Monday, April 01, 2013

Leaving the Past Behind (Good Friday, 2013)

[This was shared during the Logan Community Good Friday service on March 29, in the sanctuary of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church.]

John 18:1-19:42
Before the service, Howard and I were talking about what makes this Friday good? Humanity conspired to kill God in the flesh, an innocent man. That doesn't seem very good, does it? But Jesus offered Himself up voluntarily, the perfect sacrificial Lamb, to atone for our sins and open up the possibility of forgiveness and new life for all people. That's why, despite of the ugliness of the events, we commemorate this day as Good Friday.

Each year in fact, Good Friday comes as a brutal dose of reality for those prone to living in the pretend world of a perfect past, for those who look at episodes of The Andy Griffith Show and say to themselves, “That’s how life used to be.”

But the phrase "nostalgic Christian" is an oxymoron.

In fact, believers in Jesus want to leave the past behind, living with Christ in the now and looking ahead with excitement and anticipation to the perfect future ahead for all who believe in Jesus.

"Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead," the apostle Paul wrote in Philippians 3:13-14, "I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus.”

Good Friday reminds us of the bad old days from which Jesus Christ wants to set all of us free.

From the moment that Adam and Eve bit into the fruit that God had warned them not to eat, the human race has been, collectively and individually, plunged into sin: alienated from God, from one another, from the creation God gave us to manage and tend.

Sin entered into the human gene pool, passed along from generation to generation.

It was to eliminate the condition of sin from us and to end our slavery to sin and restore our relationship with God that Jesus, God in the flesh, came into our world. He took death, the punishment for sin that you and I deserve, onto Himself. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that God the Father made Jesus "to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”

Jesus entered into death. Based on Scripture, many of us in our creeds say that on Good Friday, Jesus descended to hell. Then He rose from the grave to claim new life and a perfect future for all who follow Him.

“I am the way, and the truth, and the life,” He says. “No one comes to the Father except through Me.”  [John 14:6]

And, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in Me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die.” [John 11:25]J

And, “For 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. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him. Those who believe in Him are not condemned; but those who do not believe in Him are condemned already, because they have not believed in the Name of the only Son.” [John 3:16-18]

It wasn't "bad Romans" or "bad Jews" or aberrant representatives of the human race who put Jesus on the cross. It was you, me, our parents, and our grandparents and the common human desire to "be like God," to flush God from our lives or considerations, going all the way back to Eden, that drove the nails into Jesus' flesh on the first Good Friday.

It was for us and our sins that He died, for us that He came to offer life in His Name. No wonder then that God inspired the witness of the first Christians about Jesus: “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” [Acts 4:12]

Different expressions of our sinful nature go in and out of style.

So in the morality department, you and I are no better or worse today than past generations were.

Good Friday shows us that.

But Good Friday also shows us that sin, the human race's ancient and ongoing alienation from God and the life only God can give, does not have to be the last word over our lives.

God has acted.

In Christ, God is reconciling Himself to all who confess their sins and entrust their lives to the rule of Jesus, the King of kings.

In Christ, the sins of our past that weigh us down are taken off our shoulders and put on those of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world.

All who are in Christ have the power of the Holy Spirit working within us, giving us and making us part of His holy catholic Church and the communion of saints, assured of the forgiveness of our sins, the resurrection of our bodies with Christ and all the saints, and of the life everlasting with God.

It's a lie to believe in some perfect past. It never existed.

But when we trust in Christ, the Savior Who died and then rose to give us life, our present is invaded by the presence, power, and love of God.

That doesn't mean that the world will be hospitable to Christ and the good news about Him.

In the gospel of Matthew, Jesus points to a time in world history when the followers of Jesus will be hated because of their allegiance to Him. Many will then fall away from trusting in Him, He says, “and they will betray one another and hate one another. And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray. And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold.” The pall of sin that made Good Friday necessary will even blanket the human race, Jesus says, after He has died on a cross and risen from the dead so that we might be saved by God’s grace through faith in Christ. But even then, Jesus tells us not to pine for a dead past or to despair over the present or the future. He says: “...the one who endures to the end will be saved.” [Matthew 24:9-14]

If we remain steadfast in following Jesus, He will invade our todays with peace and strength and our futures will be more perfect than we could ever imagine.

On the Sunday after Jesus' crucifixion, some of the female disciples went to anoint Jesus' dead body. But they were met by a "young man, dressed in a white robe" who told them that Jesus was not dead, but risen. "Go," he told them, "tell his disciples and Peter that [Jesus] is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you" [Mark 16:7].

Jesus has broken out of the dead past.

He's blown our nostalgic notions to bits.

He's ahead of us, pioneering a way for us through this life and opening up eternity to us.

Don't pine for the past. Follow Jesus into the future! That's the call of Good Friday. Amen

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