Rev. Mark Buetow
Does your church have a crucifix? By crucifix I mean a cross with Jesus’ body on it. Some people have said that Jesus shouldn’t be shown on a cross because He’s risen from the dead. “He’s not on the cross anymore,” they say. (I bet the same folks might nevertheless have Jesus in a manger around Christmas time, though!) The crucifix is a reminder of what stands at the center of our Christian faith: Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. That’s all St. Paul was resolved to know in His preaching. (1 Corinthians 2:2).
St. Paul calls the cross “foolishness.” (1 Corinthians 1:18) What he means is that a guy nailed to a cross, crucified in the vicious Roman way, doesn’t seem like God. It doesn’t seem like a Savior. There’s nothing obviously heroic or notable about this Man, nailed to a tree. But, he says, this preaching of the cross of Christ, of Jesus nailed to the tree to take the curse, is the “power of God unto salvation.” (Romans 1:16). That is, Jesus’ death on Calvary is the way in which the world is redeemed from sin, reconciled to God the Father, and the judgment of God paid and satisfied.
This Friday is Good Friday. It’s called good because what happened on that day, the death of Jesus on Calvary, is good for the whole world. Here we learn God’s heart: that He saves sinners. We learn our own hearts, too, hearts that would so hate God as to nail Him to a cross to shut Him up, to get rid of Him, to silence Him. Yet for these very haters, for us even, Jesus chose to die. While we were yet sinners, Christ dared to die for us. (Romans 5:6). On Calvary, Jesus became the curse (Galatians 3:13). He was the righteous One, dying for the unrighteous (1 Peter 3:18). He is the Suffering Servant upon whom were laid all our sins, transgressions and iniquities. By His stripes, His wounds, we are healed from our sins. (Isaiah 53).
Good Friday stands in history as the reminder that our big problem isn’t that we need to learn how to behave. It’s not that we need to get our act together. Our greatest need is not to somehow become nicer people or to stay out of trouble. Our big problem is we are sinners who are cut off from God. Good Friday is the display of God’s promise that He Himself has come to rescue us, pay whatever the cost, and have us as His own again. Good Friday and the crucifixion of Jesus are the reason the Christian church exists. It’s the reason Christians share the Gospel, the Good News. We want all the world to know that what was wrong has been put right; what was condemned has been declared “not guilty;” what was dead has been made alive.
Just before He died, Jesus spoke the words, “It is finished.” These words put an end to our attempts to make up our own religion. These words silence our sinful hearts trying to bargain with God. These words shut down all arguments that we are good enough or can be good enough to please God. These words, “It is finished,” are the declaration of the Son of God that the work of your salvation is done. Finished. Complete. Fulfilled. Taken care of. Accomplished. This is the heart and center of the life of Christ’s church, that we hear and believe that Jesus was crucified for us and that by His death all things are finished.
The church lives by this crucified Jesus. As a pelican would pierce its own breast to provide food for its young, so the church lives because Jesus was pierced after He died. That spear opened a floodgate of forgiveness. Water. Font. Baptism. Blood. Cup. Communion. The very water and blood that flow out of Jesus’ side flow forth in His church in the holy gifts of Baptism and the Eucharist (Communion, the Lord’s Supper). It is from His side that His bride, the church is made, and it is by His water and blood that she is alive.
Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. It has all come to this, in Holy Week. The death of Jesus. The death of a man. The death of God. He who knew no sin but was made sin for us so that in Him we would become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21).