St. Paul, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit wrote these profound Words: “For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:6-8).
We have all heard those Words before. We know what they mean. We do not deserve the love of God given in Christ Jesus Our Lord. But they are easy Words to pass by because they are simple and we think we comprehend it all. But we don’t. Stop and consider your own life in light of these bright, revealing Words of Holy Scripture.
St. Paul says that someone might be willing to die in the place of a good person. The picture here is someone who is civilly righteous—they obey the laws of the land, give to charity, keep a beautiful yard, volunteer for countless charities, and so on. This is the person who anonymously drops the envelope of cash in the mailbox of the family who can’t make ends meet. Because this person is such an upstanding citizen and has positively impacted the lives of countless people, someone might be willing to die for them, be it by giving an organ when they find out that person will die without a transplant, or jumping in front of the bullet from the person who irrationally hates the giver. It may not be the first choice of how to die, but at least the martyr gave their life to save someone who is such a blessing to their world.
Now picture the opposite. Think of murderers, drug dealers, pedophiles, racists, kidnappers, terrorists. Who would die to save the life of one of those people? Jesus Christ would. And He did. We like to think of ourselves as belonging to the other group of people, the good person for whom someone might be willing to lay down their life. But we don’t belong in that group, at least not in God’s eyes. We have all sinned. We have all lived as if God did not matter and we mattered most. We may not be murderers or rapists, but by God’s Law we are not good people. Daily we sin, daily we make ourselves out to be god in various ways.
And Jesus knows that. He knew it over 2,000 years ago when He was Incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary. He knew it as He carried His own cross. He knew it when He shouted out, “It is finished.” In that simple sentence Jesus said, ‘You are no longer a sinner, but I, I Myself step into your place. You have not sinned; I have. The whole world lies in sin, but are not in sin, but I am. All your sin shall be upon Me, and not upon you” (Luther). Jesus knew that not one of us deserved what He was doing for us. Not one of us deserved that He should stand in our place and receive even one lash of the whip. Yet in incomprehensible love Jesus went to the cross and willingly died, willingly endured death and hell to pay the price the Law demanded, to endure complete God-forsakenness so that you never will.
That’s what it means when St. Paul writes in jubilation, “while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He didn’t do it to get something in return. He didn’t do it because we deserved it. Jesus went to the cross while we were sinners, while we hated Him, while we were turned away from Him. He gives to us in ways we would never give to anyone else. Therein is the magnitude of God’s love for you.
But He didn’t just demonstrate His love for you; He gave it to you personally. What Jesus accomplished on Calvary He applied to you at your Baptism. There He took you, a lost and condemned person, and made you His own, rescuing you from death and the devil. The fruit and benefit of Good Friday were given to you personally by the Holy Spirit active in Water and the Word, these elements given their power by the holy, innocent Blood of Jesus Christ.
All of this is to say that on Good Friday God is glorified because He is revealed for what He truly is, and that is love. What He promised through His Holy Prophets, that He did not desire the death of a sinner, is fulfilled on Good Friday. St. John reveals that the cross is Jesus’ glorification. The death of the cross is not humiliation, but it is the ultimate victory. Satan’s head is crushed, his kingdom is destroyed, and his prisoners are freed. Jesus’ Blood has set you free to be a child of God. On that first Good Friday God acted in the ultimate act of selfless love, sacrificing His Son for your life. The Son willingly laid down His life for sinners, for the ungodly, for the worst people that will ever walk the face of this earth, for you, and for me. Because of Good Friday, because of your Baptism, you are saved. Because Jesus has died, you live.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.