(A sermon based on John 19:28-37 for Good Friday 2014)
Here is the basic fact that we call to our remembrance on Good Friday: Jesus Christ died on the cross. Often, we add to that sentence this phrase: “for us.” The theologians of the Church have thought many thoughts and have produced many words over the centuries on what it means to say that Jesus died “for us” but the Church—and wisely, I think—has never adopted one approach to understanding exactly how the death of Jesus “saves” us. Instead, the Church has seen that several different understandings each point us to a piece of the meaning of death of Jesus on the cross.
Tonight I want to focus on just one way to think about the cross but I focus on it because I believe it is the most important one since it provides the umbrella under which all the other ways of thinking about the cross sit.
Here is the truth I hope you’ll take home with you: Jesus died on the cross to make real and present God’s love for us. After all, God is love (1 John 4:8) and, according to the Gospel of John, in Jesus “the Word because flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth … No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known” (John 1:14, 18)
So—since God is love and since Jesus made God known to us, Jesus made God’s love known to us. What did Jesus show us about God’s love? He showed us that God’s love leads God to die on the cross for us. He showed us that God loves us so much that God will go with us through the worst things we can experience, up to, including, and, as we will remember on Sunday, beyond our death.
As William Placher put it, “The Incarnation shows that in Christ God is with us. The cross shows that in Christ God is with us, no matter what” (Placher, pp. 128-129). The baby in the manger shows us that God is with us; the man on the cross shows us that God is with us in anything and in everything—even the worst things. God loves us so much that in Christ God came into this world where we are; God loves us so much that in Christ God died on the cross.
I want to mention just two results of the truth that in the cross we see how far the love of God goes.
First, God’s love leads to our love.
In 1 John we read,
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us. (1 John 4:7-12)
So the love of God that we know in the crucified Christ inspires us to love one another; it is as we love one another that we know we have experienced the love of God.
Second, God’s love never leaves us alone.
As we read in Romans 8,
Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword … No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:35, 37-39)
Nothing—absolutely nothing—can separate us from the love of God that we find in Christ Jesus our Lord.
That is the love of God that Jesus came and died to bring to us: the love that is so abundant that it overflows into love for other people and the love that is so strong that nothing can tear us from its arms.
So tonight as you look at Jesus on the cross, make sure you see the love that is there. And make sure to take it with you …