Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Lebanon, OR
Good Friday + March 30, 2018
Text: Isaiah 53:4-6
4 Surely he has borne our griefs
and carried our sorrows;
yet we esteemed him stricken,
smitten by God, and afflicted.
5 But he was pierced for our transgressions;
he was crushed for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace,
and with his wounds we are healed.
6 All we like sheep have gone astray;
we have turned—every one—to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him
the iniquity of us all.
Death. It’s a cold, hard reality that we don’t like to look at. It’s painful to face and uncomfortable to talk about. In modern America, we spend most of our lives ignoring that it can and will happen to us.
Perhaps the most difficult form death takes is when it’s untimely. That’s when we are faced with the reality that we cannot keep ourselves alive, and neither can any other human being. It may be in one’s own power to end a life by force, but all human ingenuity, preventive measures, and medical breakthroughs fall flat against an untimely death.
The truth is that all of us are dying. Yes, it’s really just a matter of time. This may be the last sermon you hear. You may live for many more years. But death comes to us all according to God’s timing. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.” (Matt. 10:29)
This cold reality, which is easier for us to ignore, God approaches directly and personally. Death, for as many roses as we like to put on it, is a curse. It is evil. It’s not supposed to be this way! Yet, no matter how we fight against it, none of us is able to break its hold. God, on the contrary, sees death for what it really is—the due wages for our sin.
Sin is real, even if there are times we would rather put God back into the dusty book we think He came out of. We are naked before His all-knowing Law. God doesn’t see a spectrum of some good people and some bad people. His Law shows all of us that we have rejected Him who created us and sustains our life. He created us to worship and be in conversation with Him, but we prefer to worship, trust, and devote ourselves the passing stuff of this life (just think about the lengths we go to hold onto it!). God created us love and serve those around us. But despite all the government crackdowns, public service announcements, and extended prison sentences, we only seem to be getting worse. The real problem is not that we’ve failed to “Imagine all the people living life in peace.” John Lennon sang that, but he also died. The real problem is our sin.
What’s more comfortable to do is wallow in our problems. We complain about our taxes, lament our illnesses, plot how we can get back at those who have offended us.
The Apostle Paul wrote, “Let God be true though everyone were a liar.” God works in the realm of reality—what is true despite us. “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” God says. This is true, regardless if you agree or not. “and all are justified by His grace as a gift through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” This also is true, regardless if you believe it or not. That’s why Jesus says right after John 3:16, “17 God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.” God works in reality, not in imagination.
But it’s a very good thing that God works in this way, because it means that the good news of Jesus Christ crucified, buried, and risen, is more than a feeling in our hearts. It’s more than a desire in the pious thoughts of generations of Christians. It’s more than the desperate hopes of people who face plague and infant mortality.
God’s salvation in Christ is a reality which exists in history. The Christian Church confesses in the Apostles’ Creed: “I believe in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord, who…suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried.” That means God came into time, came into our history, in order to free us from sin and save us from death. The Christian faith is more than myth or memory; it is as real as the blood that pumps in your veins.
Because the Gospel of Jesus is real, all who believe this Gospel have a real hope. When you look at yourself, you will see the effects of your sin and how your body decays. That’s something real. When you hear God’s Law, you will learn why it is that you die. That’s also real.
But the death of Jesus is just as much a reality. By His death on the cross, He unravels the power of sin and breaks the curse of death. That’s real, too. Even better, that reality lasts beyond the grave. Years pass, memories fade, and thoughts are lost, but the Word of God endures forever. It is by that Word that you have peace in heaven and Jesus has prepared eternal life for you. Go in the real peace which God freely gives you from Jesus’ cross and His empty tomb. Amen.
The Evangelist Matthew writes in chapter 8:
“14And when Jesus entered Peter’s house, he saw his mother-in-law lying sick with a fever. 15He touched her hand, and the fever left her, and she rose and began to serve him. 16That evening they brought to him many who were oppressed by demons, and he cast out the spirits with a word and healed all who were sick. 17This was to fulfill what was spoken by the prophet Isaiah: “He took our illnesses and bore our diseases.”” (Matthew 8:14–17)
When we feel our own pain, we cry out to God that we don’t deserve this. It’s unfair, too much to bear. When relief doesn’t come, we feel alone, singled out.
 Rom. 6:23
 Romans 3:4
 Romans 3:23-25
 cf. Isaiah 40:8