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April 10, 2020

Sermon . . . Good Friday

Good Friday

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

It was June of 1840, and three sailors hailing from the Scottish island of St. Kilda landed on the craggy ledges of a nearby rocky column, known as Stac-an-Armin.  As they climbed up the rock, they spotted a peculiar bird that stood head and shoulders above the puffins and gulls and other seabirds.

The scruffy animal’s proportions were bizarre--just under three feet tall with small, awkward wings, making it impossible for it to fly.  It’s hooked beak was almost as large as its head.  Its black and white plumage had earned it the title, the “original penguin,” though it looked a lot more like a Dr. Seuss cartoon.

The sailors watched as the bird, a Great Auk, waddled clumsily along.  Agile in the water, the unusual creature was defenseless against humans on land, making it an easy target.

Whether the men simply enjoyed the thrill of the hunt, or knew its meat and feathers were valuable, we’ll never know.  Whatever the reason, they captured the bird, tied its legs together, and took it back to their ship.  For three days, the sailors kept it alive.

But on the fourth day, there was a terrible storm, and the sailors grew fearful and superstitious, thinking that the storm was the fault of the bird.  Condemning it as “a storm-conjuring witch,” they picked up stones, then stoned it to death.  Little did they know that it was one of the last of its kind in all the world.

In his book, Scapegoat:  A History of Blaming Other People, author Charlie Campbell wrote, “In the beginning, there was blame.  Adam blamed Eve, Eve blamed the serpent, and we’ve been hard at it ever since.  Even today, we blame as we’ve always blamed.  Whatever’s wrong with us, there might not be a cure, but there’s always a culprit.”

In the Old Testament book of Leviticus chapter 16, Moses once talked about a scapegoat.  He said:  “Aaron shall lay both of his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins.  And he shall put them on the head of the goat and send it away into the wilderness...then he shall bathe his body in water in a holy place, put on his garments...and make atonement for himself and for the people.”

Today is Good Friday, the day we remember Christ, our Redeemer, our scapegoat.  As the prophet Isaiah wrote so long ago:  “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  And Paul wrote to the Corinthians:  “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Let me, for just a moment, remind you of what happened these past two days.

Just as soon as Judas betrayed Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, the mob took Him first to the house of Annas, then to the house of Caiaphas the high priest.  Men slapped Him, spit on Him, and beat Him with a stick.  And when the testimony of false witnesses couldn’t agree, Caiaphas demanded, “Tell us if You are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

Jesus replied:  “I am.  And you will see the Son of Man sitting at God’s right hand and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

And as the high priest tore his robes, he said, “You have heard His blasphemy!  Why do we need any more witnesses?  What is your verdict?”

They answered, “He is worthy of death.”

But they had no authority to put anyone to death, so, as soon as morning came, they took Him to Pontius Pilate.

“What charges do you bring against this Man?” he asked.

They answered, “If He were not guilty of a crime, we would not have brought Him to you.”

And as Pilate and Jesus stood face to face in that stone-cold judgment hall, he asked, “Are you the King of the Jews?”  Jesus answered, “My kingdom is not of this world.  If it were, My followers would have fought to prevent My arrest by the Jews.  My kingdom is from another place.”

And when Pilate offered to release Jesus or Barabbas, the crowd chose Barabbas.  “And what shall I do with the One who is called Christ?”  “Crucify Him,” they shouted.

Then came the long walk to Calvary.  Too weak to carry His own cross, a man just in from the country, Simon of Cyrene, was forced to carry it instead.  

Then came nails, a cross, and a crown of thorns.  A sign was posted above His head:  “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

Caiaphas said, “Write instead, ‘This Man said He was King of the Jews.’”  

Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”

And as men mocked and women wept, soldiers rolled their dice.

At noon, darkness fell over the whole land--a deep darkness, a piercing darkness.  You could hardly see your hand in front of your face.

Then finally, at three o’clock, as Jesus cried His final word, “Father, into Thy hands I commit My spirit,” the earth shook, tombs broke open, and the temple’s curtain tore in two.  And a centurion, a commander of a hundred men, couldn’t help but say, “Surely, this Man was the Son of God.”

If you think about it, the cross is truly the most important event of all time.  

There have been, of course, many others.  Think of the American Revolution.  It’s an event that sent shockwaves around the world, a movement still felt today.

Think of the Berlin Wall.  Now tearing down a wall might not seem like much, but when you realize what else came down with that wall, you begin to understand why it was so important.  It was the end of communist rule and the birth of the voice of the people.

Or think of when man landed on the moon.  As Neil Armstrong once said:  “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

But no matter how life-changing, earth-shattering, or world-transforming these events might be, nothing could compare to the suffering and death of Jesus on the cross.

In the words of a song:  “He paid a debt He did not owe.  I owed a debt I could not pay.  I needed someone to wash my sins away.  And now I sing a brand new song:  Amazing Grace.  Christ Jesus paid a debt I could never pay.”

One more thing.  It’s been said that epitaphs are powerful things.  What’s said about us on that stone is a window into how we lived our lives and what we thought was most important.

Dutch mathematician Ludolph van Ceulen, the first to calculate pi, died at the age of 70 in 1610.  So he had pi inscribed in his tombstone out to the 35th digit.

Martin Luther King, Jr., has the following epitaph:  “Free at last, free at last.  Thank God Almighty I’m free at last.”

Benjamin Franklin wrote his own epitaph in one of his journals.  He said:  “The body of B. Franklin, Printer, like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms.  But the work shall not be wholly lost:  for it will, as he believ’d, appear once more, in a new and more elegant Edition, Corrected and improved by the Author.”

And Thomas Jefferson’s reads:  “Author of the Declaration of American Independence of the Statute of Virginia for religious freedom and Father of the University of Virginia.”

But Jesus didn’t have an epitaph.  There were no words inscribed in stone.  But if He did, this is what it would say:  “I lived for you.  I died for you.  I shed My blood for you.  I’ve set you free.”

There are a few more horrific details to come. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea will beg for the body of Jesus.  They’ll carefully lower it down from the cross, wrap it in fine linen, anoint it with spices, and lay it in a new garden tomb.  They’ll roll a stone across the entrance and soldiers will secure the grave.  Women will weep and disciples will hide in fear of the Jews. 

But Jesus rests, triumphantly and victoriously, in His Father’s hands.

And so, someday, will we.  

In the words of a hymn:  “Then, for all that wrought my pardon, for Thy sorrows deep and sore, for Thine anguish in the Garden, I will thank Thee evermore, thank Thee for Thy groaning, sighing, for Thy bleeding and Thy dying, for that last triumphant cry, and shall praise Thee, Lord, on high.”

 

How blessed we are, dear Father, for the great love and unfathomable mercy You have shown in the life, suffering, and death of Your Son.  Help us to rest, calmly and confidently, in Your almighty hands.  This we ask in Jesus’ name.  Amen

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