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"Truly this man was the Son of God…"


25 March 2005 11:00 | Rev Canon Dr John Cullen

OT: Isaiah 52.13-53; NT: Hebrews 10.1-25; Gospel: John 19.1-42

Christians come together on this day, this Friday we call Good, to celebrate a death, the death of the founder of our religion, Jesus of Nazareth. The events leading up to and following his death are the focal point of our Christian religion. In this respect Christianity is unique among the great world religions, in that we give such prominence and significance to the death of our founder.

By the kind of person Jesus was, by the kind of life he lived, and the way he embraced death, he shows us, in human terms, what God is like. Jesus is our window into God. But Jesus did more than just show us what God is like. He was what he proclaimed. In Jesus we believe God was present to the human race in a unique way: "In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell", as St Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians. God is, as he is in Jesus. But also in Jesus we see what it means to be human; we see a human being totally at one with the will and purposes of God, so given over to God, so at one with God, that in him we see God in human form.

And Jesus tells us that the whole purpose of his coming among us was that we too might share his way of being human, share that richness of life that he lived. "I have come", he says, "that you might have life, life in all its fullness".

The message of Good Friday is that the way to that "life in all its fullness" is to be found in the death of Jesus. That is one of the great mysteries and paradoxes of this Christian faith of ours: that in the death of Jesus we see something of the essential nature of God, and something of the very meaning of life itself. How can this be?

St Paul gives us a clue. He tells us: "To those who believe, to us who are being saved, the word of the cross [=the death of Jesus], is the power of God." For in the death of Jesus we see God at work. Now on the level of recordable history, it would appear that the death of Jesus was the sign of the total failure of what most people expect God to be and be capable of. But the Evangelists of the New Testament would have us see the cross as the focal point of salvation history, because the life of Jesus is the working out of the purpose of God, and can therefore only be assessed in terms of that purpose.

Jesus shows us that the ways of God are not what we expect. We assume that God would achieve his purposes by dramatic displays of superior strength and power, as he is so often portrayed in the Old Testament. Jesus himself had been tempted by such expectations during his time in the wilderness. But he was to learn that the will and purposes of God are fulfilled in being conformed to the Father's will, in drinking the cup of self-giving love. And in his drinking of that cup Jesus show us that God is Love.

When he cried from the cross "It is finished!" Jesus declared that the new age of the rule of love had arrived. In Jesus the human capacity for relationship with God had been restored and brought to fulfilment. Even the Roman soldier standing duty at the foot of the cross could see: "Truly, this man was the son of God!"

And so for Jesus' followers the catch cry became: "Jesus is Lord!" Jesus of Nazareth, champion of the poor and outcast, advocate of justice and peace for all, charismatic teacher who made faith believable, but who fell foul of the religious authorities in the process. This Jesus is what God is really like, because all that Jesus taught was about the genuine enhancement of life - enhancement for everyone, not just one select group, or one particular people.

And this new life was not to be governed by Law. Rather it is a new state of possibilities to be realised. It is a call to risk, to break free from pre-determined patterns of what it means to be "faithful". It is a call to full human maturity. And because it could not and cannot be tied to certainties, systems and structures, it offers a way of living that requires faith and hope, rooted in love.

No wonder Jesus was charged with subversion! No wonder the powers that-be felt threatened and undermined by such a manifesto. But for those with ears to hear, those who were and being saved, it was and is the message of life, a message embodied not in a book of laws, but in a man.

And when all the powers that could be summoned had done their worst to rid themselves of him, it was realised that the life and love which motivated him were unquenchable.

That life and that love are available to you and to me, who are baptised into the death of Jesus, that we might share his life. That is the news that makes this Friday Good.

May this be for you a Blessed and Holy Day!
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