Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday: "I, too, am crucified with Christ"

Opening Sentence
If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, but if we confess our sins, God, who is faithful and just, will forgive our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness. 1 John 1:8, 9

Collect of the Day
Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 95, 22

Lessons: Lamentations 3:1-9, 19-33; 1 Peter 1:10-20; John 13:36-38, 19:38-42

Whoever reads the story of our Lord's crucifixion as we have read it here this morning feels that a part of its humiliation was that He did not suffer alone. Crucifixion was terrible and disgraceful enough in itself, but if Jesus had hung upon His cross with nothing near him to disturb the impression of His calm serenity and innocence, it might well have happened that the people who stood and watched would have lost sight of the disgrace, and would have felt the majesty of the sacrifice. Already that place of suffering might have seemed as glorious as it has seemed to the world since. An awe and wonder, almost ready to break out in thankfulness and praise, might have spread through the multitude who watched the spectacle of heroism and love. But, as it was, they went to the prison and dragged out two wretched culprit? who were waiting for their doom. That there might be no doubt about the disgracefulness of the Saviour's sufferings, they hung Him between two thieves. One on the right hand and the other on the left, those malefactors advertised the ignominy of His pain. Their friends, the thieves and roughs of Jerusalem, were side by side with His disciples in the crowd. The loathing of all honest men was heaped upon them, and He, hanging there with them, in the same condemnation, was covered with the mantle of their sin. He had come into their lot. He bore their curse. He took His share in their disgrace when He was crucified with them.

It was not many years afterward that the great St Paul, whose life had become wonderful to himself as he saw under what new motives and to what new purpose it was lived since he became a disciple of Jesus, when he tried to sum up that life and tell the beauty of its association with his Lord, used this strange language: "I am crucified with Christ." His life was full of suffering, and suffering which had to do with sin. He found himself every day "dying to the world," that is, separated by self-sacrifice and pain from the wicked things about him. In all that suffering, which was at once the token and the means of higher life, he felt himself drawn towards and taken into the experience of his Master. As he was suffering, so Jesus had suffered. As he by his suffering was able at once to bear his testimony against, to separate himself 'from, and also to help the sinful world, so Jesus had declared, upon His cross, at once His holiness and His pity. Paul saw in his ministry of self-sacrifice a dim, imperfect, far-off echo of his Lord's, and so he told the story of his new life in the terms of the story of that life into which it had entered, and he said, "I am crucified with Christ."

I have brought these two passages together, because, in their union, they bring out the complete truth on which we wish to dwell upon Good-Friday. The cross before which we stand to-day has both its humiliation and its glory. It is a tragedy that bewilders and dismays us. It is likewise a proclamation of peace and hope. In the degradation of Christ, which compelled Him to be crucified with the thieves, there is a picture of how very low He stooped to our condition. In the triumph of Paul, at his participation with Christ, we see how the believer is taken into his Master's privilege. The two belong together. Christ was humiliated into our condition that we might be exalted unto His. Christ was crucified with man that man might rejoice in being crucified with Christ. Both the depth to which He went to seek man and the height up to which He would carry man, were set forth in the cross. Alas for him who, standing on Good-Friday and looking at the crucifixion, does not see both of these, does not learn at once how low his Saviour went to find him, and how high he may go if he will make his Saviour's life his own ! Let us look at both the scenes. Let us try to understand both thoughts, — Christ's crucifixion with man, and man's crucifixion with Christ, — and bind them both together in one humbling and inspiring truth.

Turn, then, first, to the cross upon Calvary, and let us think about Christ's crucifixion with man. In the prison at Jerusalem there are two robbers lying, waiting for their death. It is sure to come. Their crimes have doomed them to it. As they look back over their miserable lives they can see how from their boyhood, when their vice began, they have been steadily and certainly moving on towards this destiny. Their sin has deepened, and, with their deepening sin, the darkness of the coming death has gathered round them. They have known whither they were going. They have known that some time or other a life like theirs must bring a violent death. There is no record of their names, or anything about them. We do not separate or individualize them. To us, as they sit there in prison, they are simply wicked men waiting for the death which their wickedness has brought upon them. And now, at last, the time ha? come. The last morning dawns upon them. Sin is finished, and, on this solemn Good Friday, it brings forth death. The soldiers are at the door, and the crosses are waiting. You see how general, how typical, how little personal it all is. It is not these two men come to the ruin which their special sin deserves. It is wickedness, which, by the terrible necessity of its nature, has brought forth death. And now with the black record of this wickedness in your minds, think of another life which comes to its crisis on this same Good Friday. There has been a man living in Palestine here for thirty years, and He has never done a sin. Nay, more than that, He has amazed the eyes of men with a positive holiness, a picture of what it is to be absolutely good, such as they never dreamed of. This spotless, strong, pure goodness has all been poured out in love. The life has been all self-sacrifice. He has never seemed to think of Himself. Health and truth have gone out from Him to whoever touched Him. A life like the shining of the sun! A life of which, as men looked at it, they have felt that in it their best dreams of humanity were surpassed, — that in it there was something more than human.

Last night Jesus of Nazareth had sat with his disciples, and talked with them in words of spiritual wisdom which have ever since been the wonder of the world. They had gone out then, together, to the Garden of Gethsemane. There Jesus had plead with God, in agony, while His disciples slept with weariness and sorrow. By and by the soldiers came and took Jesus, and carry Him away to the High Priest. After that He was wholly separated from His friends,—from everybody that believed in Him and loved Him. From the High Priest's house, where He is insulted and taunted, He is sent early on this Friday morning to the Governor's. There He is confronted with the cold, brutal unbelief of the Roman magistrate. He is sent to Herod, and back again to Pilate, walking the familiar streets in disgrace and desertion. Then He is scourged. Then the people demand His blood. At last the Governor yields to them, and, with the sentence of a criminal, He is led away, and his procession meets the procession in which the two thieves are led to death, and they are crucified together.

There, then, are the two stories. See how far apart they begin. One in the innocence of perfect holiness; the other in the blackest wickedness. And then see how they meet at last. As when a black and turbid stream goes hurrying towards a cavern's gloom, into which it is destined to plunge itself out of sight, and just before it reaches its dark doom, a pure, fresh river that was born among the snows in the sunlight on the mountain's top, and has sung its way down through flowers, drops its quiet, transparent waters into the tumultuous current, and shares its plunge,—so the pure holiness of Christ. fell into the stream of human wickedness, and shared its fate. The Saviour's life entered into the life of humanity at its blackest. He had left behind heaven; He had left behind even the little heavenliness which he had found upon the earth. All the disciples had forsaken 4im, and fled. The little flicker of sympathy which He had seen upon the face of Pilate, He had lost now. He had come to the company of robbers. There were two thieves crucified with Him.

That is the sight which we behold as we look at these three crosses standing out sharp and terrible against the sky. Into the" darkest of earth's darkness, into the deepest consequences of sin where it was possible for innocence to go, the Incarnate One has gone. Our Immanuel, our God with us, is with the worst of us in his most awful misery. No child of God shall know any suffering which this love shall not fathom to its depths with Him. No pain, except the purely personal pain of remorse, which it is eternally impossible that innocence should feel, no pain but that, shall there be anywhere upon the earth, of which any agonized soul shall be able to cry out to bis Saviour and saj', " Do not mock me with your pity. You do not know what my pain is." And even something as like remorse as is that profound contrition which comes "to a brother when his brother sins, or to a father when a child is lost, even the woe which comes of such identification with the sinner as leaves out nothing save his sin, share, even that last pain of life, which only they who have something divine in them can feel, even that the Divine One endured, and set forth before us in his crucifixion .between the robbers.

Once in the hours while he hung there, a cry of desolation, abandonment, and disgrace, burst from the sufferer's lips. "My God! My God! why hast thou forsaken me ?" He cries, making His own the words of an old psalm of woe. When I read what men have written to explain the meaning of Jesus in that cry, I always feel anew how much deeper than our comprehension went his identification with humanity when He plunged into the darkness of its sin. "He was made flesh !" Into what mysterious contact with the sinfulness to which the flesh of man had given itself that being made flesh brought him, I know no man has ever fathomed. If I try to fathom it at all, I can only picture to myself the most Christlike act, the most Messianic entrance into the strange and dreadful fate of other men which my imagination can conceive. Let me suppose that the purest woman in this town, the most sensitive and scrupulous, moved by a sense of sisterhood and by a longing pity, gathers up all her life and goes and lives among the lowest and most brutal and most foul savages that this earth contains. As she enters their land she leaves her own life behind. She accepts their life. Everything, except their wickedness, she makes her own. She sacrifices her fastidiousness every day. She finds herself the victim of habits which are the consequences of long years of sin. No sensibility that is not shocked, no fine and pure taste that is not wounded. Her common human nature with these savages asserts itself to her every day.

But the very depth of the union into which she comes with them by her pity makes her all the more sensitive to the horror of their life. Their sin is awful to her, not only because of her own purity, but because of the keen understanding of its awfulness, which comes from her profound oneness of nature with these sinners. She cannot stand off and look at them and work for them from a safe distance. She is one of them in their common humanity. In every foul wickedness of theirs she suffers. She bears their sins a heavy burden on her heart. Isn't it strange that she comes by and by to feel the wretchedness and woe of that island taking complete possession of her ? Isn't strange that, — though she knows that the sweet home across the sea, which she has left, is just as sweet as ever, and that her friends there are loving her, and have not forgotten her a moment, — the awful load she carries, the frightful atmosphere of vice that reeks around her, should seem sometimes to shut her in to desolation and shut her out from every higher life and all pure love, so that when this mood is darkest she should stand some day upon the bench, and, without any faithlessness to her task, or any distrust of the friends at home, cry out across the sea to them, "Oh, why have you forsaken me?" Do not imagine that I think that any human sacrifice can truly image His surrender, or any human pain declare the measure of His woe. But this is surely the best that earth can show us of the kind of agony with which the Christ who, in His love, had gone down to the deepest and most terrible depths of humanity, even to being crucified between two thieves, seemed for a moment to have lost himself, and cried out to the Father, with whom He was eternally and inseparably one, "Oh, why hast Thou forsaken Me?" If the cry bewilders as we try to comprehend the deity to which it appeals, it may at least reveal to us something of the depth out of which it ascends.

Such then is the story of Christ's crucifixion in and with and for humanity. It is no fantastic conception of the imputation to Him of a sinfulness which was not His, of God's counting Him guilty of wickedness which He had never done. It is something infinitely, awfully more real than that. It is that the God who made man in His own image, coming to the life of man, found that image all broken and lost. He came into men's life and found them dying for their sin. He was guiltless of their sin, but He entered with consummate intensity of suffering into their death, as the pure soul which I pictured in that foul savage island must feel the horror of the misery which vice has brought there more than its inhabitants, just in proportion as it was free from the vice with which they are polluted. It was a sin not His own which He bore upon the cross. Think, if you can, how an incarnation in a world wholly free from sin would have closed, and the Incarnate One gone up to His eternal glory, and then you have some conception of what sin has done in this world. Can we see God come among a race that does not know what sin is, and, having shared its life, at last stand ready to withdraw His presence from their sight? Think of the scene of gratitude and love. Can we not see the joyous thankful company of mortals, as with triumphant songs of praise they bring their Lord and friend up to the noblest height of earth, and with hearts full of trust that He could never leave them wholly, see His form depart out of their view? How different it all is now! Instead of this scene, there is the cross on Calvary! Instead of God with His noblest creatures among the noblest scenes of earth, in sympathy of common holiness, here is the Son of God beside the vilest of mankind upon the cross of shame. Ah, my dear friends, there is the terrible consummate testimony of what sin is. We trace its power everywhere else. We see its woe. We learn to hate it, but we come to the profoundest knowledge and the profoundest hatred of it when we come to this, that it crucified the Son of God with wicked men, it made Jesus the sharer of our human woe. Sin did this. Whose sin? What sin? Then it is that the terrible identity of sin comes out. Here in the presence of God's suffering and dying Son the oneness of God's family is clear.

All that we have ever done that has helped to make the world a different place from that holy ground on which the Holy God might have walked in perfect sympathy with His obedient children, all our willfulness, all our disobedience, all our untruth, all our passion, all our lust, all our selfishness, all our wickednesses which we call little wickednesses at home or in the street, they all take their place in, they all declare their oneness with, that sin which brought Christ to the cross. It is our punishment that He shares. It is our woe down into which His love has brought Him. We hang upon our cross and He hangs on His beside us. For our cross we can blame none but ourselves. Our sin has brought us what we suffer, but His cross no sin of His has built. It is the wickedness in which we have so deep a part, which decrees that it shall be a cross and not a throne. There comes, as the result of all, just exactly what is expressed in the strange deep words of the penitent thief to his mocking comrade, — words which the soul may turn and address to itself, invoking from itself a solemn repentance and hate of sin as it sees its Saviour a sharer in the suffering which its sin brings: "Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this man hath done nothing amiss."

But it is time now that we should turn to the other aspect of the cross. I have tried to depict the meaning of Christ crucified with man, the Son of God entei1ing into the shame and pain of human sin. Now hear St. Paul. A few short years have passed away. The crucifixion of Jesus has been illuminated by the resurrection, the ascension, and the Pentecost. It has become already, in the minds of hundreds of men and women, a dear and glorious event. Behind its shame and pain it has opened a heart of love and glory, and St. Paul, summing up his life in its best privileges and holiest purposes, says, " I am crucified with Christ." You see how great the difference is. Before, when Christ was crucified with the two thieves, it was the Son of God brought down into the misery and shame of man. Now, when Paul is crucified with Jesus, it is a man brought up into the glory of the Son of God. Evidently there must be another side, a side of privilege and delight, to this great tragedy, or else we should not hear a man cry with a tone of exultation, such as this, " Lo, I am crucified with Christ." And it is something which, strange as it would have seemed to any one who stood before the cross on Good-Friday, has grown most familiar to the Christian since. What does it mean ? Is it not this : that as Christ, by his self-sacrifice, entered into the company of man, so there is a self-surrender by which man enters into the company of Christ. He came down to us, and tasted on our cross the misery of sin. We may go up to His cross, and taste, with Him, the glory and peace of perfect obedience and communion with God.

For even the dullest, as he stands before the crucifixion, gets some dim impression that there are two different elements there, — one dreadful, and one beautiful. There is what Christ is made for us, the victim, torn and tortured and distressed, and there is what Christ is in Himself, and what he wants to make us, — the loving, peaceful son of God. Christ surrendered Himself and became the first. We, if we can surrender ourselves, may become the second, and share the glory of His crucifixion. It is a strange thought to many, but it is a thought that grows very dear to the souls that really enter into it, that there was something in the crucifixion which it is our highest privilege if we can share. Hanging there in mockery and pain, there was still something in the heart of Jesus which made it the richest heart in all the world; something which, if by any crucifixion we can gather into our hearts, we shall be rich indeed. See what it was. First, the truth of the cross must have been divinely and completely present with him. That truth was the love of God. All the memory of the past, all the way in which, from the beginning of sin, mercy had been making ready to meet the sin, all the development, age after age, of the design of pity, which at last had come here to its consummation, — all this must have filled the soul of Jesus, and, in the midst of His pain, comforted and strengthened Him. It is not for us to speak of what the mystery of Incarnation means, but we cannot help believing that there came to Christ, then, such knowledge of the Godhood in which He belonged as could come only to that one point in the moral universe where the Eternal Holiness was suffering for human sin. The truth of the cross, the truth of the love of God, inexhaustible and tireless, was with Him in His sufferings.

And beside the truth of the cross there must have been the consciousness of the cross, a clear and satisfying knowledge of his own present position, the consciousness of obedience. He was doing His Father's will. Behind every pain, behind every shame, that certainty must have rested as an abiding strength. We must know more of the soul of Jesus than we do, before we can understand what strength came to Him from that consciousness. "My meat is to do the will of Him that sent Me, and to finish His work," He had said when He was preaching and working miracles; but now, when the will had culminated in this suffering, and He was dying because He must obey, there must have been a strength and nourishment in the conscious obedience that overwhelmed and sank the weakness of the flesh.

And besides these there must have been the vision of the cross. It is impossible that the Redeemer, dying for mankind, should not have seen the redeemed world stretching out before Him. "If I be lifted up," he had said "I shall draw all men unto me." When He was lifted up He must have seen them gathering. All the far ends of the earth, all the far ends of history, all the new depths of experience that should be stirred, — these must have lain open before Him. There must have flowed strength in upon Him from that vision. It was worth while, indeed, with such result before it. No pang was too great to be borne, when by the suffering of each new pang his soul climbed to the height of yet a little wider vision. Only He who sees to the end, and knows how wide and how deep the power of redemption is to go, can tell how the vision from the cross upheld and strengthened the soul of the Redeemer.

The truth of the cross, the consciousness of the cross, the vision of the cross; the Father's love, His own obedience, the world's redemption, — these were in the soul of the Saviour, sustaining it, feeding it, while he was dying. These made the glorious side of the crucifixion. And yet they were a part of the crucifixion. They were not something wholly foreign, like the wine and myrrh given to the sufferer to sustain Him. He reached them by, He found them in, His suffering. His death, and all that went with it, the sacrifice of ease and favor and delight, they brought to Him the assurance of love, the joy of obedience, the promise of redemption — the truth, the consciousness, and the vision of the cross. Can you not see, then, what a light pours into St. Paul's words, "I am crucified with Christ" ? It is no cry of pain, though the fact of pain is in it. It is not a shout of triumph. It is too full of pain for that. But it is a deep and satisfied assurance that through the pain, through distress and death to much which he had loved, he has found what his Saviour found upon His cross, — the love of God, the consciousness of obedience, the vision of a world redeemed. He had suffered for Christ, but by his suffering for Christ he had, giving up his own joy which was earthly and selfish, entered into Christ's joy which is heavenly and full of love. "I am crucified with Christ, nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me." He had left his own life at the foot of the cross. He had climbed up to his dying Lord, and shared His death unto sin; but in sharing that, he had shared also the new life unto holiness, and entered into the truth of love, the consciousness of obedience, and the vision of the world redeemed. That was what Good Friday meant to St. Paul.

And is it possible that Good Friday should mean ah that to us? Indeed it is. I hope that it does mean all that to many and many a one of you who have joined in this morning's solemn worship. May I not hope that even in this morning's worship the deep meaning has for the first time opened its light to some of you ? You are crucified with Christ. What shall that mean? That you share His pain ? Oh yes! — all the separation from sin, all the self-sacrifice by which alone you could preserve your own purity and help your brethren, has been in you the renewal, the echo, of that terrible giving of Himself for truth and man which Christ accomplished. But if, as you have sacrificed yourself in any way, there has come into you the rich divine assurance of God's love, the deep and peaceful joy in obeying God, and far bright hopes for your humanity, broken but glorious prospects of what an obedience, perfect where yours is stumbling, complete where yours is partial, shall some day make this world to be; if all this has come to you upon your cross, as it came to the Lord on His, then the glory as well as the grief of the crucifixion is renewed in you, and the satisfaction as well as the pain of your new life is uttered when you say, in soft and solemn words, "I, too, am crucified with Christ."

I see a man setting himself against temptation, conquering his sins, giving up the world for his Lord. It is a struggle full of pain. His heart and flesh fail him. How can he bear what breaks his whole strength down ? And then there comes to him the picture of the Master's crucifixion, and, humbly associating his own pain with the pain of Him on whose strength he relies, he says, " I am crucified with Christ." But as I watch him I am sure that something new is coming to him. Deep down in that pain of his he finds most unexpected treasures. He learns how God loves him. He finds the absolute happiness of doing God's will whatever be its consequence, And, drawn into the spiritual life, he sees the future glory of the world when Jesus shall be its King. He knows all this as he never could have known it save by self-sacrifice. Somebody meets him and pities him, and he says, "Oh you do not know; I am crucified indeed; there is pain enough, struggle enough; but I am crucified with Christ. What came to Him upon His cross has come to me on mine. He has lifted me up into His privilege, It is a glorious thing to be crucified with Christ."

You have your cross, my friend. You do not serve your Lord without surrender. There is pain in the duty which you do. But if in all your pain you know that God's love is becoming a dearer and plainer truth to you, and that you are finding the pleasure of obeying God; and that the vision of the world's redemption is growing more certain and bright, then you can be more than brave ; you can triumph in every task, in every sacrifice. Your cross has won something of the glory and beauty of your Lord's. Rejoice and be glad, for you are crucified with Christ.

This, then, is the full truth of Good Friday: Jesus was crucified with us, that we might be crucified with Him. He entered into our pain, that we might enter into His peace. He shared the shame of the thieves, that Paul might share His glory. This double truth was manifest at the time of Christ's suffering. You remember the penitent thief. As their crosses were lifted side by side, he saw Christ entering into his wretchedness. Before the feeble, tortured breath had left the body, he had entered into Christ's glory. First Christ was crucified with him, and afterwards he was crucified with Christ. The saved souls that have followed have entered deeper than he entered then into the knowledge of the Lord; but even then, in one of those in whom was shown the wretchedness of sin, was likewise shown the power of the new salvation.

And now the scene of that terrible day has come back to us once more. We have knelt under its shadow together. Oh, my dear people, have we indeed entered into its double truth? Christ on this day entered into our shame. Deep into its very heart He entered. The blackness of its darkness was around Him. But the purpose of His sacrifice was that we might be brought to Him. We have not learnt the whole if we have only felt His condescension. Not till He who has stooped to us has lifted us up to Him must we be satisfied. Not till He who hangs upon the cross beside us has said to us, "Today thou shalt be with me in Paradise."

Oh, that by God's grace we may today accept anew His sacrifice for us and give ourselves to Him through every self-surrender, that He may do for us all that He died to do.

Phillips Brooks

What Wondrous Love is This