Video of Tenebrae Vespers is here. The sermon begins around the 44:25 mark.
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Only a few days earlier, Jesus had gone out from among the people and hid Himself from them. “Though He had done so many signs before them, they did not believe in Him” (12:37). Some Greeks had asked to see Jesus, and Jesus says, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified…I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (12:23, 31). Those Greeks, and the rest of the world from that day until today, cannot see Jesus in His glory in this world, without seeing Him on the cross. This is why Paul says he will know nothing among the Corinthians except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
There are only two ways that God could come into this creation: He could come in His full glory, which would mean condemnation and death for all people, because all are sinners. When Moses wanted to see the glory of God, God said, “You cannot see My face, for man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 34:20).
So, instead of coming like that, in the glory of His holiness, in wrath against all sin and all sinners, He comes instead with a glory that can only be seen by faith, because it is hidden in a man broken and bleeding. God speaks through the mouth of Pilate: Behold your King!
But how often we would rather have a different king. Like when the chief priests told Pilate that they had no king but Caesar, though Caesar often sets himself up in opposition to God and His people. The terrible irony of God’s own people taking refuge in the rulers of this world, rather than in the King of kings! Not just in human rulers, but in the things that rule our lives, in the schedules that rule our lives, in the people whose opinions rule our lives. Would you and I be ashamed to stand there at the cross, recognizing this Man as God? We may say no, but it is no coincidence that many churches are empty on Good Friday and full on Easter. We like flowers and bunnies and eggs and new clothes; we’d rather not consider that the resurrection of Jesus on Sunday has no meaning if He did not die on Friday. We’d prefer a different king, and a different glory. An Easter king, painted in pastel glory. Not a crucified king, His glory hidden, painted in darkness and blood.
Nonetheless, here is your King, glorified on the cross. Can you see His glory there? In this world, where suffering and death are all too common, His glory is not something behind, something other than the blood and the mud and the curse and the dying; His glory is that these belong to Him, rather than to you. He becomes sin so that you become righteousness. This is what sin costs. You Barabbas, treasonous against your King in your thoughts and words and actions, you belong in the eternal prison of death. Who would free the murderer and let the innocent be punished? What sort of corruption is this? This is a miscarriage of justice, but there are no letter-writers, no petitions, no social media campaigns spear-headed by celebrities, no rallies or protests. The crowds demand that Barabbas go free; Pilate concedes; God Himself refuses to lift His hand to intervene. Christ is crucified, and you are released. Though you say you want justice against others, you do not really want it for yourself. Justice for you and me before God would mean death and hell. But God desires mercy for, and not justice against His creation: so the eternal and innocent Son of God dies in flesh, and all the sons who have thrown off their Father’s will by the lusts of their own flesh, they go free. You and I go free. Here is your King, and here is His glory.
But this is not seen by physical sight, not seen by imagining what the cross must have been like or by having gory reenactments or by pretending we’re having a funeral for Jesus. Those are often attempts simply to move hard hearts to emotional reaction. And while they may cause you to feel sorrow or revulsion at the horror of crucifixion, that is not what God is after. He is not trying, after all these years, to make you feel something stronger, or reignite in you something that you once felt. The glory of God is not seen by being there where they crucified my Lord, or when they laid Him in the tomb, or when God raised Him from the dead. The Lord does not deliver this crucified glory to you by your work, or your remembering, or by how well I can describe what was happening on that day. Instead, He delivers this crucified and glorious mercy as Paul said He would: “As often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes” (1 Corinthians 11:26). Proclamation of this fact accomplishes for you what it says; proclamation spoken, but also proclamation eaten and drunk: This is My body; take and eat it. This is My blood; take it and drink it. You cannot go back to the cross, and you should not try. Not when Christ brings it to you as often as you eat and drink His holy Supper! Not when Christ brings it to you as often as He proclaims again to you, “Your sins are forgiven.” Not when He reminds you every time the Name is spoken that as many of you as were baptized into Christ were baptized into His death. Christ did the work of salvation on the cross, and because He has been raised from the dead, Christ now does the work of delivering that salvation to you. So open your ears; open your mouth: He will do what He promised. It is finished. And all those who are called by His Name bow their knees and confess with their mouths that He is King and Lord. O come, let us worship Christ the crucified King!
In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7, ESV). Amen.
– Pr. Timothy Winterstein, 3/30/21