22 April 2011
St. John's, Chicago, IL
In the Name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is a classic comedic moment. In the campy, 1966 Batman film, the Caped Crusader is running around with a bomb, attempting to find a safe place to dispose of it. It explodes off screen, and Robin fears the worst, believing him to be dead. But then Batman pops up from behind a stack of iron bars, safe and sound.
Variations on that theme abound in popular comedies. Someone is in some dangerous situation, and ends up feared or presumed dead, perhaps even to the point of having a funeral, and the "dead" person suddenly shows up, approaching the graveside mourners from behind, tapping someone on the shoulder and asking what all the commotion is about. The somber moment of a tragic mistake then becomes one of laughter and jubilation.
However, on this day, there is no mistake. No possible way to misunderstand or presume falsely. After being beaten severely, Jesus is taken and nailed to the cross, where He suffers those several hours, and breathes His last. The soldier thrusts his lance into the Savior's side, with blood and water spilling forth. No doubt about it, if legal records had been kept, they would conclusively show that Jesus of Nazareth expired at 3:00 p.m., outside of Jerusalem, by means of crucifixion.
Nothing funny about that. It is no joking matter. Our dear Lord who had ridden into town amidst shouts of joy and celebration, was now surrounded by enemies. A mob of angry unbelievers, encouraged by the elite of the temple industry, had successfully swayed the governor to satisfy their wishes. And now, there He hung, slumped down, bloody and broken, appearing completely defeated to the naked eye.
And that is the temptation. To look upon our dying or dead Savior and to think of Him as defeated. It looks that way. To the human nature, it feels that way. But nothing could be further from the truth.
Satan wants you to feel crushed and defeated, so he will do all he can to take your thoughts away from Jesus' sacrifice as a triumph. The devil distracts you from the victorious cry of "It is finished!" and directs you to the sorrow of the women at the foot of the cross, the dark sky, and the horrifying wounds. He tries to turn the great, amazing moment of redemption into something you fear and from which you flee.
Our Savior gathers you around His cross today, but not in crushed defeat. Yes, He is broken and bloody. But this is not a failure of a King. This is the great Redeemer of creation. This is the King of Glory who gave up everything on that cross, to give you everything.
Yes, Jesus is stricken, smitten, and afflicted on the cross. Yet as He is wounded for our transgressions, and bruised for our iniquities, He has not ceased to be God incarnate. He does not, indeed cannot remained crushed, because by submitting Himself to be crushed, He completely annihilated death.
The great paradox of it all is mentioned in our prayers at every funeral: "by His death, He destroyed the power of death, by His rest in the tomb, He sanctified the graves of Your saints, and by His glorious resurrection, He brought life and immortality to light."
What seems like a terrible loss, in actuality is a victory. Just one not visible or comprehendible at first. The sacrifice of the Passover lamb had always been a sad loss of life for the animal, but the blessing of forgiveness, bestowed through the shedding of innocent blood, was placed upon the family whose lamb was slain.
Now your Lamb is slain. His innocent blood is shed for the family of God. Yet this loss of life is perfectly innocent, and since death is defeated, it's impotent grasp cannot keep hold of Jesus. It must yield to Christ. He does indeed die completely and fully on the cross. His lungs stopped breathing. His heart stopped beating. His brain stopped functioning. No tricks. No mistakes. He died.
But as the old expression goes, "The King is dead; long live the King.". Usually that refers to two different Kings. But with Jesus, He died, and yet now He lives. From 3:00 p.m. On that Friday, until the early hours of Sunday, Christ Jesus lay in death's strong bands. Bands that were demolished through His sacrifice.
So yes, indeed. There are no mistakes and no jokes about it. Jesus Christ died on the cross to take away the sin of the world. But He did not remain dead. The Victor, the Champion over death and the grave at that cross, was soon to display that victory beyond the shadow of a doubt!
Dear friends in Christ, it is quite sad that the burden of sin and death is ours that He suffered. But what an amazing comfort that Jesus Christ has taken that from you, suffered in your place, and purchased and won your salvation. THAT gives tremendous peace, in the destruction of your enemies of sin and death, which is no mistake! Amen.