The King Rejected
Good Friday, 18 April 2014.
A man was out walking on a mountain trail late one evening and he stumbled and fell off a cliff. On the way down, he fell into a tree protruding from the rock face and managed to grab a branch, and there he was, suspended in mid air with only the branch he believed preserving him from certain death.
He proceeded to cry out for help and after a while a friend of his who came out to look for him saw his predicament, but he noticed that there was a rock ledge about five feet below his dangling friend’s feet and that he would be fine if he just let go of the branch.
“Help! Help! Is there anyone up there?” cried the guy clinging to the tree.
His friend responded in a deep voice, “Yes.”
The man looked up but, couldn’t see anyone, and said, “Who is it?”
The friend replied, “This is God.”
The man hesitated for a moment then asked, “Can you help me?”
“Yes,” the God-like voice replied; “Let go of the branch and you’ll be okay.”
The man was silent for a minute, and then he called out, “Is there anyone else up there?”
One can easily imagine that same question on the lips of the Israelites in Egypt. Even though God considered them His “firstborn son” as he says in Exodus 4:22, it often must have seemed to them that that they were no more privileged than orphans. They had been slaves in Egypt for 430 years and they were living under a cruel tyrant who was doing his best to make their lives a living hell. So there they were living in that strange land of Egypt, where people did strange things like worshipping nature or the environment—otherwise known as the sun-god, Re. And the Egyptians also worshipped their political leader—otherwise known as Pharaoh, the King of Egypt. It was his strange and evil mind that came up with a dastardly “final solution” to the Israelite problem in his land, which was to drown all their baby boys.
Yet, in spite of how it may have seemed, the children of Israel were not forsaken. They were not orphans; they were God’s special and beloved children. Although they would often turn their backs on Him, the Lord would never forsake them. So he would send them a boy. A boy would be born to them who wouldn’t go under. His name was Moses, whose name means, “drawn out of water.” The water was supposed to be a tomb for him, but God made it a womb from which He would draw out for Israel a deliverer, a savior, who would take it to that hellish Pharaoh and his gods with ten plagues.
Plagues such as the ninth one, when God spread that pitch-black darkness over Egypt for three days. It was a darkness that could be felt in one’s bones. A darkness that immobilized them so completely that no one even got out of their beds for three days. But in the midst of that hellish darkness, God’s firstborn son, Israel, had light.
Or a plague such as the tenth and final one, where every firstborn in the land of Egypt was marked to die—even Pharaoh’s son, the Prince, whom they also worshiped. But God did not forsake His firstborn, Israel. He told them to lift up a hyssop branch filled with lamb’s blood and paint their doorposts. God would look at the blood and pass over that house, sparing the first born of the Israelites. Out of the darkness of that night came the loudest cry that’s ever been heard as Pharaoh and the Egyptians were forsaken by their false gods. Meanwhile, God gave His firstborn freedom from their slavery and put them on the road to the promised land.
But those Israelites aren’t the only ones in Holy Writ to be given such an exalted and privileged title as God’s “firstborn.” We bear that exalted title as well. In fact, on this holy night the Holy Spirit has gathered you here together to be—as it says in Hebrews, God’s “assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven” (12:23).
To our shame, we, too, have been unfaithful firstborns. We, too, have turned our backs on the Lord and His Word. We, too, have not trusted in His promised care and lived as though we are orphans in this world. And time and again, we, too, have forsaken Him for substitute gods. Perhaps we don’t crassly worship the sun like the Egyptians did, but we live as though a flush bank account would be the sunshine of our lives. Perhaps we don’t bow down to our political leaders like the Egyptians did, but we do bow down to whoever or whatever we think will bring us popularity and “success.” Joshua’s threat to firstborn Israel is a threat for us as well: “If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, then He will turn and do you harm and consume you, after having done you good” (Joshua 24:20). Beloved we need to hear that threat and by the power of the Holy Spirit who lives in us, repent or turn away from our sin which would destroy us and surely as the plagues ravaged those ancient Egyptians.
But then, let us consider tonight’s reading from the Passion according to St. Matthew, and rejoice. For the Spirit has gathered us here this night to hear not only how God follows through on His threats, but his gracious promises as well. At the cross on calvary we see the plagues being replayed. There’s the ninth one again. But this time it’s not three days of darkness in Egypt, but three hours of darkness throughout the whole world. This time there was no special area of light anywhere, but the darkness was total and complete.
And then there’s the tenth one. But this time it wouldn’t be a wicked king’s firstborn son who would die. It would be God’s innocent, faithful firstborn Son, Jesus Christ, the King of kings, and Lord of Lords, given to bear all of mankind’s sin and opposition to God and be struck down in our place. This time would have no blood-marked door to spare God’s firstborn, for Jesus came to be the perfect Passover lamb, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world and he would be the blood-marked door that would eternally save unfaithful firstborns like us.
This time there would be no loud cry of sorrow from Egyptian lips, but a loud cry of victory, as God’s faithful firstborn, Jesus, suffers the hopelessness and darkness of hell in man’s place, completes salvation, and yields up His Spirit, the same Spirit one that brings sinners freedom and escape from God’s just anger.
With the words: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” we hear how God follows through on His threat. His firstborn Son is damned and forsaken, so that sinners like us might be saved and embraced by God’s love and mercy. In Psalm 89 it is written “I will make Him the firstborn, the highest of the kings of the earth,” but for that to happen God’s king not only had to be lifted high on a cross, He had to be lifted out of the three-day darkness of His grave in the resurrection and ascend into heaven where he would be enthroned at God’s right hand, so that we might live and reign with Him forever.
There He is, the “firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” as St. John writes in his book of Revelation. The one who rules for the sake of His harassed and suffering assembly called the Church. Unlike Israel, and us, Jesus was and is, the faithful firstborn. Note how He dies in perfect control. He dies voluntarily, for His desire is to do the will of His Father.
And what an example He is for our faith. We hear Him cry, “My God, My God,” even though there is no earthly evidence that God hears or is interested. But in the midst of his horrific anguish and suffering, He doesn’t turn His back on His Father; He still addresses God with the personal, “My.” This is the same faith that has been given to us in our Baptism, whereby God names us “My child” and the reason why God looks upon us with favor.
In order to save His firstborn Israel, a deliverer was “drawn out of water.” But on this Good Friday, we see how God delivered the world. God was pleased for our sake to immerse His firstborn Son into the sea of our sin and death, that we might be drawn out of the baptismal font, forgiven and alive with God’s Spirit, which continues to perfectly vivify us and all who would beleive.
To save Israel in Egypt, a hyssop branch had to be daubed in blood and lifted up to mark the doors. But on this Good Friday, we see a hyssop branch (Matthew calls it a “reed”) with sour wine being lifted to the lips of, Jesus, the One whose blood marks us as one redeemed by Christ the crucified and opens the doors of heaven to us. As I contemplated this, I couldn’t help but remember a story I read a number of years ago and that I would like to share with you this evening.
On February 16, 1989 the lives of George and Vera Bajenksi of Ontario, Canada were changed forever. It was a very normal Thursday morning. The phone rang at 9:15 a.m. There was an accident involving their son Ben. As they approached the intersection near the high school, they could see the flashing lights of the police cars and ambulance units. Vera noticed a photographer and followed the direction of his camera lens to the largest pool of blood she had ever seen. All she could say was, "George, Ben went home--home to be with his Heavenly Father!"
Her first reaction was to jump out of the car, somehow collect the blood and put it back into her son. "That blood, for me, at that moment, became the most precious thing in the world because it was life. It was life-giving blood and it belonged in my son, my only son, the one I loved so much." The road was dirty and the blood just didn't belong there.
George noticed that cars were driving right through the intersection--right through the pool of blood. His heart was smitten. He wanted to cover the blood with his coat and cry, "You will not drive over the blood of my son!" Then Vera understood for the first time in her life, one of God's greatest truths...why blood? Because it was the strongest language God could have used. It was the most precious thing He could give--the highest price He could pay. Through God's amazing love we were redeemed with the precious blood of His Son.
And that, of course, is what this day, Good Friday is all about.
Pharaoh’s “final solution” to kill all the Israelite baby boys was no “solution” at all. It was pure evil. But on this Good Friday, we are again reminded of God’s “final solution” to end the reign of evil, that is of sin, death, and the devil through the death of His only begotten Son our Crucified King, Jesus. May God grant we ever believe it. In Jesus Name. Amen.