This Changes Everything
"This changes everything," is a dramatic line you hear often in politics and sports. It's overdramatic to say anything in the realm of politics or sports really changes everything. It's another matter in the things of God. Here are things that do literally change everything. This Third Word from the Cross which seems like little more than Jesus tying up some loose ends in this life shows in reality that everything has changed.
Here we see that at the cross the weak are strong and the strong are weak. Where's brave Thomas who said, "Let us also go that we may die with Him," after the other disciples warned Jesus that the Jews in Bethany wanted to stone Him? Where's bold Peter who promised even if everyone else fell away he never would? Where's courageous Peter who said he was willing to go to prison and death with Jesus?
They're nowhere to be found. Neither are virtually all the other disciples. Instead all you find at the cross are the women who were given no share in the apostolic ministry. They had no power to heal, cast out demons, or raise the dead as the 12 did, but here they stand bold and brave near the cross of Jesus. Oh, and the apostle John is here too. He's the youngest of the 12 and probably the most timid. We'll hear on Easter how he won't go inside the tomb right away.
The cross changes everything. It makes the weak strong and the strong weak, and the cross shows us how strong God's wrath against our sins really is and how weak are our excuses. You know how the beastly wife beater blames here for the beating she just took saying, "Look what you made me do!" God's no wife beater, but He's a beloved Son beater, but the Son didn't make Him do it. You did.
Hear that rightly. God can't be made to do anything. But this is the beating, the torturing, the damning your sins deserve even the small ones, even the little ones, even the ones you don't know about and especially the ones you excuse. You blaming your wife like Adam did; you blaming God's unrealistic expectations like Cain did; you blaming chance like Aaron did, doesn't pay for one of your sins. No here they are on Jesus. He's so covered with them says Paul says God made Him sin. So fearful was God's wrath against your sins that hardened soldiers and unbelievers shrank away from it. How about you? Are you so strong that you can be a coward with most of the disciples or weak enough to stand by the cross seeing what you deserve?
The cross changes everything. Here we see that family relations give way to divine but are not forgotten. In the depths of suffering for our sins, Jesus doesn't forget about His mother. A toothache makes me forget about anyone but me. And don't you find it amazing that God the Son uses earthly means to care for His mother? I am, always looking for God to do something miraculous to deal with a pressing earthly need. Here we see even Jesus uses ordinary, earthly things to take care of His mother.
I can see how you could get this far in the Gospels and think Mary was closer to Jesus than you and I. I mean closer to God the Son for of course in a human way they are mother and son. But this changes everything. John is not only to regard Mary as his mother but Mary is now to regard John as her son. Jesus tried to teach this years before. When Mary and Jesus' brothers wanted to interrupt Him while teaching, Jesus said, "My mother and brothers are those who hear God's word and put it into practice." At the cross, Jesus shows Mary she has no claim on Him as a son. She can only come to Him as we do, as Savior.
The cross changes everything not just between God and Man but between men. God reconciled Himself to sinners by pouring out His Son's blood not only for our sins but the sins of the whole world. And from this blood flows other changes. Jesus' blood is thicker than even family blood. None of Jesus half-brothers or half-sisters are mentioned as being at the cross. They don't come to faith in Jesus till after Easter. Rather than entrusting His mother to blood relatives, He entrusts her to a brother in the Faith.
You have to not run ahead in the story. You have to stay with what Jesus actually says to whom in this Third Word from the cross. After Jesus rouses from the punishing wrath of God that even eternity can't contain, He notices his mother standing there and beside her His disciple, John. He says to His mother, "Here is your son now," and to John, "Here is your mother now." From that very hour John took Mary into his home. And this leads to two cliff hangers that some of you might fall off of.
The cross changes everything, but does it change everything for good? "Of course it does; this is the cross that leads to the crown; this is the death without which there can be no resurrection; this is all part of God's plan to redeem the world, so the changes must be good." I say to that, "Other than that Mary was this Friday good for you?" While pastors aren't to pluck heart strings at any time, on Good Friday it's particularly easy to do.
But still a pastor shouldn't do it. He should, however, make sure you appreciate what's going on. It's like a 2007 country song says, "Last night I watched the evening news/ It was the same ol nothin' new/ It should have cut me right in two/ But it didn't." This changed everything for Mary and it did cut her right in two. Simeon promised her that 30 years earlier. "Behold, a sword will pierce even your own soul." A large two edge sword, for that's the Greek word used, is slicing through Mary now. How about you?
A 6th century church father, Melodus, has a poem where he has Mary watching her Lamb advancing toward the slaughter. She follows after him saying in a hopeful but plaintive way that He must be going to Jerusalem to turn water into wine again (ACC, IVB, 317). We'd say she's in denial. We'd say she can't cope. I say, how can we? Cicero calls crucifixion "'most gruesome and terrifying'" another Roman says it's "'the most severe punishment by death" (History, Gerhardt, 238). So terrible was the image of a tortured Christ on the cross that it wasn't for 400 years that Christians made crucifixes (Oxford Hist. of Worship, 820). Yet we can look at them and not see them; wear them and not feel them.
Over 20 years ago, a little boy in my congregation was run over by the school bus that dropped him off. I still get a sickish feeling sometimes when I see a school bus. I had an absolute revulsion for years. How do you think Mary felt about crosses? No wonder the first popular symbol between Christians was a fish and not a cross! I am focusing you on what Mary went through and the very human thing Jesus did for Mary at the end so that you might see, maybe even feel, beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus suffered as a real Man.
He says in the Psalm, "All Thy waves have gone over Me." Jesus was water boarded to death we'd say. He says in the Psalm, "My sins" because they were yours, yours, yours too and all of those people out there, "were more than the numbers of the hairs on My head." Jesus felt guilty as sin we'd say. And because this is true Jesus can say in another Psalm, "For Your arrows have sunk deep into Me, And Your hand has pressed down on Me." Or as Isaiah says, "God was pleased to crush Him." We'd say He felt God hated Him.
In the face of a loved one's suffering we often think, "If only I could bear it instead of them." Think Mary thought that? What mother wouldn't? Here we've come to the first cliff to hang from: It's no big deal when a person says to God, "I wish I could bear it in their place." Why? Because when we say that we know we're staking nothing. If it became a real possibility that it could be us for a loved one, then we would discover real quickly how seriously we make the offer. But we are never given that option. That choice was only allowed to One, Jesus. You and I do not have the choice and probably wouldn't dare make it if we did. Jesus had it as a Man and dared to make it (Lewis, A Grief Observed, 51).
God was on the cross in the person of Jesus willingly in your place, but He suffers not with God-like ease but with inhuman misery and agony, so that you might know God does not want you to. All the way to the bitter end, the Man who is God is your substitute. Here we come to the second cliff from which to hang. Jesus meets death as you will faced with the fear of what will happen to His family after He's gone. He dies that humanly. How can I prove that? Because He makes earthly provisions for His mother rather than thinking, "I'll just take care of her from heaven."
It's true that even once Jesus died, He remained true God (Gerhard, 286). But His all too human death on the cross must be emphasized because it changes everything. He had the choice and made the choice to die in our place. And He died exactly as miserable, damned sinners should die, but that means you don't have to die that way. You don't have to die with waves of God's wrath rolling over you, with all His arrows stuck in you, with His hand pressed down on you pleased to crush you. No, that's how Jesus died. Jesus died with "worries" about His mother's care, so you can die free of care. Jesus died not expecting to see her again, so you might live expecting to see your loved ones in Jesus again.
In the 1950's novel Barabbas, he goes to Calvary and realizes that it's a powerful but accursed place. And if he gets any closer a part of him will remain and would always come back (p. 2). If you've heard this Third Word from the Cross, you know he's right. The curse of God was carried out completely today and it broke a mother's heart. But a great power was unleashed today that redeemed the mother's world beautifully. Something so ugly and powerful yet beautiful draws you. So come stand beside Mary and John near the cross and be changed by the accursed deed that redeemed a world and beautifully changed everything. Amen
Rev. Paul R. Harris
Trinity Lutheran Church, Austin, Texas
Good Friday (20140418); John 19: 25-27