A Very Good Friday – 05.30.2021

[Luke 23]

I know I’ve used this illustration before, but it’s so good and it makes my point, so here we go.. Dwight L Moody once got up in front of a large audience, held up a glass and asked, “How can I get the air out of this glass?” One man shouted “suck it out with a pump!” Moody replied, “Yes, well – that would create a vacuum and shatter the glass.” After a little while fielding various suggestions, Moody smiled, picked up a pitcher of water and filled the glass. “There” he said, “all the air is now removed.” He then went on to explain that victory in the Christian life is not accomplished by “sucking out a sin here and there”, but by being filled with the Holy Spirit.[1] He said, “I believe firmly that the moment our hearts are emptied of pride and selfishness and ambition and everything that is contrary to God’s law, the Holy Spirit will fill every corner of our hearts. But if we are full of pride and conceit and ambition and the world, there is no room for the Spirit of God. We must be emptied before we can be filled.”[2]

Today is the third sermon in our series called The Finale. As most of you are familiar, we have been reading through the book of Luke, and we are up to chapter 23. Today we’re going to take a look at what it looks like to be emptied.

Now, if you remember from last week. We left Jesus after a really rough night of betrayal, and he gets arrested and the Chief Priest question him, and now they drag him in front of the Roman authorities. [read v.1-5]. So we start with Pilate, but you might notice they are just making stuff up about Jesus. “perverting our nation”, “forbidding us to pay taxes”? Like, we just read this whole book leading up to this moment, did you see anything in there about perverting a nation? Or taxes? Clearly they don’t care if it’s true of not – they just want Jesus to go away. But Pilate can see right through their nonsense. He knows Jesus is innocent, but at the end there they mention that Jesus was from Galilee and so he grabs that as an excuse. [read v.6-8]. Ships him off to Herod, who wanted to see Jesus because he was hoping to see Jesus perform a sign. NOT because this man might be the actual son of God sent to teach us, sent to save us – no Herod wanted to see a miracle, like Jesus was an performer in the circus, or a 2 bit magician. [read v.9-10] I don’t understand why the chief priests are still in the room. Herod is questioning Jesus, and it’s like when your kid gets in trouble and big brother is hovering nearby to “help” you make sure he gets in trouble. They’re just hovering nearby throwing out some accusations. [read v.11-12]. Isn’t that nice, the trial, beating and mockery of Jesus takes these two political rivals – Herod and Pilate –  and turns them in to government buddies. [deadpan] how nice.

[read v.13-16]. Despite their best efforts, both Herod and Pilate can see that these accusations are nonsense. This is something we saw last week, we know these guys don’t actually have anything on Jesus. Jesus did nothing to deserve death. So the plan is to beat him up, for some reason, and then release him. But then the leaders lose control of the situation. The mob starts shouting. [read v.18-19]. So now, we find out about this other guy Barabbas. Barabbas has actually done the thing they are accusing Jesus of. Right? He actually IS a murderer who was trying to start an insurrection. And apparently there was a tradition in the time of festivals, where the Romans authorities would release one prisoner. And so it becomes Barabbas versus Jesus. Who do you want released to you? [read v.20-22]. I want you to see this. Pilate tried. Pilate tried to release Jesus three different times. But the mob must have it’s way. [read v.23-25]. Barabbas, the murderer, the sinner goes free – while Jesus goes to his death.

Now there is a temptation here. When we talk about Jesus and his death on the cross. We say he died for my sins. Jesus’ death was a sacrifice for my sins. He took the punishment, so we don’t have to – so that we can be forgiven. And some people think that Barabbas is a good example of that. But that’s not what happens with Barabbas. This little swap out, where Barabbas gets out of jail for free, there’s nothing different in his life. Like DL Moody said with the cup example, if you want the forgiveness of God, if you want the blessing of the Holy Spirit to flood into your heart, you have to empty your heart of sin. Barabbas just traded places, with no transformation. He was now free to go back to his old life, continue murdering and insurrection-ing as much as he wants. But what happens with Jesus on the cross is different. He doesn’t swap places with us so we can go back to sinning and living the old life. Jesus takes our old life away from us, and it dies on the cross with him, so that we are free to live a new life. You are not Barabbas. If you have given your life to Jesus, sin is no longer your master. Brokenness is no longer your identity, shame is no longer on your nametag. You are not Barabbas.

[read v.26-34]. I always feel like I need to stop there and mention. I’ve got a special note in my bible, that that line, “Father, forgive them” – that was so radical and revolutionary that some of the early scribes who copied the bible assumed it was a mistake. Some of the oldest manuscripts are missing those lines, but then they found an even older copy and realized it should be in there. The idea of forgiveness at a moment like this was so shocking, somebody literally tried to write it out of the bible. [read v.35-38]. This is the picture. Jesus hanging on the cross. His followers weeping, the soldiers mocking, the chief priests scoffing.

There’s something I want you to understand. In the Old Testament, God gave the people a system of sacrifices as a way to honor God, show dedication, and get rid of sin. The altar was a key piece of worship, a place in the temple where they would bring animals, pure animals with no defect, who didn’t do anything wrong, and they would put their hand on it, and there was an understanding – they were putting their sin on the animal. Then they would kill it, and sprinkle the blood on the altar. In the old testament, in the ancient days, the altar was a gruesome part of worship. Leviticus chapter 1, verse 3 says [read v.3-5]. But here’s what I want you to understand. This is not an altar. [slap the table]. People always call this thing the altar, but it’s not. [Point at the cross] THAT is the altar. We don’t need sacrifices anymore, because Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice. He transforms this altar into a table of welcoming – and the only blood this is ever going to see is the blood of Jesus, in the cup during communion. What we see when Jesus is hanging on the cross is the death of our sin. Atonement – which is just a fancy word for taking the brokenness between you and God and putting it back together. With his death Jesus accomplishes our restoration.

Jesus hangs there with common criminals hanging around him. [read v.39-43]. This is such a vital moment, I don’t want you to miss this truth. The second criminal, he is literally in the process of dying. He has done nothing to earn heaven, and yet when he puts his trust in Jesus, his atonement is accomplished. Jesus forgives him, and the message for us this morning is that it is NEVER too late to come home to Jesus. No matter what you have done, no matter how far gone your soul might be – you can always come home to Jesus. If he can forgive the second criminal, he can forgive your sins too. It is never too late.

[read v.44-49]. And that is how the son of God died. Only left thing left to do in the whole chapter is get him in the ground. [read v.50-56]. When I was a kid, I used to hate Good Friday Services. I used to get mad at the pastor, who was usually my dad, and say, “how can you stop there?” You’re not supposed to stop the movie when everything is bad. You don’t turn off the tv show when the villain is winning. And I’m, like, a super happy person. I love to make jokes and preach feel good things. And I am so uncomfortable with Friday. Because I want to talk about SUNDAY. I want to talk about resurrection. I want to smile and make jokes about empty tombs and easter candy. But the story forces us to sit in the darkness. If you want to journey with Jesus, we have to stop and wait while Jesus is dead. Because that’s what it is like in the real world. Life is not a Disney movie, where the sparkles come and poof they’re alive again thirty seconds later. They put him in the ground. He was dead. But here’s the reverse – right next to Jesus, buried in the tomb – is your sin.

Before there can be resurrection, there must be death. The good news we get today from the text is that your sin is dead. And there’s really not much else to say. If you trust in Jesus, like the second criminal, your sin is dead. The Old Testament rituals of sacrifice and atonement no longer apply, because Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice. He took our sin, and it died with him. It is laying in the tomb, write the obituary and send some flowers because your sin is dead. And our response is to put our sin on the cross. Take your sin – whatever it is, your lust, your pride, your selfishness, your hatred, your self-loathing, take it all and give it to Jesus. Turn over the keys to your life to Jesus. Let go of your sin. Let it rot in the tomb. Let your sin, let your old self, let the mistakes of yesterday and the mistakes of tomorrow – let them all die with Jesus. Before there can be resurrection, there must be death. The good news today is that your sin is dead.

Now, there’s two pieces of application today. First, remember: you are not Barabbas, so bury your sin. The first challenge for us today as Christians is to bury our sin. You don’t cuddle your sin, you don’t stuff it and mount it over the mantle. You bury it. Put it in the ground and never go back. See, I think a lot of us think we are Barabbas. Jesus died instead of us, but we’re still broken. We think the sacrifice of Jesus was just swapping places, and we’re still walking around carrying these burdens. But that is not the message of the gospel. That brokenness? Put it on the cross. That weakness? Put it on the cross. That one sin you just can’t seem to let go of? Put it on the cross. Let go of the burden of sin. Let go of the weight of guilt. You don’t have to carry it around anymore. Bury your sin. You are not broken anymore.

Let me see if I can explain it like this. There’s a story, maybe you’ve heard it before, called the prodigal son. It’s a parable from Jesus, and in the story the son takes his inheritance and wastes it – I know a lot of you know this story. Anyways, after he wastes all the money, famine comes and he starts to starve. So he decides to go home – I’ll see if my dad will hire me, because I don’t deserve to be his son. And he rehearses this line in his head. “Father, I’ve sinned against God and against you, I am no longer worthy to be called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.” But while he is coming home, and he’s still a long ways off. The Father sees him, and the Father runs out to him, and wraps his son in an embrace. And the son tries to spit out his rehearsed lines. “Father I’ve sinned against God and against you, I am no longer worthy.” But the Father ignores the son’s words. He doesn’t need anything from the son. The son says, “I am not worthy to be your son.” But it was never his action that made him worthy, it is the love of the Father. I don’t know who needs to hear this. But you are worthy. You are washed clean, your sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus, you have been atoned for. Your sin is gone, and it’s not because of something you did. It’s because of what He did. You are worthy, because God’s love says you are worthy. I don’t care what the world says. They remember your sins, they define you by your worst mistakes, they tell you you don’t measure up, or you are not good enough. But the radical truth of Good Friday is that you are made worthy, because God’s love says you are worthy. We are not Barabbas, set free in the world with our sin intact while Jesus takes the punishment. Your sin is on that cross, and you have been set free to live a new life. Too many of us Christians are walking around with sin in our life, trying to earn the Fathers’ love, as if sin is still our master. But your sin is dead. Bury it in the ground, let go and step into a new life with Jesus.

The first thing we need to do is bury our sin, but the second part is to accept the Holy Spirit into your life. You take all the sin out of your life, you gotta fill up that space with something – otherwise it’ll grow right back like a fungus. Take the dead sin out of your life, and fill your life with the Holy Spirit. Ask God to send his Holy Spirit into your life, to work a transformation on your heart – to help you leave sin behind and live a new life in His grace. I feel like the Holy Spirit is sort of the little brother of the trinity. Everybody’s heard of God, and of course everybody knows Jesus – but the Holy Spirit kinda gets left out. And if you don’t know the Holy Spirit is the presence of God in our hearts. God promised to come close to us, he sets up shop in our heart. Like a conscience that’s less gullible. And if we invite the Holy Spirit to walk with us in life, God will help us in this new life we have in Jesus Christ. We bury our sin, and then we accept the Holy Spirit into our life and it will help us live a new life in God’s grace.

[Hold up the glass of water]. If you want to get the sin out, you’ve got to fill up the cup with something else. Your sin is dead, so let it rot in the tomb. Jesus Christ, the almighty, all powerful son of God died for you. That’s it, that’s the whole sermon right there. And so I’ll leave you with this. Bury your sin in the tomb with Jesus. Fill up your cup with the Holy Spirit. Your new life can start today. Amen.

[1] Today in the Word, September, 1991, p. 30.

[2] J. Kuhatschek, Taking The Guesswork Out of Applying The Bible, IVP, p. 153ff.

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