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Sermon for March 29, 2024 – Good Friday

Psalm 22:1-31 • Isaiah 52:13-53:12 • Hebrews 10:16-25 • John 18:1-19:42

Good Friday commemorates Jesus’ crucifixion and death. This day is a somber one, traditionally held with an attitude of contemplation and solemnity, and we can pause to consider the many questions raised by Jesus’ crucifixion. The readings from the Revised Common Lectionary focus on life and death, forgiveness and guilt, as well as an awareness and awe for the complexity of being both human and divine as reflected in Jesus’ passion. Today’s theme follows the trajectory of events Jesus went through: betrayal, denial, trial, death. Psalm 22 is a lament, followed by praising God for his deliverance, and is often connected prophetically with Jesus’ crucifixion. Isaiah 52 speaks of a suffering servant, again foreshadowing Jesus’ betrayal and mistreatment. Hebrews 10 tells of the new covenant, written in our hearts and minds, and names Jesus as our great priest. The sermon text from John 18:1-19:42 covers Jesus’ passion, and we’ll reflect on what the cross reveals about Jesus and us.

What the Cross Reveals

John 18:1-19:42 (NRSVUE)

We’re gathered today to contemplate Jesus’ betrayal, his disciples’ denial, the mockery of his trial, and ultimately, his death on the cross. But Jesus was not the first person to be crucified. History tells us that the barbaric practice probably began with the Assyrians, Babylonians, and Persians in the sixth century BC. Alexander the Great is credited with bringing crucifixion to eastern Mediterranean countries in the fourth century BC. But it was the Romans who perfected this method of execution after they discovered it during the third century’s Punic Wars.

Ancient historian Josephus writes about mass crucifixions in the Holy Land during the first century AD, and other historical reports talk about the roads into Jerusalem being lined with crosses and bodies. We can imagine what the people of Jesus’ day felt, living in a world where crucifixion was commonplace: intimidated, hopeless, powerless. The crosses reinforced the Roman oppression with their unspoken threats: “If you step out of line, this could happen to you.”

That’s why Jesus’ disciples and other followers hoped Jesus would help them overthrow their Roman oppressors. They had no idea that he would die on one of those crosses. His followers lost their Teacher and Friend, as well as their hope for the future. They were mourning the way they thought things were going to turn out. They didn’t have the luxury of hindsight like we do, and it’s helpful to remember that as we look at the events of Good Friday.

Let’s read our sermon text from John 18, beginning in verse 1 and concluding in chapter 19, verse 42. As you listen to the reading, notice our themes of Betrayal, Denial, Trial, and Death.

[*Note: you may choose to read the sermon text John 18:1-19:42 in its entirety yourself or allow members of the congregation to take turns reading a few verses. You also could divide and label the reading into its respective sections, i.e., Betrayal, Denial, etc.]

As we reflect on the story of Jesus’ betrayal, the disciples’ denial, the trial, and Jesus’ death, we can glean insights as to what the cross reveals about Jesus and what it reveals about us.

What the Cross Reveals About Jesus

The cross shows that Jesus was in charge of his life and death. In John 10:18, Jesus said,

No one takes [my life] from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father. (John 10:18, NRSVUE)

We can consider the events in our sermon text and how Jesus maintained the upper hand in all interactions:

  • In the garden, Jesus didn’t try to run away but walked out to meet the armed soldiers who were there to arrest him and identified himself (John 18:4).
  • When Jesus asked why they were questioning him when all of his teaching had been done publicly, a guard struck him. In response, Jesus refused to be intimidated and asserted that he had spoken truthfully (John 18:19, 24).
  • During his trial, Jesus refused to answer Pilate directly, and instead, took control by asking him questions (John 18:24). When Pilate tried to claim his preeminence and power over Jesus, Jesus told him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given from above” (John 19:11).
  • In John’s gospel, Jesus carried his cross by himself (John 19:17).
  • Jesus appeared to be in charge of the moment of his death, saying, “It is finished” (John 19:30).

Though Jesus allowed himself to be killed, the cross was not a passive choice or a sign of defeat. As author Debie Thomas writes, “The cross is about shaking things up. About rattling the system to its core. About confronting sin with the power of grace, love, and surrender.”

What the cross reveals about us

Jesus unveils our human “poison” through the cross by showing the potential for evil in any humanly constructed system. We are forced to see the pain we cause others through our inability to love, our preoccupation with violence and sexual objectification, our discomfort for difference and propensity to hate anyone not like us, and our rush to judge and condemn those who suffer. Jesus asks us to bear what he bore on the cross, such as hatred and contempt. Consider what the cross says about us:

  • The cross declares Jesus’ solidarity with us forever, but especially with those who suffer oppression, violence, wrongful imprisonment, abandonment, or murder.
  • The cross reveals how our God through Jesus took one of the most violent methods of execution and death and changed it for us at great cost to mean resurrection.
  • The cross means that we see Christ crucified in any suffering, and we respond by trying to help others.
  • The cross requires our acceptance that we, too, will die, and so we must live in a manner that speaks resurrection and hope.
  • By its mystery, the cross compels us to love God and each other.

Professor of Preaching at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary Gennifer Benjamin Brooks writes, “God gives us power to face every circumstance. Jesus, the all-powerful God in human flesh, is our model. He trusted in the power of God to bring him through this death-dealing situation and so can we.” As we reflect on this Good Friday, we can see how Emmanuel, “God With Us,” is exemplified in the cross, and we offer our heartfelt gratitude to Jesus for his solidarity with us.

Call to Action: Check with your local Catholic church to see if it offers the Stations of the Cross (i.e., artwork commemorating Jesus’ passion) for public visitation. If so, consider going to augment your Good Friday observance with a visual reminder. If this isn’t available, you can check out the Stations of the Cross in pictures online (see links below). You may also consider using Lectio Divina to closely read part of the passage about Jesus’ passion. Try to imagine yourself as different characters in the scene and how they might feel, given their position and understanding about Jesus.

For Reference:
Thomas, Debie. Into the Mess and Other Jesus Stories. Cascade Books, 2022.

Stations of the Cross in Pictures:

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W3

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March 17—Fifth Sunday of Easter Prep
John 12:20-33, “The Hour Has Come”

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Program Transcript

The Hour Has Come w/ Dr. Jenny Richards W3

Anthony: Let’s pivot to our next pericope of the month.

It’s John chapter 12:20 – 33. It is a Revised Common Lectionary passage for the fifth Sunday of Easter Prep/Lent, on March 17.

Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew, then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain, but if it dies it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honor. 27 “Now my soul is troubled. And what should I say: ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd standing there heard it and said that it was thunder. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not for mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now the ruler of this world will be driven out. 32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.

Jenny, if you were preaching this pericope, what would you herald?

Jenny: In particular, I actually think this is one of the hardest questions that you’ve asked me to answer simply because there’s so much in this passage.

And I will say, am quite sure that I don’t see or understand all of it either. But to me, it does reveal several things about the gospel. And the first, unsurprisingly, being something that has come out in other passages. The gospel here is about the Father and the Son in the Spirit.

The reason I say that is there’s a whole lot of the use of the word glory here. First Jesus’ glory and then the Father’s, and that’s because they’re interrelated. Apparently, J. B. Torrance would always say to his students, the heart of the New Testament is the relationship between the Father and the Son in the Spirit.

And we see a lot of that reflected here in this passage. The hour that Jesus is talking about here is the hour that he is crucified. And he alludes to that again at the end when he’s speaking about being lifted up. And he says that this is the hour that won’t dishonor him, but it will glorify him.

And how on earth could that be possible? Is it because he’s been noble and obedient to the Father and sacrificing himself and going through that pain and suffering for us? He is doing those things, but I don’t think that’s what he’s alluding to here. He is obedient to the Father; he does give himself for us.

But there are a lot more layers inherent in the language here, I think. And that’s because to see something’s glory, as one of my pastors, David Kowalik, used to say, is to see it for what it truly is. So, in Jesus’ choice to do what the Father asked him, to be crucified as the Son of God and Son of Man, we see not only who he truly is, but who the Father truly is.

We see salvation revealed as an act of the Father, Son, and Spirit together to draw all of the human race to themselves as he’s lifted up and to repair the evil and brokenness of the world. We see Jesus mediating his knowledge of God as his Father to us and revealing him as far more than creator. We see Jesus being determined to go to the ends of the earth for us and that is a decision of Father, Son, and Spirit together.

So, the Father’s identity as Jesus’ Father is also now our Father. And that’s revealed not only in Jesus life, but also in his death and resurrection and ascension, because that’s all what’s about to unfold here in this hour that is going to glorify Jesus.

Anthony: Jesus mentioned that his soul was troubled in verse 27.

Of course, that’s unique to him as he faced his brutal death that was coming. But I wonder if there’s some correlation for us, Jenny. And I don’t need to tell you this, the collective soul of humanity seems pretty troubled at the present moment. And since Jesus is the one who is the true human and shows us what true humanity looks like, what can we learn, if anything, and how can we be encouraged by this text?

Jenny: I’d say two things here—three things I would say. I think you’re right. I would say two other things that come out of the text. And the first is just, it shows that it’s not unchristian for one’s soul to be troubled. Jesus’ soul was troubled, even though he actually knew what was really going on, and he still found it hard.

And if our souls are troubled when we feel that way, it probably just means we’re paying attention rather than trying to shut off what’s going on and the difficulties that are being experienced. Some people seem to think they should never feel negative emotion as Christians, or if they do, to quickly push them aside or something and focus on the good and things like that.

No, Jesus felt troubled, even though he knew that what he was about to do would accomplish the eternal purposes of God. If there was ever a time for boldness, this would have been it this was the turning point. It was all about to happen! And that’s why he said, I’m not saying save me, save me. I’m saying your will be done glorify your name.

That’s why he chose it. But the reality of the crucifixion is that it was brutal and torturous and abusive of Jesus, as well as having the spiritual weight of bearing the evil of the world and so on. So, if there was any other way, of course, Jesus wanted to take it. And not only was Jesus free to feel that emotion, he was also free to express that to the Father and be heard and understood. And so can we.

The other thing I think is apparent here is the way in which Jesus entrusted his troubled, yet resolute, heart to the Father. And in doing so, the Father was able to turn that around. So, there is space for all facets of what goes on in our soul, even at the times that are turning points, and we know we’re perhaps in the midst of doing something that we know we’re called to do. We can have compassion for ourselves and be assured of the compassion and provision and tenderness at the Father’s heart towards our own troubled souls. He doesn’t take any of that lightly and he’s already dealt with all of that in Christ.

I think elsewhere in the New Testament, and I’m terrible with remembering the exact verses so I can’t cite it for you, but it says we do not have a high priest who cannot empathize with our weaknesses and does not understand. And I think we see that reflected here in the pain that Jesus was experiencing.

Anthony: I recently told a congregation that Jesus was the prophesied Messiah who was a suffering servant. But now having been saved through death, ascended to the right hand of the Father, being our high priest that, as you just mentioned, sympathizes, who understands. He was a suffering servant, but now he’s the servant to those who suffer.

He enters into the pain. It’s so powerful that he, that God doesn’t stand away at an antiseptic distance from our pain or sorrow or trouble, but he enters into the heart of that darkness and has overcome it. Hallelujah.

So, I appreciated what you said, because sometimes we do get this idea: he is our salvation; he’s done it all; everything’s got to be happy, clappy when it’s not. But to know that even as we go through the suffering, that there is one who is with us, who understands, who knows what it’s like to be troubled in his soul. Thanks be to God that he is with us. Hallelujah. Amen.

Small Group Discussion Questions

  • Imagine yourself living in the Holy Land at the time of Jesus. How would you feel, living under Roman rule and observing their cruel executions of anyone who tried to thwart the Roman government?
  • Those who followed Jesus hoped he would overthrow the Roman government and set up righteous rulership. When Jesus died, not only did they lose their Teacher and Friend but also their hope that their world might be different. Based on your experience, why is hope so important to human beings?
  • Thinking about the list of ways Jesus showed he was in charge of his life and death in the story of the Passion, which one speaks the most to you? Why?
  • In considering what the cross reveals about us, what aspect do you find most surprising? Why?

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