3-29-24 Good Friday

Bible Text: John 18-19 | Preacher: Pastor Christian Preus

Shortly after the year of our Lord 300, the Roman Emperor Maximinus, who ruled over Egypt and Syria, and so over the holy land also, began the last great persecution of Christians before the Edict of Milan made Christianity legal in the Roman Empire. Maximinus did the usual stuff. He threw Christians to the lions, disfigured them, maimed them, crucified them, tried to get them to deny their Lord and sacrifice to the pagan gods. But he also did something unique. He started a propaganda campaign against Christians and against Jesus Christ Himself. He published a forged document called the Acts of Pilate, which he said recorded all the things Pilate found Jesus of Nazareth guilty of. Pilate would have sent a report back to Rome for the public executions under his watch, and this Maximinus claimed, was it. These Acts of Pilate accused Jesus of the most disgusting and wicked things, so vile that we can’t repeat them, and Maximinus ordered that these Acts be read and taught in the schools, so that the children would grow up despising Christ and his Christians.

This seemed natural to Maximinus, and though he forged the document, he probably thought he was coming close to the truth. You don’t crucify innocent men. You crucify the worst, most despicable creatures. This is what the biblical account tells you –one of the murdering robbers crucified with Jesus says, “We are getting the deserts of what we did.” And then you have Barabbas. He is the kind of man who gets crucified – a rebel, a murderer. So Maximinus assumed the same for Jesus.

But it’s not Maximinus who gets to accuse Jesus, or Pilate for that matter. It’s God. That’s what Jesus says time and again, “Put your sword in its sheath, Peter. Shall I not drink the cup My Father has given Me?” And to Pilate, “You would have no power over Me at all unless it was given to you from above.” The Father is the One who sentenced Jesus, who poured down His wrath on His Son, and whatever Maximinus accused Him of, the Father accused Him of worse, of every disgusting and wicked thing, of every conceited and self-righteous thought, of every hateful and slanderous word. God accused Him and made Him bear the punishment of it all. God made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us.

A pagan like Maximinus could condemn only some disgusting outward sins, because even the heathen have some knowledge of right and wrong. They know that murder is wrong, etc.. But the Father condemns His Son for sin that no human judge could even know, the ones hidden in your heart that you have told no one, the pride of your heart against which there is no human law, and yet is the source of all wickedness and so the source of all your Lord’s suffering, as the Father accuses Him and demands from Him payment for all you have done.

And yet look at this Lord Jesus Christ, your Savior. He is so pure and innocent. Pilate knows it. If he ever did write down any Acts and send them to the Senate in Rome, they would no doubt be what Cyprian and Tertullian said they were, acts of exoneration, saying, “I washed my hands of this, he was innocent, but you know these Jews, they wanted blood and I had to hand him over to stop a riot.” Pilate says it again and again, I find no fault in Him. What has He done? And the Jewish leaders have no accusation to make, except that He claimed to be a King, which He is, and to be the Son of God, which He is. He is innocent and everyone knows it. His betrayer. His denier. His accusers. His judge. He is innocent, but they torture Him, and spit on Him, and mock Him, and whip Him, and crucify Him. Why, what hath my Lord done? What makes this rage and spite? He made the lame to run, He gave the blind their sight. Sweet injuries! Yet they at these, themselves displease and ’gainst Him rise.

Why? O there are political reasons, there always are. The chief priests were threatened by Jesus. Pilate, a new governor, needed to keep peace with the Jewish leaders and with Herod, who was actively trying to get him recalled from his governorship. It was one of those miscarriages of justice that had to be, as Caiaphas the high priest said, “Don’t you see that it is better that one man die for the people, than that the whole nation perish?”

But no, this isn’t the reason for our dear Lord’s suffering. This innocent Man, whom everyone knew was innocent, had to suffer and die, because God said He was guilty. God was the Judge. God condemned His Son. Because He bore your sin. This was no miscarriage of Justice. It was Justice taking out its full wrath and retribution against the one God made sin in your place.

So the two are true at the very same time. He is completely innocent. He is Love itself. He is Purity itself. He deserves nothing of all this. He is the only begotten Son of God, the source of good and life and beauty and truth. He is the perfect man. He has worked nothing but righteousness. No human judge can accuse Him of anything. God can accuse Him of nothing. This is My beloved Son, He says, in whom I am well pleased. He is completely innocent.

And He is guilty, judged by the same Father as guilty of your sin. And condemned. And cursed. As it is written, cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree. And He has the full weight of God’s wrath poured on Him. He is stricken, smitten by God and afflicted. The Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. It was the will of the Lord to crush Him. And crush Him He did.

When Jesus says tetelestai, it is finished, He’s referring not only to His sufferings. He is speaking about the sins He bore, the guilt He took on, the punishment and wrath of God poured out on Him. It is finished. No word has ever been spoken with such relief as this or with such benefit to you. One man uttered it, but He uttered it for the sake of the whole world of men. It is finished. The Father forsook His Son, but He will declare Him righteous now and with Him all for whom He suffered. There is no more punishment to be paid, no more anger to turn away, no cup of wrath to be drunk anymore. It is finished. Finished not simply for Him but for you who belong to Him, who have been baptized into His death, who have been crucified with Him, who eat His body and drink His blood, who live by faith in the One who loved you and gave Himself for you.

Now the water and blood that flowed from His pierced side bear witness to God’s judgment on you, the reverse of His judgment on His Son. You were His enemy, He declares you His friend; you were guilty, He declares you innocent; you were a rebel, He declares you righteous. And instead of punishment He gives blessing, and instead of death He gives life, and instead of hell He gives heaven. He casts the devil out and sends His Spirit in. This is the wisdom and righteousness and love of our God, and for it, we will thank Him evermore, thank Him for His groaning sighing, for the bleeding and the dying, for that last triumphant cry, forever and ever. Amen.

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