Lessons: Isaiah 52:13—53:12, Hebrews 4:14–16; 5:7–9, John 18-19
Hymns: LSB 453, 448, 440, 450
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Tonight’s service is known as the Tenebrae service, meaning darkness. It is a service of darkness, for we will darken the Church as we hear our Lord’s Passion as it is recorded in John’s Gospel. Seven candles are lit, and they will be gradually extinguished. The service will conclude in complete darkness. As the service draws to a close, we will hear of our Lord’s death and burial. We will sing one final stanza of “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.” A final prayer will be spoken. Then darkness.
In the quiet darkness, there will be a time of silence. Use it to pray. Give thanks to Jesus for what He has done for your salvation. As you are engaging in your silent prayer, you will hear a sound—the sound of the strepitus. This sound has been described as the scourging of Jesus by the soldiers, the earthquake at our Lord’s death, or the closing of the tomb. It will be made by the slamming of books.
Then minimal light will be restored so that the congregation may leave in silence. It’s a rather somber experience. Hearing God’s Word of what Jesus endured. Singing of His Passion. Watching things go dark.
It seems so final. It appears so horrible. An innocent Man is sentenced to death and dies by crucifixion. From the surface, it also appears to be ever so opposed to our God of life, the very Creator of light.
You see, in the beginning there was darkness. God existed from all eternity. But in time God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light. Then, after creating Adam, God spoke His Word of truth to him. Adam was illumined in the light of God’s Word. God continued to illumine His people through the Word for many centuries. God even established ceremonies that were based on the full moon—a time in which the night sky is illumined so that there is light all night. Even the Passover celebration was timed according to the first full moon following the vernal equinox (first day of spring).
Light is the life of men. Without light, there is no life, no physical life and no spiritual life.
What God made was good. Then Satan came along with his darkest lies. He tempted Eve and Adam to go against the light of God’s truth. They ate the forbidden fruit. And then they tried to hide from God.
Hiding works best when there’s darkness. That’s why crimes often happen under the cover of the darkness of nighttime. Satan is darkness. It was nighttime when Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. There was darkness, and the disciples were falling asleep. Then came the chief priests and officers of the temple and elders. Judas led them to Jesus who betrayed Him with a kiss. Jesus said to them, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs? When I was with you day after day in the temple, you did not lay hands on me. But this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:52-53).
Under the cover of darkness, Jesus is brought to the Jewish authorities and church leadership, putting Him on trial. They are seeking His death, for the light of truth He brought was intolerable to them. St. John reported, “People loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil” (John 3:19).
Intent on killing Jesus, but forbidden by the government, they brought Jesus to Pontius Pilate so that he could sentence Jesus to death. Pilate tried to let Him go, for he rightly found no guilt in Him. But because he could tell a riot was going to happen and they said Pilate is not Caesar’s friend if he lets Him go, Pilate sat down on the judgment seat, saying, “Behold your King!” The crowd shouted, “Crucify Him!” Pilate asked, “Shall I crucify your King?” The people replied, “We have no king but Caesar!” And so, Pilate handed Jesus over for crucifixion (John 19:14-16).
St. Luke reports that there was darkness over the land from noon until 3pm (Luke 23:44). This was supposed to be the brightest time of day, and yet there was darkness. Perhaps those who witnessed this darkness remembered the Ninth Plague against the Egyptians, when darkness covered the land. Clearly this darkness was the hand of God.
Yet, for those who still followed Jesus, they were filled with sorrow. The pain would have gut-wrenching. They helplessly watched the Son of God as He was first beaten and then nailed to the cross for crucifixion. Hardly a greater horror could be imagined.
But to be sure, all of this was going according to God’s plan. He told Adam and Eve that through her Seed would come the Savior of the Nations. Jesus, God Himself, was born so that He could take away the sin of the world. For “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). Jesus was held guilty in our place. He was held accountable for all the world’s sin. Justice had to be met. Atonement had to be rendered for the world’s sin. And only Jesus could do it. And so, the Lord of life, shed His innocent Blood on our behalf. He paid for the sin of the world.
From the surface, it appeared the power of darkness was prevailing. It looked like Satan was going to win this battle. God was dying on the cross. And there was darkness over the land for three whole hours. Then Jesus died. The earthquake shook the ground. The temple curtain was torn in two. Light returned. Jesus was right. “It is finished!” He paid for the sin of the world. His innocent Blood was shed. He joined the thief on the cross in Paradise, just as He said.
The prophecy of Isaiah 9:2 is true: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone.” For Jesus Christ is the light of the world, the light which no darkness can overcome (John 8:12, John 1:4-5).
This is not what Satan wanted. He wanted the power of darkness to prevail. He wants us to remain in the darkness of death, to remain in the darkness of lies and false doctrine, to remain in the darkness of our own sin.
But we are not children of darkness, for we are now children of God and the light Jesus brings. For we have been told of our Savior’s bleeding, dying love. We have been added to God’s family through the waters of Holy Baptism. We have been declared righteous through the Blood of the Lamb.
What seemed so final—what appeared so horrible—an innocent Man dying by crucifixion was God’s plan. Jesus died to take our sin away. He served as our substitute. He is our Passover Lamb. He died so that we will not die eternally. He suffered God’s wrath so that we will not. He was forsaken by His Father in Heaven so that God will never forsake us.
And just as darkness lasted for but three hours, so also our Lord’s stay in the tomb was but three days. Jesus could not be bound by death. It did not have the upper hand.
Satan lost. Sin lost. Death lost. Through the crucifixion of Jesus, Satan is defeated, and our sins are washed away. Jesus lives and the victory is ours.
As we hear the Passion of our Lord, we do not weep as those who have no hope, though we may weep. We do not grieve as if sin and Satan or death had the final say, though we certainly grieve over our sin and what Jesus endured. We do not despair, for we know this was God’s plan for our redemption. We leave our sins at the foot of the cross and now we claim Christ’s righteousness as our own. We are His, redeemed by His Blood. And as He lives, so shall we.
“God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Cor. 4:6).
Have a blessed Good Friday. Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus to life everlasting. Amen