Summary: Good Friday...it looked like the end of the line for Jesus, but it was only the beginning of eternal life for us.
The End is the Beginning
April 14, 2006
Over the years of my ministry, I have officiated at more funerals than I can count. I used to record them, but lost track a long time ago. To be honest, the vast majority of funerals I have conducted have been for people of fairly advanced age, people for whom their families and friends grieve, yet whose long lives can be celebrated.
Much more difficult are the funerals for younger people. From time to time, I’ve been called on to conduct funerals for young adults, teenagers, and children. About five years ago, I had funerals for two stillborn infants in the space of a few months. Those were tough.
Obviously, Christians believe that all life is important, sacred, and precious to God. All life matters to God – no matter what stage in life we find ourselves. For some reason however, it is easier to accept death when it comes to someone who we believe has lived a long, full life.
Death is much harder for us to accept when it comes to someone who seemingly is on the threshold of life: the young child at the beginning of elementary school who was killed in a farm accident; the teenager who is killed in a car accident two weeks before high school graduation; the young father who dies of cancer before he can see his children set out into the world on their own.
That is the reality with which we are confronted tonight. The death of Jesus is so hard. It is hard for a lot of reasons, but partially because he was so young. Jesus was a good man – but so much more than a good man. He was teacher, example, Healer, redeemer, Savior, and King. And he was only in his early thirties when he died. He was on the threshold of life; just coming into his own. But for Jesus, age was not the issue. He came in the fullness of time as the perfect, suffering servant of God. He fulfilled his ministry and his mission and returned to God according to plan. His time was the right time.
For just a couple of minutes tonight, I would ask you to remember his life. Remember his birth; a birth of hope. Remember how the Magi and the shepherds came to worship and pay homage; remember the heavenly choir singing out their praises in his honor.
Remember his ministry of teaching along the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Remember the crowds who came out to see him along the shore, down on the riverbank, and out in the wilderness. Remember the handful of men he tried to turn into disciples. Remember the blind that received their sight, the deaf who got their hearing back, the lame who got up and walked, the dumb who regained their speech, the infirm who were restored to health, and the dead who were resurrected to new life.
But on the down side, remember the hostility that followed him wherever he went. Remember his long list of enemies. Remember the doubters. Remember those who hated him simply because he was offering a new vision, a vision which pushed them to reconsider or consider for the first time, the ways that God acts in the mist of humanity. Remember his betrayal. Remember those who denied him. Remember those who failed to understand him. Remember his torture. Remember his agonizing death. Remember those who fled when he needed them most.
Remember all of those things as we come down to this night, the night when he finally gave his life up, the night when he uttered those fateful words, “It is finished…Into your hands, I commit my spirit.
The scene of Jesus hanging on the cross is a scene of suffering and tragedy. Painters, sculptors, and woodcutters throughout the history of Christian art have portrayed Christ on the cross: pathetic, bleeding, and defeated. But I am here to tell you tonight that those images are only half the story.
Yes it is true that he was subjected to as cruel of a punishment as can be imagined by humankind. He was a victim of a cruel, barbaric, and paranoid government. His was a humiliating execution and a ghastly way to die. But it was not the end. Something did not go wrong with his life. The fact of the matter is that everything had gone eternally right.
You see, Jesus did not stumble into his death. He did not go to the cross fighting, complaining, and trying to avoid it. He climbed into his death, reached for it, and embraced it.
Jesus redefined success. In our world, success is defined by the size of one’s organization, by the inventory list, by the take-home pay. Success is defined by grabbing life by the horns, by going for the gusto, by accumulating the most toys, or by becoming a Survivor or an American idol. But Jesus defines success differently. His success is defined by faithfulness, not the size of bank accounts or membership lists or invitations to the most parties. He defined success through his death; a death that meant life.