(watch here: https://youtu.be/IdrJ4syPtYI)
31Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. 32Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. 33But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. 34Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. 35(He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) 36These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ 37And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’
38After these things, Joseph of Arimathea, who was a disciple of Jesus, though a secret one because of his fear of the Jews, asked Pilate to let him take away the body of Jesus. Pilate gave him permission; so he came and removed his body. 39Nicodemus, who had at first come to Jesus by night, also came, bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, weighing about a hundred pounds. 40They took the body of Jesus and wrapped it with the spices in linen cloths, according to the burial custom of the Jews. 41Now there was a garden in the place where he was crucified, and in the garden there was a new tomb in which no one had ever been laid. 42And so, because it was the Jewish day of Preparation, and the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
There’s a story about how when the California gold fever broke out, a man went there, leaving his wife in New England with his boy. As soon as he got on and was successful he was to send for them. It was a long time before he succeeded, but at last he got money enough to send for them. The wife’s heart leaped for joy. She took her boy to New York, got on board a Pacific steamer, and sailed away to San Francisco. They had not been long at sea before the cry of “Fire! fire!” rang through the ship, and rapidly it gained on them. There was a powder magazine on board, and the captain knew the moment the fire reached the powder, every man, woman, and child would die. They got out the life-boats, but they were too small. In a minute they were overcrowded. The last one was just pushing away, when the mother pled with them to take her and her boy. “No,” they said, “we have got as many as we can hold.” She pleaded with them so earnestly that at last they said they would take one more. Do you think she leaped into that boat and left her boy to die? No, she seized her boy, gave him one last hug, kissed him, and dropped him over into the boat. “My boy,” she said, “if you live to see your father, tell him that I died in your place.”
Jesus has died in our place. We have gathered this evening to remember this very truth. One man died so that we might live. And not just a man but God himself. Jesus went to that cross as both fully human and fully divine which means somehow God died on that cross. I don’t quite understand how this is possible and I, too, rely on faith to support my belief. There are great mysteries in this world and God dying on the cross is one of them. I can’t explain it and I’m not even going to try. But I am going to reflect on what it means. Jesus gave up his life so that we might live unafraid of the Father’s wraith. No longer does the Father regard us according to our sinful natures. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice made on our behalf. Jesus is without sin, completely undeserving of the death he received. And because of this, the Father witnessed that we are able to display genuine goodness and kindness to each other. We are not a hopeless creation to be discarded and recreated. Underneath our sinful natures there are creatures worthy of existence and his love. Jesus showed this to be true.
But Jesus also showed the Father that we are capable of loving each other the way He wants us to love each other—sacrificially. Last evening, we went with Jesus to his last supper where he gave his disciples, and us, one of his greatest commandments, to love one another as he has loved us. We have been commanded to love each other. We can choose to disobey his commandment but we’re only hurting ourselves if we thus choose. We only stand to gain by loving each other. I closed out my message by asking two questions: what is the love of Jesus? and how are we to love one another? The cross answers both questions quite effectively—by sacrificing for each other. Genuine love invariably involves some degree of sacrifice. When we love something or someone, we are choosing not to love something else, someone else. When we love something or someone, we dedicate ourselves to that thing or person. Jesus loves us so he sacrificed his very self for us. He gave up his identity in loving us. Jesus died on that cross. The Jesus we knew and loved and was loved by died on that cross. When he came back to us, he came back as the risen Christ. But that’s jumping ahead in the story…
We mustn’t forget that Jesus wasn’t the only one making a sacrifice on that cross. The Father also made a sacrifice. In John, we hear that “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life” (3:16). No doubt it grieved the Father to see his son suffer on the cross and the hours leading up to the crucifixion. It grieves all parents to see their children suffer, especially when they suffer for no reason as Jesus had suffered. The Father is no different than you or me in witnessing the suffering of the world. The Father’s love for us is so great that He is willing to subject his Son to ceaseless and undeserved suffering. As Paul writes in his letter to the Romans, “but God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (5:8). God’s love is greater than our sin. Our sin might separate us from God but His love invariably brings us back together.
The love of Jesus is sacrificial love. We are to love each other likewise. In his first letter, John wrote, “God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another.” We may or may not love God as we ought but God loved us in and through sacrifice. Let us use Jesus’ sacrifice as a guide for how we are to sacrifice for each other.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Sacrifice.