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Good Friday Images

3/21/08

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Sometimes images convey more than words. Some days words won't do. This Friday is one such day.

There is a picture of Jesus in my home with His elbows out from His side and His hands up in the air. In Louisiana it hung at the end of the main hallway. I saw this painting each night as I headed to bed. Our 5 small kids were in two rooms to the right. Our bedroom was on the left. I'm not sure what the artist meant to convey by this painting, but sometimes when I turned down this hall with the burden of the world behind me and the weight of my family in front of me, I felt the painting expressed, "What can I do about it?" Or, "What do you want Me to do?"

From where did my world get its weight? Did the God who is love give me a family to burden me? Did He place me in the world so like Atlas I could carry it on my back? No, I worried; I felt hopeless, burdened because I didn't, I wouldn't, I couldn't fear, love, or trust in God above all things. I feared the world and Satan more than I did God. I loved what I wanted more than God. I trusted in what I could do or plan more than I did God.

What could Jesus do for me but shrug? Because I feared, loved, and trusted me above all things, I was my own god, and since I was hopeless, I could only see Jesus that way too. As I struggled to deal with life, make it work, put it in order, I wouldn't let go of being my own God. I wouldn't confess it though I knew it. Though the answer was right there at the end of my hall; I thought He was just shrugging at me.

That's how it is with you this Good Friday. You're the burden, the difficulty; what's wrong with your life is you: your sin and sinfulness. And the only answer you see is to try harder, do better, be more determined. There's a shrugging Jesus at the end of your hall too. A shrugging Jesus doesn't help a touchdown Jesus does.

Though we're months away from football, you all know the signal for a touchdown. What you don't know is that this was the hand signal the Romans used when crucifying someone. A book on the crucifixion says this, "As soon as the executioner was certain the condemned man could not, in struggling, pull himself loose he brought both of his arms upward rapidly. This was the signal to lift the crossbeam." Touchdown!

With the touchdown signal, that crossbeam was lifted by soldiers and put on the upright piece of wood. The full weight of the body of Jesus now hung on those nails, but that's not the weight that matters. You know the weight of the world I put on my shoulders? That was there. You know the weight of my family I saw myself as bearing? That was there. But you know the weight that hung heaviest on Jesus? The weight of my worrying and believing I could bear and needed to bear those other weights.

When Jesus was lifted up not just my sins but the sins of the whole world were weighing Jesus down. John says, "Jesus is the atoning sacrifice not just for our sins but the sins of the whole world." That atoning sacrifice part is important. If all we see at the cross is the weight of our sins pulling down on the crucified Jesus we can only feel guilty. Instead of a shrugging Jesus, we see at a look-what-you-did-to-me Jesus.

We need to see that when the Roman soldier signaled "touchdown," our sins and sinfulness were answered. Though innocent, God the Son was made to be sin like us, not merely to bear it as we do in our bodies and soul but to pay for it as we cannot do in body or soul. He's the atoning sacrifice. Here on the cross is all of God's wrath against your sins, so it cannot be on you. Here on Jesus is all God's anger at us because we insist that the answer to our sins is trying harder, doing better. Here hanging on Jesus is God's judgment against your excuses for sinning, my being my own god, and the whole world's rejection of the true God.

The danger to swerve from the Gospel is great here. As always there are errors on either side of the truth. These can be depicted by images. One you've seen; one you haven't. The first error is that Jesus isn't crucified for all. This is depicted by the Jansenist crucifix. Cornelius Jansen was a 17th century Catholic bishop of Flanders. He didn't believe Jesus died for all so his followers depicted the arms of the crucified Jesus straight up in the air rather than spread out in an inviting gesture. Jesus doesn't want all to find safety under His outstretched arms on the cross, so His arms point to God in heaven because only He knows who belongs under the cross.

The ditch on the other side of the truth that Jesus was crucified for all is the shrugging Jesus. Since Jesus went to the cross to pay for your sins, you're free to wallow in them. What does Jesus care if you keep certain sins as pets? What does He care if you excuse them, defend them, nurture them. Since Jesus freely died for all your sins, you're free to eat, drink, and be merry in them. He just shrugs. The shrugging Jesus didn't take the penitent thief to heaven but returned him to his life of crime.

Good Friday is not the day sinners are freed to wallow in sins nor is it the nay when only some sinners are free from sin. Good Friday is the day God says to miserable, disgusting sinners like us, "With this cross I thee wed." Let's deal with the Jansenist crucifix first.

There is a sculpture of Jesus on the cross, and true to reality He is not that far off the ground. His left hand is nailed to the cross, but His right isn't and with it He's embracing a man at the foot of the cross. This shows 2 things: One Jesus is on the cross willingly. He isn't suffering the damnation of God in your place through grit teeth. It is eternally painful, but He suffers willingly. The worst mistreatment of His sacrifice is for you not to use it, not to think it's for you, or not think it sufficient to pay for your sins. The worst thing is to go away from the cross with your sins still on you.

The second thing this sculpture shows is that Jesus embraces all at the foot of the cross. The whole world is at the foot of His cross. Paul says plainly: Christ died for all. God was reconciling the world to Himself in Christ, and as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive. The fact that most reject the work of Jesus, the fact that many only come to the foot of the cross to pity Jesus, doesn't destroy the fact God hung Him there for all.

The one error is to go to the cross and see Jesus hands pointing up in the air saying there's no sure and certain peace for all sinners under these arms. The other error is think Jesus suffers and dies here so you can be at peace with your sins.

Texas artist, Thomas Blackshear's picture "Forgiven" answers this second error. Jesus is shown lifting up a person dressed in modern clothing. His blue jeans are muddy because he's been kneeling. He has a big wooden hammer in his right hand and a large nail in his left. He is limp with exhaustion. He is exhausted from nailing his Good Shepherd, his Savior, Friend and God to a tree. That's what defending sins, protecting sins, not confessing sins does: it re-crucifies Jesus. Every night I walked down that hall thinking I could handle my life and Jesus couldn't do a thing, I was pounding a nail in ever deeper. Every night, every day, every time you think you're the answer to your sins or Jesus isn't because this or that isn't really a sin, you're down on the ground pounding, pounding.

And aren't you exhausted? It takes too much to be your own god, too much to be your own savior, too much to defend your sin. We can't be our own god, savior, or defeater of sin. Only God in Christ can be all three, and I want to point you back to the Jansenist crucifix. That crucifix has now become a part of Christian art, so just because you see it some place doesn't mean the people there necessarily believe in a limited atonement. But now that you know the history of this crucifix, I want you to see those hands not just pointing straight up, but see them going together. That is the symbol of a safety in football. This is where the other team scores 2 points for you because you tackled them in the end zone.

There is safety at the foot of the cross. Notice in the Good Friday accounts how the followers of Jesus aren't harmed. Lightening didn't strike any of them not even the ones who were too cowardly to be there. Lightening didn't strike Judas. He died at his own hand despairing that the innocent Jesus suffered for him. Not even unbelievers are struck down: not the soldiers who nailed him to the cross, not the soldiers who lifted His crossbeam, not the centurion who signaled touchdown." Nor were out and out enemies harmed. With all the weight of human sin, worry, pride, lust, and greed hanging on Him, the church leaders continued to mock and scorn Jesus, yet not even against them does God's wrath break out.

If the foot the cross is a safe place for them, it's a safe place for all, for all of you. It's a safe place to drop all your sins and see them disappear forever under the blood of Jesus never, ever to be seen or heard from again. And it's a place to find safety from yourself. Your sins are too heavy for you to bear and they are too hearty for you to overcome. Jesus overcame them by claiming them as His own, paying for them. They belong to Jesus now, not you, and you can't have them back. What you can have is forgiveness for them and freedom from them.

There is safety in Christ crucified. Don't shrug this off for He most certainly isn't shrugging at you but inviting you to come to where your sins are finished and your new life begins. Amen.

Rev. Paul R. Harris

Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas

Good Friday (20080321)