April 10, 2009
Text: Mark 15:21-32
Dear Friends in Christ,
Come down! It sound so easy. Come down. Why suffer? If I was being crucified and had to power to come down, I certainly would. I think most people certainly would as well. Crucifixion is one of the most painful processes of death ever devised. It is also one of the most humiliating. Unlike our depictions, crucifixion victims were stripped completely naked.
Come down! This is what the passers by taunted. Christ’s enemies gloated over Him as He hung there. They were gleeful at His apparent fall. The very fact that He was on the cross, was proof, they argued, that all the stories were made up. He wasn’t this great miracle worker. For indeed if He possessed such power, then He wouldn’t be on a cross, would He?
Could Christ have come down? Certainly. He’s God the Son. He could come down and end His agony. Why didn’t He? Because this was the Father’s will. As Christ told Pilate, in John’s account, “You would have no authority over Me, unless it was given to you from above.” It was the Father’s will that Christ not come down from the cross. It was the Father’s will that Christ die on the cross.
Here we have the mystery of the ages. Why would God the Father want God the Son to die? Was God the Father angry with God the Son? No. God was angry with us. Huh? God the Father is angry with us, so He kills God the Son? What an incredibly bizarre concept! Yet, this is exactly what was happening on Good Friday. Even more than this, Christ was willing to die. He was an accomplice to this plan.
This all begs the question: Why was God angry at mankind? Because we are sinners. We are God’s creation, His labor of love and we rebelled against Him. We were His workmanship and we made ourselves His enemies. God was rightly angry at mankind. Sin grieves God. Sin also placed us into the hands of Satan. We became the tools of Satan to be used for Satan’s ends. Mankind bought the lie that sin would free us. Rather it enslaved us. Sin became chains which bound us. We could not break those chains. We could not undo the sin that was done. So Christ took that debt upon Himself and died in our place. He paid the price of sin. He doesn’t come down from the cross, because He is there in our place. He is there pay our debt. He is dying so that we will live.
American Christianity is desperate to rid itself of the cross of Jesus Christ. Many so called church growth gurus will tell you that you should not have a cross in your church building, and certainly not a gory, bloody crucifix. We’re really good people anyway, right. So why do we have dwell on sin and death? It’s so depressing. The reason we must dwell on it, is because its real. We really are sinners. Our problem is not a lack of self esteem. Our problem is that we are dead in trespasses and sins. Our problem is not that we lack motivation. That problem is that reek with death. Our problem is not that we don’t trust God to make us wealthy. Our problem is that we are poor miserable sinners. A crossless Christianity cannot solve our real problems. A crossless Christianity, it no Christianity at all. There is a reason why the very symbol of the Christian faith is the cross. It is a curious symbol. A cross is an execution device. Again think of how bizarre this is as a symbol of our faith. We use a cross to represent who we are. Could you imagine a group that used a headsman’s ax or an electric chair as their symbol? Yet, this execution device is our symbol. It is our symbol because that is where God confronts mankind’s real problems - sin and death. It is our symbol of comfort because we know that there God took our place and died our death so that we would have life.
Come down! It sounds so easy. On one level we wish He would have. But then we would still be in hell. Christ’s cross confronts us with the reality of our sin. Here’s how serious sin is. As the hymnist writes: “Ye who think of sin but lightly Nor suppose the evil great Here may view its nature rightly...” (LSB 451) The cross is painful. It is painful because that cross accuses us - it reminds us that we are poor, miserable sinners. It reminds us that our best is still unclean. Such a confrontation is painful, but necessary. We must be made aware of reality. Only then does that accusing sign also become a sign of hope and peace. For in that cross which accuses us, we also see God’s solution. His anger against us burned out against God the Son. That cross forever quenches the flames of hell for all who put their trust in it. The price is paid. We are right with God. Not by our doing but by the gift of Jesus Christ.
Come down! It is what so many would have Christ do. But that was not God’s plan. Christ was there because God the Father willed it. And on Sunday morning, Christ was not in the tomb because it was also His Father’s will that He rise from the dead and declare His victory to the world. We must not join the crowd. We must accept the will of the Father. For that will is good and gracious toward us. It is God’s will that we be saved from sin and death. In the cross, that will of God was fulfilled.