Sermon for Good Friday

Text: John 19:16-18a
Then Pilate handed Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took charge of Jesus. He went out, carrying his cross, and came to "The Place of the Skull," as it is called.
(In Hebrew it is called "Golgotha.") There they crucified him.

Nailed to a cross

They nailed him to a cross. They grabbed one arm, held it against the wood, and with several hard blows with a hammer drove in a nail, fastening his arm to the wood. The pain was excruciating. Blood dripped on to the wood and from to the rocky ground. They did the same with his other hand. Then a nail was driven through the sinew and bone of his feet. He was nailed to a cross of wood that was raised toward the sky – the full weight of his body hanging on the nails.

What had this man done to deserve such a torturous and horrible punishment?
What had he done to be nailed to a rough wooden cross and there to hang, stripped of his clothes, for everyone to stare at?
What had he done to deserve the humiliation of such a public execution, and the sneering and the mocking of those who stood around to watch his suffering?

Two men were executed with him - we can understand why they were nailed to crosses. They were criminals and deserved to be punished, but why was the man in the middle nailed to wooden beams? The sign above his head that normally would state the crime for which he was being punished simply says, "This is Jesus king of the Jews". If that was true then this is hardly a way to treat a king, unless of course he had been responsible for leading a rebellion against the Romans. We know that this wasn’t the case.

Without a doubt, Jesus’ disciples must have been bewildered. The man with nails in his hands and feet had been the most kind and compassionate person that anyone would ever want to meet.
He had helped so many people,
he had talked about the love and forgiveness of God,
he had made friends with lepers and tax collectors – people whom everyone else tried to avoid.
Now there was blood dripping from his hands and feet, blood running down his face from the crown of thorns that had been roughly pushed on to his head. What had he done to deserve all this?

The answer is simple – nothing. Jesus was the most innocent person you would ever find. As we have highlighted in our service this morning, it wasn’t what he had done that caused him to suffer like this –
it is what we have done
and every person who has ever existed in the past
and every person who will be born into our world in the future.

It’s true that it was a Roman soldier who held the hammer that drove the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet. He was just carrying out his duty. We are responsible for those nails – we are responsible for his agony and death. He suffered on the cross because of our sin.

There is a story that tells about a pastor having a cup of coffee in a small café when an old man, sat opposite him, sorrow written all over his face. The minister started talking to the man and soon the conversation turned to spiritual matters.
"You’ve heard about Jesus Christ?" the minister asked.
"Yes, I have," the man replied.
"What have you heard about him?"
"I’ve heard that he died on the cross."
"For whom did Christ die?"
"For sinners, of course."
"Yes, but could you be more definite? Mention one sinner for whom Christ died."

After thinking a while the man said, "How am I supposed to know the answer to a question like that?"

St Paul simply says, "He died for all" (2 Cor 5:14). And there is no greater truth than this. But like that man who spoke with the minister, each of us individually must come to the realisation that it was my sin and your sin that nailed Jesus to the cross. The crucifixion is not about some poor unfortunate man who got caught up in the politics of the Jews and Romans and ended up dead. This is not a day for feeling sorry for Jesus. This isn’t a memorial service for the death of a just man.

This is the day we remember and celebrate that he ended up dead because of your sin, my sin. That’s what makes Good Friday a great day.

When Jesus gasped his last words, "It is finished", he was stating that with his death the task he had been sent to do – bring forgiveness and salvation into the world – was now completed. God’s plan of saving people from the consequences of their sin and their rejection of God was now complete. He died the death that we should die; he suffered what we should suffer. He died to free us from the power of sin and death to condemn us and send us to eternal death. He died to renew our relationship with God, to wipe out our guilt, to open the way to eternal life.

Jesus’ suffering and death was horrible, brutal, cruel, bloody, sickening - enough to make us turn our eyes away from the man whose love for us is so persistent, so warm and so sincere.
Yet today we are drawn to the cross, we focus on images of Jesus on the cross, we gladly wear crosses and have life size crosses in our churches. We know just how much Jesus suffered on the cross but today we are drawn to the cross because of what it means to each of us.

Come to the cross and bring your sin. I don’t know why we do it, but far too often we carry our sin around with us and let it eat away at us. The bad feelings, the guilt, the shame, the feeling sorry for ourselves, the broken relationships – it is just for these that Jesus was nailed to a cross. He carried our sin on his shoulders on the cross. Trust him to take that burden from us. Trust him to renew and refresh your life. Come to the cross, bring your sin and receive forgiveness.

Come to the cross and bring everything that frightens you and everything that weighs you down.
If your own death or that of a loved one fills you with fear, or sickness and surgery cause you worry.
If your family or your work stresses you out.
If you are confused and unsure about the direction you should take.
Look to the cross. There you will see the love and care and understanding that your God has for you. He is prepared to take any of your problems and carry them for you. He promises, "Come to me all of you who are tried from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest" (Matt 11:28). It is clear from the way Jesus carried your load of sin on to the cross even though you had done nothing to deserve it, that he is prepared to help you with anything, absolutely anything that life might throw at you. So bring to the cross whatever heavy load you are carrying.

Come to the cross and bring your thankfulness. As you remember what Jesus went through for you, how he has taken your place, given you forgiveness and the assurance of eternal life, do so with gratitude. Without those nails and that cross we would be a serious trouble. Without Jesus, God's judgement on our sin would be a terrifying thing. The cross is the only way to be forgiven. Thank God for the cross.

Come to the cross and bring your friends. The life we have in Christ needs to be shared; it needs to be made known. As we come to the cross, bringing our sin and our burdens, experiencing a thankful heart for all that Jesus has done for us, how can we keep that to ourselves? How can we keep from letting others know what Christ has done for us? Share what Christ has done for you. Watch out for opportunities to tell them what Christ has done for you. The cross is meant to be shared.

Earlier in the service we sang the song: Were you there when they crucified my Lord? And the answer is: we sure were!! It was as if we drove in those nails and raised that cross ourselves. But thank God that the cross does more than make us feel bad about our sin. The cross is the place where we were rescued. It is all we need to be saved. There is nothing we can add to it. He has given us complete pardon for all our sin. It has given us new life and the hope of life forever.

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
9th April, 2004

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