April 22, 2011 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA
“Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.”
The Lord has torn us and struck us down again. It is deserved, for we have sinned much and angered Him. His wrath concerning sin is shown. That is the truth that the Church confesses on this day. It is why we are here to commemorate Good Friday. The wrath of God concerning sin—your sin, our sin—is shown. It brings death. This is the fate for those who ignore and disobey His commands. It was so from the beginning, when He spoke: “In the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” The sentence of death has been given against all who sinned. It has been declared by the Lord’s messengers: “I have hewn them by the prophets; I have slain them by the words of My mouth, and My judgment goes forth as the light.”
The Lord’s words go forth from His mouth and speak against you. His words speak rightly: “You have broken My Law. You have sinned. I have measured you and found you wanting. I find guilt all throughout you. Your record of life disgusts Me. Your desires are unholy. Your actions are horrendous. Your words are profane and unclean. There is no good in you. There is nothing in you of any worth or value. Away with you! Get out of My sight! You shall surely die!”
The Lord has torn us and struck us down with those words. So we say rightly the words of the Psalter: “Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and You overwhelm me with all Your waves. . . . Your wrath has swept over me; Your dreadful assaults destroy me. . . . As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol. . . . ” It is the deserved fate. It is the rightful wage of sin. It is the judgment and sentence that is spoken against all who do not keep the Lord’s Law.
But the truth of this day is that the divine wrath against sin is actually displayed in what happens to Jesus. Note what takes place to Him: flogging, beating, mocking, piercing, hanging in agony. The words of the Psalter describe this: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” And further: “O Lord, why do You cast my soul away? Why do You hide Your favor from me?” The favor of God is turned off, hidden from Jesus’ face. And in Jesus, mankind was torn and struck down. The Innocent and Righteous One is punished.
Why is this so? Because the Lord is righteous and just, but also gracious and merciful. He does not lie about His Law. His words stand true. Death will come to those who are sinful. Capital crimes will bring capital punishment. Wrath will be visited upon sinful humanity. And yet, it is Jesus who faces it. Why? Because He stands in your place: “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed. 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.” A Substitute is given for you, a Scapegoat that bears your sin and iniquity.
See the Crucified Christ. There is the One who bears your sin, who suffers in your stead, who is punished for your guilt. The Second Adam dies in place of the First Adam and for you, his offspring. Jesus is torn and struck down, so that you may be healed and bound up. What the Lord says is also true: “They made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for sin, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the Lord shall prosper in His hand.” In this act, death is visited upon Jesus for you and new life is given as a result.
Yet, Jesus’ actions as your substitute continue beyond Good Friday. Jesus was the Victim, but now He is also the Victor. He bore your sin and iniquity, and His Father honors Him because of it. His willing obedience is recognized in resurrection: “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered. And being made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.” Remember the words you heard: “After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” So it is with Jesus. He dies, but is revived. He is buried, but is raised up. In Him, mankind lives in righteousness before the Lord.
So the apostle writes: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that One has died for all, therefore all have died; and He died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for Him who for their sake died and was raised.” Jesus’ receipt of punishment becomes the reason to love Him. We recognize Him as Lord and Master. But we also cherish Him as Savior and Redeemer. Because of His work, we are delivered from the divine wrath that we deserve. We make the same statement as Pilate did about Jesus: “I find no guilt in Him.” What He deserved, we get instead: “In Christ God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them. . . . For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
Once again, the divine invitation full of promise is given to us: “Come, let us return to the Lord, for He has torn us, that He may heal us; He has struck us down, and He will bind us up. After two days He will revive us; on the third day He will raise us up, that we may live before Him.” Believing in what Jesus has done for us, we answer it. We have come in our penitence and humility. We have come to hear what the Lord has graciously done for us who deserve nothing good. We trust that the same Lord who has torn us and struck us down heals and binds us up, so that we may live before Him in everlasting righteousness, innocence, and blessedness.
That is why we come to commemorate Good Friday. The day is meant for us to see what our sinfulness has earned, how it should be treated and confronted by the Lord’s holiness. We admit our guilt and speak of divine wrath. But this day also shows us what Jesus has finished and completed for us. We cling to the good fate that He provides for us through His death. Jesus spoke the psalm’s words: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But the same psalm speaks just as truthfully about Him: “I will tell of Your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise You: You who fear the Lord, praise Him! All you offspring of Jacob, glorify Him, and stand in awe of Him, all you offspring of Israel! For He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted, and He has not hidden His face from him, but has heard, when he cried to Him.” We praise and honor Jesus who was condemned for our sake, so that we might be freed from condemnation.
And so the psalm’s prophecy is fulfilled: “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before You. . . . Posterity shall serve Him; it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation; they shall come and proclaim His righteousness to a people yet unborn, that He has done it.” We have come and proclaimed Christ’s righteousness. We are again reconciled to God. We will go home justified because of what our Substitute Savior has accomplished for us. The Perfect has been given for us, the imperfect. The sentence of death is set aside. The declaration of pardon and forgiveness is heard in its place: “He trusts in the Lord; let Him deliver him; let Him rescue him, for He delights in him!” Delivered we are, since the Lord now delights in us because of the death of Jesus, whose words about our salvation stand eternally true: “It is finished.”
T In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.