Good Friday Sermon, 2018
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt
“O sorrow dread! / Our God is dead, / Upon the cross extended. / There His love enlivened us / As His life was ended” (“O Darkest Woe,” Lutheran Service Book 448:2).
You know I like to ask questions.
I come by that honestly.
At some point, every Christian wonders—and at some point, every seminarian is asked:
Did God die on the cross?
It’s a marvelous question because the answer is both Yes and No.
It can’t be Yes or No, meaning one or the other.
And here’s why:
If it is true only to say that God died—and not that God did not die—then we harm God.
But God is unharmable.
He doesn’t need anything.
His knowledge and power encompass all things.
Have you ever heard the question “Can God make a rock so big He can’t lift it?”
Wrong question. Any answer limits God and God is eternal, without beginning or end, without limits.
It’s impossible for God to die just like it’s impossible for God to be impressed with your guesses during Wheel of Fortune.
Come on, who hasn’t yelled a letter at their tv?
So do you see how important it is for us to say that God can’t die?
It’s like asking this question: “What’s the opposite of God?”
People always say the devil’s the opposite of God, but imagine what that would look like?
Our God is eternal good. Eternal compassion. Eternal love. And eternal power bent to care for you.
That’s our God.
The opposite of that would be eternal evil. Eternal uncaring-ness. And eternal power bent towards your destruction.
But the devil’s not the opposite of God.
The devil’s not eternal. The devil was a created angel who rebelled, who would not serve, who was cast out of heaven and confirmed in his rejection of the truth.
God has no equal opposition.
Neither does He have an opposite.
That said, today especially, we see and hear the devil’s power.
“O darkest woe! / Ye tears, forth flow! / Has earth so sad a wonder? God the Father’s only Son / Now is buried yonder” (“O Darkest Woe,” Lutheran Service Book 448:1).
For a moment, it seems like the devil’s victorious.
If we don’t say it at church, we think it at the hospital when a friend or brother dies.
We think it to ourselves when a check bounces.
We mutter it under our breath when we hear what’s said behind our backs.
Not only do we say, sometimes, that the devil’s victorious—not only do we think it—but we make it true when we stop caring about God’s Word or prayer or the faith of children.
You never stop being a parent.
I know I’m a young parent—but I’m pretty sure my dad will always be my dad.
He’ll always have a lot to teach me—I’ll never make Italian Beef like my dad can make it. His is just better.
But he has nothing to teach me about God—because He doesn’t know God.
I know God—and so I’ll always have a responsibility to him, as his son, and to my own sons, to teach and live the faith—and to expect the same from them.
Because it’s true. It’s good.
To give up—to become uncaring—or to refuse to speak about it so as to be nice—is to share more with the devil than with God.
It gives the devil the victory that today seems well earned.
That’s what happens when you answer the question “Did God die on the cross?” with only the answer, “Yes.”
You strip away His victory—and give it to the devil.
So let’s answer “No” to the question.
That should make things better.
Did God die on the cross?
God is Immutable. Eternal. Omnipotent. Omniscient. Omnibenevolent.
But if, when Jesus died on the cross, God did not die for us—then it was just a man who died.
And what is that?
A man’s death is meaningless for your salvation.
We can weep at the death of a man, and we do.
We can inherit a lot at the death of a man, and some do.
But if it wasn’t God’s death on the cross, again, the victory belongs to the devil.
This is one of the most beautiful things about our theology.
We embrace this paradox, confess it, love it, and receive comfort eternal from what it all means.
Dr. Luther wrote it this way:
“We Christians should know that if God is not in the scale to give it weight, we, on our side, sink to the ground. I mean it this way: if it cannot be said that God died for us, but only a man, we are lost; but if God’s death and a dead God lie in the balance, His side goes down and ours goes up like a light and empty scale. Yet He can also readily go up again, or leap out of the scale! But He could not sit on the scale unless He become a man like us, so that it could be called God’s dying, God’s martyrdom, God’s blood, and God’s death. For God in His own nature cannot die; but now that God and man are united in one person, it is called God’s death when the man dies who is one substance or one person with God” (LW 41:103-4).
This is what it all means.
“Forth today the Conqu’ror goeth, / who the foe, / sin and woe, / death and hell, o’erthroweth. / God is man, man to deliver; / His dear Son / now is one / with our blood forever” (“All My Heart Again Rejoices,” stz. 2).
With our blood, with us, as our brother, Jesus, the eternal Son of God goes to crucifixion and death to beat down satan under His feet.
“It is finished” (John 19:30).
The victory remains with Christ.
Did God die on the cross?
And what you say about Jesus answers a lot of questions.
In Jesus’ name, Amen!