This sermon was originally preached on Holy Thursday 2013, from the text Luke 22:39-54a. May it provide you with a Holy Week reflection as we all await Easter morn.
God the Father wanted to save his world from the clutches of sin and the power of death, and so He sent His Son, His only begotten Son, to earth on a rescue mission. This Son was born to Mary, and they named him Jesus. For thirty years, the Father in heaven watched Jesus grow in wisdom and years and in everyone’s esteem (Luke 2:52; 4:15). And then Jesus began his ministry (3:23) and began to tell the world that he was God’s agent, sent to set things right, sent to fulfill everything that had been promised before in the scriptures (4:16ff). He was healing people and casting out demons, feeding multitudes of hungry people.
I don’t know what parental pride is like when you’re God. I don’t even know what it’s like for a person—closest I have is a godson—but maybe those of you with children can imagine something of what the Father may have felt as Jesus grew up and began to accomplish all of these incredible things, and started to do what he had been born to do, to make a way for us to be delivered from evil, a way for us to be with God. You can hear a hint of that pride at Jesus’ baptism, when his Father tells him, “You’re my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (3:22). The Father took joy in His Son as He saw all of this unfolding, saw how faithful Jesus was to his mission; he knew how Jesus was being filled with the power of God by the Holy Spirit (4:14) so he could carry out his work, going around and doing all of this good (Acts 10:38). And then Jesus was constantly taking time to speak to his Father in prayer, so that the Father didn’t have to content himself with watching his Son’s life, but he was able to be a part of his life directly, as they spent all of that time alone together. This must have been a very special time for the Father, seeing His Son in such a different way and relating to him so differently than they had before in heaven.
And then things took a turn.
They both knew all along that this night was coming, but even when you know, you can’t quite prepare yourself for something like this. Jesus was going to die. Tomorrow—at the hands of cruel men, men who would beat him and mock him, who flogged him and would nail him to a tree and leave him to die there. That’s what the next few hours held in store for Jesus. They both knew, they always knew that, in a sense, this was a suicide mission. But now the time had actually come, and that first domino was about to tip over and launch that whole gory chain of events.
Jesus may have been God, the Son, but his head wasn’t in the clouds. He didn’t want to do this. He was a man, he had a body with blood, and nerves and pain receptors—and he’d probably seen some people hanging on crosses before. Jesus didn’t want to die. And so on this night, Holy Thursday, the night before the cross, God the Father had to listen to his beloved Son ask him “Father… if you’re willing, take this cup of suffering away from me. But not my will—your will be done” (22:42). Jesus left it all up to his Father. ‘Father, I don’t want this—if you’re willing to, just take it away, let’s do something else. But I’ll do whatever you decide’.
You know he wanted to grant that prayer. His only child is there, practically begging Him to find another way, to change His mind about all of this. ‘Son, of course I’m willing—I don’t want you to suffer! I don’t want you to die! But there’s no other way, there’s nothing else to do. If there were, we’d do it… but there’s not’. You know the Father wanted to answer his prayer. Why didn’t He? How could He listen to His Son’s pleas and still give him up to these men, these killers—how could this ‘loving Father’ do that to his boy?
He did that because He’s a Father. He’s a Father, and He and His Son both knew that if they carried out this mission, if they did what they set out to do and delivered us from sin and from death, then He could become the Father to billions of sons and daughters: us. That’s why God was willing to go through with this—so that we could be adopted into the family. The Father wanted to be a father to us and to have us as His daughters and sons forever. That’s why we were created in the first place: to be with God, so that we could enjoy our Father and he could enjoy his children. And he refused to let us go, refused to lose us.
And Jesus refused to let us go. He didn’t want to go to the cross, but he chose that rather than giving up on us. He was faithful to his Father’s plan all the way up that hill, carrying the cross he was going to die on, because God loves us and he wouldn’t let us go. Because of Jesus’ faithfulness and obedience to his mission, we are set free from sin, free to be adopted as his Father’s children (Gal 3:26). Jesus endured that torture, the Father endured the anguish of watching His Son’s pain and death so that we could be with God, so that we could call Him “Abba! Father!” (Gal 4:6) How deep the Father’s love for us; how vast beyond all measure!
Holy Thursday—this whole weekend—is a dark time, a time when we come face to face with death and the grave, Jesus’ death, Jesus’ grave. Someone asked me just the other day why we even call it ‘Good’ Friday. Jesus’ battered body hanging there, the pain God suffered… it doesn’t seem so good. But the goodness isn’t Christ’s death itself: it’s what his death accomplished for us. The goodness is that now we can become the sons and daughters of such a Father, that God saw a world full of orphans and said ‘I want to take you home with Me, to love you and care for you forever’. Because of Jesus, that’s our Father. And that’s good.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.