Printable PDF: 4-2-2021 Good Friday Sermon
Pastor Myrl Wagenknecht – Luke 23:32-34 – April 2, 2021 – Good Friday Sermon
The Nail-Pierced Hands of Jesus
Were you there? It’s the thought provoking title question that is repeated again and again in the old African-American spiritual, #119 in Christian Worship. Were you there on that Good Friday that Christians around the world observe today? Were you there on Good Friday? Were you there when they crucified my Lord…when they nailed him to the tree…when they laid him in the tomb? Before you answer, let’s look at some of the people who were there at Calvary and who played prominent roles in our Savior’s passion.
Some Roman soldiers were there. They had to be. It was their job, and they carried it out with brutal efficiency. None of them realized that when their hands drove home the nails and cast lots for Jesus’ clothes, they were fulfilling prophecies that were hundreds of years old. But one of the soldiers, a centurion, did recognize that the man hanging on the middle cross was different. He confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Matthew 27:54).
Two other criminals were there, and they didn’t have a choice either. They were being punished for their crimes. One of them even acknowledged that they were getting what their deeds deserved. But after he confessed his sins, he also confessed his faith by asking Jesus to remember him. And Jesus assured him that they would soon be reunited in paradise (Luke 23:41-43).
The Jewish leaders were there, perhaps to make sure that Pilate would follow through on his order to execute Jesus. They had waited a long time for this. They were going to enjoy this. In their minds they had won a great victory and continued their cruelty with their words. They shook their hands at him and jeered and challenged Jesus to come down from his cross, totally oblivious to the fact that at any moment he could descend and destroy them all.
Even if Pontius Pilate was not physically present at Golgotha, he made his presence known by having a sign posted at the top of Jesus’ cross. It read, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (John 19:19). When some wanted him to change what he wrote, the Roman governor just raised his hands and declared, “What I have written, I have written!” But for Pilate it was too little, too late. His hands were just hands of self-preservation.
We might have expected that all the disciples were there to give support to their Lord in his dying hours. But they weren’t! They had deserted Jesus the night before in the garden. They had abandoned him in his time of need, just as Jesus had predicted. Only one disciple, John, had come to Calvary. And another person Jesus dearly loved stood by his side.
Jesus’ mother was there on Good Friday, and what Mary witnessed must have made her heart break. As a young girl she had received the amazing news from the angel Gabriel that God had chosen her to give birth to the promised Messiah. Not long after that child was born, she received some news that wasn’t so good. In Jerusalem, in the temple, while holding her perfect child in his hands, Simeon predicted that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul (Luke 2:35). While she watched her son slowly dying before her eyes, Mary could fully understand what those words meant and clutched her loving hands over her heart in grief.
Working through a list like this helps us remember the people and places and events of Good Friday, but it doesn’t answer our question: Were you there to see those nail-pierced hands? The obvious answer is “No!” We weren’t there. You and I are separated from that day by thousands of miles and thousands of years, so it would be impossible for us to be there except in our mind’s eye.
There is another way to look at that question, however, and there is another hymn that suggests a different answer. The title is “God Was There on Calvary,” and we sang it as our opening hymn today. (Christian Worship #140). Listen carefully to what the hymn writer says in stanza 2: “All the world on Calvary, crucified the Prince of life, pierced the hands of God’s own Son, there on Calvary.”
That tells us the entire world was there on Calvary on Good Friday. So you were there; and so was I. We didn’t bring the charges that were used to convict Jesus. We didn’t shout, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” We didn’t hand down the order to crucify Jesus. Our hands did not swing the hammer that drove the nails through his hands, but we were there because our sins were there. Jesus carried them there. On the cross “he has for all a full atonement made.”
That means our guilt is the reason God’s Son had to suffer and die. That means you and I are guilty just like the people who were there on that first Good Friday. If you are having a hard time accepting that, don’t look around and compare yourself with the Roman soldiers, or the Jewish leaders, or the AWOL disciples, or anyone else who was there on Good Friday. Look up at the cross. Look deep inside and examine your heart and compare yourself with Jesus. He forgave us. Are we that forgiving ourselves?
Think about the many times Jesus taught about forgiveness (“turn the other cheek,” “not 7 times, but 70 times 7,” the parable of the prodigal son, etc.). Jesus prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (verse 34). He asked God to pardon the people who were putting him to death, and to forgive us. Ponder the selfless love of Jesus.
Compare this to our own actions, the perceived slights and petty squabbles, the hurtful things we have said and the vengeful things we have done. Start thinking about the times—way too many times—when we withheld forgiveness and held on to grudges instead. Then we come to the condemning conclusion: “Do I forgive like Jesus? No, I am guilty, not following in Jesus’ footsteps, not at all deserving of God’s love, in desperate need to be rescued from my sins.”
The man who performed so many miracles during his ministry didn’t look like a Redeemer on Good Friday. He looked weak and helpless. Stripped of his clothing. Stripped of his dignity. Bloodied. Beaten. Unable to carry his cross. Barely able to stand. Nails through his hands. Jesus had been defeated. The devil had won the day. The Easter hymn “He’s Risen! He’s Risen!” sets the stage for the resurrection in verse 2: “The foe was triumphant when on Calvary the Lord of creation was nailed to the tree. In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, for Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear” (Christian Worship #143, stanza 2).
But the celebration in hell turned out to be short-lived. The evil ones had good reason to fear the Messiah. He was about to perform the climax of his redeeming work; to declare his final victory over the devil; to demonstrate his power over death; to announce to the world that reports of his demise had been greatly exaggerated. To assure you that all your sins have been forgiven, Jesus holds out to you his nail-pierced hands, hands full of mercy.
A couple of days after Good Friday the disciples, the same people who were nowhere to be found on Calvary, gathered together behind locked doors. They were confused about what had just happened. They were fearful about the future. They became even more afraid when what they thought was a ghost appeared among them. But this was no apparition. It was the Lord, and he brought them a message of peace. Then Jesus did something else, something special, something personal, something that instantly allayed their fears. He showed them his hands – his nail-pierced hands.
Scars are not usually attractive, but for the disciples those nail marks were the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. Those scars led Doubting Thomas to confess, “My Lord, and my God! The beauty of those scars is not lost on us either. Those nail-pierced hands remind us of the high cost of our redemption. Jesus took on our flesh. Jesus felt our pain. Jesus endured the righteous wrath of God in our place. Jesus prayed for our forgiveness, and he suffered and died on the cross to earn it.
The unconditional, sacrificial love of Jesus is what makes this day “good.” When your sins condemn you, he intercedes for you. When Satan attacks you, Jesus defends you. When you are feeling guilty, spiritually empty, totally unworthy of God’s love, remember what Jesus has done to save you. Remember that he will never leave you nor forsake you. Go back in time to stand at the foot of the cross and remember that he has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you. Above the altar in some churches is the statue of the ascending Savior with uplifted hands in blessing, and they are nail-pierced hands.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Then answer, “Yes!”
Will you be there when he rises from the grave? Then answer, “Yes!”