Good Friday April 7, 2023
“A God Who Can Die” Hebrews 2:14-18
Rev. John R. Larson Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For surely it is not angels he helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For the reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people. Because he himself suffered when he was tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.
Isn’t it remarkable what we confess on Good Friday? We boldly confess that God can die. When you list the qualities that make God, God, we speak about being all-powerful, all-knowing, ever-present. We also speak about God being eternal and immortal. Yet, about 3:00 on the day before the Passover Sabbath, on a Friday, Jesus says, “It is finished”. He says, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” He bows His head and He dies.
How can this be? How can God die? Well, maybe it was just the man part that died, right? We confess that Jesus was God and man. The man part needed to eat and sleep. The man part would grow weary. But the divine part doesn’t need sleep. The God part doesn’t have hunger or thirst. So it must be that it was Jesus the man who died and not Christ the Lord, the eternal and immortal God.
No!! The God/man is not so divisible. If only the man died then we have a martyr dying on the cross but we don’t have a Savior. On Good Friday we acknowledge that we have a God who can die. Just like us. Our God is not immune to human suffering, human tragedy, human grief and human loss. Just two chapters later in Hebrews we read, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin. Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.” (Hebrews 4:15-16)
God knows fully about death. He has experienced it. Our reading says that “he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God.” (Hebrews 2:17)
At times in our suffering we may be tempted to wag our finger at God and say, “Lord, you don’t even know what I’m going through.” “You have no idea the load that I am carrying, the grief that I am experiencing, the future that I fear.” But because we have a God who can die He fully understands what we face. We read in the opening verses of the text, “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death – that is, the devil – and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
We call that empathy. We have a God who can die just like us. But He does something that we can’t do, and it is this attribute that is better than empathy. We have a God who will die for us. Like us, yes. But better than that – for us.
St. Peter, who knew the horrific feeling of grief over sin took delight that Jesus came to make the payment for our sin. He wrote, “When they hurled insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” (I Peter 2:23-24) Peter also says, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.” (I Peter 3:18)
For us this was a willing death, a sacrifice that He freely made. Last Sunday the prophet Isaiah gave us a picture of Jesus and His willing death, “The Sovereign Lord has opened my ears, and I have not been rebellious; I have not drawn back. I offered my back to those who beat me, my cheeks to those who pulled out my beard; I did not hide my face from mocking and spitting.” (Isaiah 50:5-6)
The God who dies like us is the one who dies for us. He dies for us to bring us to God. He dies for us to forgive our every sin. He dies for us in great love. Hebrews 9 continues with this thought of the substitution of Christ for us, “But now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” (Hebrews 9:26-28)
This very picture of a God who can die like us and who will die for us is found in the Old Testament when it speaks about how God brought forgiveness to His people. The Book of Hebrews was written to Jewish believers. The connection between the Old Testament sacrifices and the New Testament work of Jesus is stated. In the Old Testament a lamb, one that was without defect was sacrificed as part of the Passover meal. The blood of that lamb would be placed on the door frame of the house of one looking for deliverance from the angel of death. A lamb. Blood. An entire household was saved. This was the very picture of what Jesus, the Lamb of God, would do on the cross for us and the entire world. Or look at the Day of Atonement – Yom Kippur – from Leviticus 16. Every year a goat would be chosen to carry the sins of all of Israel, for all of God’s people. Fittingly they called the goat the scapegoat. We read about this: Aaron, the high priest would “lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites – all their sins – and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the desert in care of a man appointed for the task. The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place; and the man shall release it in the desert.” (Leviticus 16:21-22) The goat would die. The people would live. That is the picture of Good Friday. As it says in the New Testament, “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (II Corinthians 5:21)
A few years ago, Wayne and Shelia Beu’s granddaughter, Libby, was confused when she left the Good Friday service. Considering the solemnity of the service she asked, “Why is this called Good Friday?” What would you say? Why is this day good? The Passover lamb, the scapegoat, the Christ, the Redeemer, Jesus, receives our sin and we receive His forgiveness. He dies and we live. The one who dies like us also dies for us. That is what makes this Friday a good day. Amen!!