0:00 – It Is Finished (Palm Sunday 2019)
Mark 15: 33-41
0:00 – It Is Finished
So we are concluding today our series on the last 24 hours of Jesus’s life. And we’re going to be focusing on the actual crucifixion today, and what it really means for us today. Of course during the crucifixion Jesus is taken and he is nailed to the cross, lifted in the air, and he dies. He had some exchanges with some people; we’re told of seven different phrases in the Gospels. But at the end of the day, he dies with one final breath saying “it is finished.”
We understand that during this time creation itself begins to mourn the death of Jesus. We’re told in the Gospels that the entire sky goes dark for three hours. There are earthquakes, there are thunderstorms, there are all sorts of things happening around as creation itself recognizes what’s going on and begins to mourn. During this period of time, one of the centurions who was crucifying Jesus gives a statement that is either one final mocking or a statement of faith, depending on who you talk to you, as he says, “surely this man was the son of God.”
There are two men who were crucified with Jesus; one on either side. Both of them have been convicted of thievery, which was the capital punishment at the time, and they are also being put to death. They also mock Jesus, but eventually one of them begins to be moved by the way in which Jesus is interacting with both them and with the soldiers, and the things that he saying to his love ones at his feet. This thief begins to be moved. So he yells at the other thief, saying, “don’t you see? We are guilty. We deserve this. This man is innocent.” And then he turns Jesus and he says the words that we have been singing throughout this Lenten season, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus responds, “truly I tell you you will be with me today in paradise.” This man up on the cross, who had no experience, he hadn’t read the Scriptures or been perfected by God through study, he had not said the sinner’s prayer; he just simply believed that this man was different and that maybe his claim that he was the Messiah was true, and wanted Jesus to remember him. And Jesus forgives him, and says that he will be with him in paradise; that once the victory is won, once it is finished, that this man will indeed be saved with the righteous. So can you.
After he breathed his last, there are two members of the Jewish high Council who ask Pilate if they can claim the body. Now, normally in a crucifixion the bodies would remain up there until the birds and animals were done with them; one final warning to the other people around. But if loved ones wanted to, they could claim the body. That was uncommon because the crucified had been convicted of something the Romans didn’t like, so it was a risk to say you were associated with them. But these two members of the Jewish high council, which had just condemned of Jesus to the fate, apparently take that risk; a risk not only with Pilate, but to their fellow councilmembers. They claim the body of Jesus and give it a proper burial. One of them had a garden tomb nearby that had never been used, so they do what they can for Jesus quickly before the beginning of the Sabbath, and place him in the tomb. Then they rolled the stone over the tomb. And that ends our story. That ends the 24 hours that that Changed the World. There might be an epilogue…you have to come back next week to find out.
There is one more very important thing that happens on Good Friday. And that is that the veil in the Temple is torn in two from top to bottom. Now the veil, or the curtain, in the Temple was something that was left over from the tabernacle days, and so this is actually from all the way back in Exodus. This is what was hung to separate the Holy of Holies from the rest of the world really. The Temple is set up in different courtyards, and as you walked toward the center, more and more people couldn’t enter each successive one, until finally there was the actual temple where there was a large space that was the place where the priests could go. And at the back of that space was a curtain, a very thick curtain, and it separated the holy place from the Holy of Holies. In the Holy of Holies was the Ark of the Covenant, or where the Ark of the Covenant would’ve been, and that was they believed were God resided when God was in the Temple. Only the high priest could go in that room, and then only after he had spent a day getting a purified, being made holy, so that when he did pull back the curtain and go inside he would not be killed for coming in contact with the holy God. He went there one day of the year, on the Day of Atonement, to make atonement for the people.
That was the significance of the veil: it protected the people from the Holy of Holies, or perhaps the Holy of Holies from the people. And we’re told that as Jesus stated it was finished, the veil was torn in two from top to bottom. It is one of my favorite images of the entirety of the the Easter story, and for me everything that this story means for us as a people revolves around that curtain being torn in two. So for the rest of today I want to talking about what this means for us today, and the various things people have said on that.
Now, to get at the heart of that, we’re going to be talking about what’s called Theories of Atonement. This is the same idea that the day of atonement in the Jewish faith was; the day that that they were made “at one” with God, where their slate was wiped clean all of their sins that they had done, and they were made again at one with God: “at-one-ment”; atonement. And generally speaking when you’re talking about atonement theories, you’re citing the book of Hebrews, where it says that Jesus was the one final sacrifice, the fulfillment of all this stuff the Temple had been doing. Jesus, as our high priest, as the real high priest, goes and makes a sacrifice of atonement in the real temple of heaven. And this one doesn’t have to be repeated every year because it was perfect, it was Holy, and we are now at one with God through Jesus’ sacrifice. The question is how. And I don’t think there’s necessarily one answer, but I do think that looking at these various theories can help us understand Jesus’ actions and what they mean for us today better.
As I said, I don’t think you can view any of these theories I will be presenting as conclusive of everything. Rather I like the idea that was presented in a book I recently read by Kelly Kapic (it wasn’t her idea, but she still presented it and put it together), and that is that the theories are kind like diamonds. Each diamond has different cuts. And if you view the diamond on each cut, it’s going to look slightly different each time. But they’re all beautiful, and all of them together make the actual diamond. That’s the kind of the idea that I have about Atonement.
I want to look at three different theories that have been presented over the years by theologians. And the first one you’ve probably heard of, and is probably the one you’re most familiar with. This is called the substitutionary theory of atonement. It was made popular by a man named Anselm. It is the most recent of these theories to be codified; Anselm lived about the year 1000, and the other two theories I’m going to talk about are from the very early church. But Anselm’s theory of substitutionary atonement has taken traction and has become undoubtedly the most common way this is articulated in the world today. The idea here is that sin results in death. Of course, we see that all through scripture. Sin results in death, and therefore, due to our own sin, our punishment is death.
That part of is kind of like unarguable. That’s extraordinarily Scriptural. Where we start to get into the specifics of this theory comes in the question what does God have to do about it? So we believe that God is all just, and all merciful, and all loving; and how do those three things go together when the just punishment is death? And so Anselm states that God, being all just, must receive payment for the sin committed by humanity: our deaths must happen. However, God is all loving, and all merciful, and wanted to see his children live. Therefore, God paid the price for us. God took the punishment that was what you deserved upon himself, and paid that ransom for us. God died for humanity on the cross so that we wouldn’t have to. This is the basic summation of the theory.
One of the best ways that I’ve heard it illustrated is like a courtroom. There’s a judge, a good judge, a just to judge, a righteous judge. The judge sits in the courtroom doing civil cases, let’s say. And in walks a new case, and it’s his son and his son’s former girlfriend. And as the case gets presented, he’s well aware that his son is in the wrong. Being a good, righteous, and upright judge, the judge sentences that his son pay a fine or go to jail. Furthermore, he’s very aware that his son, who works at minimum wage job at McDonald’s, is unable to make this payment; that this is a full year’s wage for his son, gross, and he is sentencing his son to jail. And so he, being a righteous and just judge, makes the judgment and puts the fine upon his son. He hits the gavel, and then he stands up. And he takes off his robe, and he puts the robe on the chair, and he walks over to his son. And he takes out his checkbook, and he write his son a check, and he places the check in front of his son, and then he walks back up to the front of the courtroom, puts his robe back on, and tells his bailiff “I believe he has made a payment.” This is the substitutionary theory of Atonement.
This is symbolized in the veil by the fact that it was torn from top to bottom. That is a detail that is included in the Gospels, and I think it is a very significant one. This was not humanity’s action; this was God’s action, coming from the top to the bottom as God takes the action to bring the world together with the Holy.
That’s our first theory. Our second and third theories of atonement are both a lot more ancient, coming from the early church. The second one is called the moral theory of atonement. Here the focus is not as much on Jesus’s death happening, but more on how it happened as well as a focus on his ministry. This recognizes that Jesus could have stopped this at any moment, right? He could have said a word and legions of angels would have been there to stop it. And yet he doesn’t. In fact his lack of anger probably angers the soldiers to the point they overdo the torture and they do the whole crown of thorns thing. He’s not even respecting the soldiers enough to beg for mercy!
But that’s kind of in line with his whole ministry, and the whole “love your neighbor” and “walk the extra mile” and “give your cloak also” stuff. The idea that he would just take it and turn his other cheek if you will. And it’s also important that he did this; that he accepted the price he would have to pay. One of the things about this is that all these theories have to answer the question “why the cross?” This theory simply states that Jesus came to show us how to live, that Jesus came to show us what it was supposed to be like, what sinless life could be, and how things worked in the garden before the fall so that we would know and be able to head toward that life. And God would grant power to us through the life of Jesus and through the Holy Spirit after it. And Jesus understood that if he came and started living that life he would come in conflict with the powers that be in the world. And Jesus understood that the ultimate consequence for leading people toward a righteous life is going to be his own death. Thus he accepts the price he knew we would have to pay in order to show us what life is supposed to be like.
Further, he knew that this was going to be the price he was going to have to pay from before he even came. And we are meant to come to this story, and then leave it seeing the extent of God‘s love for us; seeing the lengths to which God would go because he “so loved the world.” And importantly, this is God doing this. This is not God’s son; this is God. Yes it is God, the Son, but Jesus is absolutely God. God didn’t send someone else in his place to do this, God came to us. God came to save us. God gave up his glory, took on flesh, and willingly died, that we might be able to see a better way. And we are meant to be so moved by the story that we emulate his love. 1 John 3: 16, “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Here we see the symbolism of the veil ripping in that it makes us holy, that Jesus sought to make us holy, and the veil is ripped that we may now go into the Holy of Holies. Living in this way, loving like Jesus loved, we are able and free to enter into the Holy of Holies.
Lastly, I’m going to look at a theory called Christus Victor. It’s in Latin, so you know it’s old. Christus Victor means “Christ is victorious.” This is the idea coming off of “it is finished.” Jesus died in order to go to Hell and fight the Devil. And sometimes we state that we believe this. In the Apostles Creed we say that Jesus died and “descended into hell, on the third day he rose.”
The idea here being that Jesus died in order to go and fight the Devil and, emerging victorious, he has crucified death, unlocked the gates of Hell, and led the righteous into heaven. And because of Jesus’ victory over the Devil, victory over death itself, we may now live free: free to serve God and free to have a chance at everlasting life. Personally, I usually add that this could have happened with a very quick death in his infancy just as easily as the cross. But we wouldn’t know about it. And a part of Jesus being successful in freeing us from the slavery of death through this victory is us knowing about it; is the function of the church as the bringer of the Good News of this victory over death. Thus the cross was the natural consequence of leading us toward a new life he was winning for us. And again, he was aware of that cost before he came, and willingly paid that price.
Here we see the veil ripping again for someone to go from one side to the other, but this time, the battle being won and death of being defeated, makes the world holy. So God can come out from the Holy of Holies into the world without bringing death and can go with us. And this actually would be part of an explanation as to why the Holy Spirit was unable to abide in the Jews prior to Jesus’ death, but is able to abide in the church afterwards: because God could not interact with the unholy, but now, because of Jesus‘ sacrifice and Jesus’ victory over the Devil, the world is holy and therefore the Spirit can come. This is the third theory.
Part of what I’m doing is not so much to tell you a definitive answer and say mine is the only way you can view things, but rather, I wanted to to tell you that there are options. There are more options even that I could present it in 30 minutes. But I do want you to know some. No matter how you view it, you are clearly meant to be moved to action by it. You are meant to be inspired to do good works. Not that your works will not save you, do not get me wrong, but you are meant to be inspired to do good works. That verse that I shared from 1 John holds true.
Easter is coming. In one week we will shout “Hosanna” again. It will be amazing. The tomb is empty. But when we get to Easter, I don’t want you to forget the cross. Remember everything that Jesus does this week. Remember all the stuff that happened over the course of this 24 hours that the changed the world. Because it’s only by remembering these events that they can impact us. It is only when we remember what happened in those 24 hours, when the church remembers it, that they can change the world. May that be so. Amen.