Good Friday – 2018 LSB #451
Text – Romans 5:8
but God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
THE DAY CREATION FELL APART
In 1993, St. Louis, MO experienced what at the time was called a 500-year flood. The Mississippi & Missouri Rivers both rose to heights not seen in generations! It happened about a year after the state of Missouri passed a law to allow riverboat gambling. A number of preachers drew a line between those events & declared this was God’s judgment upon riverboat gambling.
Never mind that the riverboats were the only things that survived the flood – after all… they float! It would seem that if this was God’s judgment against riverboat gambling, lightning or something like it would have been more effective. Can you picture God sitting on a cloud casting down lightning bolts in retaliation for human behavior?
It’s an odd picture because we live in a world where God’s wrath is questioned & jettisoned as that of some cartoon character. Perhaps as an unintended consequence of the Reformation, & a testimony to its success, people today believe that God is loving & forgiving, but that He never He gets angry. Even the Pope is saying that hell does not exist.
However, floods & hurricanes do raise important questions related to the wrath or judgment of God. Does He get angry? If so, why? How does He express that anger or judgment? And upon whom? Many of these questions find their answer in what happened on Good Friday, with the death of Jesus around the year 30 AD.
That death forces us to confront the seriousness with which God considers sin, & more importantly, what He does about it. One of the themes throughout this series has to do with how God works in creation & though creation in order to carry out His purposes. This applies both to the expression of God’s wrath as well as the manifestation of His love & blessing. We can put it quite simply: When God blesses, creation flourishes & life abounds. When He curses things, creation falls apart & life ceases to exist. We see this from the very 1st page of Scripture. Throughout the Bible, we have specific statements identifying God’s blessing & curse.
In Genesis 1 God blessed the earth & what happened? It sprouted & blossomed with life! He blessed the animals & humans & what happened? They became fruitful & multiplied in number! As with the blessing – so also with the curse.
After Adam & Eve sinned, God cursed the ground, the very earth from which we were raised & given life. But now that earth, which had been created to give us life, ground us back into its dust. We see it happen again with the flood. Upon seeing the pervasiveness & destructiveness of evil on earth, God regretted that He ever created life. So He judged that evil.
And what happened? Creation fell apart; it came undone. The earth opened up with water, the skies opened up with water & all the distinctions of land, air & sea that God had created were erased. We find the same pattern occur time & again throughout the OT. Consider Jeremiah 12 where the birds are swept from the land.
We see similar things happen today, but let’s be clear about this. Without a word of revelation from God, we cannot & should not identify any particular tragedy as being God’s judgment on a particular action. We can only speak in a general way because we know that both the blessing & the curse of God are embedded in creation.
We see blessing & curse impact all of us as everyone lives & dies – often times subtly & slowly – at other times suddenly & dramatically. We carry God’s creative blessing as well as His judgment within our bodies. God gave us life through our parents. He nourishes & sustains our lives as our bodies & minds grow into adulthood.
At the same time, we can see within our bodies the curse working toward other ends.
Our bodies slowly fall apart no matter how healthy one may be. Interesting how we use that term, isn’t it? I’m falling apart. My life is falling apart. Then it happens finally with death as our bodies fall apart into so many organic molecules decomposing into the dust from which we were made. Thus we experience life all the while moving towards death.
And because of sinful mankind, the earth suffers as well. The earth itself carries that blessing & curse. Because of God’s blessing, the earth has a stable orbit, babies are born, vineyards grow, life springs forth year after year despite the presence of sin & evil.
At the same time, the curse embedded in the earth fills our lives with toil & worry, occasionally erupting in ways that cause widespread death such as hurricane & flood. These are not necessarily punishments for specific sins as if some deserved them more than others. When we see them, we can only say, “There but for the grace of God go I.”
We see all of this (love & wrath) manifested by God within creation through what took place on Good Friday in the death of Christ. God pours out His wrath upon His only-begotten Son, who dies in His body, His created body, the flesh He took on from His mother Mary.
We read in the gospels that Jesus “gave up His spirit.” His body falls apart. It stops functioning. It stops moving, & creation does not remain unaffected. Creation suffers too. The sky darkened & the earth quaked. Creation fell apart. It ripped at the seams. Jesus’ body grew limp. He was taken down from the cross, & placed into a stone tomb.
On this night, as we consider the death of Christ, we need to do more than dwell on the physical agony He endured – the graphic descriptions of nails through His wrists, the dehydration, the asphyxiation as a result of hanging by His arms.
In terms of purely physical suffering, one could argue that many people (before & after) the death of Christ suffered incredible agony for much longer than six hours (indeed, for days & weeks) as the result of devious tortures invented by their tormenters. The physical agony is not what makes Jesus’s death unique or extraordinary, much less of significant value for us today.
I don’t intend to take anything away from the physical agony Jesus suffered upon the cross. But what made His suffering & death absolutely unique in human history is that in His created human body, Jesus experienced the full outpouring & venting of God’s wrath upon the entire human race from Adam & Eve to the present day.
The wrath God could use to annihilate the world & all living creatures, by withdrawing His sustaining hands, is experienced by Jesus. Consider His words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Why have you abandoned me? The wrath of God is being abandoned by God rather than embraced by Him.
For when God abandons us, or His creation, everything returns to nothingness. Tohu & Vohu are the Hebrew words. Without form & void are the English. At Golgotha, God withdraws His support & turns His back on the human race & His creation. But Yahweh does this to Jesus in our place. St. Paul wrote:
“But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 ESV) Can you describe to me what that means? Jesus died so that we would not endure God’s eternal displeasure & disappointment. The Scriptures describe this act in which Jesus took our place & died for us as an atoning sacrifice. It is the propitiation.
That is, Jesus is the one who turns aside God’s wrath. He deflects God’s anger off of us & onto Himself. Consider the analogy of a lightning rod. Its purpose is to attract a bolt of lightning, absorb it & dissipate it until it is no more. That is what Christ does for us. Like a lightning rod, He attracts the wrath of God to Himself so that it will not strike you or me.
Then He absorbs it & dissipates it until it is no more. Jesus does so by dying, & because
it is no mere mortal who dies, but the very Son of God in the flesh, He absorbs God’s wrath against all humankind – & He does so in His creaturely/created body! And as God turns His back upon Jesus, He turns His loving face toward you & toward me.
What does this mean for the art of living by faith? It means we have the certainty of God’s love for us. Look how He demonstrated it & acted upon it so we might live forever. He sacrificed His Son. That’s how much He wanted you & me. That’s how much He wanted us to enjoy the benefits of His love & gift of life!
Have we taken this for granted? Many of us have heard it since childhood, but consider what it was like for people who lived in another place & time. In the years preceding Luther’s Reformation, a German monk named Dietrich Kolde wrote in the preface of Mirror of a Christian Man that he had found three things troubling his heart:
The 1st was – he knew he would die. The 2nd troubled him more for he did not know when he would die. The 3rd troubled him most of all – he did not know where he would go when he died. This captures nicely the anxiety of the age.
In the 16th century, people’s lives were often shaped by the reality that they would stand before the judgment seat of Christ on the last day. They had better prepare to meet their maker. They were reminded of that every time they passed the cemetery on the way to church. For at the top of the archway over the gate into the graveyard was a statue of Jesus.
He was sitting on the judgement seat. This is what awaited them! In order to help prepare for that day, guidebooks were written on the art of dying. How should one prepare for death & set things right in order to meet one’s maker? What some feared most (next to not knowing where they would end up) was a quick & unexpected death.
That meant they’d have no time to prepare for meeting the Judge who would separate the
sheep & the goats. How different from our day when the last thing we want is a long, protracted & painful death. We prefer to be taken quickly & unexpectedly! Perhaps it is a way to avoid the thought of death & the questions it forces us to ask, yet as Christians, we need not shy away from those concerns.
Because the Reformation uncovered the comforting message of the gospel, you & I know that we need not fear facing the wrath of God or the Christ as a judge with a sword coming out of His mouth. Jesus Himself has met & endured the wrath of God for us, dissipating it until it is no more. We are safe & secure beneath the umbrella of His cross.
The art of living by faith means that whenever doubts creep into our hearts, we respond, “Christ died for me so that I need not die an eternal death!” Amen.
Stricken, smitten & afflicted, see Him dying on the tree! ’Tis the Christ, by man rejected; yes, my soul, ’tis He, ’tis He! ’Tis the long-expected Prophet, David’s Son, yet David’s Lord; proofs I see sufficient of it: ’Tis the true & faithful Word. Ye who think of sin but lightly nor suppose the evil great here may view its nature rightly, here its guilt may estimate. Mark the sacrifice appointed, see who bears the awful load; ’Tis the Word, the Lord’s anointed, Son of Man & Son of God. Amen. LSB 451:1, 3.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet