This is the full text of my sermon for yesterday’s Good Friday service.
The Glory of the Cross
The crucifixion account in Matthew’s Gospel is filled with irony, double entendres, and curious turns of phrase loaded with multiple meanings. Matthew has sought to give us an accurate account of the events while also hiding in plain sight the theological significance of these events.
This appears to be the overthrow and the end of all of God’s plans, the ultimate humiliation of the Christ, the Anointed One brought to shame and rejection in powerlessness and defeat.
But because Jesus, the Son of God endures unto the end and accomplishes all that the Father has given him to do it is really a moment of glory, the moment of Christ’s greatest triumph, a triumph that will only be revealed when Jesus, the Christ, is declared to be the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead (Rom. 1:4).
1. God turns the humiliation into glory (27-31).
In this scene, after Pilate has handed Jesus over for crucifixion, the vicious mockery in words and actions are more true than the mockers realize. This speaks to the sovereign power of God, who can use their mocking to speak words of truth that highlight the glory of the Savior.
The God who could make an ass talk and speak the words that a prophet-for-hire refused to speak, the God who could make the stones cry out in praise if God’s people refused, this God could certainly put words of truth in mocking mouths to render praise to the Lord of glory even in his most inglorious moment and make them speak words that were more true than they themselves believed and more true than they could possibly imagine.
One day, these same people, along with everyone who has walked this earth, will render this same praise to God. Because, you see, this One who is mocked as King of the Jews really is King of the Jews, and he is even more than that. This one is King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and when Paul says that one day every knee shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the Glory of God the Father, he means “every knee” and “every tongue.” He will be praised even by his enemies as they acknowledge that this Lord of glory is not only strong and mighty and faithful and true but also worthy of praise.
God turns humiliation into glory and fulfills in Jesus what the prophet Isaiah wrote of the Suffering Servant, that “he shall be exalted, and lifted up, and be very high.” And indeed, as Paul noted (repeatedly in Ephesians), “we are seated in heavenly places with him.”
2. God turns powerlessness and defeat into power and triumph (32-37).
But on this Good Friday, Jesus is carrying his cross, and he has to be assisted in carrying his cross the final distance. His physical powerlessness is the result of a greater powerlessness evident since he was bound in the Garden after Judas’ betrayal.
Jesus is a man thrown back and forth by the powers that be. Condemned through lies by the religious leaders, his scourging and death permitted by the political leader, who seemed to believe in his innocence and who answered only to the most powerful man in the world and yet who looked the other way out of expedience and self-interest. Now he is in the hands of brutes who violently assault him and mercilessly crucify him. His final possession, the very clothes on his back, are taken from him by the ones killing him, leaving him to hang naked and in shame with no recourse but to submit.
Indeed, the very act of crucifixion was designed for subjugation and oppression. It was designed to render powerless those people under the dominion of Rome. It is fitting that the mightiest army in the known world, perhaps one of the mightiest armies the world has ever seen, was tasked with crucifying the Lord of glory because it gives a chance to demonstrate what Paul spoke of in 1 Cor. 1:25b when he wrote, “The weakness of God is stronger than men.” God turns powerlessness and defeat into power and triumph.
David, King over Israel, spoke prophetically of our Lord when he wrote, “Yahweh said to my Lord, sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool under your feet.” And in that day, when all of God’s enemies, the enemies of God’s people, have been brought to nothing, every knee will bow and every tongue acknowledge the glory and majesty of this One who bore such mockery, humiliation, and shame and who bore it with grace and humility, who was defeated that God’s people might triumph, and who bore such shame in this age that his people might live in glory in the age to come.
3. God turns shame into honor (38-44).
And indeed the cross is shameful. Crucifixion was designed not only to deliver the maximum amount of psychical pain and suffering but also the maximum amount of psychological torture in the form of shame and humiliation. Most victims were crucified naked (although sometimes they would allow a loincloth to be used to accommodate the sensibilities of the Jews).
With the feast now over and the Passover yet to come, people are now out-and-about and they come by and see his shame and dishonor which are on display before the entire world.
But to add to it is the shame of the insults and the mockery, and the derision by those who knew of his claims to be the Son of God and mock him. They knew of his miracles and the deliverance he brought to many yet they mock him because God has not delivered him from the curse of this tree.
And being on display added to the curse of crucifixion. The Law of Moses stated that, “Anyone who is hanged on a tree is under God’s curse” (Deut. 21:23). So Jesus is cursed by God and that cursing is evident in his hanging on that tree. These words, too, are more true than they know.
The curse brought upon the human race and indeed upon all of creation by the sin of our first mother and father, the curse which brought God’s judgment, is now borne by the Son of God, standing in our place, bearing our curse, bearing the shame, not only of our first father and mother, who stood shamed and naked in the Garden before God but the shame of all of us who recognize our sin and our helplessness to do anything about it but stand naked and helpless in the presence of Almighty God.
Now Adam and Eve’s greater son, the Son of God, hangs shamed and naked in the presence of the whole world and in the presence of God, that the whole world may be reconciled to God and enjoy a greater communion and unity with God even than our father and mother knew in the Garden.
This what Paul referred to in Galatians 3:13 when he said, “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree.’”
In this passage, the nations have conspired together against the Lord and against his Anointed. Jew and Gentile are complicit in the death of the Holy One of God.
But one day the nations will not blaspheme him, shaking their heads. Instead, the nations and the kings of the earth will bring their glory and honor into the New Jerusalem. (Rev. 21:24, 26).
They will not shout blasphemies; they will shout praise.
They will not say, “He saved others, himself he cannot save.” Instead, they will say, “He did not save himself so that we could be saved.”
They will not say, “If he is King of Israel,” they will say, “He is King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, and all the kingdoms of the earth have become the Kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign forever and ever!”
Conclusion: Look at this cross and weep over your sins and the horrible price paid to redeem you from them.
Then look at the cross again and see the power and wisdom of God, who has chosen the foolish things of this world to put to shame the wise, who has chosen the weak things of this world, to put to shame the things which are mighty, who has chosen the low things of the world, the things which are despised, to bring to nothing the things that are something so that no one may glory in his presence (1 Cor. 1:27-29).
Then look at the cross, yet once more, and boast in the Lord, shamed and humiliated that you might know glory, broken that you might be made whole, and defeated, that you might triumph.