On Good Friday, two things are made crystal clear to us. The first is the undeniable fact that God takes sin seriously. His wrath toward sinners is very real. The sacrificial death of His Son on the cross proves this beyond the shadow of a doubt.
The second is the undeniable fact that God’s love for sinners is also real. The cross of Christ also shows the extent of His love – the price He is willing to pay to redeem the fallen sons of Adam.
This is precisely why you need Good Friday. It is your nature to underestimate God’s potential for anger and wrath when it comes to your sin, and to become uncertain about God’s favor when things go badly in your life.
Even though the Scriptures are full of evidence that God hates and despises and punishes sin, we often take His forbearance and His long-suffering as proof of the opposite. We look around and see how much wickedness seems to go unchecked and unpunished in the world and in our own lives. The conclusion we draw from this is that God must not be really all that concerned about sin.
Our culture doesn’t offer much help in that regard. Today, no one really likes to talk about God’s “wrath” or that judgmental “S” word “sin.” God is a God of love, and that is as far as many churches and their teachers will go. In many pockets of Christianity, people have fashioned for themselves a god that is tame, a god that winks at sin, and a god that at best is disappointed in us when we make bad decisions.
Think about it. If you really considered your daily violations of God’s Commandments as something dreadful and deserving of death and damnation, wouldn’t you run to confess your sins? Wouldn’t you seek to be free of your guilt? If you simply took God at His Word and believed Him when He says that the “wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23), then perhaps you would – as the Small Catechism explains – “fear His wrath and not do anything against” His Commandments.
On Good Friday, we can no longer look at God as someone who merely winks at our sins or even ignores them. We can no longer brush off our sins and say, “Oops, I did it again. Sorry about that.” We are forced to face the reality of what God thinks about sin and what it deserves. If ever there was proof that God takes sin seriously, it was hanging there on the cross on Calvary. It was there in the beaten, bloody, bruised and dead body of His Son. There God showed the world that He meant it when He said to Adam and Eve: “For in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17).
When you see Jesus hanging on the tree of the cross, you are compelled to see what God really thinks of your lying. What God really thinks of your lustful thoughts and actions. What God really thinks about your covetous desires and your gossip. What He really thinks about your lack of fear, love and trust in Him above all things. About your propensity to put the worst construction on everyone’s words and actions. About your inclination to worry and doubt God’s love and protection. But God did not send His Son to the cross merely to make you feel bad. Good Friday is not a “feel sorry for Jesus” day. Nor is it a funeral for Jesus. Never forget that He willingly drank the cup of suffering for you.
What you see in the cross of Christ – what you ought to see most clearly – is the extent of His love for sinners. If ever there was proof of God’s love – proof of His mercy toward sinners – proof of His desire to save – it was hanging there on Calvary. There the holy God was taking out His anger and wrath toward your sin – taking out His anger and wrath on His innocent and holy Son so that you would not have to face His wrath for eternity.
But apart from faith, you would not know this merely by looking at the cross. It is only by divine revelation through the mouths of prophets and apostles that you know what was actually taking place on that day. Without this, you would be like those who believed Him to be “stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted” for his own transgressions (Isaiah 53:4). You would not know simply by looking at the cross that He was “wounded for our transgressions” and “crushed for our iniquities” (Isaiah 53:5).
You would not have known, unless it had been revealed to you in the Word, that in Christ, “God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is why Jesus made known to His disciples the purpose of His sacrifice in the words by which He instituted the Sacrament of the Altar: “This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28).
So it is through the words of Jesus and His prophets and apostles that you know and believe that everything that happened on Good Friday was according to God’s own will. As the prophet Isaiah declared: “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush Him; He has put Him to grief” (Isaiah 53:10). Every whip, every jeer, every nail driven into the hands and feet of Jesus turned God’s fierce anger away from your sin. As Moses stood between the wrath of the almighty God and the idolatrous Israelites, so, too, this man – condemned to death by crucifixion – “turned away God’s wrath forever” (LSB 627:1).
As long as we remain in Christ – as long as we remain united to Him by faith – we are safe from God’s all-consuming anger toward sin and unbelief. This is why we run to Christ when we are overcome by our sinful urges. This is why we remember our Baptism, where God buried us and raised us with Christ. And this is one of the reasons why there is such comfort for Christians in the salutary gift of the Lord’s Supper.
Through participation in this sacrificial banquet, you receive the benefits of Good Friday: pardon and acquittal of all your sins. These things were won for you on Calvary. God declared all sin forgiven in Christ’s death. But this gift is graciously delivered to you and made available to you here and now in tangible things like bread and wine.
Christian artwork throughout the ages has often shown the close connection between Good Friday and the Sacraments. Woodcuts from the time of the Reformation show the Lord being crucified, with the blood from His hands, feet and side flowing into chalices held by angels. This artwork proclaims the same Scriptural truth that is confessed in the Communion hymn first written well over 600 years ago by Reformation martyr Jan Hus and later adapted by Martin Luther: “As His pledge of love undying, He, this precious food supplying, Gives His body with the bread, And with the wine the blood He shed” (LSB 627:2).
Since Jesus has turned away the wrath of His Father toward you by His sacrificial death, now the Father turns to you – not in anger, but in love when you come to His holy Table. Your merciful and faithful High Priest, Jesus Christ, has made full atonement for your sins. He truly has “borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).
Tonight, as darkness falls on this darkest of days, you can breathe a sigh of relief that the danger of divine judgment has swept past you and landed in the innocent flesh of Jesus, His Son. You can thank your gracious Lord for unleashing His wrath toward your sin on His Son, thereby cancelling your debt.
You can wake up and begin your day each morning not in your sins, but secure in the forgiveness of your sins won for you on the cross and given to you in Holy Communion. You can approach your Father boldly, having been cleansed of your sins through Holy Baptism, knowing that by faith you stand innocent before Him.
That is how the Church looks at the death of the Son of God. That is why we call this day “Good.” It was good that God placed His own Son under a curse, good that nails were driven into His flesh, good that the spear pierced His side, good that blood and water flowed from Him, good that His head was bowed in death for us. And it is good that He has turned the cup of His Father’s wrath into a cup of blessing for us, which we receive with grateful hearts in His Holy Supper.
“Jesus Christ, our Blessed Savior, Turned away God’s wrath forever; By His bitter grief and woe He saved us from the evil foe” (LSB 627:1). May these words, and the words of the sacrament, give you peace as you celebrate and remember His holy Passion. Amen.
Note: This sermon has been adapted from The Salutary Gift, a sermon series published by Concordia Publishing House.