Pastor Joel Leyrer - Good Friday - Friday, April 2, 2021

Text: Hebrews 7:26-28

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Dear Friends in Christ, These were the crucial hours. Today we are confronted with the crux of that which matters for all eternity.  

Etymology – that’s a big word for the study of where our English words come from – tells us that the words “crucial” and “crux” and others like them all come from a single Latin word. In English it means “cross.”

Think of how we use these words in our everyday speech. If something is “crucial,” it is of supreme importance. Perhaps even life or death importance.

When we talk of something being the “crux” of the matter, we mean the point at which everything meets and comes together.

These words describe this day. Good Friday is crucial, not just for us, but for all of mankind past, present and future. Sin, death, hell, hope, life, and heaven all converge at the cross, which truly makes it the crux of that which matters for all eternity.

Something of this importance and magnitude only happened once and it only had to happen once.  It took place today. Today we reflect upon and remember how what happened on that first Good Friday was

ONCE AND FOR ALL

Speaking personally, what Good Friday says to each of us is that

  1. Our sin is exposed;
  2. More importantly, our sin is forgiven

The Scripture lesson before us needs to be understood in its context and with an understanding of the Christians for whom it was originally written.

Each of us has a background that helped shape and determine who we are. So did the people who received the letter to the Hebrews. Their background was Hebrew, or Jewish. As such, they were very knowledgeable about the Old Testament with its God-given customs, laws, and practices. If you’ve ever read through this letter you know that.

Something they were very familiar with was the whole Old Testament religious system. Their individual and corporate spiritual life revolved around priests and high priests and sacrifices. They would know that way back in the time of Moses God selected Aaron to be the first High Priest and that many followed after him.

These were not just the religious rituals of an ancient people. There was deep meaning behind all of this. With each sacrifice made by a priest God was reminding his people about the seriousness of sin. Each sacrifice was a clear declaration that there can be no forgiveness without the shedding of blood.

And that is exactly what the priests did on a regular basis. They offered sacrifices for their own sins and for the sins of the people. Repeatedly. Day after day. Similar to steady, evenly spaced drumbeats, sacrifices were like musical refrains that the people heard over and over again. This constant, consistent rhythm of sacrifice was engrained into their consciousness.

But today the music stopped. Because today the sacrifice which every one previous to it anticipated and pointed to was made. The altar was a cross. And hanging on that cross was, in the words of John the Baptist, “the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” 

Moreover, the sacrifice and the Great High Priest who offered it were the same. Recall the words of the communion hymn: 

“Draw near and take the body of the Lord,

And drink the holy blood for you outpoured. 

Offered was he for greatest and for least,

Himself the victim and Himself the priest.”

Today, more than any other day, we remember this dual role of Jesus because today, more than any other day, we can visualize it: Jesus was the one who offered himself as the sacrifice that paid for all our sins. His cross was the altar. His blood blots our transgressions before a just and holy God. 

“Such a high priest meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself.”

See the job. Do the job. Complete the job. The job is the redemption of mankind. And that is what Jesus did today. When he cried from the cross, “It is finished,” it was. Everything necessary for our salvation was finished. There is nothing left to do, either for him – who provided salvation, or for us – who receive salvation through faith.

And now, because of this once for all day each of us has a new name. We can rightfully call ourselves the redeemed, the restored, the forgiven. And therefore, the heaven bound.

That is the blessed general overview of this day. But there are other specific things this day – more than any other day – teaches us. Lessons we cannot shirk or avoid.

First and foremost, like Old Testament believers on the day of sacrifice, today we also are confronted with the seriousness of sin. Our sin. And the ugliness of sin. Our sin. And the payment necessary for sin. Our sin. We need to understand this. 

It is the tendency of the world we live in as well as the tendency of our fallen natures to minimize or rationalize or sanitize that which God clearly calls sin.  It is a temptation to reduce sin to big ticket items like murder and robbery and things that will get you thrown into jail, and to not think so much about the other things God clearly condemns in his children: the beneath-the-surface sins that we internally struggle with but can often be covered up outwardly by the veneer of civility or the cloak of respectability.

Like envy, or greed, or holding grudges, or chronically complaining, or intentional unkindness, or withholding affection from a loved one because we’re upset with them, or the self-righteous double standard of looking down our noses at people for not fulfilling levels of conduct we ourselves are unwilling or unable to fulfill, or intolerance bordering on vilification toward those who don’t see things our way or don’t align themselves with our particular preferences or with whom we simply disagree

You get the picture. 

Good Friday unmasks any attempts on our part to minimize, rationalize, or sanitize such behavior.  Thomas Kelly, the author of the great Lenten hymn, “Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted,” articulates this quite well when he points us to the cross and writes:

You who think of sin but lightly

Nor suppose the evil great,

Here you see its nature rightly,

Here its guilt may estimate.

On Good Friday it is easy to blame the Roman soldiers for pounding great spikes into our Lord, but it was the weight of our sins that brought the hammer down. 

Down through the centuries any number of Christian artists have painted their own self-portrait among the people present at Jesus’ crucifixion. In this way they acknowledged they were as guilty as anyone for what was happening. Any visual of this day we might have in our mind’s eye must do the same. Each of us is a face in the crowd.

For us, then, Good Friday is the ultimate day of mixed emotions. On the one hand, we are the ones who put Jesus on the cross. There is no denying that. All our sins are on full display. And that makes us sad.

But on the other hand, on the cross all our sins have been nailed. We are forgiven. The payment has been made once for all. And that makes us glad.

But more than anything, it makes us grateful. And that also is the lesson of Good Friday. To the woman caught in adultery but whom he pardoned, Jesus said, “Go and sin no more.” She left with a grateful heart and a new direction in life. That is what Good Friday does for us as well.

So, as we relive this moment in history, there will be no miracles today. He who reversed the course of nature by walking on water and stilling the storm will not reverse what is happening today. He who healed sick and raised the dead will not provide a cure for himself today. Jesus, the almighty Son of God, will not fly down from the cross and smite those who put him there and then mercilessly ridiculed him. 

No, nothing like that. 

Rather, in the words of the Lenten hymn we sang just minutes ago, this is the agenda for Good Friday:

A Lamb goes uncomplaining forth,

Our guilt and evil bearing

And, laden with the sins of earth,

None else the burden sharing,

Goes patient on, grows weak and faint,

To slaughter led without complaint,

That spotless life to offer,

Bears shame and stripes and wounds and death,

Anguish and mockery and says,

“Willing all this I suffer.”  

This is the message of Christ crucified. This act was crucial for our salvation. This is the crux of all that matters for time and eternity.

Today the drumbeat of Old Testament sacrifices comes to an end once and for all and is replaced with the glorious strains of full and free forgiveness. And we are liberated from the consequences of our sin; set free to serve.

Glory be to Jesus. Amen.