Home > Holy Week, Piles in my office > The Preparation of God’s Sons. Good Friday, Chief Service. 2016

The Preparation of God’s Sons. Good Friday, Chief Service. 2016


grunewald crucifixion isenheim altarpieceGood Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)

St. Peter Lutheran Church

St. John 18-19 (in particular: John 19:13-16)

March 25, 2016

“The Preparation of God’s Sons”

Iesu Iuva

 

It is amazing, in a way, that you came to church today.

 

It was bold. We show boldness in being here. Hopefully it isn’t a boldness born of arrogance or foolishness.

 

Look around. The church is bare and naked of decoration. The only thing we see is the cross. It is because Jesus, the Son of God, was stripped of glory and dignity on Good Friday that the church looks like a desert, all its ornaments taken away. Yes, God’s Son was stripped naked and nailed hand and foot to the tree; raised up to hang as a spectacle before the world for a few hours, and then to die.

 

Yet we are bold enough to come and commemorate what happened to Jesus. But don’t we know? Don’t we understand? Jesus suffered because of us. He was put to death because of us.

 

“When Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic, Gabbatha. Now it was the day of the Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, ‘Behold your King!’ They cried out, ‘Away with Him, away with Him, crucify Him!’ Pilate said to them, ‘Shall I crucify your King?’ The chief priests answered, ‘We have no king but Caesar.’ So he delivered Him over to them to be crucified.” (St. John 19:13-16)

 

Pontius sits down in the judgment seat to give a verdict concerning Jesus. And John makes sure to tell us right after Pilate assuming his role as judge that it was “the day of Preparation of the Passover.” People disagree about what this means. Jesus had already celebrated the Passover the night before. But one thing is sure—Jesus was being prepared to die as the true Passover lamb. Pilate was moments away from issuing the sentence that Jesus should be crucified. But who was preparing Jesus, setting Him apart, for sacrifice? It appears to be the crowd of the Jews, acting through Pilate as their instrument. But it couldn’t have been them. They weren’t strong enough to tie Jesus up and set Him apart as a sacrificial victim, nor to slaughter God’s Son like a lamb. It is God the Father who is preparing Jesus for sacrifice; God the Father is preparing to slaughter His Son.

 

Long before, God put a picture of this day in front of the Israelites. It is written in Genesis 22: “After these things God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.’ He said, ‘Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you.’” (Gen. 22:1-2)

 

Then we are told in the rest of the story how Abraham set about to obey this commandment from God to slay his only son. Abraham doesn’t delay. He gets up early in the morning, cuts the wood on which he will burn the body of his son as a sacrifice. Then he journeys for three days to get to the place of the sacrifice, allowing plenty of time to reconsider whether he really wants to go through with this, whether he really thinks God is worthy of such a sacrifice. But Abraham, amazingly, doesn’t waver. He gets to the land of Moriah and loads the wood on Isaac his son, and leads the young man up the mountain. Finally, Abraham builds the altar. He arranges the wood on it. He binds Isaac and stretches him out on top of the wood. Finally, he takes the knife in his hand to kill his son. Only at the last moment the angel of the Lord interrupts the sacrifice.

 

Many people who have heard this story and taken it seriously have been revolted by it, said it paints an ugly picture of the God of the Bible. Even though God stopped Abraham from killing his son, what kind of God, they say, would ask that of a person, and then allow the person almost to go through with it? Abraham didn’t bring the knife down on Isaac. But in order to get as far as he did, Abraham would have had to have already made up his mind to spill the blood of his only son.

 

Thinking of killing your son—whether for God or for anyone else—is too much for us. Most people would be angry and spit at God if He demanded such a thing. Others, who might admit that God, as God, has a right to demand such a thing, would still find themselves too weak to do it, too weak even to go about the preparations for it, as Abraham did. They would find themselves unable to cut the wood, to journey to the mountain, to build the altar, prepare the wood, certainly to bind their son. Even talking about it or spending any time thinking about it makes you realize that God is nothing like the sentimental picture most people paint of Him. How many people who say they love God would vigorously hate Him if He spoke to them and commanded this? Even if we wanted to, most of us would not get through the preparations. Before our eyes the whole time would be our son’s pain and cries. We would visualize his bright red blood streaming at our hands and we would be undone.

 

But what God did not allow Abraham to do—to slay his son out of love and obedience to God—God did out of love and compassion for the world. For an unworthy world that hated Him. He foresaw His Son’s anguish, He foresaw His Son’s pouring blood, His cries and His tears.

 

And still He prepared His Son to be sacrificed. He tied Him up by the hands of the Jews. He condemned Him to die on a tree under His curse and wrath, through Pontius Pilate. He drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet and stretched Him out over the rough wood of the tree through the hands of the soldiers. And He lifted Him up to be cursed; to receive not merely bodily torment and physical death, but also the spiritual anguish that sinners deserve to suffer throughout eternity.

 

[We will sing the words of Paul Gerhardt in a few minutes, words which we have sung many times before, and yet likely not taken to heart—words that Gerhardt puts into the mouth of the Father:

 

“Go forth, My Son,” the Father said,

“And free my children from their dread

Of guilt and condemnation.

The wrath and stripes are hard to bear

But by Your Passion they will share

The fruit of Your salvation.” LSB 438, st. 2

 

Yes, imagine telling your son, “Go forth and be flogged and crucified to help people who despise and hate us”! ]

 

This is what God the Father was doing on Good Friday. And why? Not because Jesus ever displeased Him. No, the Father loves His Son far more than we evil men love our sons. And Jesus loved His Father and never did anything against Him. The Father was preparing His Son to die for your sins.

 

That’s why it is bold for us to show up here today. The Father offers up His Son; and we, for whom the Son of God was offered come to commemorate His dying. Do we dare?

 

Aren’t we the same people who have repeatedly chosen to do evil, to “turn, every one, to his own way”? (Is. 53) Haven’t we often freely chosen to do what called God’s anger down upon us? But God poured this anger on His Son. And we come, with little sense of what it cost the Father to do this, with little awareness of what Jesus endured, and quite often, with little desire to know. We come for an hour or so today to pay our respects, and then return to live as if we were rightful masters of our own lives?

 

And aren’t we the same people who, when backed into a corner, repeatedly excuse our sins and the sins of other people?

 

Perhaps we are those who think, “Why should God be so angry about sin? What kind of cruel God is this, to demand an eternal repayment for sin in hell?

 

Or perhaps we believe that God will punish sins in hell, but certainly not the sins we commit in weakness—our evil thoughts, impurity, our anger, our difficulty forgiving people. Why should God demand an eternal accounting for things like this, which no one can avoid?

 

And aren’t we also the same people who have often denied that our sin—or those of people we love—was actually sin? Aren’t we the same people who have called evil good?

 

So God says, “You shall not misuse the Name of the Lord your God.” But we say, surely it’s not such a big deal when a church teaches errors in God’s name, when they do it because they don’t know better. Surely God doesn’t take it so seriously if the church down the street doesn’t believe and doesn’t teach that the Lord’s Supper is really Jesus’ body and blood.

 

Or God says, “Remember the Sabbath day, by keeping it holy.” But we say, surely God doesn’t care that much about the fact that I get busy and don’t come to church.

 

Or we say, “Surely God doesn’t really get so angry about who I sleep with, or who my kids sleep with—not so angry that He would punish them for it forever.”

 

We say these things, and then we want to come and remember Jesus’ death, and the Father preparing His Son to be sacrificed? When we try to excuse the very things for which the Father allowed His Son’s blood to pour?

 

That is the same as the Jews choosing Barabbas over Jesus. They chose a lawless man, a violent man who had participated in a rebellion and shed blood, over Jesus. They asked for Barabbas to be freed, and for Jesus to be crucified.

 

Why did they do this? Because they were more comfortable with a lawless man, even if he was violent and dangerous, than with Jesus, the righteous and just One.

 

We have done the same as the crowd. In excusing our sins, and minimizing them, we are trying to shout Jesus down. We demand that the Righteous One be silent; we demand Him to be taken away from our sight so that His innocence no longer stands before us as a rebuke to our lawlessness. [And the more Jesus suffers unjustly, the louder the mob screams for Him to die, so that they may no longer have His witness to the truth and see Him reflecting back, in His body, the image of our sin.]

 

But even if we don’t excuse our sins, and our mouths are silent, it remains the case that we are the reason the Father set apart His innocent Son to die.

 

So how can we be so bold as to come near to the Father on the day in which His Son was slain?

 

We come because God the Father has given us the right to approach Him with boldness and confidence.

 

He slew His obedient Son for our disobedience because He wanted to give us the right to become children of God (John 1:12).

 

When the Father prepared Jesus as a sacrifice for our sins, He was carrying out what His wisdom and love toward us had planned before the creation of the world. Before the world began God saw Adam’s sin and also yours. None of it was hidden from Him. But instead of never creating You, or planning your death in His anger, He planned an unthinkable thing—to have His beloved Son take your place as an enemy of God, and to give you Jesus’ place as a well-beloved Son in eternity.

 

Why would God do such a thing? It is incomprehensible that He should show such love to us.

 

But that is, beyond any doubt, what God has done. In the death of Jesus, His Son, the Father has given you the right to approach Him without fear, without any stain of sin, as a pure, holy, well-pleasing, beloved child. As a lawful heir of God and all His eternal glory.

 

And not only did the Father will this grace for you, but also the Son. The Son and the Father are one (John 10); they will one will. The Father and the Son together willed our justification.

 

Because the Son willed this, He willingly came and put on our image.

 

He is mocked for us, who deserve mockery for our pretensions to be God, to be equal to God, the eternal King.

 

He is beaten and flogged; chastised, as Isaiah said, for our disobedience to God. Upon Him was the chastisement (or punishment) that brought us peace, and by His stripes we are healed. (Is. 53)

 

He puts on Adam’s curse as His crown. Blood streams from His sacred head down His face, drawn by the thorns that began to come out of the earth because Adam turned aside from God. Now Adam’s curse sits on the head of the Son of God.

 

He is condemned to die among wicked men. The innocent Christ is crucified between two robbers, men whom even an evil world rejects as too evil for it.

 

He is stripped naked to bear the shame we have been trying to hide since Adam and Eve clothed themselves with leaves and hid among the trees. Jesus is stripped of all coverings and lifted up before the whole world.

 

He is nailed to a cross, which the Romans view as so shameful that it is forbidden to apply it to citizens. And He is lifted up on a tree to die, which according to the Law means that Jesus is cursed by God, because it says “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a tree” (Leviticus ?, Galatians 3). Dying under God’s curse, Jesus removes His curse and damnation from us.

 

Though He is God, He comes in the appearance of a man like us, like one who is subject to death and enslaved by sin. He comes in our fashion to free us from slavery. He removes sin’s bondage from us by suffering for it and cancelling it out with His blood. Thus we are freed from slavery to sin and its condemnation. We are liberated from the devil, who held us in thrall through His blackmail and accusation. We are sprung from our chains into the glorious liberty of the children of God, to live before God forever free from condemnation.

 

Today the altar is bare; no paraments, no lights, no banners. That barrenness is really our image; we are barren of the glory God created us to have—His image. We lost it through sin. When we see Jesus crucified, covered with wounds, His face streaked with blood, forsaken by God we see Him bearing our image, so that we might bear the image of His glory in eternity.

 

And when Jesus has accomplished this and been emptied—when He has become sin for us, become a slave for us, received God’s wrath for us, He says “It is finished,” and dies.

 

It is finished. It is done. Everything is accomplished for us to be received as sons of God. Nothing remains outstanding. Every sin is punished and blotted out of God’s book. In its place Jesus gives us the seamless, undivided robe of His righteousness.

 

No one takes away Jesus’ life. He freely gives it up. When His life ends, ours begins—our new life as God’s Sons.

 

By His death, Jesus gives us the right to approach God with confidence as if we were Him, as dear, innocent, beloved sons of God. “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24)—so said our Lord to His disciples before He suffered. By His death Jesus bore the fruit of many sons of God. Before He died our sins blocked the way to God; when He died, those sins were removed.

 

So we dare to come before God with boldness on the day of His Son’s death, without fear. For Jesus who died for us has baptized us into His body, so that we are members of Him, of His flesh and of His bone. Trusting in Jesus and in the Father who prepared Him as the sacrifice for us, we come to the Father as His true sons. And in thanksgiving for all He has done we offer to Him our bodies as “living sacrifices, holy and acceptable to God” (Romans 12).

 

In the Name of the Father, and of the +Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

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