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Good Friday Tenebrae, “So That Scripture Might Be Fulfilled”

Pastor Gary Wong, April 2, 2021

John 19:17-30

17 Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). 18 Here they crucified him, and with him two others-- one on each side and Jesus in the middle. 19 Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. 20 Many 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. 21 The 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." 22 Pilate answered, "What I have written, I have written." 23 When 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 which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." So this is what the soldiers did. 25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, "Dear woman, here is your son," 27 and to the disciple, "Here is your mother." From that time on, this disciple took her into his home. 28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, "I am thirsty." 29 A 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. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, "It is finished." With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

“I love it when a plan comes together.” Those aren’t my words; that’s a line from a 70’s TV show. My point is that all of us make plans. Sometimes we’re just planning for the short term, such as what we’re making for supper; other plans—such as for retirement—may extend far into the future. Some people make meticulous plans well in advance; others wing it at the last minute and hope for the best. Yet whether we plan well or hardly at all, things don’t always work out exactly as planned. And while we might be disappointed if we had to change or even give up on a plan, it’s usually not the end of the world. However, what if God’s plan of salvation hadn’t gone according to plan? The consequences would have been devastating for the entire human race for all eternity. On this Good Friday evening, we thank and praise our Savior, Jesus Christ, for his suffering and death on the cross on our behalf. We are eternally grateful that Jesus carried out God’s plan of salvation to perfection. Jesus lived, died, and rose so that the Scripture might be fulfilled.

Now, understand that in the beginning, there was no need for a plan to save mankind. At creation, God’s plan was that Adam and Eve would live in perfect harmony with him forever. Since God had created them in his own image, they had the perfect ability and desire to do just that. In the beginning, Adam and Eve did follow God’s plan. Sadly, they ruined that perfect plan when they disobeyed God and ate the forbidden fruit. What were some of the tragic consequences of the fall? For Adam, work would be burdensome rather than something that brought joy. For Eve, child bearing would be painful and child rearing would bring heartache. Both Adam and Eve could no longer live in the Garden nor could they be in God’s presence. But by far, the worst consequence of the fall was that the once perfect relationship between God and man was now ruined. Because of their disobedience, sin and death reigned in the world.

Because we are Adam and Eve’s descendants, we are reaping what our first parents have sown. Friends, it’s not a pretty picture. Sin has negatively affected every aspect of our lives. Take work, for instance. With many people out of work because of business closures and COVID 19, those who have a job should be grateful and not complain. Yet, how many of us grumble about our working conditions—an overbearing boss or lazy employees; too many or too few hours; too much work for too little pay, and the list goes on. And as we toil for our daily bread, we’re only thinking of how we’re going to spend this money on ourselves. In other words, we’re just plain selfish. Then there’s the problem of pride. We want to be served rather than to serve. Rather than being a humble servant, we want to be treated like a king.

Because of our greed, our priorities are often out of whack. We work like crazy to get material things that only bring us temporary joy and which eventually are destroyed. So rather than working for earthly things, God’s Word encourages us to store up treasures in heaven. Jesus tells us, “Seek first his kingdom and righteousness”. Here is where all of us run into a huge problem. Because we are sinners, none of us was born a member of God’s kingdom. Rather, we were all born God’s enemies. What’s worse, there is nothing that we can do to become right with God. Our holy God expects us to be holy. Our perfect God demands that we keep his holy law perfectly. What are the consequences when we break even one of God’s commandments? The Bible tells us: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a).

Because we are sinners and continually disobey God’s righteous decrees, we always fall short of God’s glory. Therefore, we deserve to die and to suffer in hell for all eternity. The question is what was God going to do since mankind had ruined his perfect plan? God had every right to let his judgment stand. Because he is a holy God, his justice demands that sinners be punished. Yet, God is also a God of love. God does not take pleasure in the death of the wicked. He doesn’t want a single soul to perish. So how was God going to satisfy both his demand for justice and his desire to show mercy? God’s plan was to send a Savior. What was that Savior going to do? This Savior would have to do what God demands of us and yet are incapable of doing; namely, he had to live a perfect life and then suffer the punishment of death and hell that we so richly deserved.

Who is our Savior? It is God’s own Son, Jesus Christ. As we read St. John’s testimony about Jesus’ crucifixion and death and compare it to what was prophesied in the Old Testament, there is absolutely no doubt that all that Jesus said and did happened so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. For instance, Isaiah had prophesied that “[Jesus] would do no violence nor [would there be] any deceit in his mouth” (Isa. 53:9). Seven hundred years later, Pontius Pilate confirmed Jesus’ innocence. After examining the evidence, the Roman governor correctly concluded, “I find no basis for a charge against him.” Yet, Pilate condemned Jesus to die on the cross. John tells us that Jesus was crucified along with two other criminals, thus fulfilling the Scriptures that prophesied that “he was numbered with the transgressors” (Isa. 53:12).

Coincidence you say? Consider this amazing correlation of prophecy and fulfillment. Now, the custom of the Roman soldiers was to strip the prisoners of their clothes at the time of their crucifixion. So, treating Jesus just like every other criminal, they divided his clothes into four shares. But Jesus had a seamless undergarment which the soldiers didn’t want to tear because that would have destroyed its value. So, what were they going to do? Their solution was “Let’s divide by lot who will get it.” It was a simple and practical solution. Yet, their seemingly spur of the moment decision perfectly fulfilled the Scriptures that said, “They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing” (Psalm 22:18).

Still not convinced? Near the end of his ordeal, Jesus said, “I am thirsty” (John 19:28). Responding to Jesus’ statement, they lifted up a sponge soaked with wine vinegar to Jesus’ lips. Now, a skeptic might scoff, “How does Jesus saying, “I’m thirsty”, have any connection with the OT Scriptures? After all, anyone hanging on a cross for six hours in the hot sun would be dying of thirst. I’m sure that the other criminals probably said the same thing. So how does that statement square with the Scriptures?” The skeptic’s challenge is easily answered when we consider what St. Matthew records in his account. According to the apostle, just before Jesus was crucified, he was offered wine mixed with gall; but he refused to drink it. The gall was meant to deaden the pain; but Jesus would have none of it. He wanted to be fully conscious right up to the very moment he would choose to die. It was only after Jesus’ suffering had been completed that Jesus accepted the wine vinegar, thus fulfilling what the psalms had prophesied, “my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (Ps. 22:15) and “They put gall in my food and gave me vinegar for my thirst” (Ps. 69:21).

Brothers and sisters, we shouldn’t be surprised that everything that was prophesied in the Old Testament about Jesus’ passion has found fulfillment in the Gospel accounts. After all, Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan to save mankind. Immediately after the fall into sin, God had promised that he would send a Savior who would crush the devil’s head even as the devil would strike Jesus’ heel. Jesus, as true God and true man, was the only one who could carry out that plan. As true man, Jesus put himself under the law. For instance, Jesus’ words on the cross to his mother, Mary, and his disciple, John, demonstrated how Jesus was honoring his earthly mother by providing for her needs. As true God, Jesus kept the Fourth Commandment and every other commandment perfectly in our place. Yet, it was as a man that Jesus suffered the pain and agony of the cross. Jesus willingly went through hell, having been forsaken by his own Father, which fulfilled another thousand-year-old prophecy recorded in Psalm 22. Because Jesus is true God, his death was an acceptable payment for the sins of the whole world.

The question is why was Jesus willing to suffer and die on the cross? He did it so that the Scriptures would be fulfilled. He did it because he loves us. Jesus died so that we might have eternal life through faith in him. We see the proof of his love on the cross, at the empty tomb, and in the pages of Holy Scripture. So, on this Good Friday evening, we thank the Lord that God’s plan of salvation came together on the cross of Christ. We praise Jesus, our crucified and risen Savior, for “the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Isa. 53:5). Amen.

“Oh, Perfect Life of Love” (CW 138)

Text: Henry W. Baker, 1821-77, abr., alt.

Oh, perfect life of love!

All, all is finished now,

All that he left his throne above

To do for us below.

No work he left undone

Of all the Father willed;

His toil, his sorrows, one by one,

The Scriptures have fulfilled.

And on his thorn-crowned head

And on his sinless soul

Our sins in all their guilt were laid

That he might make us whole.

In perfect love he dies;

For me he dies, for me!

O all-atoning Sacrifice,

You died to make me free!

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