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Tenebrae Vespers

Matthew 26 and 27

Rev. Andrew Eckert

Good Friday
Our Savior Lutheran Church  
Stevensville, MT

Fri, Mar 30, 2018 

“Who struck you?” So spoke the soldiers who spat in the face of our dear Lord and slapped Him.  “Prophesy to us!” they cried.  “Who is the one who struck you?” We learn from Mark and Luke that He was blindfolded, which helps explain this cruel, mocking, blasphemous game.

If He used His omniscient knowledge as the Son of God, Christ could easily know which soldier struck Him.  But more importantly, Christ knew who really struck Him.  A slap was a small thing compared to all that was transpiring.  Who was responsible for the dreadful violence and injustice being enacted upon Him?  The worst was yet to come.  He knew who was striking Him.

Judas struck Him.  That false disciple pretended friendship with a kiss.  As He later admitted, he betrayed innocent blood.  How painful that betrayal must have felt to our Lord, surely worse than a physical blow.  Judas felt bad later, but that did not make it all right.  Christ said that it was better that Judas had not been born.

Peter struck Christ.  He wanted to be faithful and never deny his Lord, even if he had to die.  To that end he drew his sword and cut off the ear of the high priest’s servant.  He would be faithful and stop the crucifixion of Christ.  But because of ignorance, he was not serving Christ, but trying to hinder His divine purpose and the central, salvific event of the whole Scriptures.

Peter saw his own heart more clearly in his denial of Christ.  Die with Him?  Be faithful?  He would not even admit that he knew his Lord.  Then Peter saw the weakness of the fickle human heart.  By his passive avoidance of suffering, he also struck his Lord a sharp wound of betrayal.

More obviously, the chief priests and elders struck Christ in the name of upholding their traditions and authority.  This meant opposing the so-called blasphemy of Christ claiming to be the Son of God.  The Jewish leaders’ religious zeal was hollow because it was misdirected, as it can be with us.  We may be zealous for traditions because they feel good to us, or because that is what we grew up with.  Neither customs nor feelings are an end to themselves.  They so easily strike at Christ because they put something else at the center where Christ should be.  In the same way, the chief priests and elders tried to remove Christ from the center of all things by denying that He was the Son of God and handing Him over to Pilate.

Pilate struck Christ by releasing a murderer and crucifying Christ instead.  By failing to uphold the innocent, Pilate was guilty of murder.  Although we are not always in a position of authority to defend the innocent in so obvious a way, we do not always stand up for the helpless either.

Clearly, many people and groups struck Christ on Good Friday.  The guilt is spread out over many.  But more than any of those, Christ allowed Himself to be struck.  He stepped in front of the blow.  He could have gotten down from the Cross or walked away at any time.  “If You are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” jeered the crowds.  That would have been a far easier path.  But He kept Himself there to suffer.

Why?  To become the atoning sacrifice to satisfy the wrath of God against humanity’s sin.  So it was the Father who truly struck Him.  “Why have You forsaken Me?” Christ cried in agony.  The hardest, heaviest blow was from divine justice.  The Father crushed His Son so that we might go free – not in a mockery of justice, as Pilate did, but as the fulfillment of all justice for all history.  Christ, the representative of the human race, received the human’s race punishment.  So justice and wrath were satisfied.

As we see His agony on the Cross, we must remember that our sins struck Him.  He died because our unjust lives and iniquities demanded His death.  The blow from the Father was caused by us.

So many did not understand what was going on.  Yet a few got it.  The woman who anointed His feet earlier in the week was preparing Him for His burial.  Somehow she was expressing the fact that this beloved Man would soon be dead.  Custom was to hide the smell of decay with sweet-smelling aromas (although our dear Lord would not actually see decay).  It seems that somehow the woman saw, perhaps because she was paying attention when He kept repeating the prediction.  She anointed His sacred head that would soon be wounded and pierced by thorns.  Even if she did not fully or consciously understand what she was doing, Christ received her action as done for His burial.

What gesture could ever be sufficient for His sacrificial death for us?  Her small gesture seemed to do Him no earthly good (although surely He was comforted by her sympathy toward Him).  Yet her act of devotion was received by Him as a great act of worship that earned her eternal recognition.  In the same way, our pathetic gestures that God does not need are also recognized as good works in His sight, because He sees them as acts of kindness done to Him.

The gentile centurion understood, on some level, that the Son of God just died.  His understanding was surely deficient.  A pagan gentile would likely think more in terms of Christ being a son of the gods, although perhaps the centurion was influenced more by the Jewish faith.  Yet he got more out of the cosmic events that unfolded before his eyes than the chief priests did.  They should have known that this dying Man was fulfilling their holy Scriptures.

We who have better words to say know how to praise the Son of God who died, and should not be silent

The saints surely knew something, who were suddenly alive, appearing to many, a foretaste of the resurrection on the last day.  How long were they raised? What happened to them?  We do not know.  Yet they knew that sin and death were beaten.  They knew that the victory they had yearned for had come to pass.

Yet Christ does not immediately rise, like them.  He waits for the third day.  For those brief days, the creation was surely holding its breath.  God had died. We know the outcome, of course.  But for that short time, Christ’s Body lay in the tomb, torn asunder from His Soul.  God let such a heinous thing be done to Him, such abomination and blasphemy.  More than allow it, He was the One who struck His Son with our guilt and punishment.

We know.  We see.  We are privileged by Spirit-given faith to understand the events that transpired.  Were we there when they crucified our Lord?  No, we have something far better.  We have God’s revelation of His plan that unfolded on the dark hill.  We see the meaning of all the ages in the death of the Son of God, for us.

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