Summary: A Good Friday sermon based on the crucifixion story from John’s gospel, where the ultimate glory of God is shown in the most improbably place, on the cross.
And so we come to the crucifixion. The cross stands at the very heart of Christianity. It has come to symbolise Christianity the world over. We put crosses at the front of our churches, crosses on the top of our churches, we were jewelery in the shape of crosses and crosses form the cover art for many editions of the Bible. It is the one symbol that has come to mean Christianity to the world. Muslims even refuse to have a branch of the red cross, preferring instead to have their own red crescent organisation, since the cross is closely associated with Christianity. In popular thought the shape of the cross is so closely tied with Christianity that in myth and fable it can be used as a ward against evil. For Christians the cross not only stands at the very centre of what we believe it also stands at the very centre of history. And yet in all this do have we lost what the cross really stood for.
The cross was the cruelest form of death and torture available to the Romans. In our modern and western world were prisoners have rights and those Western societies which still allow death as a punishment are meant to make every effort to make it as quick and painless as possible, it is easy to forget that crucifixion was not just a method of killing people but that it was also a method designed to do it as painfully as possible. The victim was left hanging naked on a cross often for days to linger in agony before the body simply has no strength left death follows. It is possible to run through the gruesome detail of how crucifixion works, why it is so painful and so long, but we are not going to do that. You see there is another side to the crucifixion, it was also designed to be public, humiliating, degrading and offensive. Crucifixion was not just a way of dealing with criminals it was a way of holding down revolutionaries, a way of showing how utterly contemptible they were and that in the end they were miserable failures. It is very hard to keep your dignity when you are nailed to a cross naked and in agony and left to die a lingering death in full view of everyone and theres nothing you can do to resist. Worse in Jewish culture it was to be considered to be cursed by God to die in such a way.
And yet this is the way that God chooses to reveal his ultimate glory. By taking this suffering, humiliation and curse upon himself. It was the reason he became human, to go to the cross. We read about Jesus and God going to be glorified, but in the context in which Jesus was talking it refers to the place he is going that Peter cannot yet follow, but will later, the cross. The cross is where we find the ultimate display of God’s glory. This place of humility and shame is the place where God reveals himself most fully. It is in the cross that we gain a full understanding of who Jesus is and so who God is. In the gospel of John we are told of signs that will serve to reveal Jesus’ glory. The first is the water into wine. The second is the healing of a nobleman’s son. Third, is the healing of the paralysed man at the pool. Fourth is the feeding of the 5000. Fifth is the healing of the man born blind. Sixth is the raising of Lazarus from the dead. And now we come to the final one, the seventh, the crucifixion. John has repeatedly told us that when Jesus is lifted up, it will then be the moment of God’s glory shining through him at full strength.
This is completely counter intuitive. At the moment when Jesus is humiliated and seemingly the most out of control, a failure, most human is when he reveals God’s glory. Generally we don’t like to think about it being God on the cross. It caused quite a bit of comment when the German theologian Jurgen Moltmann published his book entitled God Crucified. I have even had people say, you can’t say God crucified, its Jesus who was crucified. Almost as if you can separate out the human part of Jesus from the divine, and the divine leaves the human part on the cross while it escapes. But John, is telling us exactly the opposite of this. It was God himself who came down, became flesh and was suffering and dying on the cross. In a very real was it was God dying on the cross. God the Son, was suffering and dying on the cross. And it was at this moment when Jesus and John claim that the ultimate glory of God was displayed.