Good Friday 2016

2016-03-23 11.22.22
Christ’s cross, by my daughter, Erin

Among the things that I found myself saying after several years as a pastor regards the character of God, that He is love, and merciful, and generous, and just, and faithful, and when talking about the person and work of our Savior, Jesus, I continually found myself asking, “Who wouldn’t love a God like that?”

To love God, we have to properly understand God. And, in the Lord Jesus’ Good Friday declaration from the cross, “It is finished (John 19:30),” we have the foundation laid for a proper understanding of God.

The problem with us is that we constantly take those words out of the mouth of the Lord Jesus as if He never spoke them, as if He did not complete the work of saving us, fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah: “But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed (53:5).”

So many people have told me that, sure, Jesus has paid for our sins, but God still punishes us by letting us contract a disease, or not getting the job we want, or fill-in-the-blank with whatever affliction will nail us, even deliberately zapping us when we do wrong.

I was in that spot when I was twenty-three years old. I had been a Lutheran for a year. I had been catechized well by Pastor Walter Teske. Then, January 14, 1981, happened.

It began as a glorious day. We welcomed our first child, Johnathan. He was healthy. He was perfect. All was well.

And then it was not.

Getting ready to leave the hospital for the day, I looked in on Johnathan in the nursery. He was breathing hard. My mom said, “Get the nurse.” Everything went crazy.

Pastor Teske was called. He arrived in what seemed like a flash. I can still see him and me, sitting in a vacant room, me bawling and him consoling.

That’s when I said it. I said it because I was feeling it. I said it because I believed it. “I know why Johnathan got sick. I don’t deserve him. I’m such a terrible sinner. God is punishing me.”

Compassionately calming me, Pastor Teske began by telling me that the Lord was not punishing me. He concluded by reminding me that Jesus was punished for the sins of the world, that when Jesus cried out, “It is finished,” it was finished. Done. Paid for. Completed. He reached the goal, the reason for which He was born in human flesh.

Bad things have continued to happen in my life, just as bad things continue to happen in yours. Bad things will keep happening, not because we commit certain sins that the Lord is punishing, but because this world is broken.

It just plain does not work right.

The world doesn’t work right. Our bodies don’t work right. Nothing works right. Therefore, babies will die. Wars will not cease. Rich people will swindle poor people. Tornadoes will rip apart towns and lives. Bombers will murder the innocent.

Who would love a God who has His Son die as the sacrifice for sin and then still punishes us for our sins? How would I have reacted if Pastor Teske had told me, “You’re right. God is punishing you. What on earth have you done that He would strike down your firstborn? You’d better get your act together”? Honestly, I think I might have walked away from the Christian faith.

Who needs a God who punishes us? I sure don’t. Life is hard enough. It is filled with enough punishment.

I have the devil prowling around like a roaring lion trying to devour me. I have the world constantly tempting me. I have my own sinful nature which loves to exploit my weaknesses. If God is also against me, I will never be anything but a loser. The same goes for you.

Why would you give Him even a minute of your time?

Truly, if God is not merciful, and generous, and all of those wonderful attributes He claims for Himself, then He’s a liar. He would not deserve the lofty title of God. And to call Him Father? I would rather run away from home than call Him Father, if that is how He is.

It has been my joy to make known the true nature of God. Good Friday. God in the flesh on the cross. “It is finished.” This is the perfect place to see the essence of His being.

None of this excuses our sins. None of this gives anyone permission to do anything else than live the new command the Lord gave at the Last Supper, right before He went out and got arrested. “Love one another, as I have loved you,” He said, “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, when you love one another.”

The next time you want to bad-mouth someone, stop. Remember, you would not want someone to bad-mouth you. It doesn’t matter if what you are going to say is true. It doesn’t matter if the story is outrageous to the point of being entertaining. Shut your mouth.

The next time you react in any way that you would not want done to you, stop. Remember the Golden Rule. Treat that person as you would want to be treated. Show the love of Jesus Christ, which you claim is in you by your faith in Him.

When you repent of your sins, turn away from those things which plague you—misusing the Lord’s name, worrying, drinking too much, gossiping, lying, cheating, you name it—then remember, “It is finished.” Remember that Jesus Christ, the Son of God and Son of Man, bore the sins of the world in His flesh, taking the entire punishment of God the Father. Then, the next time you fail—and you fail at the same things at which you have failed a hundred times before—remember, “It is finished.”

It is always finished, dear Christians. The punishment that was upon Him is always finished work. By His wounds, you are healed. God the Father does not count your sins against you; He counted them against His only begotten Son. He doesn’t excuse your sins; He died for them.

“It is finished,” is the pure Gospel. It is the foundation of every proclamation of the forgiveness of your sins. It is in the water in which you were baptized a child of the heavenly Father. It is what the Lord Jesus puts into your mouths when you commune on His Supper.

Who wouldn’t love a God like that, a God who takes everything into His own hands, pays for all of our sins, freely gives us the faith to trust in His work of salvation, saves us from death, devil, and damnation, and gives us the sure and certain hope of eternal life and a resurrection like His, which we will celebrate on Sunday?

“It is finished.” God is love. He is merciful. He is generous. He is forgiving. He is just. He is faithful. He proved every one of those in the ultimate words out of His mouth, when He completed the work of paying for your sins, my sins, all sins, reuniting us with the Father, earning our eternal lives.

“It is finished.” By Jesus. For you. For me. Forever. Amen.

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