Good Friday Truly the Son of God Matthew 27:39–46 Rev. John W. Saleska, PhD, director of Concordia Bible Institute, Concordia University Wisconsin, Mequon, Wisconsin Sermon Outline 1. The almost sympathetic silence at the execution of Ted Bundy is a strange contrast to the execution of our Lord. 2. At the cross, the innocent and even forgiving Son of God was mocked and berated by forces who wished him out of the way. 3. The key to unlocking this remarkable mystery is in the words “with our evil left alone.” 4. If Christ has thus put away our sin, we have a newfound health and life. THE CROSS IS HOW AND WHERE THE SON OF GOD CREATES NEW PEOPLE. 5. That transforms us to stand at the foot of the cross in awe and confess with the centurion: “Truly this was the Son of God.” Sermon 1. Perhaps some of you remember the notorious serial killer Ted Bundy. He was a convicted killer responsible for more than thirty cold-blooded murders of young women across America. He confessed to raping and brutally strangling his victims, even mutilating some of them almost beyond recognition. A magazine account of events leading up to his execution included efforts of people opposed to capital punishment trying desperately until the very last minute to obtain a stay of execution. The account also portrayed a grave, somber gathering of media people permitted to witness Bundy’s final moments through a glass partition. The silence among the news people in that room was described as “tomblike.” Not a whisper could be heard from anyone as the executioner threw the switch and the killer’s body convulsed in the throes of death—as he slumped over and was pronounced dead, not one word. If ever a man deserved to get what he got, Ted Bundy did. Here was a man convicted of the most shockingly vicious and savage crimes imaginable, yet no one baited him, no one chided or mocked him, although by any reasonable standard he deserved it. And yet in his case the onlookers simply stared in stony, almost sympathetic silence. What a strange, mysterious contrast to the events of our text and the execution of our Lord! 2. In the execution of Christ, we see the very Son of God, pure and holy, innocent of any wrongdoing, nailed to a cross, hanging, seemingly helpless, between heaven and earth. During his lifetime, he did nothing but good for people because he was good. He stooped down to help the bruised and broken. He touched them with a tender, healing hand. He spoke words of hope and comfort to the grieving. To people crushed under a load of sin and guilt, he took their burden on himself when he spoke these words: “Son, daughter, your sins are forgiven.” This man is truly the Son of God! In spite of a remarkable life lived completely in love toward God and others, he is executed as a common criminal. Not one word was spoken in his behalf. Not one person pleaded with the governor for a stay of execution. No one intervened to save; in fact, just the opposite is true. In his case, people spit on him and mocked him, this gentle, tender, loving man. Listen to his witnesses berate him: “He saved others; Himself He cannot save. If He is the King of Israel, let Him now come down from the cross, and we will believe Him. He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ” (Mt 27:42–43 NKJV). The two criminals with whom he was crucified did the same thing: “If You are the Christ [if You really are the Son of God], save Yourself and us” (Lk 23:39 NKJV). Something is dreadfully wrong with this picture! What in the world is the matter with these people? People don’t do to the most vicious and ruthless criminals, such as Ted Bundy, what they are doing here to the best and kindest of all men! Most of us wouldn’t treat an animal this way. As difficult as it may be to believe, this is a true picture of all mankind since the fall. It is a picture of hideously wicked people, evil beyond description, all of them opposed to God, all denying him his due, all wanting him out of the way, dead, so they can rule in his place. “The carnal mind is enmity against God” (Rom 8:7 NKJV). This is a mind that hates God. “Crucify him!” is humanity’s cry. This is what we all want. This is what is hidden in our desperately wicked hearts. The psalmist gives us a clear picture of our determination to get God out of our lives so we can be free to live as we want: “Why do the nations rage, And the people plot a vain thing? The kings of the earth set themselves, And the rulers take counsel together, Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying, ‘Let us break Their bonds in pieces And cast away Their cords from us’ ” (Ps 2:1–3 NKJV). With God and his Son out of the way, we’re free; who will judge us if the Judge of all the earth is dead? The mad scene at the foot of the cross is the triumph of evil over good, or so it seems. It looks to the casual observer as if evil wins and good loses. This conspiracy against God to grasp the kingdom from him and rule in his place began in the Garden of Eden and culminates here at the cross. This was the temptation to which our first parents, Adam and Eve, succumbed when the evil one enticed them with the words, “You will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen 3:5). The temptation originated with him when he attempted to “wrest the Kingdom from [God’s] Son” and rule the universe (TLH 261:1). And when God promised to send the woman’s Seed (his Son) to crush the serpent’s head, the devil and his band of evil ones knew exactly what would have to be done to accomplish their determined purpose to rule the world. They would have to murder that promised Seed of the woman. “We’ve got to get him before he gets us,” they very well might have resolved. It was a declaration of war against the Seed, God’s Son, with violence erupting whenever circumstances suggested possible success. The edict by Pharaoh to kill all the male Israelite babies in Egypt was prompted by that thought: “Now’s the time; it’s a perfect opportunity. We’ve got to get him!” And it was Satan who moved Herod to order the death of all the children two years of age and under in Bethlehem and the area around it at the time of the birth of the Seed: “We must get him immediately before he gets us!” And then, finally, at the cross they shouted: “We’ve got him!” C. F. W. Walther’s Easter hymn expresses this idea perfectly: The Foe was triumphant when on Calvary The Lord of creation was nailed to the tree. In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, For Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear. (TLH 198:2) It was the devil himself that incited the mocking, jeering mob at the foot of the cross to ridicule Christ: “If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Christ had heard a similar challenge in his temptation in the wilderness: “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread” (Mt 4:3). I must confess that if it had been me, I would have gone down and taught these people some manners. But Christ did not respond in kind. “Who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness—by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Pet 2:23–24 NKJV). He took it. In fact, he prayed for those who did him wrong. “Father, forgive them.” What great strength to restrain himself under the most trying of circumstances. Luther said: “Anyone can deliver a blow, but real strength lies in being able to endure a blow without the need to retaliate.” This man is like no other man. This man is truly the Son of God. If only more of us were like him, we could begin to transform the world. Listen to his tormentors again: “He trusted in God; let Him deliver Him now if He will have Him; for He said, ‘I am the Son of God’ ” (Mt 27:43 NKJV). And in the face of that challenge came not one word from God to comfort or support him. “Where is your God?” they mocked. It’s as if the heavens were sealed up. Complete silence from above. He’s in utter, impenetrable darkness. The hymn writer Thomas B. Pollock describes the scene for us: “Jesus, whelmed in fears unknown, With our evil left alone, While no light from heaven is shone” (TLH 183:1). 3. “With our evil left alone” is the key to unlocking this remarkable mystery. That’s our evil hanging there. Indeed, the evil of all humanity for all time. Ted Bundy, and the rest of us Ted Bundys, deserve the punishment he received. The lightning of God’s wrath struck him instead of us. This good Son of God took on himself the evil of all of us sons of man and dealt with it once for all. “[God] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Cor 5:21 NKJV). The one hanging there is the Lamb of God, who is taking away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). 4. Luther comments: “If the sin of the world is taken away, then it is taken away also from me, as one who believes in Him” (LW 26:151). Or you, we might add. All sin for all time for all humanity has been dealt with. Nathan’s words to David after his sin of adultery and murder and David’s confession, “I have sinned against the LORD” (2 Sam 12:13 NKJV), are words addressed also to us: “The LORD also has put away your sin; you shall not die” (v 13 NKJV). The writer to the Hebrews confirms the fact that the only work that could produce that life-giving truth spoken to David is finished for all time when he writes, “But now, once at the end of the ages, He has appeared to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself. And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment, so Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many. To those who eagerly wait for Him He will appear a second time, apart from sin, for salvation” (Heb 9:26–28 NKJV). Without sin! He has dealt with all sin, which means that your sin and mine have been “put away.” THE CROSS IS HOW AND WHERE THE SON OF GOD CREATES NEW PEOPLE. Listen to David rejoice in his newfound health and life after he realized God had “put away” his sin. “Oh, sing to the L ORD a new song! For He has done marvelous things; His right hand and His holy arm have gained Him the victory. The LORD has made known His salvation; His righteousness He has revealed in the sight of the nations” (Ps 98:1–2 NKJV). The tree of the cross is where good has triumphed over evil. It is where God has righted all that is wrong in this sin-cursed world of ours. This triumph over all our enemies by God’s Son on the tree may very well have been predicted by David in Ps 96:10 NKJV: “Say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns [from the tree]” (a ligno in Latin). (Augustine, Tertullian, Jerome, et al., believed this inclusion to be correct; see J. J. Stewart Perowne, The Book of Psalms: A New Translation with Introductions and Notes, vol. 2 [Andover: Warren F. Draper, 1879], 192.) The hymn writer Venantius Fortunatus agrees: Fulfilled is all that David told In true prophetic song of old; Amidst the nations, God, saith he, Hath reigned and triumphed from the Tree. (TLH 168:3) 5. This man nailed to the cross is truly the Son of God. Only God’s Son could do the work he has done. In Colossians 1, Paul tells us that through the cross, God decided to bring back to himself everything in heaven and on earth (v 20). And everything that Christ is and everything that he has done is given to us in our Baptism. That’s what Paul means when he says in Romans 6: “Do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (vv 3–4 NKJV). In our Baptism, God linked us to Christ’s death and resurrection. That means we are born again to a new life: his death is our death. No need to fear death. In him we have died already and have been raised from the dead. Now we no longer stand there at the foot of the cross, with that mob mocking and deriding him, but we stand there in awe and confess with the centurion: “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” (Mk 15:39 NKJV). It is this confession that we joyfully make everywhere in this dark, sin-filled world, to bring many to gaze with us at that cross and confess with us: “Truly this Man was the Son of God!” Amen.
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