Good Friday – First Hour Sermon
March 25, 2016 A+D
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Christ, Our Lord, the gentle Shepherd who will not condemn the woman caught in adultery, who rides into Jerusalem on the foal of a donkey, who receives children, and tax collectors, and sinners, is the victim of betrayal, false accusations, and corrupt judges. He, who healed Malchus and drove out demons and saved the centurion’s servant, is brought by conspiracy and armed thugs to the Place of the Skull. That is no mere coincidence.
The serpent of old, the father of lies, the prince of this world who beguiled Eve in the garden and ushered in death suffered this prophecy about the Enmity that he brought down between the children of Eve and his own wicked underlings: “He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”
The nail driven by Roman soldiers into Our Lord’s feet to hold Him to the cross grinds the Lord’s Heel into the devil’s skull. The devil is His footstool. The Lord is bruised but not broken. He is killed but He rises. He is crucified in the Place of the Skull to crush the devil’s skull and end his claim upon us. Enmity is on the cross, in the Place of the Skull, between us and the devil.
A couple of hours earlier Pilate had said: “Behold the Man.” It was as if he said: “He is only a man and nothing more. He is weak and we can do what we want to Him. Have some pity and let me beat Him and then let Him go. He will come to nothing.” The priests cried out in pure malice, with demonic urging: “Crucify Him!” They are not men. They are subhuman. They are in league with demons and they hate God. They lack pity and are concerned only for their positions.
But we behold the Man and we rejoice because He is a Man, He is one of us. He has made Himself the Keeper of the Law on our behalf. He has done what we should have done. He has not done what we shouldn’t have done. And He will allow Pilate and the devil and the priests to do to Him all the Law should have done to us in the Place of the Skull. Behold the Man of sorrows, the Man who is chastised for our crimes, who bears our burden and guilt, who dies our death. Behold, the Man who loves the unlovable and unworthy, who loves us, in the Place of the Skull.
A bit later and Pilate drags Him out again. He says: “Behold your King!” and they say: “We have no king but Caesar.” We, however, are unashamed to have Him as our King enthroned upon the cross, with crown of thorns, adorned with His own holy blood. We have no King but Christ. We have no Law but His Word. We have no hope but His Sacrifice. If He is not your King, then the devil is – whether you know it or not. So behold Him on the Cross. Behold your King in the Place of the Skull. Behold your redemption, your salvation, your Bridegroom.
Pilate places the charge on the holy cross: “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.” That is what INRI stands for. Pilate has it written in Hebrew, Greek, and Latin. He means it as an insult and he doesn’t want anyone to miss it due to language barriers. He knew that the Jewish leaders were envious of Jesus. He wanted to show how petty they were since it was obvious that Jesus was no threat to Caesar. “This,” he says, “is what your religion leads to. It is not us in our greed that causes war, it is your religious intolerance.” He means the charge as blasphemy, to mock the prophecies, but the charge is true.
He also wanted to show what Rome would do to anyone who challenged her rule. So it is with all the kings and rulers of the earth. They never go light on treason. If you go to DC and demand homage as the King of the Americans forcefully enough our government will imprison you and possibly even execute you. Pilate is saying to everyone that passes by: “If we can do this to your king, what do you think we will do to you?” This in the Place of the Skull for Pilate thinks that death is the ultimate threat. He thinks he is in control. He does not believe that Jesus of Nazareth has the power or authority of a King.
But we do not care what Pilate or Putin or Kim Jong Il, nor any of their successors, do to us. We do not fear those who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. We trust that to lose our life for Christ is to gain, that to carry the cross and follow Jesus is an honor that will receive the greatest reward. The power and authority of our King is to forgive sins and join us to His Father.
Jesus is, indeed, a Nazarene, as the prophets foretold. He is an outcast, despised and rejected, held in contempt by the powerful and wealthy and popular. He is easily dismissed as insignificant and weak, a bumpkin from an uncouth place. He is a Nazarene. He is a Samaritan. He is a known associate of tax-collector and prostitutes. Well is He crucified among thieves and murders, numbered with transgressors like us, in the Place of the Skull – for there He delivers sinners from this living death and gives them paradise.
He is indeed the King of the Jews. He is the Son of David and David’s Lord. His kingdom extends to the ends of the earth. It is not hemmed in by the geopolitical boundaries of men. His throne is the cross. The Sons of Korah sing of the cross: “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever.” (Psalm 45:6a, NKJV)
He is our Man. He is our Nazarene. He is our King. He is the Redeemer of the insignificant, of the weak, of Gentiles, of sinners. He dies our death and He rises in our resurrection. Behold the Christ, the Anointed of God, who takes away the sins of the world, who turns the heart of His Father to us, children raised from stones, saints made out of sinners. He loves us to the end. The Place of the Skull has become the Fountain of Life. The cemetery is turned to a garden and a banquet. We behold Him on the cross. We do not look away. There we see God’s mercy and love and glory.
That is what we venerate, not the wood, not the symbol. We venerate and adore the Christ, our Man and our King. He is the salvation of the whole world who hung upon the cross. Pilate says “behold” and we behold. And in beholding we worship. We adore. We venerate. We rejoice. The ancient enemy is undone. The Skull is crushed. The Heel that was nailed and bruised for us rises from the dead.
In +Jesus’ Name. Amen.