Old Testament Lesson:
11“Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15“He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18“Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
Psalm 22 on Page 71 in Christian Worship
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me?
I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by men and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads:
“He trusts in the Lord; let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.”
My strength is dried up, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
A band of evil men has encircled me,
they have pierced my hands and my feet.
They divide my garments among them
and cast lots for my clothing.
But you, O Lord, be not far off;
O my Strength, come quickly to help me.
Glory be to the Father and to the Son
and to the Holy Spirit,
as it was in the beginning,
is now, and will be forever. Amen.
26Such a high priest truly meets our need—one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
17Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18There they crucified him, and with him two others—one on each side and Jesus in the middle.
19Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: jesus of nazareth, the king of the jews. 20Many of the Jews read this sign, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and the sign was written in Aramaic, Latin and Greek. 21The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, “Do not write ‘The King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.”
22Pilate answered, “What I have written, I have written.”
23When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
24“Let’s not tear it,” they said to one another. “Let’s decide by lot who will get it.”
This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled that said, “They divided my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”
So this is what the soldiers did.
25Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
28Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Sermon Text: Luke 23:32-34:
32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”[a] And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
Nail-Pierced Hands (Jesus)
Were you there? It’s the probing, bordering-on-accusing title question that is repeated again and again in the old African-American spiritual. Were you there on the day Christians around the world observe today? Were you there on Good Friday? Were you there when they crucified my Lord . . . when they nailed him to the tree . . . when they laid him in the tomb? Before you answer, I want you to remember some of the people who were there at Calvary and who played prominent roles in our Savior’s passion.
Some Roman soldiers were there. They had to be. It was their job, and they carried it out with brutal efficiency. None of them realized that when they drove home the nails and divided up Jesus’ clothes, they were fulfilling prophecies that were hundreds of years old. But one of the soldiers, a centurion, did recognize that the man hanging on the middle cross was different. He confessed that Jesus was the Son of God (Mt 27:54).
Two other criminals were there, and they didn’t have a choice either. They were being punished for their crimes. One of them even acknowledged that they were getting what their deeds deserved. But after he confessed his sins, he also confessed his faith by asking Jesus to remember him. And Jesus assured him that they would soon be reunited in paradise (Lk 23:41-43).
The Jewish leaders were there, perhaps to make sure that Pilate would follow through on his pledge to execute Jesus. They had waited a long time for this. They were going to enjoy this. In their minds they had won a great victory, but instead of being gracious winners they got nasty. They taunted and jeered and challenged Jesus to come down from his cross, totally oblivious to the fact that at any moment he could descend and destroy them all.
Even if Pontius Pilate was not physically present at Golgotha, he made his presence known by having a sign posted above Jesus’ cross. It read, “JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS” (Jn 19:19). When some wanted him to change what he wrote, the Roman governor suddenly grew a backbone and denied their request. But for Pilate it was too little, too late.
It would be nice to be able to say that all the disciples were there to give support to their Lord in his dying hours. But they weren’t. They had deserted Jesus the night before in the garden. They had abandoned him in his time of need, just as Jesus had predicted. Only one disciple, John, had come to Calvary. And another person Jesus dearly loved stood by his side.
Jesus’ mother was there on Good Friday, and what Mary witnessed must have made her heart break. As a young girl she had received the amazing news from the angel Gabriel that God had chosen her to give birth to the promised Messiah. But not long after that child was born, she received some news that wasn’t so good. In Jerusalem, in the temple, while holding her perfect child in his arms, Simeon predicted that a sword would pierce Mary’s soul (Lk 2:35). And as she watched her son slowly dying before her eyes, Mary could fully understand what those words meant.
Working through a list like this helps us remember the people and places and events of Good Friday, but it doesn’t answer the original question: Were you there? The obvious answer is no. We weren’t there. You and I are separated from that day by thousands of miles and thousands of years, so unless we have access to a time machine it would be impossible for us to be there.
There is another way to look at that question, however, and there is another hymn that suggests a different answer. The title is “God Was There on Calvary,” and it can be found in the Good Friday section of our hymnal (Christian Worship 140). Listen carefully to what the hymn writer says in stanza 2: “All the world on Calvary, crucified the Prince of life, pierced the hands of God’s own Son, there on Calvary.”
If those poetic words are true, if the entire world was there on Calvary on Good Friday, then you were there. And so was I. We didn’t come up with the charges that were used to convict Jesus. We didn’t hand down the order to crucify Jesus. None of us wielded the hammer that drove the nails through his hands, but we were there because our sins were there. Jesus carried them there, and on the cross he bore the crushing burden of the sins of humanity.
That means our sin is the reason God’s Son had to suffer and die. That means you and I are no less guilty than the people who were directly responsible for Jesus’ death. If you are having a hard time accepting that, if you want to put that charge to the test, don’t look around and compare yourself with the Roman soldiers or the Jewish leaders or the AWOL disciples or anyone else who was there on Good Friday. Look up at the cross. Look deep inside and examine your heart and compare yourself with Jesus.
There’s a billboard alongside a certain road in the north woods of Michigan. You can drive for miles and miles on that road and all you see are trees—hill after hill covered by huge, green trees—until you come to a clearing and a giant billboard comes into view. There are no pictures on the billboard and no graphics, just big, block letters that read, “Real Christians FORGIVE like Jesus.”
I don’t know who paid for that message to be displayed, but if their goal was to encourage people who passed by, I have to confess that it has the opposite effect on me. The message makes me think about the many lessons Jesus taught about forgiveness (“turn the other cheek,” “not 7 times, but 70 times 7,” the parable of the prodigal son, etc.). That was a good thing. I was reminded of the prayer Jesus prayed from the cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (v. 34), in which he asked God to pardon the people who were putting him to death. Pondering the selfless love of Jesus, that is also a great blessing.
But then I start drawing comparisons to my own life, the perceived slights and petty squabbles, the hurtful things I have said and the vengeful things I have done. I start thinking about the times—way too many times—when I withheld forgiveness and held on to grudges instead. My mind comes to the logical, condemning conclusion: If real Christians forgive like Jesus, what does that make me? If you claim to be a Christian, and if you are held to the same standard of forgiving like Jesus, what does that make you? It makes us guilty, not at all able to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, not at all deserving of God’s love, in desperate need of a miracle to be rescued from our sins.
The man who performed so many miracles during his ministry didn’t look like a miracle worker on Good Friday. He looked weak and helpless. Stripped of his clothing. Stripped of his dignity. Bloodied. Beaten. Unable to carry his cross. Barely able to stand. Jesus had been defeated. The devil had won the day. “The foe was triumphant when on Calvary the Lord of creation was nailed to the tree. In Satan’s domain did the hosts shout and jeer, for Jesus was slain, whom the evil ones fear” (Christian Worship 143:2).
But the celebration in hell turned out to be short-lived. The evil ones had good reason to be afraid because the Messiah was about to perform his greatest miracle of all. To declare his final victory over the devil, to demonstrate his power over death, to announce to the world that reports of his demise had been greatly exaggerated and assure you that all your sins have been forgiven, Jesus holds out to you his nail-pierced hands.
It was a couple days after Good Friday. The disciples, the same people who were nowhere to be found on Calvary, gathered together behind locked doors. They were confused about what had just happened. They were fearful about the future. They became even more afraid when what they thought was a ghost appeared among them. But this was no apparition. It was the Lord, and he brought them a message of peace. And then Jesus did something else, something special, something personal, something that instantly allayed their fears. He showed them his hands.
Scars are not usually attractive, but for the disciples those nail marks were the most beautiful thing they had ever seen. And the beauty of those scars is not lost on us either. Those wounds remind us of the high cost of our redemption. Jesus took on our flesh. Jesus felt our pain. Jesus endured the righteous wrath of God in our place. Jesus prayed for our forgiveness on the cross, and he suffered and died on the cross to earn it.
The unconditional, sacrificial love of Jesus is what makes this day good. When your sins condemn you, he intercedes for you. When Satan seeks to devour you, Jesus will defend you. When you are feeling guilty, spiritually empty, totally unworthy of God’s love, remember what Jesus has done to save you. Remember that he will never leave you or forsake you. Remember that he has ascended into heaven to prepare a place for you.
If all of this sounds too good to be true, if you are looking for proof that it is indeed true, all you need to do is look up. Look to the cross. Look to Jesus. Look at your living Savior’s nail-pierced hands. Amen.