Jesus answered, Thou couldest have no power at all against me,
except it were given thee from above:
therefore he that delivered me unto thee hath the greater sin.
(St. John xix. 11)
Good Friday is all about the best and the worst that man can do to God and his fellow man. I say that man can do, and what I mean is what he can do without God’s Grace and eternal love making it something different. Think about it. The best that the ancient Romans thought that they could do was to build a human city based on principles and ideas which could imitate what they knew of God. So what they came up with a human translation of God’s law and order that could civilize and ensure peace and prosperity for the human world. The Romans thought that they had come up with the best version of Plato’s Republic that man’s wisdom could create. And over and against them, the Jews basically came up with the same solution. What the Romans discovered about God through science and philosophy, the Jews found through Revelation. In both cases, each group learned that man could come closest to God through the formulation and administration of law and order. The Romans thought that this law was to be enforced best through Caesar, while the Jews claimed that their chief priests and elders were better equipped to administer it. For both, God was so radically unlike man, so perfectly set over and against a frail and uncertain world, that the best way for man to imitate God was to impose order and discipline on otherwise chaotic, ungovernable, immature, and unenlightened peoples.
But what happens if two interpretations of the same basic law come into conflict? In other words, what happens if Caesar’s law and the law of the Jews find themselves at odds with one another? Well, either one triumphs over the other, or the two find a common cause. The latter pertains to today’s decision to crucify Jesus Christ. Pontius Pilate is determined to maintain the Roman Peace, and so out of fear, he will allow Jesus Christ to be crucified. The Jews will demand Jesus’ crucifixion out of envy and jealousy for one who claims that their Law is powerless. In both cases, God is kept at a safe distance, translated and diluted into human law and its expectations of good and evil, This is much safer than allowing One to live who claims to be God’s Word made flesh and dwells among us.
Yet what we must realize is that the best that man can do is the best that fallen man or sinful man can do. What the Romans discovered and what the ancient Jews received was born out of sinful man’s alienation and exile from God. And the worst thing that sin can do is to settle for an earthly peace because it has failed to hope in God’s Heavenly Solution! So the worst that sinful man can do is the best that he can do if he surrenders to his fallen nature. This is why Jesus says to Pilate that he would have no power or authority to torture and kill him if this power had not been given to him from God.Pilate will be, unknown to himself, an unwitting instrument in the salvation of the world. So too will the Jewish chief priests and elders. Their sins are no less sins, but they will reveal to the world both the nature of sin and God’s response to it in Jesus Christ’s suffering and death. Sin at its worst mocks, derides, taunts, mocks, provokes, tempts, tortures and tries to beat God’s Word of love out of the world he made, and most specifically out of human flesh through which He has come to redeem it. The true sin is to despair of God’s power to speak his Word through the heart of Jesus Christ. And Jesus accepts that this is the best that sinful man can do. And far from taking this best and making it worse, He makes it better. Sinful man will do his best and, in the end, he will find that his best must end in death.
And yet even here the best that ends in death is already becoming something that smacks much more of life and love. The Author of The Epistle to the Hebrews tells us that the law is a shadow of good things to come. Roman Law and Jewish Law, though unbeknownst to their enforcers, comprise the shadow of a good thing that is coming to pass before our very eyes this day. Jesus takes every element that works its way into His unjust and unmerited death and makes it good. His death will become good, and everyone and everything that has worked against His life will be counted as necessary and good for the salvation of the whole world. For both then and now Jesus of Nazareth refuses to see this day as anything but Good. The old Romans and Jews thought that they had to sacrifice bulls and goats repeatedly to placate the gods or God respectively. That they had to keep repeating them shows us that their value was temporary and impermanent. Jesus speaks to His Father and says: Sacrifice and Offering thou wouldest not, but a Body thou has prepared me: In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin thou hast had no pleasure. Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me) to do thy will, O God. (Hebrews x: 5-7) On this day he will defy the arrogance of man’s philosophical conclusion that God is divided from man and man from God, or that God is limited and so is man. On this day he overcomes all division between God and man through the Body of His Death. On this day Jesus shows us that man may reject God the Father, but God the Father never rejects man. So, the Word of the Father’s Love persists to the very end, alive in the heart of the Crucified One, who from throne of his Cross blesses, sanctifies, and consecrates sin, suffering, and death into the incessant flow of God’s desire for man’s salvation. He blesses man’s rejection of God’s Word of Love in His heart. Father forgive them for they know not what they do. (St. Luke xxiii. 24) He welcomes the repentant sinner and criminal, forgives him, and says Today shalt thou be with me in paradise. (St. Luke xxiii. 43) He says to the human instruments of sin and death, I love you, I made you, bless you, repent and believe, our journey continues. Identifying with the near desperation and despair of man who thinks he is loveless, friendless, and without hope, as God’s love always does, He even cries, My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me. (St. Matthew xxvii. 46) God’s Word of Love, in the heart of Jesus, reaches out to touch and redeem the pain, agony, and suffering of all men who do not yet know God. He is indeed dying, but still He is loving and giving. He says to His heart-broken, confused, tortured Mother, held in the arms of the disciple whom he loved…Woman behold thy Son.(St. John xix. 26) And then to John the disciple, Behold thy mother. (St. John xix. 27) To both he says, continue to follow me; behold I make all things new. (Rev. xxi. 5) In the last moments of His earthly life, He whispers, I thirst. (St. John xix. 28) He was given a sip of Roman wine, He drank it, no doubt most grateful to the Roman soldier who offered it. One last sip of the wine He had, after all, made, and which was another good thing that He would bless into the service of His needful agony, pain, and suffering death!
So Jesus will give up the ghost, He will die. It is finished. (St. John xix. 30) Father, into thy hands I commend my Spirit. (St. Luke xxiii. 46) St. Mark and St. Matthew tell us that a pagan centurion, perhaps the one who offered Jesus the wine, or the one who lunged a spear through his side to ensure that He was dead, transfixed and beginning to be transformed, confesses, Truly this was the Son of God (St. Matthew xxvii. 54; St. Mark xv. 39) To be sure there was death. But in the midst of the death there was not only a persistent life, but divine compassion, supernatural mercy, godly kindness, and the kind of love that had been lifted up, that stood above, that towered over anything the world had known before, during, or would find after this day was done.
Jesus dies by the which we are sanctified through the offering of the Body of Jesus Christ once for all. (Ibid, 10) Jesus will rise. Jesus will ascend. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God; From henceforth expecting till His enemies be made His footstool. And He will not stop there. He sends to us the Holy Ghost that He might live on in us and we in Him. Whereof the Holy Ghost is also a witness to us; for after that He had said before, This is the Covenant that I will make with them after those days, saith the Lord, I will put my Law into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them; And their sins and iniquities I will remember no more. (Ibid, 16)
The Law is made Good. The Law is now God’s Holiness and Righteousness which shall be put into our hearts. The Law demands no sacrifices. The Law is written into our hearts with the Blood of Jesus.
Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the profession of our faith without wavering; (for he is faithful that promised;) and let us consider one another to provoke unto love and to good works: not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as the manner of some is; but exhorting one another: and so much the more, as ye see the day approaching.
St. Michael and All Angels Sermons: