Sermon – April 10, 2020 – Good Friday

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Vicar Lindemann  ~  Matthew 27:45-50  ~  April 10, 2020  ~  Good Friday

The Greatest Battle Ever Fought

45From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. 46About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). 47When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 48Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” 50And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.

At 11:30 on that day, the sun was out like it is now. But right at noon, when the sun is brightest, it turned dark. No sun, no, moon, no stars, just darkness. Everything came to a stop. It was no eclipse, there was nothing natural about this. The darkness came because of a crucifixion—an ugly way to put people to death. It could sometimes take a couple days to die, depending upon how badly the person had been whipped. The executed criminal’s lungs worked slower and slower until he suffocated as his breathing became shallower and shallower.

Jesus was with two others on their crosses outside of Jerusalem. Thousands of people had followed him, listening intently to him and singing his praises. Less than a week before, a crowd had called him Savior. A few hours before this moment, he had acknowledged that he was the King of the kingdom of truth. He was God’s special soldier. But now the Warrior was dying.

This was the final battle. He had come into this world and had worked every day of his life to prepare for this. The prophets had foretold how horrible the battle would be. Your future, my future, and the future of everyone who has ever lived was hanging on the outcome of this battle:

The Greatest Battle Ever Fought

There were other battles fought in the history of our world. Battles, cultures, countries, leaders, and forms of government all have influence on history. But they come and go. Except for Jesus and this battle. The life of Jesus is the most significant single life in all of history. And what happened on the cross at his death changed the entire world and everyone who has ever lived.

  1. His enemy Satan attacked Jesus relentlessly.

The physical agony that Jesus suffered was awful. He had already been distressed the night before in Gethsemane. He had no sleep between Thursday and Friday because of the trials. Then came the special punishment:  The crown of thorns, the constant mocking, the pulling out of his beard, the blows to his face, the humiliation of having his clothing stripped off, the cruel scourging that ripped his skin from bone. He was forced to carry that heavy crossbeam until he collapsed. Only after all that did they lay him down on the cross and drive long nails through his hands and feet and hoist the cross up to be put on display as the soldiers and the Jewish leaders mocked him. How can anyone do such things to another human being? That’s your Savior they are torturing! It’s even horrible to speak of it.

But Jesus withstands that pain and agony without complaint! As a matter of fact, you hear him speak some amazing words on the cross: First, he offered a prayer asking the Father to forgive all those who crucified and mocked him. Then he answered the desperate prayer of the thief who believed in him with a tremendous gospel promise of heaven that very day. And calmly and with a tender concern for his mother, he told John to care for her.

But there was darkness. And we begin to realize that all his physical suffering was perhaps like a bug bite compared to the spiritual suffering that is happening on the cross. The darkness shows us how much God hates sin, that terrible thing that always separates us from him. The darkness is God’s reaction to the murder of his Son, and God’s judgment upon that which his Son was carrying.

We may be grateful, in a way, for the darkness. It must have made the ones responsible think twice. But it also covered up what no eyes should ever have to see as Jesus was on that cross, alone, against all the forces of hell. Satan hates Jesus. And this is the moment when he now saw the Son of Man and Son of God at his weakest—where he might be vulnerable. Satan attacks with everything to force Jesus to give up his life’s work of paying for your guilt and mine and for atoning for the whole world’s sin.

The devil attacks Jesus with all his might. Perhaps he told Jesus lies, “You won’t make any difference. This won’t cover the whole world’s guilt and sin, Jesus.” Perhaps he pointed out to Jesus some truths, “Why care about these people? These people have pierced your hands and feet and stare and gloat over you. Everyone has turned on you. Even Judas and Peter did it. Your thousands of followers have all turned on you.”

The spiritual pain mounts higher and higher. So much darkness – and this is what my sins deserve. Why should Jesus be suffering for your sins? The weight of the sins of billions upon billions of people are pressing down—all the massacres and crimes in the world, all the horrible things you and I have ever said, thought, and done. Jesus is fighting it and Satan in this great darkness, alone. And he remains pure, holy, and faithful. He does it because he loves you. Still holding his ground. This is why Jesus is both God and man! Man to be our substitute; God to pay for all the sins of humanity.

Not only the physical agony, not only the spiritual suffering against the devil, but now the worst part:  The Father’s white-hot anger is burning against him. Think of the power he had—the Creator of the universe who crushed that world with a gigantic flood, who smashed Sodom and Gomorrah, who made the mountain tremble and shake for Moses—that’s who is directing his full anger and fury against Jesus.

You can hear it in Jesus’ voice as his tone changes and he fulfills the words of Psalm 22. An awful and loud cry came from those tortured lungs. Perhaps it’s a scream: ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ (which means ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)

We know our triune God is one God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So I can’t get my head around the fact that the Son is now forsaken. The Father, source of all love, turns his back on Jesus his beloved Son, clearly declared at his baptism and on the transfiguration mountain, “My Son whom I love.” The Father suspends his relationship with his Son so that the warrior Son could pay for this entire world’s sin. It must have torn at the Father’s heart. His wrath is focused on the evil that Jesus was carrying because he so hates infection of sin that is causing the human race to die. At the beginning of this suffering, Jesus called him “Father.” You can see the intimacy, the closeness. Now it is “My God, my God” as he loudly asks that why. Jesus is forsaken, so he does not call him Father.

While the relationship is broken, his faith is still strong, even as he is left alone. This is the moment of sheer horror for our Warrior. It’s the worst moment of his life, and his lonely suffering has reached its peak on that cross. It is here that the battle is either going to be won or lost as Jesus suffers for us.

The Old Testament prophet Isaiah explains what is happening: “Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted” (Isaiah 53:4).

All this is because of us. Jesus remained perfect and holy in himself this entire time. Yet our sin was charged to him and he was willingly paying for it. We are not always aware of how much we sin. We are usually aware of our atrocious sins and we have some sin, but sometimes we think that we will just work harder on those bad habits, and we will be okay. Our problem is far bigger than one or two habits. Every inclination of your self-serving and self-centered heart is complete sin. We cannot work hard enough to cover even one sin, let alone a lifetime of them. We need a Warrior who is able to purchase forgiveness for each sin for us all! Jesus poured out his sweat and blood to forgive you!

  1. When the dust had settled, came the victory cry

Once the mockers get used to the darkness, they start in again, thinking Jesus’ cry “My God, my God, (Eli, Eli)” was begging Elijah to come back: “When some of those standing there heard this, they said, ‘He’s calling Elijah.’ Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, ‘Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him’” (Matthew 27:47-49).  But the end is near. They wait but not for very long. Things happen quickly now. The rest of the Gospel writers fill us in. “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished’” (John 19:30). Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last (Luke 23:46).

Matthew tells us that the temple curtain was “torn in two from top to bottom.” Maybe God’s way of saying “Amen” to Jesus’ words “It is finished.” That means that there is no more need for sacrificing. No more sheep, goats, or bulls need to be killed. There was no more need for priests or high priests. All the laws were fulfilled. Every prophecy in the Old Testament about the coming Savior has been fully kept. God has opened up access to himself for all people, nations, languages, cultures, and generations through the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ. God accepted Jesus’ payment to cover all your sins.

Notice how we can tell that the sacrifice of Jesus is completed:  He says, “Father” again! God’s anger has been spent. The terrible separation between Father and Son no longer exists. That loud cry, “It is finished,” says everything. In this greatest battle of all time, Jesus’ saving fight is over! Jesus has crushed Satan’s head, as predicted in Eden. It’s a clear knockout blow. The devil is mortally wounded, still walking around, but he can no longer win. Our home in heaven is prepaid! There is nothing more you or I, or even God, has to do to pay for our guilt and sin!

We are forgiven! His work is done. He couldn’t be defeated. The soldiers, the mockers, hell, and Satan could not kill him. Now, of his own free will, he gives his soul into his Father’s loving hands. Our holy Jesus, who remained unspotted and unblemished as he experienced our hell, now offers his pure and perfect life as the final, once-and-for-all sacrifice. It is finished! Amen.