Sermon / Pr. Lucas Albrecht / Friday April 14th 2017 - / Gospel of John, Passion Narrative / The Name, Failure and Success - Second Commandment / Good Friday Sermon
Sermon – 04.14.2017 - Good Friday
Mount Olive Lutheran Church, Regina, SK
Text: John 19:17-30
Theme: The Name/Failure and Success – Second Commandment
(with additions by Rev. Ted Giese)
Intr – How would you define “Success”?
Making millions of dollars? Making a name for yourself? Being a world renowned artist like Leonardo da Vinci, or a well known singer like Taylor Swift or Ed Sheeran? Reaching the top of your profession? Being praised by millions? Become a household name? Would that be success?
Now take a look at this definition: To work during 3 years, gaining many followers and become popular in many places. To have a name above all names. So good so far. Then, get arrested, tortured and humiliated. Be condemned, sentenced with the death penalty, with almost no one to give you support, even your friends. Gone. In summary: having the work of a lifetime come to an end in one week. To have your name dragged through the mud.
This is definitely not what we consider success, or to be successful by human standards. Ending off like this would be considered as miserable, monumental failure. “Nothing fails like success” is a well known saying. And, when it comes to human success, it couldn’t be more right. Success doesn’t last like failure. People remember failure more than achievements.
Now that can be a short description of the life, work and death of Jesus Christ. He started small, built an audience, garnered attention from thousands. But somewhere, somehow something went wrong. The leading Man suddenly was not pleasing his audience anymore. The popular guy looses fame. In the backstage, there is already an ongoing plane to remove him from sight altogether. And, as we heard in the Gospel today, they managed to accomplish that. They were successful! The ones who were against Him.
They might have been – in human standards. However everything that happened was exactly confirming how successful the original plane truly was. God planned to send his Son, Jesus Christ to do exactly this: to give his own life, suffer and die for all humanity, immersed in the miserable failure of sin. That’s exactly what happened: total success.
Now let’s make a pause here to reflect how it connects to the second commandment. The Pharisees and the crowd were not only breaking the first commandment, going against God. They were also breaking the second commandment as they dragged Jesus’ name through the mud. The NT calls Jesus KYRIOS, which is the correspondent to IAHWEH in OT. That is, Jesus is God. Lord. Saviour. But they refused to praise his name. The crowd took it in vain. They preferred even the name of Barrabas instead. The name of a murderer and criminal. The ones who you suppose would make sure God’s commandments are being observed were blatantly against His law.
In this case, they ended up being against the 2nd commandment as well. Because, as we know, God said in Exodus “I am what I am” That’s the meaning of Iaheweh, Kyrios – Jesus! It’s not only a name like we have here on earth where we are even allowed to change it if we wish, but the name IS the person in this particular case. Iahweh is God. And God is Iahweh. So by going against Jesus, unjustly condemning him, the Jews went against the very name of God.
That’s how we sin against God too when we use His name in vain. This is not just a random name, or a set of letters that are put together to symbolize something else. The name IS God. If we take God’s name in vain, we are sinning not only against a name. We are sinning against God Himself. We sin against Jesus.
Well, back to the supposed “failure” found in the account of Jesus’s passion we somehow understand why the message of the cross isn’t often as welcome as you would think in our world. It sounds like a message of failure. A big leader who dies, being abandoned even by close friends. Where were his HR skills, his leadership ability, his vision of the future? His ability to crisis management? His spindoctoring to protect his good name in the heat of a public scandal? And when a Christian refers to the resurrection as victory over death, the answer may well be “well, that’s a tale invented by his disciples to cope with failure, loss and sorrow. That could never have taken place.”
If the Holy Week were a scene of a play or a movie, you would see some of the people acting on stage or in front of the camera. And yet also many others are backstage, behind the scenes. But they all forget that above the stage, above it all, is the One whose sight misses nothing. He sees everything, So that in what was deemed to be one of the biggest failures ever, He was really working the greatest work of love of all time.
Holy Week shows us and inversion of the Phrase I mentioned previously “Nothing fails like success”. We would say: “Nothing was more successful than failure”. In this case, Christ’s apparent failure. Because it was the only successful rescue plan in History: God rescuing us from sin and hell. Complete success. It was so successful that it even divided human History in 2 parts – before and after Christ.
Good Friday is the day when we remember this successful failure. That is, something that seemed to be going wrong, but that was happening perfectly right. A name above all names dragged through the mud to glory! A victory over death on Good Friday that has its outcome on Easter Morning.
Sometimes we feel we are a miserable failure in our lives. Everything just went or is going wrong. We feel like loosers. We feel ashamed on stage, we think that something might be going on backstage. That our “good” name is not good at all. Christ reminds us that above the scene is the One who knows the whole screenplay. He is the one who even writes it. And He works for our good. Even when all we see is apparent failure, His Holy Spirit Works in our hearts to give us the highest success we can receive: faithfulness to the Man hanging on a Cross. So our name covered with the mud of sin is actually in the end covered over with Jesus’ truly good name, the name above all names. The name we can call upon in every trouble.
Cc - Take note: success is not measured in numbers - how many thousands of people you gather, how much money your Church makes or how many VIP people are in its followers. The success of Christ’s work lies in the fact that He obeyed God’s law perfectly, went to the cross and obtained forgiveness of sins, salvation and eternal life for every single human being. Once and for all, nothing else can or must be done for the eternal salvation of billions of people who have the name of Jesus put on them by his shed Blood. There’s nothing as successful as the “failure” on the cross. Because Christ’s monumental success brings us everything we’ll ever need, we are free to praise and give thanks to his Holy NAME. Amen.