Good Friday 2023
Rev. Ash Bramblett
Let me first say that it’s an honor to be here and to look out and see so many faces from different congregations, people who I’m friends with and love, and it’s an honor to be here with you today.
Doug asked me to preach, and we’ve been friends for a number of years, and I’m sure there’s a certain level of oddity of having a Baptist come and preach in an Anglican service. I would like to think it’s because I’ve got a little bit of Anglican in me, but I must warn you that the sermon length is very Baptist.
Let me start with a piece of trivia for you. Do you know what the oldest depiction of The Crucifixion is in terms of art, sculpture, or any other medium? It’s hard to date, obviously, what the exact oldest one is, but one of the best contenders is a picture called The Alexamenos graffito, also known as the graffito blasfemo, or the blasphemous graffiti. It was founded in an excavation of the Palatine Hill in Rome in 1857, and the image is a graffiti scratched in plaster depicting a man worshiping a crucified figure who has the head of a donkey. The inscription below it reads, “Alexamenos worships his god.”
I think it’s somehow fitting that the oldest image that we have of Christ crucified is a mocking caricature, the bullying of a believer about the foolishness of the cross. It’s appropriate because mockery is key to the scene we see on the day of the cross. As Jesus hangs on the cross, the mocking accusations come from the crowd, particularly from two groups, the Jewish religious leaders and the Roman Centurions.
For the religious leaders, the Sanhedrin, the Council, they call into question the messianic identity of Jesus, and specifically the idea of Him being Savior. He has saved others. Let Him save himself if He’s the Christ, the chosen one of God.
Jesus has obviously proven himself to be a savior many times. He has saved others from countless diseases, disasters, demonic possessions, even from death. But now, He is unable to save Himself.
Luke goes on to tell us about the soldiers, how they also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine and saying, “If you are the king of the Jews, then save yourself.” Again, the pagan idea of a king was somebody who had divine favor, someone who was sometimes even deified. The king had become something like a demigod, Caesar, Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, all god kings. Even in Israel, while the king wasn’t in any way God, a faithful king was blessed with victory and prosperity.
Certainly, we see kings undergoing suffering and defeat in the Old Testament, but it’s a function of judgment on them and, usually, obviously so, directly connected to their disobedience. When kings do go into battle with their soldiers, it’s usually the case that they’re armored and guarded in such a way where their life is in no mortal danger. And moreover, even in defeat, a king is usually much more valuable alive than he is dead. So kings and nobles go into battle and are captured and then ransomed. That’s the norm.
All that is to say kings survive. The king is the one who lives, the one who everybody else risks their lives to save and protect. And that’s the problem with Jesus. As this priestly class, this group of experts, these intermediaries between God and man, all of them on the Sanhedrin should know what a Messiah looks like. And when they look to Jesus, they say, “He doesn’t look much like a Messiah.
Again, of all people, the Centurions ought to know what a king looks like. After all, generals have a habit of becoming emperors in Rome. If anyone knows what a king looks like, it’s the Roman army. And this Jesus doesn’t look much like a king.
Perhaps we could reword their mocking accusations, “If you are a king, conquer. If you are a savior, save. If you are a Messiah, do some Messiah stuff.” If we’re honest, our hearts echo fairly similar blasphemies at times, particularly in the midst of suffering and tragedy. The rejection, the mocking of Jesus is something we share in, although perhaps not so boldly as we see it in this story.
“Jesus, do some Messiah stuff. How can you allow something like this to happen? How can you not act in this situation? How can you not do something that would make me not doubt you or even embarrassed of you?” Maybe it’s the tragic death of some loved one, a dire prognosis, a profligate child. Maybe when the world looks on and says things like, “Thoughts and prayers won’t help dead children,” maybe we hear our mocking voices calling out among the scoffers, “Jesus, get off the cross and do something. Come with fire. Come with power. Protect the innocent. Judge the wicked. We want Mount Carmel, not Mount Calvary.”
And yet as urgent as those times seem in our own lives, the stakes, of course, are infinitely higher here at the cross. And the reality is that the issue is not that Jesus is unable, but that he’s unwilling. He is unwilling to save Himself.
As is usually the case, mockers are also myopic, because in the case of suffering, and infinitely more in the case of Jesus’ suffering, it is accomplishing something that is beyond our comprehension. Christ is not suffering as an example of failure, but of faithfulness. Christ’s suffering is not a contradiction, but a necessary confirmation of who He is. In Christ suffering, He is accomplishing our salvation and confirming His messianic and kingly identity.
Hebrews 2:10 says something incredible, “It was fitting that He, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect through suffering.” Bringing many sons to glory, becoming the founder of their salvation, how does he do that? Jesus was made perfect through suffering.
Now, again, that phrase sounds strange to our ears. How is Jesus made perfect? Is he not already perfect? But Jesus is not being purified by suffering for His own purification, because He is already perfect. But He is becoming perfect in the sense that He’s being qualified by His suffering.
Maybe we could say it this way. He may be the perfect, sinless son of God. But in a sense, He still has to prove it.
So if you’ll suffer me nerding out for just a minute, it’s really hard to make a good Superman movie. Some people think it’s because Superman is this archaic boy scout with values from another generation, and he needs to be updated to match our modern sensibilities. But that’s not the reason why it’s hard to make a good Superman movie. The reason is because Superman can do anything. His power set and his abilities are basically limitless, and that makes him boring.
Did you know that Superman couldn’t originally fly? When the character was created, all he could do was jump really high, which is a lame power. In early Superman stories, he’s fighting gangsters and drug dealers and abusive husbands. He’s not fighting giant robots and aliens from outer space.
But the problem was is every time Superman got into a new problem, the writers just gave him a new power. Now he can fly or he has X-ray vision or ice breath or laser eyes, super hearing, super speed. He doesn’t need to breathe anymore or rest or eat, because he gets all of his power from the earth’s yellow sun.
I sometimes think that we see Jesus in the same way, almost as if when we think about Jesus, we think to ourselves, “Well, of course Jesus can do that. He’s Jesus.”
But Jesus doesn’t sit on the cross, yawning, “Is this all you guys have got? I don’t know if you know this, but I’m the eternal son of God.” Jesus’ suffering is real, and He wants free of it. We see that in Gethsemane. We see that in the cry of dereliction. But Jesus must be put through the ultimate suffering as the wrath of God is poured out on Him for sin, and He must completely obey where you and I never did and never could and never would for salvation to be accomplished.
Jesus must suffer in every way, and yet without sin, to be an adequate savior. If Jesus curses God during the process, he isn’t worthy or capable of being our sacrifice. If he uses his power and authority to come down from the cross, to sidestep the suffering, He has demonstrated that He is not the Messiah, that He is not perfectly obeyed under opposition, and that proves Him unworthy.
Again, the scoffers will say, “If Jesus is savior, if He is the chosen one, if He is the Messiah, He should save Himself.” But the irony is if He saves Himself, He can save no one else. If He wants to save others, He must not save Himself.
Again, it seems like foolishness, a savior who dies. A man who dies can’t save anybody. He hasn’t even saved himself. He’s failed at saving. And yet that is the foolishness of the cross. And it’s not just His identity as savior that we see in those mocking yells, but His identity is king. That is connected to His obedience as well.
Philippians 2, probably a very familiar passage to many of us, “That being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God,” and watch, “Therefore, God has highly exalted Him and bestowed upon Him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.”
Again, Jesus isn’t just king because He’s the son of God and the second person of the Trinity. In his incarnation, Jesus is king because He is worthy to be king. It is because of His obedience. He was obedient to the utmost. He was humbled. He died, in fact, on a cross. The Father says, “Son, I need you to take on flesh to go down there, to be misunderstood, to be rejected, to be tortured, to be killed, to bear my wrath for sin.” And Jesus says, “Not my will, but your will be done. I will obey come what may. No matter what the case is, I will fulfill the mission that you have called me to.”
Again, there have been some incredible moments in obedience in the Bible. Even the stories we read earlier in the service, Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice Isaac, huge, Daniel’s refusal to worship Nebuchadnezzar, bold. But never has anyone obeyed like Jesus. Never has obedience cost anyone like it cost Jesus.
But Jesus is faithful to the end, a king who dies for His people according to His father’s plan. Jesus the Christ has accomplished our salvation, and He is worthy to be king. And so that message was mocked by Alexmenos’ classmates, and it is mocked today. But I hope that Alex knew, and I hope you know that while the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved, it is the power of God.