Pastor James Hopkins preached this sermon at the service of Tenebrae on Good Friday, 4/7/2023. The service was broadcast live and is now available on the FLC youtube channel. To follow along from home, the bulletin is available as a PDF: Tenebrae Bulletin
The text for the sermon was the day’s gospel lesson. To read the Bible texts for Good Friday, click here.
It hardly matters which account of the crucifixion you read; whether you are consulting with one of the Evangelists, or even some secular historians, the pain Jesus endured in His passion is one of the most thoroughly documented things about Good Friday.
And it’s such a popular topic that you can easily catch a documentary about it this week. A history professor with a detectable but unidentifiable accent will describe in rich detail just how skilled the Romans’ were at it:
How they could make the grueling death last as long as they wanted; stretching out a man’s dying hours as easily as they stretched out his arms… as he suffers dehydration, scorching heat, and all the elements; and assaults from birds and bites from bugs.
When you add to that the fact that, in Jesus’ case, He was brutally flogged first, you have far more than enough for a two-hour documentary.
It’s a worthy thing to try and understand the heights of pain that Jesus endured for you. But it would be a mistake to focus on that alone.
What is every bit as significant as the pain that Jesus suffers, is the shame that Jesus suffers. It is not only Jesus’ body that is vexed and flayed, but His dignity; the dignity that belongs to Him as God, to be sure; but also the dignity that belongs to Him as Man – as human.
The sneering mockery: “Hail, King of the Jews”; the soldiers Blindfolding Him and punching Him: crying out: “Hey, Prophet, prophecy which one of us hit you!”
The dramatic irony of Jesus carrying His own cross – like a man being made to dig his own grave; the trauma of His own people begging for a murderer to be released to them, so long as it means that He be crucified.
The crown of thorns penetrated His scalp, but the shame was deeper. It was part of the perverted pomp of a scarlet robe, and the sarcastic salutes from the soldiers. For all this, you might let go of certain images in your mind.
If you picture Jesus on the cross with expressions of serenity or peace; if you imagine Him appearing exceptionally muscular or strong. If you interpret His groanings as the determined shouts of a resilient man pushing through the torture of an interrogation… You’ve missed it.
But you probably missed something else, too. And you can hardly be blamed, since the Church, out of modesty and piety, can’t quite allow herself to look at it either.
It’s this: Near as anyone can determine, Jesus was crucified naked. For,
When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took His garments and divided them into four parts, one part for each soldier; also His tunic. But the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom, so they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see whose it shall be.” This was to fulfill the Scripture which says, “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.”
To be seen like that… by His mother; by His friends; by that blind man to whom He gave the gift of sight.
But He gave that man sight for this purpose. That he would see Him: naked like Adam and Eve. Laid bare and exposed. Ugly. Dreadful. Foul. The way Isaiah foresaw Him:
He had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Isaiah 53:2b-3
It is difficult to behold: God the Father turned His face away. And even the Sun turned off its light (Luke 23) as the Son of God dangled from the tree. Losing control of breath and body, bladder and bowels.
What depraved humiliation…what shame. It is so profound that in his Gospel, Luke can only refer to it as “this spectacle.” Luke 23:48
Jesus was shamed by the soldiers, and by His people. He was shamed by you, on account of the sins that cause you shame.
He was shamed by your arrogance. He was shamed by your anger. He was shamed by your browsing history. Plus whatever you have brought with you here tonight:
For our sake [God] made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. 2 Corinthians 5:21
And so, Jesus was judged guilty: as a thief and a scoundrel, as a pornographer, as an abortionist, as a cheater and a liar. As an adulterer and a pervert. As a murderer.
For the wrong you have done, to be sure. But also, for the wrong that has been done to you: the abuse of your own dignity as one made in the image of God; the lies told about you – whispered to you by the devil or shouted at you on Twitter. The insults and the slights, the violence done to your body, and to your mind.
What does this mean? What does it mean for Jesus to suffer all this shame?
It means you don’t have to be ashamed anymore. Because for all the shame He suffered for you, Jesus is not ashamed of you. And so you need not be ashamed of yourself.
He is buried with all your sin, but He is not raised with your sin. It is done with, disposed of, and sent away. Your sin and your shame get a Good Friday, but they do not get an Easter. Jesus has dealt with them once and for all, when
…for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:2b
You are the joy set before Him. And now all He has is set before you.
His beauty, His righteousness, His innocence, His good works, His keeping of the law, all that is yours.
Thus, God the Father is more proud of you than a dad watching his son hit his first home run, and run the bases with grace and humility.
Your nakedness before Him is now like the nakedness of Adam & Eve in Paradise, or, in more accessible terms, the Father sees your nakedness before Him the way I saw my two-year-old’s sprinting through a birthday party. He’s delighted with you.
All that Jesus has, and all that Jesus has done is credited to you. But not the shame of this Good Friday. That has been credited to Jesus for you. And it belongs to you no more.