Saturday, April 3, 2010

Good Friday Tenebrae Homily

2 April Anno + Domini 2010

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The real problem with the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day is not that they hated Jesus and wanted Him put to death.  It’s not even their jealousy of Jesus or their lust for power.  The real problem is their self-righteousness.  They reject Jesus because they think they don’t need Him.  They reject Jesus because they believe they’re good enough.  They’re the religious leaders, for crying out loud!  Who could be better than them?  They serve God in synagogue and Temple.  They offer the prayers for the people.  They perform the sacrifices.  They stoke the incense on the altar.  They preach to, and instruct, the people on how to live out their religion.  They’re above the dregs of society.  They’re not sinners.  They may not be perfect, but they go to great lengths to obey God’s Law.  They have even built fences around that Law to make sure that they commit no infraction.  You won’t catch them doing any work on the Sabbath.  You won’t catch them in bed with a woman other than their own wives.  You won’t catch them stealing or murdering.  They are the keepers and protectors of God’s Law.  They’re the righteous ones in God’s sight.  God is right to love them and to be pleased with them. 
So it is that when this young up-start prophet named Jesus comes along, the Jewish religious leaders reject Him out of hand.  Who is He to tell them anything?  Who is He to call them to repentance?  Does He know who He’s talking to?  He should be learning from them, not the other way around.  They don’t need a Savior.  Savior from what?  They’re good enough as they are.  They’re not sinners; they’re righteous! 
Oh yes, dear friends, the real problem with the Jewish religious leaders is their self-righteousness.  They don’t recognize their sinfulness and need of a Savior.  God commands them and they obey.  They really believe that they are keeping His Law. 
In many and various ways, the real problem with the Jewish religious leaders is the real problem with us as well.  There is a little Pharisee in all of us, a part of us that thinks we’re good enough.  In some ways, we’re even worse than the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day.  As misguided as they were, at least they took their religion seriously.  What of us?  How seriously do we take our religion?  Sure, we’re here on this Good Friday, and sure, we may attend Church regularly throughout the rest of the year, but how do we live in between those times when we are in the Lord’s House?  How much of an impact does our faith truly have in how we live out our lives in this sinful world? 
The truth is, as hard as it is for us to admit, that we have all drunk from the poisoned well of self-righteousness, to one degree or another.  And I dare say that the arrogance, vanity, and pride which we witness in the Jewish religious leaders of Jesus’ day is a pittance of that which afflicts us today.  After all, we are modern people, born in an advanced, progressive age. We are taught that we are an advanced, progressive people, evolved and superior to all who have gone before us.  We’re the good people, the decent people, the polite and well-mannered people, the people who know right from wrong.  Sure, we have our mistakes and follies, but we’re not as bad as some.  There are really bad people out there, evil people, but we’re not them.  We read about such people in the newspaper or watch stories about them on television.  Murderers, thieves, rapists, terrorists, corrupt and greedy businessmen, and the like.  Those are the dregs of society, not us.  Don’t even try to put us in their wretched, sinful category.  We’re not that bad.  And when we hear about these really bad, evil people, our self-righteous arrogance, vanity, and pride is inflated.  It is almost as if bad people exist just to make us feel good about ourselves.  When we hear about the infidelity of Tiger Woods, or the embezzlement of corporate executives, or the shady deals made by congressmen, or the latest suicide bombing of some wayward terrorist resulting in the deaths of hundreds, we pat ourselves on the back and thank God that we’re not like those people. 
Repent!  Look squarely at the cross where Jesus hangs in agony.  Why is He there?  If He is there to die for people who are basically good and not as bad as those really evil people in society, then those who stand at the foot of the cross and mock Him are justified.  For if such is the case, His death is meaningless, and you, like the religious leaders in His day, don’t really need Him.  Why do you need Jesus if you are good enough? 
Repent!  You have far too often failed to realize the seriousness of sin.  You have played the role of the Pharisee, pretending that you are better than others.  You have fallen into the trap of viewing God’s Holy Law in the same light as they did, believing that you have fulfilled it because, after all, you haven’t murdered anyone; you haven’t slept around; you haven’t beaten your wives or abused your children, and so on.  But I tell you that if you have ever been angry with your brother, you have committed murder; if you have ever lusted after another in your heart, you have committed adultery.  Remember what He taught you?  The Law is not fulfilled by outward obedience, for the Law demands inward and outward perfection.  The Law demands that you love God with all your heart, mind, body, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  The Law demands complete and perfect obedience at all times. 
Repent!  Do not make the mistake of the Jewish religious leaders, my friends.  Learn to see the Law for what it truly is.  Learn to see your sins in its reflection.  And believe what God’s Word reveals about the seriousness of your sins.  “The wages of sin is death” and “The soul who sins shall die.”  Your sins are never minor.  They are never “no big deal.”  They are never less problematic in God’s eyes than the worse sins committed by others.  All sin damns.  All sin deserves God’s wrath and punishment.  All sin – from the little white lie to the brutal rape and murder. 
Not only have we consumed the poison of self-righteousness, but perhaps the bigger danger which threatens those of us who do come to the Lord’s House regularly is complacency.  I mean, we’ve heard it all before – countless times.  We hear God remind us of our sinfulness and the salvation He provides through Christ every time we gather together here.  It is tempting to let it pass through our ears.  It is tempting to yawn it away and look at our watches, wondering when the pastor will be done telling us again what we already know.  And, actually, that’s why we need to hear the sternness of the Law preached right smack dab at us time and time again, our whole lives long, for the moment our sins fail to terrify us; the moment we become desensitized to our sinfulness; the moment we consider ourselves good enough is the moment for which the devil and his minions wait in eager anticipation, seeking to devour us. 
So, open your ears, dear friends.  Listen to Isaiah, for he speaks the truth:  “Jesus was wounded for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities.”  We must learn to see ourselves standing with the crowd in our own sinful, evil flesh, shouting out, “Crucify Him!”  We must see ourselves in the betrayal of Judas and the denials of Peter.  We must see ourselves in those who spit upon and hit the Savior.  We must see ourselves swinging the whips with the Roman soldiers, tearing our Savior’s skin apart.  We must see ourselves pounding the nails through His hands and feet, and piercing His side with the spear.  For we, every one of us, is included in the “our” about which Isaiah speaks.  Our sins crucified the Lord of Life, the Son of God, the Eternal Word of the Father, by whom all things were made.  We are guilty – all of us – even we good, church-going Lutherans! 
If we can see that; if the Law has its way with us and brings us to this terrible recognition, then, and only then, are we prepared to hear and understand why this Friday is called “Good.”  For Isaiah has something more to say to us:  “Upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His stripes we are healed.”  What our sins meant for evil, God meant for good – eternal good!  Jesus does not go to the cross kicking and screaming, but silently and willingly.  He loves us to the end.  He allows us to crucify Him with our sins, for it was for this purpose that He came down from heaven and assumed our human flesh.  This is His hour.  He knows what He must do to save us.  He knows what we have a hard time admitting – that we’re not basically good or better than others, but corrupted through and through with the disease of sin.  He comes to take that disease upon Himself, to bear all of our sins in His own Holy, Innocent Body on the Tree of the Cross; to become infected with our sins and to experience the punishment they deserve.  He comes to suffer hell in our place, so that we don’t have to.  There was never love like this, my friends, for Jesus comes to die for His enemies, for sinners who hate Him and want nothing to do with Him, for sinners who think they don’t need Him, for sinners who think they’re good enough, for sinners who grow complacent and get bored with the Gospel, for sinners like you and me!    
Today, on this Good Friday, let the Good News of this day ring fresh in your ears.  With His stripes, you are healed.  Jesus has completed the work of your salvation in full.  He has fully consumed the cup of His father’s wrath for your sins.  You are forgiven, saved, justified, declared righteous because Jesus shed His Blood on the cross in your place.  Have you heard that before?  Yeah, many times.  But, hopefully, you’ll continue to hear it your whole life long, for it is the Good News of this Good Friday that assures you that, through faith in Jesus Christ, who suffered in your place and died the death you deserve, you have forgiveness, life, and salvation. 
It is finished, my friends.  You are forgiven and free.  That’s why this Friday is Good!  In the Holy and Precious Name of Jesus, with whose stripes we are healed.  Amen.    

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