Sermon for Good Friday based on John 18-19
Dear people who ponder the cross: Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God the Father and our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.
We see crosses and crucifixes all over the place. Certainly in and on church buildings and on headstones, but also in many other places. In art. On jewellery. Hanging from rear-view mirrors. Tattooed on bodies. The cross is quite probably the most recognized symbol in existence.
Very often, however, its meaning is completely lost. It has become just another symbol that is used because it looks kind of neat. It has become just another fad or fashion statement worn around the neck or tattooed beside a fire-breathing dragon for effect. It has become a superstitious good luck charm that wards off evil in the minds of some.
But what is the cross? The cross is an instrument of torture and execution. You don’t see too many people with mini guillotines hanging from their rear-view mirror, tattoos of gallows on their shoulder, or bracelets on their wrist with electric chair charms. A cross is trendier.
Romans used the cross as a threat to would-be criminals. Criminals would be crucified with the charges against them inscribed above them. Crucifixions were public executions so they acted as a deterrent to crime; a threat that if you commit a similar crime you will die a similar, long, painful death.
The meaning of the cross as a symbol for us, of course, comes from the death of Jesus on a cross. While His death was with criminals, He was no criminal. He is the only man who never sinned. The charge inscribed above Him on the cross was “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” That’s not exactly a crime.
In fact, the only charge of which Jesus was found guilty, was that He said that He is God. If a man claims to be God and is not, it is blasphemy. That is what the chief priests and scribes accused Jesus of doing. They accused Jesus of blasphemy because He said He is God.
Jesus’ death on a cross was not just another crucifixion. It was the crucifixion of God in the flesh. It was the crucifixion of all of our sins in the body of Jesus (I Peter 2:24). It was Jesus taking the punishment and wrath of God onto Himself, saving us from it.
Jesus did not just suffer physically. Jesus also suffered all the guilt of every sin ever committed. He suffered the guilt of sins we don’t even want to mention because they’re so dark. Jesus suffered the abandonment of God the Father. He was forsaken by God and left to bear the sins of the world.
Jesus’ death on the cross changed everything. We no longer have to fear the eternal punishment we deserve because of our sins. Death is no longer a threat to us. Our relationship with God has been restored because we are reconciled to Him. We are no longer His enemies since our sins against Him have been wiped clean and removed from us as far as the east is from the west. We are no longer dead in our sins but are alive in Christ Jesus.
The cross of Christ also changes our relationships with each other. Jesus died for the sins of the whole world. He reconciled us to God so now we can also be reconciled to each other. We are brothers and sisters in Christ, receiving the same forgiveness that we all need.
Jesus’ death on the cross changed everything. So let us not act like the cross is just some fad or fashion statement. It is a reminder to us that the debt of our sins has been paid. It is a symbol of the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. It is the sign of reconciliation between us and God.
Likewise, let us not act like the death of Jesus for us doesn’t change us completely. How can we who died to sin, still live in it? (Rom. 6:2) After being rescued from sin, how can we turn right back into sin? After being forgiven our sin, how can we rebel against God by following our sinful desires?
The cross changes us. The cross of Jesus leads us to walk in newness of life. We don’t have to let sin reign in our mortal bodies or obey its passions (Rom. 6:12). We have a new life in Christ.
This life is renewed every time we read or hear God’s Word. This life is renewed each time we receive the Lord’s Supper for the forgiveness of our sin. Every time we fall, Christ Himself lifts us up again through giving us His body and blood to eat and drink for the forgiveness of all our sins.
This is our new life in Christ: continual forgiveness; continual strengthening through His Word and Supper; continual love which He showed to us by His death on the cross.
The cross is not just some empty symbol to which we attach meaning as we see fit. The cross is not some fad or fashion statement, nor is it some kind of a good luck charm. The cross is a symbol of the life we have because of Jesus’ death for us. The cross is a sign of the reconciliation we have with God. The cross is a reminder to us that the debt of all of our sins has been paid because of the love of God shown to us in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.