4/2/2018 9:55:10 AM
June 5, 2002 was a strange day for me. It was the day of my grandpa’s funeral. My grandpa died on Saturday morning, and the funeral was the following Wednesday. He was 83 years old, and his kidneys had failed. After years of dialyses, it was time for him to go to his heavenly home. In the weeks leading up to his death and even the first few days after, there weren’t many tears. It was a happy a thing. He was passing from this world of sin to Jesus’ side. Everyone was happy for him, relieved even. Here was a Christian man who lived a full life. He knew he was loved by his God and his family. He was ready to go. So, why do I remember the day of the funeral as being strange? My grandpa’s funeral was the very first time I saw my dad cry. As tears then started to pool up in my own eyes, I remember just staring down the pew at my dad and thinking, “You don’t cry. I thought this was a happy thing, a good thing for grandpa. He’s in heaven now. Why is my dad, of all people, crying?”
Whether a teenager full of life is killed in a car accident, a mom with young children is taken from them by cancer, or it’s an 83 year old man whose body has finally gotten tired, death is hard. Death is sad. People who don’t cry, cry.
See, it’s unnatural. Death is unnatural. That’s one reason it’s so hard for us. We weren’t meant to die, and we weren’t meant to experience it. When God created Adam and Eve and placed them in the Garden of Eden with the Tree of Life, he intended for them to live forever. Death was never part of God’s plan for man. Death for man truly is unnatural.
How much more then the death we remember on Good Friday. Jesus, the Son of God – God himself, died. Talk about unnatural! The physical world even responded in turn: The sun stopped shining; the earth shook, rocks split. If the death of man is unnatural, then on Good Friday, we ponder not only the unnatural, but the unthinkable, the unexplainable: God dies. Jesus, the God-man, carried his own cross. He was crucified between two criminals. He hung under a controversial notice. He hung as soldiers divided his clothes. He had in mind to make sure his mother was taken care of. And finally, he bowed his head and died.
The events of Good Friday, the cross, the nails, Jesus’ words, Jesus’ death, are such clear reminders that we have sinned and deserve death. I can’t help but look at Jesus’ suffering and death and realize that should be me. We page through the Bible and something becomes very clear: Man has sinned against God. I have sinned against God. We continue to page through the Bible and something else becomes clear: The punishment for sin is death. The punishment for my sin is death. Yes, death may be unnatural for man, but it’s not undeserved.
What a powerful thing it was placing a nail into the cross. What a powerful thing it was to watch hundreds of you come up one after the other and do the same. It was our sin, the sin that makes us deserving of death, that put Jesus on the cross. It was our sin that caused Jesus to die. We caused Jesus to die.
Though today we rightly remember our sin and guilt, the purpose of placing the nails into the cross, the purpose of Good Friday, is not to feel sorry for Jesus. It’s not. On Good Friday, Jesus is not the victim but the victor. Hear again just the last verse of the Good Friday Gospel. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. John tells us what Jesus said, “It is finished.” And Mathew and Mark tell us how he said it: He cried out “with a loud voice.”(Matthew 27:50; Mark 15:37) Jesus hangs on the cross, bloody and shredded, and he lets out not the whimper of a defeated man, but the cry of a champion. “It is finished!” This is our Savior’s shout of triumph. Jesus had set out to complete a goal, and now that goal was accomplished.
Yes, the goal was unnatural, unthinkable, unexplainable. The holy, sinless Son of God, would become man in order to save man. And in order to save man, he would have to live as man lives, while fulfilling all the requirements of God’s Law. What is more, he would have to die carrying all the guilt, sin, and punishment of the entire human race. So here on Good Friday the heart of Christianity is on display: God dying in the place of sinful man. It’s what Christianity, it’s what the Bible is all about: God for us! And here is Jesus, that holy, sinless Son of God, crying out and proclaiming that it’s done. Its complete. I did it! It is finished!
So the purpose of the nails, the purpose of Good Friday then, is to appreciate his victory for us, to praise and worship him as our dying yet victorious Savior. It’s to listen to his shout of triumph. I must hear and ponder these three words from Jesus again and again. “It is finished.” “It is finished.” “It is finished.” These words assure me that I am right with God through Jesus. These words assure me my punishment has been paid. My salvation is complete.
I need to hear and listen to these words again and again, because they’re unnatural. This is what I mean. If I fail to listen to Jesus’ “It is finished!”, one of two natural things will happen. 1. I will try again and again to make myself right with God by the things I say and do. “If I do this, this, and this, then I will be acceptable to God.” But then when I stumble, when my sin shows its ugly face once again, I will despair. I will despair over my sin and say, “God can’t love me. God can’t save me, because of who I am.” And 2 starts out the same way. I will try again and again to make myself right with God by the things I say and do. “If I do this, this, and this, then I will be acceptable to God.” And if on the outside my life looks good, if I have it all together and never do anything “terrible” or “obscene” in the eyes of the world, I will puff up. I will puff up with pride and say, “God must love me. God will save me, because of who I am.”
Both are natural. They flow from a logical idea. I’m the sinner. I should have to do something to clean up my mess. I should be held accountable, at least a little. And if I’m held accountable, I should also receive some credit, at least a little. But by depending on me, by following what’s natural, I will receive the death my sins naturally deserve.
We need to cling to the unnatural. Listen to your crucified Savior. He says, “It is finished.” When I am despairing, his shout of triumph tells me, “You don’t have to, it’s all done. I did it.” When I am full of pride, the same shout of triumph tells me, “You couldn’t, but it’s still all done. I did it.”
The perfect, sinless Son of God suffering and dying for sinful man – God for us. Unnatural, certainly. Exactly what we need, absolutely. So on Good Friday and every day, listen to Jesus as he triumphantly shouts, “It is finished.” Amen.