanity – our flesh – in order to take our place.  He came to do what only God could do.  He became man in order to receive what man justly must receive.
            Paul tells us in our text, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Though without sin, Jesus Christ became sin for you.  He took ownership of all that you think, say, and do, that violates Gods’ will. He took possession of all the ways you fear, love and trust in other gods.  He made his own all the ways you love yourself more than your neighbor.
            Because of this, though never having committed any sin, Jesus Christ became the Sinner before God.  He became the One who possessed all sin.  And then, God did what the just and holy God does – he judged that sin.  He poured out his wrath against that sin – against your sin.
            Jesus, the incarnate Son of God, stood in your place.  He was your substitute as he suffered.  The physical suffering of the cross is obvious – skin and muscle shredded by a studded whip; nails piercing flesh and bones; slow suffocation.  But it was the spiritual reality of God’s judgment that should really seize our attention.  The Son who existed eternally in loving fellowship with the Father was treated as sin. He was attacked as the enemy – as the rebel against God. The Son of God received the same judgment that awaits all who are damned to hell.
            We know he did, because he died.  Paul tells us in Romans that, “The wages of sin is death.” The individual Jesus Christ who hung on the cross and died was true God and true man.  And so God died. The Son of God died for you.  He died because in this way God justly judged sin – your sin.  Paul says in our text, “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died.” 
            His death for and with your sin, means that you died. Your sin has been judged.  This is how God was reconciling you to himself in Christ, not counting your trespasses against you, because he has already counted them against Christ. As Paul says in the last verse of our text: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”  Because of Jesus, you have now received God’s righteousness – his saving action to put all things right.  Because of Jesus, you are righteous before God already now, and also on the Last Day.
            Christ died for your sins. Because Christ died, you have died. And that’s all that was seen on Good Friday – death. The dead are buried, and so that is what they did to Jesus.  It was a rush job. The Jewish view of time in which the day ended at sundown, and the timing in which the Sabbath was about to begin, meant that they had to be satisfied with the best the could do.       But Mary Magdalene and some of the other women intended to return to the tomb on Sunday, the first day of the new week in order to do things right.  And as Paul tell us about Jesus Christ in our text: “he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

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