John 19:17-30 Throughout this Lenten season we have been talking about repentance. The Bible says that repentance has two parts: that we are sorry for our sins and then we turn in faith to Jesus for forgiveness. And in that simple definition is really the story of our life with God.
We are sinners. We have not done the good that God demands of us. We have done the evil he forbids. But the wonder and glory of this sad story of our sin is that God still loves us.
When Adam and Eve sinned, God did not wash his hands of them and start over with two new people. And so it was with Noah and Abraham and Moses and David and the woman caught in adultery and Peter and Saul. And so it is with us. God loves us and we can turn to Jesus when we have sinned and know that we will be forgiven.
And yet, this is the thing that we find so difficult to do. Instead of turning from our sins and turning to Jesus, we blame others for our sins or we compare ourselves to others and tell ourselves it’s not as bad as all that or we try to make amends on our own.
When Adam and Eve sinned, Eve blamed the serpent and Adam blamed God for giving him Eve in the first place. When the Pharisee saw the man in the temple who was a tax collector he said to himself, “Well, at least I’m not as bad as all that!” When Judas came face to face with his betrayal and what that meant for Jesus, he was heartbroken and he returned the money but he didn’t turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, on this night let us be done with denying our sin and excusing our sin and trying to make things right with God on our own. Let us turn our eyes of faith to the cross and see just exactly what our sin has done and be truly sorry.
But also let us see there, in that suffering, dying man the forgiveness he gives to us and know that Jesus, and he alone, has finished our salvation for he is the one who is the fulfillment of God’s promise to send a Savior-- and he is the one who loves with an everlasting love-- and he is the one who has died in our place.
When Adam and Eve fell into sin and destroyed God’s good creation and brought death into the world for all men, God stepped in and made a promise, that from a woman he would bring forth a Savior who would destroy the works of Satan.
Throughout salvation history, in the words of the prophets and patriarchs, he added more and more to that promise: that the Messiah would be born of a virgin in Bethlehem, that he would be from the House of David and the true Davidic King, that he would be humble and powerful, healing the hick and giving sight to the blind and setting the prisoner free, that he would have a forerunner who would prepare his way and that he would pierced for our transgressions and that by his wounds we would find peace with God.
Hundreds and hundreds of prophecies over thousands and thousands of years—all of them fulfilled in one and only one man—the man who hung of the cross at Golgotha with a sign above his head that said “The King of the Jews.” The Bible says:
They took Jesus, and he went out, bearing his own cross, to the place called The Place of a Skull, which in Aramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, and Jesus between them. Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
Pilate, of course, intended this to be an insult to those trouble-making Jews but the sign he caused to be written really was true: the man of the cross dying a criminal’s death really was the King of the Jews—he was the fulfillment of God’s promise to raise up a descendant of David to rule from his throne forever.
And even in his dying moments he continued to fulfill every word ever spoken about him. His last earthly possession was taken away when the soldiers took his tunic and cast lots for it so that the Scripture might be fulfilled that said: “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” And his last moment of torment was the agony of thirst so that even the smallest promise of Scripture would be fulfilled.
Throughout salvation history God has spoken about what he was going to do about our sin and from the beginning in Genesis to the end in Revelation every word about salvation is fulfilled by this man who is crucified upon a cross, planted deep in the rocky hill called the skull.
When we are confronted by our sins—when we are caught up in our own failings-- we do not have to wonder about who to turn to for forgiveness and comfort and the strength to begin again because every word of the Bible points us to Jesus Christ.
And when we are confronted by our sins and when we are caught up in our failings we do not have to wonder what kind of reception we will receive because here at Calvary there is nothing but love for us from the man of the cross. The Bible says that:
Standing by the cross of Jesus were his mother and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Woman, behold, your son!” Then he said to the disciple, “Behold, your mother!” And from that hour the disciple took her to his own home.
It is difficult to overstate the agony of being crucified. The word “excruciating” comes from the root word for “cross” in Latin. We would readily excuse anyone enduring that kind of pain who withdrew into themselves and focused only on the torment at hand.
But Jesus did not do that—even in those terrible hours of horrible suffering his attention was still not focused upon himself—but others.
He made sure that his mother was cared for. This one who was blessed among women to bear the Messiah had been warned that her own soul would be pierced by a sword in anticipation of this moment and Jesus wanted to make sure that this one he loved, this one among all the people in the world who knew every detail of his story, would be cared for at his departure.
But maybe we say to ourselves, well of course he loved his mother and cared for our needs in that moment, but why on earth should I count on that same love when I have failed him so often?
But look who else is loved around that cross. There were those standing there who unjustly condemned him to death- and there are those who took hammer and nails and fastened him to the cross and cast a spear into his side. And there were friends standing at a distance who failed him in his hour of need and he loved them all gave them what they needed when he said, Father, forgive them.
There is a thief who in the very last moments of his life had a change of heart and was sorry for his sins and turned to Jesus and Jesus loved him and gave him what he needed in that moment of death: the promise of eternity in Paradise.
Feast your eyes of faith on the one who was crucified and dies for you—see the love of the Savior who provided for those he loved and forgave those he loved and delivered those he loved and know that Jesus and Jesus alone has accomplished your salvation.
Hear his words of love spoken from the cross and believe that no matter what you have done and no matter how far you have wandered, you are loved with that same everlasting love and you can turn to Jesus and know he has accomplished your salvation and that you will be provided for and forgiven and delivered-- even from death—because he died for you. The Bible says that:
Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
How can we ever being to grasp the wonder and beauty and comfort of those words? That while were still his enemies; before we could do anything to make a way to God on our own; before we took the necessary steps to amend our sinful lives, God loved us and his Son died for us. This is what love is! Not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to die for us!
As the old Lenten hymn says: Imprint this image on your heart! This image of Jesus bearing your sins. This picture of Jesus speaking words of love and forgiveness even as he died. This scene of the holy, innocent, sinless Son of God, abandoned by his Father, suffering under his wrath, dying a horrible death so that you will never face any of it because he and he alone has accomplished your salvation.
Jesus said: “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. It is finished—and it was! Our shame and guilt—finished. God’s wrath and punishment—finished. Sin atoned for—the slate wiped clean—sins forgiven—finished, finished, finished.
When John the Baptist began his ministry he said: Repent! For the kingdom of heaven is at hand. When Jesus began his earthly ministry he said, Repent! The kingdom of heaven is at hand. When Luther began the reformation of the church he said that the entirety of the Christian life can be summed up in one word: Repent! Turn from sins in sorrow and turn to Jesus for forgiveness.
It seems so simple and yet we saw in the Lenten cast of characters this year how difficult it is to do because we want to excuse our sins or compare ourselves to others or avoid Jesus altogether because what we have done seems beyond forgiveness.
In our last Lenten sermon our eyes are directed to the cross and we see what ours sins have done and all our excuses and all our explanations go out the window and we are truly sorry for our sins. But we also see there the love that is poured out in Christ’s shed blood and we know that we can turn to him and find forgiveness and for he and he alone has accomplished our salvation by dying on the cross. Tetelestai. It is finished! Amen.