Fr. Terry Gatwood: Love So Amazing, So Divine…

Sermon delivered on Good Friday, April 14, 2017, at St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, Westerville, OH.

If you prefer to listen to the podcast of tonight’s sermon, click here.

Lectionary texts: Isaiah 52.13-53.12; Psalm 22.1-31; Hebrews 4.14-16, 5.7-9; John 18.1-19.42.

Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

Three and a half months ago we gathered together in this very place to welcome the birth of Jesus, the one promised of God. It was a time filled with joy and expectation. A moment when all the hope of God became manifest in our presence once again in our annual liturgy in that very special way, remembering when God took on flesh and united us to himself physically. God the Son, the second person of the Most Holy Trinity, kept his promise to be among us, to be our God, and we his people.

Shortly after that we gathered again to remember the coming of the Magi from the east. These men from another religion and another people who were not the ones to whom the promises of God had been directly made, following the star westward from their Parthian homes found the Lord Jesus and presented to him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. These were Zoroastrian fire wizards; priests of another religion, seeing the light and being drawn to it. Jesus is the light to enlighten the nations, and the glory of his people Israel. And we celebrated God’s revealing of himself now to all people. More promises being kept.

We’ve celebrated Christ’s transfiguration on the mountain, where the glory of God was absolutely present, and Jesus is revealed to be the new lawgiver. We’ve heard and seen the miracles, we’ve received his teaching, we’ve sat at his feet, and he’s washed ours. He’s given us the new commandment that we love one another.

Just this past Sunday we welcomed our humble King in by waving palm branches, and again hopefully expecting another movement of God to break the oppression under which we have lived. “Here comes Jesus! He’s going to save us! Alleluia!”

And now, in very short order, we turn our backs on him as he’s sold out to those who despised him and are threatened by him, for just a mere thirty pieces of silver. That first cosmic act of treason that happened in the Garden of Eden has risen back up and again seeks to make us think we’re our own gods, and that life is ours to live and direct how we see fit. Again, the face of God is spit in, not only figuratively this time, but literally.

How great is the sin that seeks to destroy us? It seems, when we look upon this case of the crucifixion of the Christ, that it is unconquerable. What room for hope is there if sinful humanity seeks to justify its own self by deeds conjured up by a sinful mind and heart? And the destroyer, the liar, the deceiver, Satan, and his minions are sneaky. Knowing our condition and need, they tempt a little at a time. Insidiously, sin creeps in and destroys the humanity God created in goodness. Satan has nothing for us but hate, and on this night it seems that he’s won the battle. But remember, God keeps his promises. And although the serpent who deceived our first parents in the Garden may have struck the heal of Mary’s son, he soon will crush its head in accordance with the unilateral, loving, merciful promise made to us in the first proclamation of the Gospel to Adam and Eve. If not for God’s perfect and unfailing love for all that he has made we would have no hope. Sin would win, and Satan would be victorious. But only through our Lord Jesus Christ and his willing sacrifice is there hope and victory.

This sacrifice made by Christ is not some sort of Plan B, as if the Law has failed and the old covenant was never any good. No. From the very beginning God, in his love and mercy, designed to save us through the sacrifice of himself upon the cross. Remember Abraham being asked to sacrifice Isaac his only son, the promised son and heir according to God’s covenant with him. Abraham was going to do it, but God spared Abraham’s son and provided the animal for sacrifice there instead. This was a foreshadowing of the love God would show to the whole world when he did not spare his own son. He provided for himself the perfect and spotless lamb. And God loves us so much he would choose to die violently for us a death that we deserve, not him. We know that our own individual burdens are heavy and hard to bear; Jesus took upon himself the sins of the whole world, and as the water and the blood which flowed from his side testify, his death was likely from a heart that was torn from the massive abuse he had taken. Jesus died of a broken heart under the weight of our sin.

The blood of the sacrificial system shows how serious sin is; it destroys the very life of something God has created. It breaks the order that God has created in love. The blood of Jesus, God himself in the flesh, flowing down from the cross tells us just how deadly the sin problem is, and only through the his willing sacrifice, made by himself our perfect priest, can it be dealt with totally and finally. It is through the shedding of his blood, the blood that coursed through the veins of the only man who ever truly loved God and his neighbor perfectly, and through his physical death that our sin can die. Jesus made this sacrifice for us to free us from the curse we have been under. Says the hymn writer:

He breaks the power of canceled sin,
He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean,
His blood availed for me.

Sin may still try to conquer us, but Jesus has conquered it. Trust in his grace and mercy, in his great act of love in the face of our treason with his arms stretched wide upon the cross for all to behold, blood cascading down as a healing waterfall, body and face disfigured from the horrific beating he was given and which he took in silence, that Jesus has done this for you. He loves you. This night we remember what our sin costs. It cost the very thing that is most precious to all of us: our lives. But our lives, our own holiness, could never be the cure for the sins of the whole world, so Jesus gave his instead. This day is good, because Satan has been defeated. Our freedom has been won and the justice of God is satisfied. May we live a life worthy of the salvation we have freely received through faith in his blood. May we understand the fullness of God’s love for all of us this night and always as we look to the cross, a symbol of defeat for some, but grace and mercy to us because of God’s great love; our light and our salvation.

Let me close this holy night with the words of Isaac Watts:

  1. When I survey the wondrous cross On which the Prince of glory died, My richest gain I count but loss, And pour contempt on all my pride.
  2. Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, Save in the death of Christ my God! All the vain things that charm me most, I sacrifice them to His blood.
  3. See from His head, His hands, His feet, Sorrow and love flow mingled down! Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
  4. Were the whole realm of nature mine, That were a present far too small; Love so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Dying, he has brought the dead to life.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.