Jesus died because of love

Peter Seal, 19 April 2019

Isaiah 52: 13–53: 5; Psalm 22: 1–20; Hebrews 10: 10–23; John 18–19

Today, Good Friday in the year 2019 … We’ve come to pray at the foot of the cross on this day many times before. And yet, each time is different, because we are a little different from a year ago, and the world around us is a bit different too.

Today we remember Jesus’ death all those years ago. We seek to re-live it, and to appreciate it anew for ourselves and one another. It’s enough to simply be here. We don’t need to try very hard today. Our worship itself does all the work.

There’s a question that is often asked: why did Jesus die? Or put another way: why was Jesus killed? The responses that seek to formulate an answer are multi-layered.

At one level it’s helpful to acknowledge that Jesus died because he loved God and the world so much, and lived that love in such a challenging way, that the world could not cope, and it killed him. Other remarkable figures in history who led particularly enlightening and inspiring lives have also been killed, because the light of their lives were just too bright.

The people of whom we hear in the gospels who, together, in different ways, were responsible for Jesus being given the death penalty of crucifixion are often described as ‘wicked’, but that, I believe, is too simple an answer. It’s more complex than that. The leaders of Jesus’ day were caught up in the religious and political affairs of their time. Jesus had become troublesome to them; his life and actions were attracting a great following and unsettling many ordinary people. Jesus’ life was so transparent, it was lived in such a profoundly good way, that it showed up the everyday fallibilities of those in power. And so it became expedient to get rid of him.

Then there’s another layer of understanding, as we ask: why did Jesus die? It goes like this.

Jesus died to do something for us.

He died trying to show us that freedom is possible to those who love.

He died to show us the power of forgiveness, as we forgive each other and try to live as a community of the forgiven.

He died to open our eyes to a new way of relating to God, and to each other: the way of inclusive, compassionate, generous love.

He also died as God among us, as the one in whom we see our God most clearly, and through whom God’s will and ways shine forth.

He died a lonely, miserable, brutal death, to demonstrate what love – God’s love – can look like: inclusive, compassionate and generous.

Jesus died because of love – the love that God has for the world, the love that Jesus has for God, and the love that Jesus shared with people then and shares with us now.

Everything Jesus did in his ministry was an attempt to embody the love of God to the world.

Jesus shows his love in the compassion he has for those who are ill, or possessed, or outcast, or foreign.

Jesus shows his love in the way that he challenges hypocrisy and greed.

Jesus shows his love in the way he accepts even death.

Jesus shows us what God’s love means, and through his death, he opens our way to a new relationship with God, a relationship based on love.

The sacrifice of love we see in Jesus enthroned on the cross is to give oneself utterly, in love, for the sake of others, for the sake of the world.

This is the most profound act of redemption and salvation that we can imagine.

We are those who live in the time often known as AD, anno domini, in the year of the Lord. In other words, in the time after Jesus’ death. We live our lives from the perspective of both after the crucifixion and, also, after the resurrection. We are always people who live in the light of the way the Christian story unfolded and goes on unfolding.

This presents us with another question, which goes something like this: what does Jesus’ death mean? Or, put another way, what difference did it make, or how did it work?

There are a number of different responses to this question of what’s known as the atonement. Most responses or theories are understandably rooted in the Jewish biblical context in which the writers of our New Testament were steeped. Our readings from Isaiah and Hebrews are classic examples. And if we’re honest, they often feel quite difficult to understand.

I want to offer you a simple picture which comes from our own Bishop John. He writes: ‘I have found it helpful to think of the Christ on the cross as the one who takes all our evils, individual and societal, into himself, and as it were earths them (in an electrical analogy) … it fits with a concept that Christ was, and still is, a suffering God, in that tremendous manifestation of his Love.’

This is vintage Bishop John. Christ on the cross acts as it were as an electrical conductor, earthing, taking into, and then through himself, and on into the ground, the terrifying ‘electrical’ power of evil, both individual and societal. In other words, Jesus’ death acts as a sort of lightning conductor through whom the very worst of human wickedness travels and then loses its power.

Christ on the cross acts as it were as an electrical conductor, earthing, taking into, and then through himself, and on into the ground, the terrifying ‘electrical’ power of evil, both individual and societal.

This surely is truly simple-to-understand gospel good news. As we look up to Jesus the Lord dying on the cross, he is indeed doing something for us, and for all people, and for eternity.

Today, again, all our human frailty and weakness and suffering, our turning away from God and others and even ourselves, loses its grip on us, because in the person of Jesus it has been earthed. Its power has been diffused.

We still suffer, loved ones still suffer, the poor still suffer, creation itself still suffers. But – and it’s a big eternal but – this is not, and will not, and cannot, be the end of the story; that is, either for human beings, or for the creation itself.

With half an eye on Sunday, we are enabled to stay at the foot of the cross.