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LSB Good Friday Tenebrae Vespers Homily – John 19:1-42

April 3, 2015

April 3, 2015 at Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church – Mechanicsburg, PA

“In the place where [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

“And the LORD planted a garden in Eden, in the east, and there He put the man whom He had formed.” Sometimes the Scriptures give details like that, simply stating what is so. The author of the Creation Account notes that in the Paradise that the LORD had made He had also planted a garden. It was to be the dwelling place for the man whom the LORD had formed from the dust of the earth. This is where the man would live and enjoy the goodness that the LORD graciously provided to him.

But the Creation Account included another detail: “And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, ‘You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’” You know well how that command was not kept. You also know the curse that arose from the man’s transgression: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust and to dust you shall return.” Those of you who gathered on Ash Wednesday to begin this season of Lent heard the words of that curse spoken as worshipers received ashes on their foreheads as a sign of mortality: “Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return.”

As the season of Lent closes, having reached its end on this Good Friday, you heard another of those details that the Scriptures simply state what is so: “In the place where [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.” Once again, there is a garden mentioned. And once again, it becomes the dwelling place for the Man whom the LORD had formed—not from the dust of the ground, but fashioned from the womb of the Blessed Virgin. But the dwelling place isn’t the garden itself; it is the tomb.

So why is the tomb the dwelling place for the Man? It is due to the curse that had been spoken against the transgressions of mankind. The tomb is not where the Man lives and enjoys the goodness that the LORD graciously provided to Him. No, it is the place where the Man lies dead because of sins.

But what was said about this Man who lies in the tomb, the place where the curse of sin is endured? The one who presided over His trial exonerated Him: “See, I am bringing Him out to you that you may know that I find no guilt in Him…. Take Him yourselves and crucify Him, for I find no guilt in Him.” Yet He is condemned, though not for His own wrongdoing.

That is the great Scriptural statement made about this Man through the prophet Isaiah: “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions; He was crushed for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with His wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all. He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so He opened not His mouth. By oppression and judgment He was taken away; and as for His generation, who considered that He was cut off out of the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people? And they made His grave with the wicked and with a rich man in His death, although He had done no violence, and there was no deceit in His mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush Him; He has put Him to grief; when His soul makes an offering for guilt, He shall see His offspring; He shall prolong His days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in His hand.” 

The Scripture accounts simply state what is so: the Man is placed in the tomb because He has borne the iniquity and guilt of all mankind. Every taking of the forbidden fruit, every exercise of evil that is known so well, every rebellious thought of mankind rack up divine anger and wrath. And that divine anger and wrath are visited upon the Man who was sent to be pierced, crushed, and wounded as an atoning sacrifice for those sins. The Man is made an offering for guilt, as the LORD willed it. And so His grave is made where the rich man Joseph had anticipated to be his final resting place.

But why is this so? Because it is not the LORD’s will that the tomb be the dwelling place for mankind. It is not the LORD’s will that the dust be the final repository for people. Jesus is placed in the tomb, but the LORD declares: “Therefore I will divide Him a portion with the many, and He shall divide the spoil with the strong, because He poured out His soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet He bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.”

The Scriptures again simply state what is so: the Man placed in the tomb is given a share of the spoils. He is not left with nothing, having all His clothing taken, abandoned by all associates, left in the company of criminals, and placed into a borrowed tomb to rot. No, Jesus is granted the glory of resurrection, including the despoiling of every grave. He is given the great privilege of seeing mankind formed again from the dust, restored to perfection, to be a creature who knows only good and who fully enjoys the LORD’s graciousness.

Jesus is laid in the tomb as the Sabbath begins. He is there to rest from His works. But He is to rise from there to usher in a new day, a new week, a new era: the time of resurrection and life. So the tomb will be where you are laid. But since the guilt of your transgression has been placed on Jesus and He has been given the LORD’s glory in resurrection, it will not be your dwelling place but just a rest point along the way. This is the LORD’s will that propers in His hand.

You have a place where Jesus’ resurrection and life will be yours, where His atoning work provides your eternal healing, where you shall eat and live. It is a dwelling place greater than the garden in Eden: “On either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and His servants will worship Him. They will see His face, and His name will be on their foreheads.” This is now yours because of what the Man endured and overcame for you: “In the place where [Jesus] was crucified there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb in which no one had yet been laid. So because of the Jewish day of Preparation, since the tomb was close at hand, they laid Jesus there.”

+ In the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

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