Summary: A sermon for the Resurrection of Our Lord, March 23, 2008, Series "A"
The Resurrection of Our Lord, March 23, 2008 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: God of power and might, you delivered your Son, Jesus, from the domain of death and opened the graves of all who come to faith in him, the faith of our baptism. Through your Holy Spirit, open our hearts and minds to the power of our risen Lord to renew us as your beloved disciples, that we might live our lives in his victory over sin and death. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
I would like to begin my message this morning where we left off Friday evening. Jesus had been nailed to that wretched cross, in an agonizing pain we can not even begin to fathom, for nearly three hours. Then, according to John’s Gospel, our Lord’s life ended in this way:
“When Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill Scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wind on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said ‘It is finished,’ or, as other texts read, ‘It is accomplished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus died on the cross. It was a most humiliating and painful death. IN his accusers’ estimate, he was everything that was wrong – a dangerous radical, a disturber of the status quo, a law-breaker and a blasphemer.
They had tried for some time to put an end to what they thought was this would-be Messiah. Now they had succeeded. Is this what Jesus meant by these words – that the powers of this world finished his life, accomplished his death, put an end to his ministry?
What are we to make of these last words of this man who had died on a cross and was buried in a tomb? What can be the significance of his final words – for a person’s last words are thought to be significant? Our hopes and fears are never more direct than when we stand at the brink of death.
Two others were crucified with Jesus, both thieves. Luke’s Gospel tells us that one of them died with taunts and abuses on his lips, cursing those who had nailed him to his cross. But the other thief acknowledged his guilt alongside the innocence of Jesus, that he repented and asked to be forgiven, even remembered by Jesus.
Jesus responded to this condemned thief’s pleas by saying, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Not even his own suffering and impending death prevented the outreach of Jesus’ compassion and love. In the final words of the dying Christ, there is no retaliation, no curses, only love and faithfulness.
“It is finished,” or “It is accomplished,” Jesus said, before his last breath. And many, no doubt, said the same. His disciples, who were huddled behind locked doors in fear, knowing their hopes died with Jesus, may have uttered those same words. The Roman soldiers, who had completed another crucifixion, may have callously uttered those words. The Jewish authorities may have also uttered those words with a sigh of relief that Jesus was finally silenced, ending the threat to their religious beliefs. They all may have said, “It is finished.” It is accomplished.”
But I don’t believe that Jesus meant any of these things when he said these words. He was not admitting defeat, as if to say, “I’ve done my best, and I’m sorry that I failed.” Nor do I believe that Jesus was issuing a sigh of relief that death had finally come, bringing a release to his awful pain. No! These last words of Jesus is a cry of victory! He faced his death in the confidence that he had completed purpose for his life, and was confident enough to place his life into the hands of his heavenly Father, into the hands of God.
Is this not what Jesus said in his prayer for his disciples and for the church, the very night John’s Gospel tells us he was betrayed. Jesus said, “[Father] I glorified you on earth, by finishing the work you gave me to do…” He had accomplished his mission, and by uttering these same words from the cross, just before his dying breath, he was telling us all that his life was a success.
But although these were the last human words that Jesus spoke before his death, they would not be the last words his disciples heard. There was yet to be another chapter to his life, as recorded in the Gospels and the rest of the New Testament. And so, after hearing the dying words of our Lord, we go on to read this morning, not his obituary, but the astounding news of his victory, of his resurrection! I shudder before the sheer wonder of this! I am in awe that the powers of evil did not win. For what God accomplished through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ was victory over sin, and victory over death.