He Saved Others: Good Friday 2017

By the Rev. Justin Clemente

The work of Jesus on the cross is so completely the work of God that even the insults hurled at him pointed to the meaning of what was being accomplished. In the gospels we’re told that as Jesus suffered and died on the cross, onlookers mocked him saying, “Save yourself, and come down from the cross!” So also the chief priests with the scribes mocked him to one another, saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel, come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:30-32). What they did not understand is that Jesus could not be who he was without tasting death on the cross. He could not be the Messiah apart from his suffering. He could not be our Savior without standing first in the place we deserved. He could not be our High Priest without first being the Victim. So it is that John Stott says of these mocking words, “Their words, spoken as an insult, were the literal truth. He could not save himself and others simultaneously. He chose to sacrifice himself in order to save the world.” God’s self-substitution as sacrifice for our sin – Christ in our place – is gloriously and wondrously at the center of the cross. Indeed, may we never come to it without such humble wonder. That this sacrifice is at the heart of Christianity is not a liability to managed, but a glorious reality to embrace and proclaim.

Actually, if you think about it, all our best loved dramas borrow liberally from the drama of the cross – God’s drama. Tim Keller gives one example in The Reason for God:

“Imagine you come into contact with a man who is innocent, but who is being hunted down by secret agents or by the government or by some other powerful group. He reaches out to you for help. If you don’t help him, he will probably die, but if you ally with him, you – who were perfectly safe and secure – will be in mortal danger. This is the stuff that movie plots are made of. Again, it’s him or you. He will experience increased safety and security through your involvement, but only because you are willing to enter into his insecurity and vulnerability…how can God be a God of love if he does not become personally involved in suffering the same violence, oppression, grief, weakness, and pain that we experience? The answer to that question is twofold. First, God can’t. Second, only one major world religion even claims that God does.”

The reality of the cross, however, is even more shocking than Keller’s example, because we were not the innocent on the run, but the guilty under the curse of sin and death.

He could not save himself…he saved others.” This taunts turns out to be the heart of the Cross and the heart of Jesus. And the question I want to leave you with tonight is, do you know yourself to be within this Good News? Emil Brunner wrote, “He who understands the Cross aright understands the Bible, he understands Jesus Christ.” Put differently, if you do not know the cross of Jesus, you do not know Jesus. To quote again from Stott: “What dominated Jesus’ mind was not so much the living but the giving of his life.” And this is so often where folks will stop short, isn’t it? To see Jesus as a good teacher requires nothing. To merely acknowledge his Golden Rule as an ideal misses the point. But to see him as the God-man in our place on the cross, “doing unto others” in the ultimate sense – this strikes at our pride. To kneel at his cross requires that we first humble ourselves and acknowledge that if this is what sin costs, then there is no other way. But to embrace it by faith? To embrace it means redemption, it means healing, it means reconciliation, and it means the riches and wealth and wisdom of God poured out upon our head in full measure. “For the word of cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

I’ll end with these words from St. Augustine:

The Maker of man was made man

That the Ruler of Stars might suck at the breast

That the Bread of Life might be hungered

The Fountain, thirst

The Light, sleep

The Way be wearied by the journey

The Truth be accused by false witnesses

The Judge of the Living and the Dead be judged by a mortal judge

The Chastener, be chastised with whips,

The Vine be crowned with thorns,

The Foundation be hung upon a tree

Strength be made weak,

Health be wounded,

Life die.

To suffer these and such undeserved things,

That He might free the undeserving,

For neither did He deserve any evil,

Who for our sakes endured so many evils,

Nor were we deserving of anything good,

We, who through Him, received such good.