In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ was taken by wicked men and nailed to the cross and crucified, he was not a helpless victim of circumstances. He had already said to his disciples… I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.
And he had already spoken of the great host of heavenly beings who were at his command when he was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane and had said… Do you think that I cannot now pray to My Father, and He will provide Me with more than twelve legions of angels? How then could the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must happen thus?”
The crucifixion of our Lord Jesus, God made man without change, was not a terrible accident that brought about the end of all hopes and dreams for the Kingdom of God. This was all intended by God, known by God, in the purpose of God.
The Old Testament is filled with prophecies and symbolic representations of what would happen in the days of Christ, so that St Matthew in his Gospel is often found saying… that it might be fulfilled. And this was something which he had heard our Lord Jesus himself saying, that the Scriptures were being fulfilled in his life, and that it was not al an accident and subject to the power of men.
When the children of Israel were struck by poisonous snakes in the wilderness, we remember that Moses raised up the figure of a poisonous snake on a pole, and it is written… Moses made a bronze serpent, and put it on a pole; and so it was, if a serpent had bitten anyone, when he looked at the bronze serpent, he lived.
It was the Lord Jesus himself who compared this historic event with his own life, showing how they were connected, and how the whole history of the world until that moment was filled with images of what was to come. He said… as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
It was for this purpose that God came into the world, that through his death, and his being lifted up above all men on the cross, he might destroy the power of the death, and bring salvation to the whole world. St Paul speaks of this when he says… as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.
As the prophet Hosea prophesied many centuries before the time of the Lord Jesus Christ, saying… I will deliver them out of the power of Hades, and will redeem them from death: where is thy penalty, O death? O Hades, where is thy sting? All of history was coming to an intense focus in the life of Christ who was the fulfilment of all of the purposes and will of God.
When he was beaten by the soldiers, and spat upon, it was not a terrible accident. The Scriptures had already prophesied, saying… He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, so He opened not His mouth, in His humiliation His justice was taken away.
When he was nailed to the cross, it was not a terrible accident. Had it not already been prophesied, as St Matthew reminds us… They divided My garments among them, And for My clothing they cast lots. And had not the Lord Jesus already said… You know that after two days is the Passover, and the Son of Man will be delivered up to be crucified.
All of this was to fulfill the purpose of God, the co-essential and un-divided Holy Trinity, from the beginning of all things, even before the foundation of the world. Therefore, when he was on the cross, and had endured all manner of insult, and had fulfilled all of the prophetic teachings concerning him, he said… It is finished!
It was not finished, because it had been a failure, but because he knew that everything had been accomplished for which he had come. He was God who had become true man while remaining God. He had come to renew the image of God in mankind. He had come to live the life of obedience in which Adam had failed. He had received the indwelling Holy Spirit, his own Spirit, for mankind, which Adam had lost for us all in his sin. He had sanctified the waters of baptism. He had brought grace to the marriage of men and women. He had called together the Apostles, the foundation of a New Israel. And now, having accomplished all, he was prepared to engage the greatest enemy of all mankind, death itself, and the one who had the power of death, Satan.
It is finished, because God had accomplished everything for our salvation, and was about to destroy death itself, and the power of Satan by his own death. Not a failure, but a victory. He gives us his own life. It is not taken from him. He gives up his own spirit, his life, into the hands of the Father. In this very moment salvation is won for us all. A new start for mankind in union with God in Christ and with the experience of a transformed humanity filled with the indwelling Holy Spirit.
Death where is your victory. Grave where is your sting.
St Severus, in one of his many hymns, says fittingly of this…
Lord, who walked on the wings of the wind, and stretched out your hands on the wood of the venerable Cross, and hung extended upon it of your own will, and by this same type and figure showed us that you are the God of all the ends of the earth, who suffered on our behalf in the flesh by a voluntary passion, and through faith in you caught the robber as a fish, and thereafter went down in the soul to the lower parts of the earth, having in the air above and on the earth beneath and in Hades overthrown and removed from us the power of the tyrant death and the strong rule of the evil hosts, and rose in a marvellous manner from among the dead, and did ascend and was lifted up to heaven, praise to you!
Praise indeed to our Lord, God and Saviour Jesus Christ, together with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, of one essence with him. Now and forever. Amen.