Almost every semester for the past three or so years, I’ve been responsible for running an online Christian Ethics class for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Although I grade the same assignments each semester, it’s always interesting to see how students are applying the Scriptures to some genuinely challenging ethical issues. And every so often a student will state a biblical truth in a stark and powerful manner. One such student this semester, in reflecting upon a case study concerning physician assisted suicide, noted that it’s important to remember that everyone is dying because of the Fall—not only the patient, but the family, the doctor, the nurses. All are dying. Yes, I thought to myself as I graded her exam, we are all dying. From the moment we are born, we begin to die. Such is the curse of the Fall.

Isn’t the fact of death the ultimate reality we all must try and figure out how to address in our lives? That we’ve been given life—lives that can be such a mixture of joy—and pain—and boredom—and excitement—and fear—and laughter—and suffering—and awe? Yet no matter how good or hard or mundane or challenging our earthly lives may be, they will all come to an end. And how difficult it can be for us to accept this. In the closing lines of Dylan Thomas’ poem he reflects this struggle as he exhorts, “Do not go gentle into that good night. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.”[1]

We all understand that from the moment we’re born, we begin to die:

Some, like Thomas, will rage, rage against the dying of this earthly light;

others will refuse to think about it;

others will do everything in their power to escape this surety by turning to exercise or special food or diets or drugs or meditation that they might extend their earthly lives for as long as possible;

others will quietly succumb to its inevitably;

Still others will be fearful or sad or despairing at the thought of it.

But although death is a mystery, even to those who believe in the truth of the Old and New Testament Holy Scriptures that have been given us by God, for Christians death is a mystery that those Scriptures address. As observed by my student, God’s Scriptures teach that the reason that everyone is dying is “because of the Fall”:

Had our first parents not succumbed to that ancient serpent and thereby caused us to turn away from our loving Creator, our relationship with him would never have been ruptured and damaged;

Had our first parents not succumbed to that ancient serpent and thereby caused us to turn away from our loving Creator, we would not have known the rupture that exists in our relationship not only with our great God but also with each other, this earth, and ourselves;

Had our first parents not succumbed to that ancient serpent and thereby caused us to turn away from our loving Creator, we would not have known the separation of our souls from our bodies that is death;

But our first parents did succumb to that ancient serpent.[2] Therefore, the Scriptures tells us, God, before the foundation of the world[3]—for our succumbing to that ancient serpent and turning away from him was no surprise to him—chose to remedy our desperate state of affairs by determining to one day send his Son[4] in order that he might destroy not only that ancient serpent, but also the sin and death that arose as a result of his deception. Our heavenly Father determined to one day send his Son in order that we might have a means of replacing our status as enemies of God to that of becoming his children. For, ultimately, the Scriptures teach that the only means that you and I have to escape death is by the death of Jesus Christ. And death, the death of Jesus Christ, is what we celebrate this and every Good Friday.

But we need to explore this a little further. Are we simply celebrating the death of Jesus, someone who was just a loving and good man, who then died on a cross because of goodness? No, this makes no sense for how can Jesus’ death be a cause for joy if he was only a man?

If Jesus was only a man, his death would be a tragedy, not a cause for celebration;

If Jesus was only a man, his body and bones would have long ago rotted away in the tomb and there would be nothing good about this day;

If Jesus was only a man who was put to death for no good reason, there would be nothing more to remember about him;

If Jesus was only a man, then his death would be no different than the death of anyone who tragically dies while only in their thirties. It would be a life to be lamented for it would be a life half-lived, cruelly cut short in its prime;

If Jesus was but a loving and good man whose life was cut off in his prime, why would he still be remembered today, over two-thousand years after he died and remained dead in the grave? No, such a life wouldn’t be remembered, much less celebrated—if Jesus were only a man.

But Jesus wasn’t only a man. Jesus was the Christ, God’s promised Messiah. As eternal Christ, he was the Father’s Son who co-exists eternally with him and the Holy Spirit. Yet that eternal Christ, the second member of the Godhead, chose to take on a human body. And even as a human, he wouldn’t have needed to die for Jesus Christ was sinless. This is why in verse 22 of the second chapter of his first letter, the Apostle Peter applied Isaiah 53:9 to him, saying, “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.”[5] The author of the book of Hebrews similarly confirms, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin.”[6] Think about it: Jesus was tempted as we are, yet he was without sin. Had he sinned, we would have known for he was closely watched by his enemies who would have loved nothing more than to expose such breaking of God’s law. But there was nothing to expose for he committed no sin. Therefore, again, if, as the Scriptures teach, the wages of sin is death[7]— and Jesus committed no sin, then he didn’t need to die. Peter, eyewitness to the events that occurred during Jesus’ public ministry, goes on to testify in verse 23 of his letter, “When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly.” Jesus didn’t sin. Jesus didn’t retaliate. Even when others unjustly insulted him; even in the thick of his suffering; he chose instead to entrust “himself to him who judges justly.” He chose instead to entrust himself to his heavenly Father who had sent him.[8]

No, Jesus didn’t need to die. Jesus who is the Christ chose to die. He chose to die because he who is Savior came into the world not to condemn it but that the world might be saved through him.[9] As Paul goes on to state in the verse already mentioned, “the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”[10]

Dear sisters and brothers, this is what we celebrate each year on Good Friday. We don’t celebrate the tragic death of one who was only a man. No, we celebrate the truth that God Almighty—the great God who made us, [11] the world, and the entire universe—having taken on a human body for thirty or so years;

God Almighty who is Lord over life and Giver of all life;

God, the eternal Son of God who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, chose to die in order that we might live. He chose to take upon himself death—that which people fear and dread and rage against most in life—and thereby once and for all vanquished our death by his death; and by his resurrection from death; and by giving us his irrepressible eternal life in the Holy Spirit he sends to all who believe in him.[12]

This was the plan that the eternal Christ made in agreement with the Father and Holy Spirit. This was the plan that Triune God determined to execute in order that he might save his image-bearers who have turned from him and his holiness and have chosen instead to follow the ancient serpent and their own sinful, ungodly ways. This is why Christ Jesus chose to die. He chose to die that we might live. For the only way that we can live eternally in the presence of God is by becoming free from our sins. And the only way we can become free of our sins, of our rebellion against and/or our indifference towards God, is by giving our sins to his Son, Jesus Christ. As Peter so poignantly states in the first part of verse 24 in his letter, “‘He himself bore our sins’ in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness;” “He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross.”[13] Did you catch that? He bore our sins in his body for there is no other way for our sins to be dealt with but through his death. The only answer to our inevitable death, a death that is the result of sin, is by placing our sins upon Jesus Christ, God’s Son. This is how we are enabled to die to sin.

Now to die to sins means that we sever all ties with anything evil and with all immoral behavior; it means that we sever all ties with any behavior that goes against what God has disclosed in his Word. Then, once we die to sin; once we sever those ties to godless behavior, those who have believed in Christ Jesus should devote ourselves to living in a holy manner even as he did; to living for righteousness even as he did.[14] This is how we die to sins—this is how we die to death—and, in exchange, “live for righteousness.” It’s only possible through him.

Peter ends verse 24 by noting, “by his wounds you have been healed.” Not by our wounds but by his wounds we are healed. By his wounds we are saved. Our wounds won’t heal us. Our suffering won’t heal us:

No, there’s only one thing that is able to heal us;

there is only one thing that is able save us;

there is only one thing that is able to remove our sin and our guilt before our Maker.

And that one thing is the wounds of his Son on the cross, wounds that were caused by his taking our sins upon himself. For this is why he came—he came to take away our sins. And the only way we’re able to die to our sins and live for righteousness is by acknowledging and confessing that he died for our sins as we place our sins upon him in humility—and gratitude—and awe and receive the Holy Spirit he sends.

In verse 25 Peter goes on to note our desperate estate, saying—still referencing Isaiah 53—“For ‘you were like sheep going astray.’” Indeed. Apart from knowing Jesus as our Savior and Lord we are lost in this world, unable to find the path to God. For apart from Jesus we are dead in our sins. But to accept Christ Jesus’ sacrifice is to return “to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” To accept Christ Jesus’ sacrifice on our behalf is how we are enabled by him to live to righteousness.

Dear brothers and sisters, this is what we celebrate this evening; this is what makes this particular Friday, out of every other Friday that may precede or follow it, Good—that

because of his eternal love for us;

and because of his eternal hatred for Satan and sin and everything that harms us;

the eternal Son of God, the Christ, the Messiah, took on human form in the person of Jesus because he knew that the only means of our healing; the only means of our being saved from our sin; the only means of our escaping our deserved condemnation for those sins is through his taking away our sins by placing them upon himself—and thereby dying in our place—and destroying Satan—and sin—and death itself and offering us in place of these himself—his Holy Spirit—and a relationship with the heavenly Father—not only for now but forever. This is why Jesus chose to die for us. This is why this Friday, above and beyond all other Fridays, is so Good!

Let us pray.

 

 

[1] From Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night. Dylan Thomas lived from 1914–1953.

[2] See account in Genesis 3.

[3] See Ephesians 1:3–4: Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight.

[4] At the time of the Fall, God cursed the serpent by promising to place enmity between his seed and that of the woman. The one who would oppose and ultimately crush the serpent was God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ. Genesis 3:15: And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

[5] 1 Peter 2:22 references Isaiah 53:9: He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death,
though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

[6] Hebrews 4:15.

[7] Romans 6:23: For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

[8] John 7:28–29: 28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true. You do not know him, 29 but I know him because I am from him and he sent me.”; John 20:21 (This is a post-resurrection appearance of Jesus): Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.”

[9] John 3:17 but in context, beginning with verse 16: 16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.

[10] Romans 6:23

[11] John 1:1–3, 10: 1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made….10 He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.; Hebrews 1:1–2: 1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

[12] Ephesians 1:13–14: 13 And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession—to the praise of his glory.

[13] The background to this verse is found in the Old Testament emphasis of those dying on a tree bearing a curse. See Deuteronomy 21:22–23: 22 If someone guilty of a capital offense is put to death and their body is exposed on a pole, 23 you must not leave the body hanging on the pole overnight. Be sure to bury it that same day, because anyone who is hung on a pole is under God’s curse…. [emphasis added]. See also Galatians 3:13: Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us, for it is written: “Cursed is everyone who is hung on a pole.”; Acts 5:30: The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. The Crossway ESV Study Bible note on 1 Peter 2:24 states: “Tree was often used as a synonym for ‘cross’ in first-century Judaism, probably due to association with Deut. 21:22–23….”

Isa. 53:4, 5, 11.”Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed…. 11 After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge[f] my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

 

[14] As Paul teaches, e.g., in Romans 6:8–14:Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. 10 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. 11 In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. 12 Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. 13 Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. 14 For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.