Saturday, March 30, 2024

Who is left to accuse?

Sermon for the Good Friday Evening Service, preached on Good Friday, March 29, 2024.

It may be tempting to think of Good Friday as the day of Jesus’ funeral.  It might be the case but there was no funeral, no rites at the burial – just a rushed job of some burial spices and linens to wrap the body and the intention to do a better job tomorrow.  Ah, yes, tomorrow.  We all live in the tomorrow of what we would do if we could do it all over, what we would not do if we had know how it would all turn out, and what we should do but we don’t have the time.  No, this is not a funeral day for Jesus, just the dying day.

When Jesus uttered His last and final word from the cross, it was as He said: “It is finished.”  The false witnesses had all gone home.  The enemies who lived in the backrooms of the Temple had long ago retreated to leave the messy business to the soldiers.  The disciples who had followed Jesus for three years had run and were hiding in the shadows wondering if they were to be next or what the future was going to look like without Jesus.  Only a few women and John, the blessed apostle, were left with the soldiers to witness the final breath and hear the final word.

It was finished.  There would be no more pain.  The suffering had ended – not because His enemies had given up.  No, because Jesus had borne in His body all that they do to Him and He had done it faithfully.  It was finished.  The whole spectacle of the week that had all of Jerusalem talking was done and people had gone back to their lives.  The guards would be posted so that they could ensure that Jesus was dead and He stayed dead.  But it seemed to most that this was the last that would ever be heard of Jesus.

Of course, we know that they were wrong.  It was finished and Jesus had died but it was not over.  When intention would be fulfilled and the women return to the grave to finish preparing the body, they would find it empty.  Weeping Mary would confused Jesus with the gardener until she could no longer deny that it was Him – His voice, His body, and His life.  The disciples would hide behind closed doors, nursing their bruised egos and putting some distance between an act of betrayal, words of denial, and sheep scattered when the shepherd was struck.  At least until someone would walk through that locked door as the only one whom death could not keep prisoner.

But there is something else that is finished.  That is why we are here tonight. There is no one left to accuse us, either.  The voices against us are strangely silent.  The Law that no one could keep now had no more to say against a people who could not keep it.  The commandments could no longer accuse the people who had failed so often and so well at keeping them.  The Law was silenced by the final act of Jesus obedience – by the cross.  There He bore your sin and mine, to be sure, but there His righteousness became as big as a tent so that it might cover us all.  

The Temple curtain was torn in two – from top to bottom.  The holy place as exposed for all to see.  The sound of bleating goats and sheep was no more.  The bulls no longer cried out for their blood was no longer required.  The sacrifices that God had commanded as the only means to a clear conscience were now ended by the one sacrifice offered for all on the cross.  No more would the sellers of animals for sacrifice and the business of the Temple go on unabated.  Soon every stone upon stone would be cast down and the very building would be no more.  The Temple was both the voice of the Law demanding sacrifice for sin and the voice of the Gospel in the sacrifices that worked this forgiveness.   But now only one voice would be heard.  Christ had ended the accusation of the Law and offered the only perfect sacrifice to end all offerings for sin – once for all.  Now the altar would no longer receive sacrifice but dispense the gift of redemption.

It is finished.  The plan of God that was laid down before the world was brought into being had now reached its climax.  The sin that had marked man for death since Eden could no longer mark us anymore.  But Christ will mark us for life, letting the Father and the whole world know that we belong to Him.  We are forgiven by His blood.  We are restored as heirs.  We are destined to a new and glorious future that none of us could ever imagine except the mind of God who formed it for us and us for it.  

Death is done.  Jesus killed it by surrendering Himself into the death that was ours to die.  He went to war with death and ended the battle once for all by giving Himself into our death so that we might be raised into His life.  It is not death to die, at least any longer.  Though our bodies may be laid back into the dust of the earth from whence they came, we belong to Christ and on the day appointed He will raise up our bodies and replace them with glorious flesh.  Death is already undone but the full effect of it all must wait for the day the Father has appointed.  And on that day we will learn what Christ’s death has done to death.  For now we grieve not as the ignorant but as those who have gathered on Good Friday to wait not for death but for the life death could not overcome.

It is finished but Christ is not.  It is finished but you who live in Christ are not.  In the silence of this night and in the waiting of the next day, we will gather with anticipation.  For what has ended is what we feared most of all and what will begin is what we dared not even dream.  That what happens on Good Friday.  

The sacrifices have ended because of His one all sufficient sacrifice.  The sacrifices had ceased but now the gifts come. Sins are forgiven. Death is undone. The Temple veil is split. The grave that was sealed lies open. The devil’s skull lies crushed at the foot of the cross and the One with the bruised Heel now wears the beautiful feet of those who bring good news from God.  His enemies have been overcome and those who once threatened are now under threat.

And for you and me, the demands of the Law have been met. There is no one left to accuse us.  So let us draw near with clean hearts and confess our sins confident that forgiveness is ours.  Let us hold fast to the promise made to us in baptismal water that we belong to the Lord.  We are redeemed, saved, rescued from death and Hell. Once we were no people, now we are God’s people.  Once we had the chains of our past and the brief moment of the present but now we have an eternal future.  No, this is not a funeral.  But neither is it a celebration of life.  Instead it is something even better.  Today is the day of salvation.

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