A Savior Who Serves: Dying
April 1, 2012 Series: Lent 2012 - A Savior Who Serves
Topic: Biblical Verse: Mark 15:1–15:47
The Sunday of the Passion
St. John's Lutheran Church, Alexandria, VA
Rev. Braun Campbell
“A Savior Who Serves: Dying”
How lucky did you feel this past week? If you went out and bought a ticket into this past week’s historic lottery drawing, you could have walked away with a $640 million jackpot – one that’s still $347 million after all the federal taxes. You might have purchased a ticket just for the fun of it, to be a part of something that doesn’t happen every day. No doubt a number of other people looked at this lottery as an investment opportunity, playing a wide range of numbers in the hope of improving their odds. Even so, there’s still a large amount of chance involved. (I read that you’d have to spend $176 million if you wanted to buy up every possible combination!) But what would you do with all that money if you beat the odds? Hundreds of millions of dollars, free and clear! Can you even imagine all the options that would present themselves? You could pay off your student debt and credit card bills, your mortgage, even your kids’ and grandkids’ college education. You could give most of the rest of your prize away to charities and still never know debt for the rest of your life. How amazing would that be, that out of millions and millions of contestants, you would be declared the winner? You’re not that lucky.
Debt can be a pretty heavy burden. When you owe someone, that debt can loom over you and keep you from feeling free. There’s a lot of debt in our world: people owing people, companies owing banks, nations owing nations. To give you a sense of scale, if the federal government had won the full $640 million jackpot this week, it would have paid for only 1/250th of 1% of the national debt. Even as you work to pay it back, debt drains you. It holds you captive. Debt keeps you from experiencing the life you’d always dreamed about, the freedom and independence which you’d envisioned. The sad thing, though, is that people usually find themselves in debt because they’d been chasing after that independence, freedom, and life. And so it is with us and God.
There’s a debt between us and God. You and I were born into it. And if that weren’t bad enough, we add to it each and every day of our lives. Chasing after the prize of freedom and independence, we fall deeper into debt through coveting other people’s lives, belongings, and relationships. We lie and gossip. We cheat and steal, failing to look out for others. We run into unfaithfulness and adultery. We hate and kill, with our thoughts and words as well as with our fists. We disrespect our parents and authorities. We fail to dedicate time to rest with our Creator. We misuse the gift of God’s name. You and I each set ourselves up as the ultimate authority in our hearts and minds. There’s an old and incongruously elegant word that describes all of that: iniquity. Our iniquity is our debt before God, and it will crush us. It will kill us – unless someone does something about it. Our debt keeps us from experiencing life as it is meant to be lived. But each one of us owes a debt before God that is so astronomically large, how could we ever hope to pay it off? Some people try to work at it by “being good” – but that’s a forged currency. Only God is good all the time. You’re not that lucky. Only God can pay off the debt you and I carry.
Under the First Covenant, which God established with Abraham and Moses and His people, those who sought forgiveness would offer regular sacrifices to God in payment for their iniquity. At the time of the festival of Passover, when the people recalled God’s delivering them from captivity in Egypt, the people would prepare an unblemished, perfect lamb as a sacrifice. The blood of the lamb marked the doors of the Hebrews in Egypt so that the destroyer would pass over and spare their homes from death. Blood for blood, life for life: time and again, the lamb was the sacrifice given to take the place of those who would live. In the sacrifice, God transferred the debt of iniquity from His people and put it on to the lamb.
Can you imagine what it would be like to have God wipe your debt out – to be free and clear, without the shadow looming over you like a giant boulder that blots out the sky? But what are the odds that God would pick you out of every person that has ever lived to forgive your debt? You’re not that lucky. But you are that loved.
We’re entering into the time that we call Holy Week. Our worship services this weekend begin with the waving of palm branches that remember Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem as he was welcome by crowds calling “Hosanna!” (Save us!) Jesus did not come to Jerusalem to be hailed as a political deliverer, though we hear that’s how the leaders of the people portrayed him as they sought to kill him. The Jewish authorities could not put someone to death under Roman law, so they brought Jesus to Pilate for trial, saying that he was stirring up rebellion. Pilate didn’t buy it; however, he still handed Jesus over to be crucified to help protect his own position. What kind of king could this Jesus be? A king who remained silent before his accusers? A king who allowed himself to be scourged, beaten, and mocked? A king who would carry a heavy wooden beam out to the hill on which he’d be hung out to die? Yes. Jesus was that kind of king, because he came to wipe out his people’s debt by paying for it with his life. His road to coronation led to the cross on Golgotha. He is a Savior who serves through dying.
Why did Jesus have to suffer and die for you and for me? He gave his life so that you need not, paying the debt of your iniquity before God. Having carried the full burden of your faults and failings on that cross, Jesus gave up his life willingly – at around three in the afternoon, the same time that the sacrifices were being prepared for the Passover day to come. This is what it’s all been heading towards. All of Mark’s Gospel account has been leading up to the centurion’s confession: “Truly this man was the Son of God!” You see, God came down to be the payment of your debt. Blood for blood, life for life. He alone could do it, and He alone did. Jesus, the Son of God, is your Passover lamb once and for all, fulfilling the First Covenant’s burden and setting you free from the shadow of debt that loomed over you. Put another way, you’ve won.
Giving up his life, Jesus paid the prince of the whole world’s iniquity, and he shares the victory that he won. Because he won, you won. What are the odds? It wasn’t chance that took Jesus to Pilate and then to Golgotha for you and for me. It was love. He’s settled your accounts with God. He has answered our call, “Hosanna! Save us!” Through Jesus, you are debt-free!
Now that you’ve won through Jesus’ gift, what will you do? You can look to the Lord’s Prayer for direction. Another way of translating the fifth petition is “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” If you won the lottery, after you’d paid off all your debt, how would you use the rest to serve the world around you? The life that we have which comes from and is lived under the cross of Jesus is a life that serves as we have been served. Live a life that honors the gift that Jesus has won for you. If someone has wronged you, but comes and asks for your forgiveness, wipe that debt away. Not only will that burden be removed from your relationship, you will both experience a freedom which you might never have previously envisioned. Jesus, the willing lamb, gave up his life for them, too. Share in the riches of his grace!
You have a Savior who serves in dying for you to give you life. You’re not that lucky. But you are that loved.