For this evening’s bulletin, click here: Good Friday 2012
Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
— John 19:28-30 (niv84)
Why does everybody sit so far back in the church? Why does everybody hang so far back in the sanctuary? Every time we worship, unless it’s a very full service, I’m presented with a view of at least four and more like eight rows of empty pews in front of me. I don’t mind, because my prescription for my glasses is good. I’m just glad that you’re here at all, but why do we always gather in the back?
I have a hunch that we don’t want to get too close to God. With our rational minds we know that God is everywhere and getting close to God doesn’t have to do with where you sit in church, but still there’s a part of us that doesn’t use reason or logic that leads our feet toward the back of the church. Think about what’s in the front of the church: that’s where His Word is read and preached. That’s where His Supper is blessed and given to the people. Sometimes I get the very distinct impression that people don’t want to get too close to God, but they still want to be here or know they need to be here – so they sit in the back. But really, shouldn’t we want to be close to God? Isn’t God loving and welcoming?
Maybe we’re right to want to sit in the back. Sinners cannot stand in the presence of the holy God. After Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden, God asks, “Where are you?” Adam is forced to say, “I heard You in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.” Adam didn’t just not have clothing – he no longer had the perfect holiness God had created him with. People have been trying to get away from God ever since.
In the Old Testament the fact that sinners can’t approach the holy God directly was made very clear to the people. Only certain people could go into certain areas of the temple or the tabernacle, and sometimes only on certain days. The holiest place was the Holy of Holies, where the high priest would only enter on one day per year, the Day of Atonement, and never without blood. While the children of Israel wandered in the wilderness Nadab and Abihu, priests and sons of Aaron, were so bold that they took their censers and went before the Lord to offer incense to Him. Leviticus chapter 10 calls it unauthorized fire, something God never commanded them to do. Fire came out from the Lord and burnt them to a crisp. They looked like something you’d scrape off the bottom of your grill. Korah, Dathan, and Abiram were Levites who led a mutiny against Moses in the wilderness. They said, “We’re just as good as you are, Moses! We want to be priests too!” They thought they should be able to go into God’s presence when He had not called them to do that. Then the earth opened up and swallowed Korah, Dathan, Abiram, and their families, and fire came out from the Lord and consumed their 250 followers. The Lord told Moses to pick the censers out of the ashes of the rebels and hammer them into plates and plate the altar with them, so that the people would see those sheets of metal and never forget their absolute need for the Lord to make them holy before they entered His presence. You know, the more I think about it, maybe it’s a good thing not to sit too close to the front. Our hearts are sinful just like Nadab and Abihu’s and Korah and Dathan and Abiram’s. You never know what will happen.
The only problem with that idea of not getting close to God is that God wants to get close to you. Really close. How close? Try this: the eternal God became a human, just like one of us. The almighty God wanted so badly to get close to you that He took on flesh in the womb of the Virgin that He could live for you in your place and give God the perfect life you never could. He became just like you because He wanted to experience what it was like to be you, tormented by the devil and tempted to sin and despair, so you could experience eternity like He does – perfect, holy, sinless, and free. He wanted to share your flesh out of love for you, so that you would not be without an Advocate before the Father.
Not close enough yet? God wants to get even closer yet to you. So here’s what He does: after He takes on human flesh in the womb of the Virgin, after He’s born and grows and teaches and heals, He allows Himself to be arrested and beaten and mocked. He’s whipped and finally nailed to a cross – and all the while, His life is running out with His heart’s blood. Every beat of His heart brings Him nearer to the end. Now here He is, staring His own death in the face – the place where we all must stand one day. We all have to look death in the face and know it’s coming for us, because we’re all sinners – so He wanted to die too.
God doesn’t die; He’s eternal. But a man can die. So God became man to die in your place. Jesus really was true man. You can tell that here, because He cries out that He is thirsty. His body cries out for just a drink of water, something, anything. But He is not just a man, because of what He says at the end: “It is finished.” It. Is. Finished. Not just His life, not just the end of all a man’s hopes and dreams as His life runs out on the cross, but the full and complete payment price for all sin – your sin, my sin. All gone, dissolved, wiped out in the final payment of the debt, because it’s God’s Son hanging on that cross. In Jesus’ day merchants would write tetelestai, “it is finished” in Greek, on the bottom of their bills. Paid in full. Nothing left – nothing more to give. That’s what Jesus has done for you, because He wants to be close to you. He wants you forever in heaven with Him, and the only way that was going to happen was if He paid for your sin – so that’s what He did.
Not close enough yet? God gets even closer to you — here, today! When you come to the Holy Communion, you receive the same Body that hung on the cross on Good Friday, the same Body that was whipped and scourged and that bled for you. You receive the same Blood that was spilled by the Roman soldiers, that ran down the wood of the cross and dripped into the dust on Golgotha. Along with it, you receive all the benefits of Jesus’ suffering and death. Jesus gives you everything He won on the cross: forgiveness of all your sins, perfect purity and holiness in God’s sight, the promise of salvation, the right to call on God as your Father, eternal life in heaven. No, I can’t explain how that works, but it’s true because He says so: “This is My Body, This is My Blood.” Jesus knew that you would not be able to come to Him, to get close to Him, so He wanted to get close to you, and that’s why He gave you His holy Supper.
He wants to be so close to you that not only did He become true man for you, not only did He choose to die on the cross and pay the full price for your sins for you, but He also comes to you here today through the Sacrament of the Altar – to say to you in a way that needs no words, “I love you. You are Mine. I will never leave you nor forsake you.” Jesus wanted to be so close to you that He gave Himself into death for you on the cross, and He still wants to be so close to you that He gives Himself here to you today. So when it’s time, do come forward. Come to the front of the church, and let Jesus come to you, because we can’t go to Him. Get close to God in the way He wants you to, because He wants to be close to you. Amen.