This Is The Way It Is With Christ's Cross

Text:  John 19:16-42

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

Today, our thoughts gather outside the walls of Jerusalem on a little hill called Golgotha, where we watch three men die.  These three have been judged and condemned as criminals.  They have been sentenced to hang from a cross until their strength gives way and their bodies collapse into death.  

Two of these men have pretty corrupt pasts.  In fact, one of the men even admits that they are getting what they deserve.  

The guy at the center though is different.  He is innocent; He is blameless.  He was not like the two criminals on his right and on his left.  Regardless of His innocence though, all three of them share the same execution together, they are brothers in death.  

We all know a lot more about the man on the center cross than we do about the men on the sides.  You and I have followed Jesus’ life through this first half of our church year.  We heard about His birth in Bethlehem, where He was born just like one of us.  We heard about His life and learned how Jesus shared our whole life with us.  We learned that Jesus is our brother because He did life like we do life, except without sin.  

This brings up a very interesting question for us this evening.  If Jesus was innocent and perfect and holy and just, why did He die?  If He was innocent, why did He die a criminal’s death?  

One of the reasons for His death is that Jesus had to die because the religious leaders of Jesus’ time hated Him.  He exposed them as the hypocrites that they were; He broke down their religious systems, and revealed that it was by grace – not the works of mankind – that a person was forgiven.  They obviously did not take to well to this and killed Him.  

While this is all true, there is another reason why Jesus had to die.  That reason is this, Jesus stepped towards death.  He went up to Jerusalem to die.  He rode on a donkey into the city of Jerusalem for the purpose of giving His life into the hands of sinners to be crucified.  He gave his life as a ransom for many.  In other words, death did not overtake Jesus, but rather, He went to meet it.  Death did not cut Him down, but rather His death was the fulfillment of His whole mission.  He went straight at death, commending His spirit to God.  This death was of His own choosing.  

Christ Jesus chose to go right towards death not in order to merely die a physical death, but rather, to die the big death for sin.  The death for sin is the death of the Lamb of God on behalf of mankind.  It is the death of the Servant of God on whom God lays the sins of us all.  Bearing all these sins, guilty with our sin, Jesus is nailed and bloodied for us.  He bears our sin – our hell for us.  He is damned on the cross as if He were a sinner.  He endures the separation from the Father.  He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”  He cries with a loud voice, “It is finished,” and then the job is done.  The death of the Savior; the death of our sin!

What does this mean for you and for me?  It means that sin – the thing that is wrong with us – has been answered for, and now it can no longer condemn us.  Sin has spent itself against Jesus, and with the loud triumphant cry He – Jesus  claims the victory.  Salvation is achieved.  There was a death of sin!  We need no longer die.  

Tonight we are not retelling the story of Jesus death as if it was a mythical children’s story, but we retell it because it is a historic fact.  Indeed, Jesus went through this life.  He began this human life by being born in Bethlehem and He completed this life by death on a cross.  Jesus really did die; His corpse was taken down from the cross by Joseph and Nicodemus, wrapped in a piece of linen, and put in a grave.  Jesus was buried.

Tonight we also retell this story because the life that Jesus lived is a life lived for you and for me.  Furthermore, His death that He died is shared with you and with me.  You see, whenever we put the body of a loved one into a grave, we know Jesus has been there too.  As the three men were made brothers in death, so we are also brothers and sisters with Jesus in His life and in His death.  We are baptized into His life and His death.  Jesus put Himself not only next to the two criminals on the cross, but He also puts Himself next to you and me in our lives and especially in our deaths.   

This is the way it is with Christ’s cross.  When we see the cross of Jesus we see the condemnation of our sin – the end of our sins. The cross is the condemnation of us as sinners.  It is actually our crucifixion.  Therefore, I must ask all of us this, are we in this cross or do we try and pull ourselves out of it, refusing to be joined to Jesus’ death?  If we run from the cross and the blood stained Christ, repent!  Yes, repent of running from the cross, there is no other way.  You are either joined to Jesus’ death in baptism or you are dead in your sins alone.  

You, who have ears, hear on this quiet and sober Good Friday Evening, Christ was crucified for you and for your salvation.  Stand in awe before the blood stained cross.  Hear the sound of the nails.  Hear the crying agony of the Savior.  Hear the words, “It is finished.”  And as we stand beneath the cross, we confess together, 

“As Jesus dies, I die too.  My sins are crucified.  I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”  

You my friends, have died with Jesus.  You know no life except the life that comes from dying with Christ.  The pattern of your life is constantly returning to the message of the cross of Christ, where the King of glory died for you.  Yes, being returned to the message of the cross you hear that sin’s accusation and power find their end.  Being returned to the message of the cross you hear that death has lost its sting.

Dear Baptized Saints, your hearts will stop beating some day in the future.  There is no doubt about that; however, because of that Good Friday long ago you must take comfort for your grave will not be a hopeless cold resting place for your body.  Indeed, your graves are not a place where you will be cut off, but by Christ’s mighty death and His three-day rest in the tomb, the graves of Christians have been made holy – your grave has been made holy.  Yes, in death and in your grave, you have the blessed assurance that you have been joined to Christ’s death on the cross.  You are baptized into his death, you no longer live, but you live by faith in the Son of God who has purchased you from the jaws of hell and from the grip of sin’s condemnation.  You have been joined to the glorious news of Easter Sunday; the message of Easter that will dawn upon us in a very short while.

In the name of Jesus: Amen.

This sermon has been an adapted and adjusted Norman Nagel Sermon:

Norman Nagel, Selected Sermons of Norman Nagel: From Valparaiso to St. Louis (St. Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing House, 2004), 113-118.

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