Sermon for Good Friday Tenebrae
Now the first Holy Day of the Three Holy Days comes to a close and a new day begins now at sunset – a special Sabbath Day for the Son of God, a day of perfect, undisturbed rest for his dead body in Joseph’s tomb. And just as God rested from his whole work of creating the universe on the seventh day of creation, so the Son of God rested from his whole work of salvation on the seventh day of that first Holy Week.
It had been quite a day, with all the suffering and death that the whole world of sinners had coming to them, now poured out on the sinners’ Substitute – all in a single day. And yet, even after as he died and before he was buried, God already pointed to the three gifts that flow out of Jesus’ death. Of all the things to think about and remember as Good Friday comes to a close, remember the Spirit, the water and the blood.
With his Passion – his suffering – complete, with his work of redemption finished, Jesus breathed his last and “gave up his spirit.” Then one of the soldiers pierced his side, and out came blood and water.
The Apostle John points us to those three things in his Gospel, and explains it in his first Epistle, This is he who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ; not by the water only but by the water and the blood. And the Spirit is the one who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit and the water and the blood; and these three agree.
What do these three agree about? Well, they agree that Jesus really, truly and actually died. He gave up his spirit, and blood and water flowed out of his side when it was pierced.
But they agree on more than that. Because, John says, not that they testified when Jesus died, but that they testify now. To what?
To exactly what Psalm 130 says: If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared. O Israel, hope in the Lord! For with the LORD there is steadfast love, and with him is plentiful redemption. And he will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
That Psalm is fulfilled on Good Friday, at the great “It is finished!” The Lord did redeem Israel from all his iniquities.
But how is that redemption applied to you? How is it the forgiveness Jesus won applied to you so that you may be justified? How does the forgiveness that is “with the Lord” get to you so that you are forgiven, so that you can stand before God?
It’s by the Spirit, the water and the blood.
On that very first Easter Sunday, the risen Jesus would appear to his disciples, breathe on them and say, “Receive the Holy Spirit! If you forgive anyone his sins, they are forgiven. If you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” The Spirit of Jesus hands out the forgiveness Jesus won on the cross in Holy Absolution, in the forgiving word spoken by the ministers of Christ.
It’s also by the water, by which the Spirit plunges us back through time and unites us with Christ. What did Peter say on Pentecost? Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the forgiveness of your sins!
It’s also by the blood. What did Jesus say at the very beginning of that first Holy Day, “Take, eat; this is my body. Take, drink; this cup is the New Testament in my blood which is poured out for many, for the forgiveness of sins. Do this…”
All the benefits won by Jesus on that Good Friday, all the treasures of his life and death – forgiveness, life, salvation, victory over sin, death and the devil, a Father’s love, a place with him in Paradise – all of it comes to us now through Word and Sacrament, through the Spirit, the water and the blood. And it’s no accident that they were all there on Good Friday, just like it’s no accident that John recorded it, just like it’s no accident that you, here, in this place, have been reached by the Spirit, the water and the blood. God’s love for you and his desire for your salvation are from eternity. And just as he elected us in Christ since before the foundation of the world was laid, so he also planned Good Friday from eternity, so he also planned how and where and when the Spirit, the water and the blood would come to you to bestow on you the forgiveness purchased by the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world.
And just as Christ entered his Sabbath rest on that first Good Friday evening, so there remains a Sabbath rest for the people of God, according to the writer of the Hebrews. Let us strive to enter that rest, he says. And how will we do that? Through faith alone in Jesus Christ. And how will God sustain that faith in us until the end? Through the Spirit, the water and the blood. Remember. Amen.