Sermon for Good Friday
Each year upon this day we walk in spirit down the way of the cross and out onto Calvary’s hill. We witness the travesty of justice as an innocent man is delivered into the hands of a murderous mob to be crucified. We follow those bloodstained steps all the weary way as He bears his cross. We stare in horrified silence as the only sinless Man in history is nailed to the criminal’s cross between two convicted evildoers.
Fifteen hundred years ago St. Anselm ascended his pulpit on Good Friday and said: “I do not know if I wish to speak today. Why should I speak when my Savior is silent and dies?” Certainly every preacher who comprehends the reality of this day has felt much the same way. All a preacher can really do today is ask his people to hear again the account of Christ’s death and meditate quietly and personally about the meaning of the Cross, now that the great drama draws to its close.
The world, for the most part, goes about it’s business as if today is just another Friday. We want to cry out: “Is it nothing to you who pass by?” Oh, yes it means much to us, it means everything to us. That is why we must on this day pause with in awe and reverence at the foot of the cross, on which our Savior hung and died. This was no mere martyr, defeated in his lofty purpose; this was no mere victim, misunderstood, and condemned by His peers. No! Upon the cross on that first Good Friday was the divinely appointed Messiah—the Redeemer of lost souls—rendering the all-sufficient and the only-sufficient sacrifice for sin. This was the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world.
This night, therefore, we look back in Good Friday humility and silence, to two sentences at the very close of the scene on Calvary. These two statements are probably the greatest in all the history of human speech. These two statements cover you and I in life, and in our death. The first is: “It is finished!” By this word of Christ we live. The second is: “Father, into your hands, I commit My spirit.” By these words of Christ we can die.
I. IT IS FINISHED!
“TETELESTAI.” “It is finished.” A word which was not specifically directed to either God or man. It was simply cast out into the air as a majestic declaration. The very plan of the Father that brought His Son Jesus into the flesh to be the satisfaction for sin was finished. He had come to live the perfect life for us. He was dying to complete salvation for us. He was dying to bring the reality of the cross to our lives.
Therefore, dear Baptized, you must die, for if you wish to live with Him you must die with Him. As the St. Paul put it before the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ.” (Gal. 2:20) This is to say that there is no way to appropriate the cross other than to go through the cross.
You can’t have the cross “in theory”. Jesus does not come to protect us from death; he comes to do it to us. And we have no choice about death—Jesus brings death home to us. He puts our sinful old Adam to death. Again, St. Paul writes: For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin.(Rom. 6:6) Here in the suffering and dying Jesus we meet our end. Here is the end of our existence in bondage to sin. Here is the end of death’s power in our lives. Here is the end of slavery to the Devil. Here, as Christ dies, our Old Adam is killed as well.
But where is here?! Where is it that Christ kills you. Where is it that this bondage of sin is borken? Where is it that the proclamation, “It is finished” is heard? Where is it that you and I need go to hear the assurance: Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him? (Rom 6:8) Where? Not on a hill outside Jerusalem–I mean, you may of course go there as a tourist, but Christ no longer hangs there for the salvation of the world. Where then? Where do we go for the benefits of that Cross?
Here! In the Word. In the Water. In the Body and Blood. Here, in the church established by God Himself we are united to the Body of Christ. Here we are fed with the crucified body, and the blood that spilled from it. Here we hear the word, “TETELESTAI,” “It is finished” announce the satisfaction for our sins. Here we are washed clean by the torrent released from His pierced side. Here in the bosom of the Bride, protected and strengthened. Here, in the midst of you, O Jerusalem, heaven meets earth, just as it did on Golgotha long ago. Here, by this word of Christ we live. [pause]
II. FATHER, INTO YOUR HANDS I COMMIT MY SPIRIT.
And here, in Christ’s words, is something by which we can die. “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” Men have always been interested in the way humanity has met death. Men have faced death in protest or in shrugging acceptance. They have run the entire gamut of emotions when they are face to face with the final and universal fact of life.
There is nothing like that in our Lord’s last word. His head goes up once more. He is now facing His heavenly Father. The pain of the crucifixion is almost in the past. He is coming home now, the long adventure over, carrying in His hands the atonement which He has made for all the sins of the world. “Father, into your hands I commit My spirit.” In the great halls of heaven, cherubim and seraphim wait for Him, and the choirs of eternity wait for Him—They stand in silence. The Son of God has committed His spirit into the hands of His heavenly Father.
But then something great and wonderful and eternal happens. The angels rejoice because the one poor thief who dies with Christ is the first in a long procession of men and women who will storm the gates of heaven with His blood covering their sins and His love bringing them home. This is a great and goodly company. By faith in His atoning work we too have been brought into this eternal company. [pause]
The first word from the mouth of Jesus after He was crucified is a prayer. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” The last word from the mouth of Jesus is also a prayer. “Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit!”. This is a prayer not only for Himself, but for you. Jesus is the High Priest. He has interceded on your behalf through the holy life lived on your behalf. He intercedes for you even on the cross dying in your place. He intercedes for you especially in His last word He spoke, “Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit”! This last earthly word of our Lord is a prayer on behalf of you, “Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6:3 & 8).
Listen to heart of this Savior who prays for you: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. (John 17:24). While on Calvary’s holy mountain, even as He was dying … at the ninth hour, Jesus was in complete command and control. No one took His life away from Him. He gave Himself for you and in taking your death upon Himself has given you His Life.
“Father, into your hands I commit my spirit,” and so saying he handed over to the Father all that he had assumed in the womb of Mary. “It is finished… Father into your hands I commit my spirit!” The cross, ultimately, finally, is not the dark side of which the resurrection is the bright side. No, Jesus speaks repeatedly of being glorified in his death. So we must not turn away from what our sin has done to God, lest we be found to have turned away from what he has done for us. [Brief pause]
Dr. Martin Luther knew the power of the cross and therefore spoke these dying words, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit; for you, God, have truly redeemed me.” [brief pause] “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Or, as we so often pray: Lord Jesus, into your hands I commend myself – my body and soul – and all things. Amen.
Dear baptized, hear the Christ of God pray one more time … “Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, ‘‘Father, into your hands I commit My Spirit!’ And having said this He breathed His last.”
And this unconditional proclamation of grace leaves us with nothing to say, … but, Amen.