Grace, mercy, and peace to you, from God, our Father, and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, amen. The text for the sermon comes from John 19:17-30.
The King is here, standing before the people. The jury is back, the verdict has been read – on the charge of blasphemy: guilty; the sentence: death. Unlike modern day criminals, he carried His own form of execution. He carried His own cross to Golgotha, the Place of the Skull. The reason for His death: for being “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.”
His execution was scheduled with two other criminals, one on either side of Him. The two thieves serve as reminders that such a fate is what every person deserves. Not all people deserve to be executed for crimes against the state, but all deserve death from the hand of God. Who deserves to be on Golgotha being crucified? Is it Jesus, the sinless One? Is it the criminals? Is it someone else? Jesus does not deserve to be crucified there; He is sinless and perfect, doing nothing to warrant crucifixion. The two criminals did something to deserve death, but did it warrant crucifixion? If anyone deserves to be crucified on Golgotha, it is me. I am the one who committed crimes against the State, against God’s commands. My verdict was already pronounced in the Garden of Eden when my first parents sinned. But I am not the only one who deserves to be crucified on Golgotha. There is plenty of space all around me for all of you to be crucified as well, for you are all enemies of the State of Grace, of God.
There is good news for all of us. We are not the ones who are being crucified; though we are the ones who deserve it. Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, has gone before us to Golgotha to accept our punishment. Just as the prophet Isaiah writes, “He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth.” He took your punishment and He took mine. He did this out of love for you and for me.
So much for Christ being a king. What kind of king would willfully allow himself to be betrayed by his friends and then beaten, scourged and tried, all with no evidence of wrong doing?
On Palm Sunday, we heard Pontius Pilate ask the question to Jesus, “‘Are you the King of the Jews?’ And [Jesus] answered him, ‘You have said so.’” St. John record for us a more in-depth account of the response Jesus gave to Pilate: “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world—to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.” All Pilate could say was “What is truth?”
That is the question to be asked: What is truth? In today’s society, truth is relative to the individual. We can have the facts of something presented to us and still decide that the truth is still up for grabs. In the end, truth is relative, except in the case of Christ. Truth is not relative; truth is definitive. The truth is this: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Our Good Shepherd suffered ridicule, death, and hell for your sins and for mine. He laid down His life for us. He laid down His innocent life for our lives which are guilty.
Jesus, the King of the Jews, was led to be crucified, for the sins of the people, including Pilate and the two criminals who were hanging on either side. He was dying for the sins of people who had beaten Him, mocked Him, hurled insults at Him, who utterly emasculated Him.
Jesus went to the cross because He loved us. He gave His life as a ransom for many. He gave His body to be whipped, to be spit upon, to be punched, cut with thorns, to be nailed through and crucified, all of it for you and me. We can find rest here in the wounds of Jesus.
His precious blood, which He freely shed in His bitter sufferings and cruel death, is what cleanses us from all our sins. His blood is our help. When we are hurting, we can look to the human body of Jesus, which didn’t make use of its glorious divine power when the mystery of our redemption was being worked out. In the bleeding wounds of Jesus is our only remedy.
Jesus went to the cross for us. St. Paul says, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” We weren’t worthy of Christ’s heroic death for us. He went anyway because he loved us before we were born. It was glory for him to love us and take our burden upon himself.
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Not only does Jesus love us, but the Father loves us as well.
It’s a hard thing to send a son or daughter off to war to fight for a noble cause. One can only imagine what that must be like, not knowing if they will return or not, just holding on to hope and prayer. But imagine the Father, sending his Son, knowing exactly what’s going to happen, and knowing that millions of people will never understand why you did it or know that you did it for them.
Jesus bore the wrath of God against our sins. Simple pain and death was not the essence of what He endured. He bore the wrath of God in His soul, the agonies of Hell. He who is God was forsaken by God on the cross. He became a curse, for He Himself had spoken through the prophet that “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.” We cannot imagine what He endured. And, thanks be to God, we who believe will never know first-hand. He suffered for us and in our place on the cross on Calvary.
And when He had done all that the Scriptures said He would do, and when He had suffered all that was prophesied that the Messiah would suffer, He spoke the most precious word in the history of man, τετέλεσται, which takes three words in English to translate, "It is finished!" With those words, Jesus tells us that the debt of sin has been paid in full and the burden of the guilt of all mankind has been lifted forever.
You need to hear, that through Christ’s death, you have received the gift of life. You need to tell your young child and your 60-year-old spouse that Jesus died, but that He rose again from the dead. No child, however your or old, will ever be able to grasp the full dimension of that – of the resurrection. It is cause for faith. You need to hear, this night, that there is life through death – for Jesus, and for us, and for all who fall asleep in Christ. All of this is accomplished for us, by “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” In the name of Christ, the crucified, amen. Now the peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through faith in Christ Jesus, amen.