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04.19.19 John 19.16-42 Good Friday Sermon

by on April 24, 2019

The late Roman Catholic scholar and priest Raymond Brown described the Gospels as “Passion narratives with long introductions.” Indeed the suffering (passion) of Jesus has enjoyed historical priority in the telling of Jesus’ life.

After the sixteenth century Reformation in the West, Jesus’ death became the particular focus for Protestants. This is when the theology that “Jesus died on account of our sins and in our place” became dominant. More recently among evangelicals, the emphasis has been on Jesus’ resurrection.

But it is a fair question: Why did Jesus die? Beyond the obvious answer that he was a created being? Perhaps the compelling question is better phrased, Why did Jesus die the way he did?

There is some truth to the answer above. “Jesus died on account of our sins and in our place.” We do see this answer in the New Testament which was written beginning about twenty-five years after Jesus death.

But Jesus, and some NT writers, had a larger view, in part because if Jesus’ death satisfied the penalty for sin, why do we still feel guilty and anxious? Why do we still die? Why do we still suffer?

The larger vision of Jesus’ suffering and death is reflected in parts of the book of Hebrews. There we read that, “We have a high priest who sympathizes with our weakness.” Jesus’ death is the ultimate identification with our weakness as human creatures. We succumb to death.

Using John’s Gospel account of the crucifixion, I want to reflect upon this question. How does Christ sympathize with our weakness?

There are times we suffer uniquely alone, for example, in the death of a child or through the burden of a degenerative disease. It helps to remember that Christ carried the Cross alone.

There are times when the popular crowd excludes us. It helps to remember that Jesus was crucified with outcasts.

Sometimes our words are taken out of context, and our good intentions are derailed by a carless word. Jesus also was misunderstood and mischaracterized though he was a king.

Sometimes people gossip about us. Christ was also a humiliated celebrity.

There are times when we resolve to love, even when it’s hard, even when it’s a sacrifice. It helps to remember that Jesus suffered with a purpose.

Sometimes people are just mean. It helps to remember Jesus was also mistreated with the Roman soldier’s spear.

And John tells us that Jesus trusted God in his suffering. This is the practical meaning of his death according to the larger vision. We can trust God in our suffering because Christ trusted God in his suffering.

And more, as God vindicated Christ’s suffering by resurrecting him from the dead, so we hope God will vindicate our suffering. For we share in Christ’s suffering when we suffer, and we share in Christ’s death with our death. And the sacrament of baptism promises that we will share in Christ’s resurrection also. We don’t suffer alone, and when we do suffer, we still have hope.

So let us listen to the Passion narratives and their long introductions and the Good Friday liturgies. Let us find comfort in Christ’s death “for your sins and in your place.” And let us find strength in Christ’s death “because you don’t suffer alone and because you have hope.”

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