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Signs of Death...

Signs of Death

Good Friday 2016

 

Letting go of life is not an easy thing to do.  Choosing to lay down your own life when you know it will involve horrific suffering and pain is even harder. 

That is why Jesus told us in John 12 these things:

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.24 Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. 25 Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will honor the one who serves me.

27 “Now my soul is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name!”

            This evening, we are remembering that evening so long ago.  Some 24 hours prior to Good Friday, Jesus had met with his disciples in that Upper Room to celebrate the Passover.  It would be his last Passover with them.  In fact, it would be his last meal with them before laying down his life for them and us.

            As we prepare to share the Lord’s Table together in remembrance of Jesus tonight, I would like us to take note of just how much Jesus “laid down” that day nearly 2,000 years ago so he could “take up” the cross for us.  What were the building “signs of death” that Jesus willingly embraced to reconcile us to God the Father?  How many different kinds of “deaths” did Jesus experience in order to give us life forever?

            As Arty reminded us from Philippians 2:5-8, God embracing something so foreign to him as death for our sakes began long before the cross.  That passage reminds us that Jesus, “being in very nature God,” didn’t cling to that divine equality as he had every right to do.  Life to the full, shared between the members of the Trinity—Father, Son & Holy Spirit—had to be let go of if we were to be redeemed from our sin. 

            So in eternity past, “from the foundation of the world” says Revelation 13:8, Jesus as the Lamb of God that would take away the sin of the world, chose humility instead of glory.  He laid aside his unequaled majesty as God and clothed himself in humanity—the body of a baby…and then a teenager…and then a man. 

That step “down” into humanity would have alone set him apart in all history.  But his humility and humiliation didn’t stop there.  Jesus kept descending into the inglorious experience of humanity by letting go of even human life. 

“…He humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!”  (Phil. 2:8)

            But in the process of becoming that “kernel of wheat” that falls into the ground and dies, Jesus experienced a hundred other, smaller “deaths” along the road to the cross.  Just think of the ones he pointed out to us in those last 24 hours. 

            Tobin read for us the passage from John 13 about Jesus washing his follower’s feet.  John tells us that this humble act of washing the dust of the day off the feet of the disciples was just another expression of the depth and breadth of Jesus love for these men.  With the meal already underway and no servant in the house to perform the needed foot washing, Jesus interrupted his dinner, laid aside his robe, girded himself with a towel, and began to actually BE the servant in the room to those he loved. 

            Loving people will spell death to living privileged lives.  Put another way, letting go of privilege and position, even if just among your peers, is essential to finding a life of love in Christ. 

Jesus knew that finding the life he desire for all of us…all humanity…would require letting go of even the humble trappings of clothing that he wore as the Carpenter-Teacher.  But letting go of his “outer garments” while taking the towel of a servant would not be the last death to dignity he would die that day.  When they stripped him of his robe at the cross, having just mangled and ripped his flesh with lashings, the soldiers left him naked and exposed to the entire world.  Jesus was choosing the death of his personal dignity in order that we might have the opportunity to choose the life eternal of God in Christ.  Dignity can be a difficult piece of life to let go of 

Matthew 26:31ff tells us that, on their way from that Upper Room to the Garden of Gethsemane that fateful night, Jesus was already in the process of letting go of one of the dearest things in life:  committed, loving, loyal FRIENDSHIP.

31 Then Jesus told them, “This very night you will all fall away on account of me, for it is written:

“‘I will strike the shepherd,
    and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.”

33 Peter replied, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.”

34 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.”

35 But Peter declared, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the other disciples said the same.

            We know who was right.  Every one of his closest followers and friends, the 12 Apostles, would desert, deny and even betray him that night. When he humanly needed their friendship most, Jesus chose to let go.  He embraced the “death” of others love and friendship in order that we might become both “friends” and “family” of the Living God (Jn. 15:15; 2 Cor. 6:18; Heb. 2:10). 

Marcy read the account of what happened as Jesus prayed in the Garden that night.  Facing the greatest test of his willingness to be the Savior of mankind, Jesus called upon his disciples to “watch and pray” for Him and for themselves just prior to this horrible “Good Friday” experience.  “Stay awake (watch) and pray…get on the same page as God the Father about what is about to happen” so that you don’t fail and succumb to temptation,” Jesus admonished.  But 3 times they all failed Jesus’ expectations, his desires for them.  Yet not once did Jesus grow bitter or resentful or leave them to their own devices with a, “Well, fine.  If you won’t do this little thing for me of just staying awake and praying, I’m done praying for you!” 

            Instead, he wrestled with his own human aversion to suffering, to death, to excruciating pain and most of all to being abandoned by God the Father.  In his humanity, Jesus clearly preferred to avoid the cross.  In his humanity, he clearly abhorred drinking the cup of the Father’s wrath against our sin.  BUT, there in the Garden, he died to his preferences, his desires, his deepest human longings for life itself and his divine longings for uninterrupted fellowship with the Father…all so that he might live to his Father’s God-longings to forgive us, to redeem us, and invite us into his family.

            Avoidance of suffering, of pain, of humiliation and of just plain what we prefer to do is quite a thing to give up in life.  Those are some pretty strong desire to die to.  But Jesus was embracing death along the entire road to the cross that night.

When Judas and the Temple soldiers finally arrived in the Garden late that night to arrest Jesus, a couple of things happened that reveal yet more “signs of death” as Jesus let go of power and authority rightly his. 

John 18 tells us that when Judas arrived with his group of legal thugs and Jesus identified himself to them, something compelled them to “draw back” and literally fall to the ground.  This is a visible manifestation of the power and authority Jesus has as God over the forces of evil and darkness.  

Satan was, we know, working through Judas Iscariot at that very moment.  We can be sure his demonic cohorts were at work in the soldiers and religious officials also present.  But they were clearly and visibly no match for the authority and power of Jesus Christ. 

            That reality is underscored moments later when Peter, looking to actually relieve someone of their head, tries to defend Jesus with a swing of his sword.  Fortunately, he misses and only gets an ear for his effort.  He’s sternly rebuked by Jesus who demonstrates one final, powerful his miraculous healing power in the face of his enemy’s refusal to believe.   He reattaches the severed ear of the servant and then reminds them all that even that amazing healing power is nothing in comparison with the angelic hosts he could summon in an instant, should he choose.  

Matthew 26:53 records Jesus’ own reproof with these words, “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?” One angel could have wiped out their entire band that night.  But Jesus reminds Peter that he could summon 60,000 angels with a word…if self-preservation had been his concern.  “But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?” Jesus went on to say (26:54). 

There in that dark Garden on the most evil of nights, Jesus let go of the host of heaven’s angels and all his divine power that would have so easily obliterated his opponents… and one day will.  He chose death under oppression to life through dominating power and control.

Not having the power to force people to do what you want them to and thus having to live in oppression is one thing; having the power to make people obey and not using it…choosing to be oppressed by evil so that you might free others who are constantly oppressed by evil is quite another. Jesus died yet more in letting go of his rightful power so that we who have no rightful power might live. 

From Jesus unlawful nighttime arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, he was paraded to the High Priests and later before the Sanhedrin for two if not three illegal trials.  In violation of their own rules and God’s code of justice, Jesus was tried, condemned and tortured.  From there Jesus was taken to the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.  When Pilate found him not-guilty, he was shuffled off to Herod Antipas, Tetrarch of Galilea, who was temporarily staying in Jerusalem.  He, too, found no cause of a death sentence and sent Jesus back to Pilate.  So after six different trials and numerous miscarriages of justice at every step, Jesus was condemned to die by crucifixion.

All along this route Jesus was continually questioned.  But he answered only enough to cause the Jews to demand his death for claiming to be the Christ…and both Herod and Pilate to facilitate that death through caving to their demands. 

Thus was the cause of injustice served by rigged courts, improper trials and miscarried justice.  The signs of death were growing ever stronger as Jesus released his rightful hold on justice and allowed the lies of sinful people to begin to rob Life’s Author of life itself. 

But had justice truly been served well that day, we would not be here today.  Only as Jesus let injustice roll over him that horrible Good Friday did God’s just plan for dealing with your sin and mine see the light of day.  Eternal life through Jesus’ death.  Divine justice out of human injustice. Only God could have done that. 

We will never know the ocean of divine restraint it must have taken Jesus not to simply by a word, end all his suffering that horrible Good Friday.  While hanging in utter agony on the cross, fully capable of ending his torture and death in an instant, Jesus chose death!  The Author of ALL life, the creator of the whole universe, the Giver of every breath a human draws, hung before all humanity, despised, rejected, abandoned, unjustly tortured and condemned. 

But he was still letting go of life to embrace death for us.  His mother, Mary, was standing nearby with John, his beloved disciple, next to her.  Here was Jesus’ closest natural relative, his mother, Mary.  And death was about to change their relationship forever. She would, certainly, have freely chosen death in his place if possible.  But it wasn’t…if she and all humanity was to be reconciled to God. She needed his death for her. So he let go of his life…and his mother…and his closest human relationship with any woman…so that she and all of us might find life. 

Letting go of the sweet life of family and loved ones is surely one of the most difficult signs of death humans ever endure. 

But it is the last few words of Jesus that tell us of the most painful part of death for Christ that horrible Good Friday.  Mark 15:33-34 records it for us. 

“At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 34) And at three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”).

            In some way, the Godhead that had known nothing but perfect unity, perfect harmony, perfect love since all eternity past, felt the deepest pain at the deepest level for the most unworthy beings—us.  The Father and the Son, who had not known one instant nor one millimeter of separation every, came to know, as none of us ever will, the absolutely horror of being completely abandoned, completely alone, completely culpable, and completely judged for the sin of the whole world. 

It is impossible enough for us to imagine how absolutely devastating it would be to have all the guilt, all the shame, all the agonizing sorrow, isolation and broken heartedness that just our own, singular lifetime would feel like were it dumped on us all in an instant.  But take our lifetime of guilt, multiply it by the number of people who will every walk this earth and then compress it into one horrible day and load it onto the soul of someone who has never felt guilt or shame or sin…and you will know how death finally came to Jesus. 

            Luke informs us that Jesus “called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.”  John records Jesus last words as, “It is finished!”  And with that, the eternal Spirit of Christ “gave up” we are told, “his spirit” (John 19:30)…and died. 

Signs of death gave way to death itself. 

            Life Eternal surrendered to death in time.

                        The work of redemption accepted by God the Son before mankind and sin ever came into existence, was FINISHED through the death of the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. 

 

This is the horrible Good Friday that we remember, we honor and we bow down in gratitude for.  This is the shed blood and broken body we take to our own souls tonight.

COMMUNION:

  • We’re admitting our sin and guilt. 3:23.
  • We’re receiving the only Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, as our own. John 1:12
  • We’re coming to the cross of Christ where all are equally needy and all are equally loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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