Good Friday—Chief Service (1 PM)
St. Peter Lutheran Church
St. John 19:28-30, 34 (John 18-19, Is. 52:13-53:12, 2 Cor. 5:14-21)
April 14, 2017
Why is this Friday “Good”?
My son asked me—last Sunday, I think it was: “Why is it called ‘Good Friday’? It doesn’t seem good.” We sit here in a church stripped bare, in darkness, hearing the agony of our Lord Jesus read out loud, hearing the reproaches of God against us a little on from now, praying prayers asking God for mercy. It indeed does not seem good. When we look at the mockery of Jesus, think of the shame and wounds He endured, and consider also that God looked with anger and wrath on His Son as well, because He was carrying the sin of the world, like the scapegoat in the Levitical Law—it is not good. The sin we were born in, the sins we have committed knowingly and unknowingly, the sin we often excuse, tolerate, continue in and think we can repent later—not good. Here we see it unmasked for what it is: sin brings death. Sin brings God’s anger and punishment. God will not leave sin unpunished.
The word “good” in Good Friday probably originally meant something different than we think when we hear it. It probably meant something like “holy” or “godly.”
Yet it is right to think of Good Friday as being “good” in the way we normally use the word. Good Friday is good because on Good Friday (together with Easter) Jesus fulfilled or “finished” the Gospel, the “Good News.” He finished the message that His apostles would later proclaim, and that the Reformation began to proclaim again after it was lost. He finished the good news of our justification before God, our being accounted righteous, as Isaiah the prophet put it, our being “released from sin.”
On this day Jesus “finished” the content of the Gospel.
- It is recognized as good news only by helpless, condemned sinners, terrified by God’s Law;
- But to them it is very good, because it proclaims that Jesus finished our sin and God’s wrath on the cross, and that through His Work alone, received by faith, we are accounted righteous, or justified.
The world doesn’t receive the preaching of Jesus’ suffering and death as good news. There are plenty of people who understand intellectually what we preach, that Jesus suffered for our sins so that we might not be condemned—as St. Paul writes: For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew know sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:17). There are plenty of people who understand this with their minds. Some—many even—profess to believe this. Yet their faith goes no deeper than their mind and intellect; it is not a faith worked by the Holy Spirit, giving salvation, on which a person stakes his life and eternity.
Such a person doesn’t really regard the death of Jesus as good news. The suffering and death of Jesus, after all, doesn’t seem like anything to rejoice in. A man dying in shame and mockery a horrible death seems weak and useless to the world, not joyful, happy news.
The agony of Jesus, the death of Jesus, is good news, whether a person realizes it or not. But most people do not. There are many people who come to church occasionally who hear the death of Jesus proclaimed, but it appears to make no impression on them. It does not lead them to renounce their sins, hear God’s Word more frequently, be baptized, live a life that is by faith in the One who died for them. Even on those who regularly come to hear the Word of Christ preached and receive His body and blood, there are many for whom it does not appear to be particularly good news.
That’s because although it is good news for all people, although it is the best news there is—it is only recognized as good news by the people the Bible refers to as “the poor”. It is recognized as good news by people who have been brought to a knowledge of sin, who as a result are terrified and afflicted.
A person comes to this knowledge through the Law of God. The more we look into God’s Law, or hear it, the more we become conscious of our guilt before God, and the seriousness of His anger against those who disobey His Law. This is one of the reasons why you are so often encouraged and exhorted to learn the Small Catechism by heart and to read the Bible. When you do, the Holy Spirit will often convict you of your sin before God. You don’t get very far in the Bible before God starts commanding things and you realize you haven’t done them. You can’t read the Bible very long before you are confronted with an example of God threatening or punishing sinners, and realizing that you are guilty of the same sins that caused Him to send the flood, or drown Pharaoh, or reject Saul. The words of Psalm 5 are an example: For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil may not sojourn with You. The boastful may not stand before Your eyes; You hate all evildoers. You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors bloodthirsty and deceitful men. (v. 4-6) Is there anyone here today who has never spoken lies?
Those who are brought to a knowledge of their sin become frightened by words like these; we become conscious of the guilt we bear before God and His anger against us as sinners, and we look for how we can become free from sin. Because we are Lutherans, we learn that we are to take the guilt of our sin to Jesus, who atoned for the sins of the world.
But even as Christians, we find that sin remains with us. Even if we don’t know it from experience, we can look at the example of St. Peter and see just how much evil and weakness remains even in Christ’s disciples. Peter said, “I will die with you,” and couldn’t keep his pledge for a few hours. We are not able to do “our part” to be faithful Christians. We can’t keep ourselves from falling into sin.
In fact, we are not even able to produce the faith that takes hold of Jesus and saves us. The more you see your sin, the more your heart trembles in fear of God, or in anger against Him at putting you in this impossible situation of trying to please Him when you can’t. The more you see yourself fall, the more difficult it becomes in the flesh to believe that God has really forgiven you.
This is a terrible feeling to those who have experienced it. Such a person feels forsaken by God.
But even if a person has not experienced this so intensely, only those who have come to the knowledge of their sin through God’s Law hear the death of Jesus as good news. A person may not have felt God’s wrath in their hearts so intensely, or felt forsaken by God. But all Christians believe testimony of the Word of God, that there is nothing good in them, that born in the sin transmitted by Adam to his descendants, they are by nature spiritually dead, enemies of God. And all Christians know that God is angry at sin and will certainly punish it with suffering in this life, with death, and with eternal torment in hell.
And in the cross and death of Jesus we see this. Jesus was born without sin and never committed sin. The result was that He was immortal. He was not subject to death, and certainly not to God’s anger, certainly not to His condemnation.
Yet today, on Good Friday, we see Jesus die. We hear Him cry that He is forsaken by God. We see how angry God is with our sins, that He would not spare His Son, when His Son was carrying all the sins of the world, but punished Him, turned His face from Him, allowed His Son to die and, while dying, to experience His condemnation and curse.
We also see in the Passion of Jesus that it is not just a human being who is suffering and dying on the cross. Jesus is the eternal Son of the Father, God of God, light of light. He tells Pilate “my Kingdom is from another place.” And when Pilate hears that Jesus has declared that He is the Son of God, Pilate is afraid. It is fearful to think that not just a man suffers the mockery, the agony, and death of the cross. It shows not only how wicked human beings are, that His own people would reject Him and demand Him to be put to death. It shows how serious our sins are in God’s sight, that He would require nothing less than the suffering of God in the flesh to atone for them.
When the rebellious people of Israel were thirsty in the desert, God caused water to flow out of a rock and quenched their thirst. He refreshed them, even though they were rebellious and unfaithful. But His faithful Son, there is no refreshment. Jesus is given sour wine to drink and no water, which is a picture of how the Father did not turn away His wrath from His Son. He did not relent, but gave Jesus the cup of His wrath, which belonged to us. It had to be drained to the bottom.
All that is very bad news. If you take it to heart you will be troubled and distressed, because you realize that Jesus’ agony is a picture of the agony you will endure in hell unless your sin and guilt is removed.
But how can that happen, when we continue to be sinners?
This is the good news that Jesus finished on Good Friday, the good news of the pure Gospel:
We cannot purge away our sins, not even with the help of the Holy Spirit, so that God will no longer be angry with us.
Our sins must be “put away”. We must be “released” from them. Our sin must be covered, as the 32nd psalm says.
This is why Good Friday is rightly called good, because this is what Jesus does today. He covers our sins and makes us to be accounted righteous, as Isaiah 53 said.
When the stripes are laid open on Jesus’ back by the whip, we are healed, and peace with God is being made for us.
When He is mocked and scorned as a King with a crown of thorns, and a jeering crowd calls for Him to be crucified, God is leading Him like a lamb to be slaughtered for our sins; and Jesus does not open His mouth to protest.
He is being oppressed and afflicted by God; God the Father’s will is to crush Jesus, so that we may not be crushed, but be accounted righteous, be declared not wicked but righteous and without sin.
Jesus is “reconciling the Father to us” as He is nailed to the cross and lifted up to hang there under His curse. He thirsts and is forsaken by God, so that we will not be forsaken, or thirst for God and not have our thirst be quenched. God does not let us thirst because His anger is removed from us. He is reconciled to us and at peace. “The chastisement that brought us peace was upon Him.”
That is why Isaiah says, “Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied, by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities.” (Is. 53:11)
Jesus made us to be accounted righteous by God. Not as a fiction, a lie. But really making payment sufficient for God to count our sins to us no longer, so that we are really righteous and just and without sin through faith in Jesus alone.
“It is finished,” says Jesus. What is finished? The atonement for our sins; God’s reconciliation with sinners, the forgiveness of our sins. It is finished. Nothing is to be done but to receive this Word of Jesus and believe that, as great as your sins are, Jesus has paid the sufficient ransom to set you free from them.
Paul says, God committed to us the ministry of reconciliation. He means the ministry of preaching this Gospel. This is why God invented the pastoral office and why He still sends men out to preach His pure Gospel.
It is to bring you good news, so that you may not thirst and get sour wine, so that you may not thirst like the rich man in hell, longing for a drop of water in the flames but never receiving one. Instead you are to receive the water of the Gospel for your thirst. That water does not come from nowhere. It comes from Jesus’ death.
Just as His body was pierced and water and blood poured, so God pours on You His grace. Announces your justification and His reconciliation with you, that He has put all your sins on His Son. Releases you from sin in the absolution. Purifies you in His sight, burying and resurrecting you with Jesus in Baptism.
Giving you His flesh to eat and blood to drink.
This streams to you from Jesus’ death, here and now.
So we call it “Good Friday,” because Jesus finished the good news on this day. Good like God said His creation was very good before the fall. Now God says all who believe in Christ are good like that; spotless, pure, holy, through faith in Jesus alone—a new creation.