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Sermon for Good Friday 14 April 2017

FIRST LESSON Isaiah 52:13-53:12

13 Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. 14As many were astonished at you — his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind — 15so shall he sprinkle many nations; kings shall shut their mouths because of him; for that which has not been told them they see, and that which they have not heard they understand. 53 1Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. 4Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. 5But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. 6All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth. 8By oppression and judgment he was taken away; and as for his generation, who considered that he was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? 9And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. 10Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand. 11Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. 12Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many, and he shall divide the spoil with the strong, because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.


PSALM Psalm 31

1In you, O Lord, have I taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness.  2Incline your ear to me; make haste to deliver me. 3Be my strong rock, a castle to keep me safe, for you are my crag and my stronghold; for the sake of your name, lead me and guide me. 4Take me out of the net that they have secretly set for me, for you are my tower of strength. 5Into your hands I commend my spirit, for you have redeemed me, O Lord, O God of truth. 6I hate those who cling to worthless idols, and I put my trust in the Lord. 7I will rejoice and be glad because of your mercy; for you have seen my affliction; you know my distress. 8You have not shut me up in the power of the enemy; you have set my feet in an open place. 9Have mercy on me, O Lord, for I am in trouble; my eye is consumed with sorrow, and also my throat and my belly. 10For my life is wasted with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails me because of affliction, and my bones are consumed.  11I have become a reproach to all my enemies and even to my neighbors, a dismay to those of my acquaintance; when they see me in the street they avoid me. 12I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am as useless as a broken pot. 13For I have heard the whispering of the crowd; fear is all around; they put their heads together against me; they plot to take my life. 14But as for me, I have trusted in you, O Lord. I have said, “You are my God. 15My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me. 16Make your face to shine upon your servant, and in your lovingkindness save me.” 17Lord, let me not be ashamed for having called upon you; rather, let the wicked be put to shame; let them be silent in the grave. 18Let the lying lips be silenced which speak against the righteous, haughtily, disdainfully, and with contempt. 19How great is your goodness, O Lord! which you have laid up for those who fear you; which you have done in the sight of all for those who put their trust in you. 20You hide them in the covert of your presence from those who slander them; you keep them in your shelter from the strife of tongues. 21Blessed be the Lord! for he has shown me the wonders of his love in a besieged city. 22Yet I said in my alarm, “I have been cut off from the sight of your eyes.” Nevertheless, you heard the sound of my entreaty when I cried out to you. 23Love the Lord, all you who worship him; the Lord protects the faithful, but repays to the full those who act haughtily. 24Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.


SECOND LESSON Hebrews 4:14-16; 5:7-9

14Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. 15For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. 16Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. 7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. 8Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him.


GOSPEL READING John 18:1-19:42

1When Jesus had spoken these words, he went out with his disciples across the brook Kidron, where there was a garden, which he and his disciples entered. 2Now Judas, who betrayed him, also knew the place, for Jesus often met there with his disciples. 3So Judas, having procured a band of soldiers and some officers from the chief priests and the Pharisees, went there with lanterns and torches and weapons. 4Then Jesus, knowing all that would happen to him, came forward and said to them, “Whom do you seek?” 5They answered him, “Jesus of Nazareth.” Jesus said to them, “I am he.” Judas, who betrayed him, was standing with them. 6When Jesus said to them, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground. 7So he asked them again, “Whom do you seek?” And they said, “Jesus of Nazareth.” 8Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. So, if you seek me, let these men go.” 9This was to fulfill the word that he had spoken: “Of those whom you gave me I have lost not one.” 10Then Simon Peter, having a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant and cut off his right ear. (The servant’s name was Malchus.) 11So Jesus said to Peter, “Put your sword into its sheath; shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” 12So the band of soldiers and their captain and the officers of the Jews arrested Jesus and bound him. 13First they led him to Annas, for he was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, who was high priest that year. 14It was Caiaphas who had advised the Jews that it would be expedient that one man should die for the people. 15Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself. 19The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” 24Annas then sent him bound to Caiaphas the high priest. 25Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed. 28Then they led Jesus from the house of Caiaphas to the governor’s headquarters. It was early morning. They themselves did not enter the governor’s headquarters, so that they would not be defiled, but could eat the Passover. 29So Pilate went outside to them and said, “What accusation do you bring against this man?” 30They answered him, “If this man were not doing evil, we would not have delivered him over to you.” 31Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and judge him by your own law.” The Jews said to him, “It is not lawful for us to put anyone to death.” 32This was to fulfill the word that Jesus had spoken to show by what kind of death he was going to die. 33So Pilate entered his headquarters again and called Jesus and said to him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” 34Jesus answered, “Do you say this of your own accord, or did others say it to you about me?” 35Pilate answered, “Am I a Jew? Your own nation and the chief priests have delivered you over to me. What have you done?” 36Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” 37Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world — to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” 38Pilate said to him, “What is truth?” After he had said this, he went back outside to the Jews and told them, “I find no guilt in him. 39But you have a custom that I should release one man for you at the Passover. So do you want me to release to you the King of the Jews?” 40They cried out again, “Not this man, but Barabbas!” Now Barabbas was a robber. 19 1Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. 2And the soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head and arrayed him in a purple robe. 3They came up to him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” and struck him with their hands. 4Pilate went out again and said to them, “See, I am bringing him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in him.” 5So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!” 6When the chief priests and the officers saw him, they cried out, “Crucify him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him, for I find no guilt in him.” 7The Jews answered him, “We have a law, and according to that law he ought to die because he has made himself the Son of God.” 8When Pilate heard this statement, he was even more afraid. 9He entered his headquarters again and said to Jesus, “Where are you from?” But Jesus gave him no answer. 10So Pilate said to him, “You will not speak to me? Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” 11Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” 12From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” 13So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. 14Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” 15They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” 16So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus, 17and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. 18There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. 19Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” 20Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. 21So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” 22Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also his tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, 24so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” So the soldiers did these things, 25but standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” 27Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home. 28After this, Jesus, knowing that all was now finished, said (to fulfill the Scripture), “I thirst.” 29A jar full of sour wine stood there, so they put a sponge full of the sour wine on a hyssop branch and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. 31Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their legs might be broken and that they might be taken away. 32So the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first, and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. 35He who saw it has borne witness — his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth — that you also may believe. 36For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: “Not one of his bones will be broken.” 37And again another Scripture says, “They will look on him whom they have pierced.” 38After these things Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus, and Pilate gave him permission. So he came and took away his body. 39Nicodemus also, who earlier had come to Jesus by night, came bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds in weight. 40So they took the body of Jesus and bound it in linen cloths with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now in the place where he was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. 42So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.



Let us pray: Heavenly Father, as we once again listen to the cruel punishment and death that Jesus endured, help us to always appreciate the gift you gave that we might have forgiveness of our sins and enjoy life everlasting reconciled to you, in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
It was the prophet Isaiah who tried to prepare us for Good Friday. Hundreds of years before Jesus’ birth Isaiah wrote, “He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.” (53:3-6) Good Friday is the day when we focus our minds and hearts on Christ’s suffering and death for the sins of the world. But the question before us tonight is, do we truly comprehend the cost of the Cross?
Sir John Bowring was a man who understood the meaning of the cross. John was a leading man of his time: He was elected twice to the British Parliament and he spoke five languages. He was knighted by the queen and was appointed governor of Hong Kong. He wrote thirty-six books ranging from religion to politics. Yet all that we have from his pen is a poem he wrote, a poem set to music, a poem that has become a hymn. He wrote the words as he sailed along the China Coast. As he passed Macao, where an earthquake had leveled the city, he saw the ruins of a mission church. The cross which had stood atop the chapel now stuck out of the ruins of the city. Musing on that mental image, Bowring wrote these lasting words: “In the cross of Christ I glory/ Tow’ring o’er the wrecks of time.” And the Cross does tower over the wrecks of time.
George Buttrick once wrote, “The magnetism of the Cross so strangely persists as to indicate a miracle. For why should anyone today trouble himself about a peasant hung in an obscure land many centuries gone?” It’s because we see and we understand that Christ died in our behalf. The very Son of God gave His life as a ransom for many. (Matt. 20:28b) And in our self-sufficient mindset, this leave us to ask, was it really necessary? Was there no other way?
Theologians have pondered these questions through the centuries with few satisfying answers. However, a few moments of calm reflection will reveal that, indeed, there was just no other way. First, Jesus couldn’t ask His disciples to pay a greater price than He was willing to pay. Think of Stephen as the stones rip his flesh, and Peter, as he dies crucified upside down. Many of the followers of Jesus were burned as torches in Nero’s gardens or torn apart by wild animals in the gladiator’s arena. Only a soft, sentimental, unrealistic faith would conjure the supposition that there was any other way for Jesus but the way of the cross. This is a hard world. The affluence and security of our land shelter us from that truth. Many people through the ages have given their lives for what they believe. A requirement that is never demanded of us.
Melvin L. Cheatham, a medical missionary, tells an extraordinary story from his service a few years back during the war in Bosnia. He was assisted by a local doctor, Dr. Josip Jurisic, as he operated on a soldier of the Bosnian Muslim Army. The soldier had been shot through the neck and was paralyzed from the neck down. In removing the bullet that had shattered his spine, Dr. Cheatham knew he would remain paralyzed for the rest of his life. The soldier hadn’t been breathing very well when he arrived at the hospital. Knowing, that because of paralysis of his chest muscles, he would continue to have difficulty breathing after the surgery, they left the tube in his airway, placing him on a ventilator to help him breathe. The ventilator was powered with an auxiliary generator because the hospital had electric power only intermittently.
The next morning as they made their rounds, Dr. Jurisic took Dr. Cheatham aside to a quiet corner where he knew it was safe to talk and told him the bad news about the paralyzed soldier. “During the night, the generator ran out of fuel and his ventilator stopped. Since he was unable to breathe on his own, he died.” Naturally Cheatham was sad, but what Dr. Jurisic said next, stunned him and caused him to tremble all over. “Professor,” Josip said, “Because it was you who operated on the soldier and he died, I fear his people will come for you and will kill you. Therefore, I have changed the medical record. I have erased your name as the surgeon, and I have written my name in place of yours.” For a long moment, Cheatham says, he looked into the eyes of this compassionate man.
Cheatham said his throat became dry and he could feel a large lump forming. Finally, he said to Dr. Jurisic, “But surely, my friend, that means they will come for you and will kill you.” Dr. Jurisic said quietly, “You can leave this place of war, and I cannot. I am prepared to die in your place, if I must, in order that you might live.” Dr. Cheatham says, “When I looked at this physician, holding the report with his name in place of mine, I thought of the Great Physician, Jesus Christ, who was willing to take my place and die for me on the cross.”
It may very well be the scandal and tragedy of our land and times that there’s nothing for which people will give their lives. We’re so accustomed to comfort and convenience that it would be very difficult for many of us to pay the ultimate penalty for our faith. This may be the first reason that Jesus had to die. He couldn’t ask His disciples to pay a greater price than He was willing to pay. And there’s a second reason why there was no other way. There was no other way because without the Cross, you and I could not see the destructiveness of sin.
Sin hurts. Sin destroys. You’ve heard me say this before but it bears repeating; the word sin has almost disappeared from our vocabulary, but the consequences of sin will forever haunt our world. During the Franco-German War two shells fell close to a house near the scene of a major conflict. The owner decided to keep them as a curiosity. After polishing them, he put them near his fireplace. One day he showed these interesting objects to a visiting acquaintance. His friend was suddenly struck by a horrible thought. “What if they’re still loaded?” he inquired in alarm. Being an expert in such matters, he quickly examined the shells. “Get them away from the heat of the fire immediately!” he suddenly exclaimed. “They’re as deadly as the day they were made!” So it is with sin.
Sin is deadly. It can kill our bodies, it can kill marriages, it can kill a church, it can kill a soul. An unknown author put it like this: “Sin steals joy. Sin removes confidence. Sin brings guilt . . . Sin quenches God’s Spirit. Sin brings physical damage . . . Sin causes an ache in the soul. Sin breaks God’s heart. Sin opens the door to other sins. Sin produces fear. Sin makes me its slave. Ask yourself, ‘Is this a price I really want to pay? Is this a price I can afford to pay?’”
Sin took God’s only Son and crushed His body. Jesus was only 33 when He died upon Calvary. Think of that . . . 33, a very young man! Falsely accused, bitterly reviled and yet guilty of no wrong. A healer and helper, a lover of little children, a liberator of people imprisoned by their own sin and guilt, a man who knew God intimately enough to address him as “Abba,” Father, and yet never lost His concern for the least and the lowest. Despite all of that, there He hung on the Cross of Calvary, and it was our sin that put Him there, your sin and my sin. That’s what sin is. That’s what sin does.
Would I be wrong if I said that many of us are like Celia, the young society leader in T.S. Eliot’s play The Cocktail Party? Celia is talking to a psychiatrist named Reilly. She is confessing that she has discovered a sense of sin in her life. Sin is not a familiar word to her. She explains that her upbringing had been “pretty conventional.” She had always been taught to disbelieve in sin. “Oh,” she says, “I don’t mean that it was never mentioned! But anything wrong, from our point of view, was either bad form, or was psychological.” And this is true of many of us.
For far too many, sin is a meaningless term; it’s merely seen as bad form or a petty offence. We refuse to acknowledge that there’s an enemy within our gates, a betrayer in our hearts, a demon within our consciousness that can bring inconceivable tragedy into our lives. We chuckle when someone sings, “I was sinking deep in sin.” (Love Lifted Me, James Rowe) The cross shows us that sin is no casual matter. Sin is the enemy of our bodies, of our marriages, of our relationships with one another and with God. There was simply no other way for God to show us that, except on Calvary.
And finally, there’s one more reason why there was no other way but the cross. There was no other way for God to show the depth and the breadth of His love except by the gift of His Son. John puts it like this, “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.” (I John 4:10) Corrie Ten Boom put it like this: “In the forest fire, there’s always one place where the fire cannot reach. It’s the place where the fire has already burned itself out. Calvary is the place where the fire of God’s judgment against sin burned itself out completely. It’s there that we’re safe.”
Wayne E. Ward described it like this: “All heaven and earth converge upon that central cross. The drama of redemption reached its amazing climax when human sin rose up and divine love reached down to that cross on Calvary! No words could possibly catch the despair which overwhelmed Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus as they took Jesus’ body down from the cross and laid it in Joseph’s tomb. The drama was over. The King had come, but He was a King that nobody wanted. With wicked hands men had brutally tortured Him and His dead body was already in the grave, from which no traveler ever returned.”
“What wondrous love is this, O my soul,” writes the poet. “That caused the Lord of bliss to lay aside his crown for my soul, for my soul, to lay aside his crown for my soul.”
That’s why it had to be. Jesus couldn’t ask His disciples, or us, to make a sacrifice He wasn’t willing to make Himself. Jesus had to take our place because there was no other way to reveal the awfulness of humankind’s sin and the awesomeness of God’s love. Our challenge this night is to respond in faith to that love, to cast off the sin that so easily besets us, and to give our lives to God as He gave His life for us.

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