I.N.I.

Matthew 27:27 – 57.

Pastor Albert Collver

Maundy Thursday, LCMS International Center, 21 April 2011

A skull and bones – what an ominous sight. Whenever you see a skull, you know that death has come. Bottles of dangerous chemicals or of household cleaning products used to have a skull and crossbones on the label to indicate if you consumed it death would come upon you. The skull means death. To the place of the skull is where Jesus was taken in the Gospel account. There death would come upon Jesus and two others. These three would die by crucifixion, a horrible form of execution that the Romans perfected. Many a sermons have described the horrors of death by crucifixion; some of these descriptions are not for the squeamish as they describe in medical detail the agonizing effects of crucifixion upon the human body. Yet notice that the Gospel writer doesn’t dwell on the horrors of crucifixion. Yes, crucifixion is bad; everyone knows that and no one better than those who witnessed it firsthand. Untold thousands were crucified by the Romans; many were united in that brotherhood of cruel punishment. Yet this did not make Jesus’ death unique; it only showed what we confess in the Creed to be true, “crucified under Pontus Pilate.”

The place of the skull is where Jesus is in a battle with death. By death, we are not talking merely about the death of the body. Every one of us is one day closer to the death of our bodies. While not a joyful thought, there is nothing unique about that either. Jesus has engaged death itself. He is battling with the death not only of the body but also with the death of the soul. The fires of hell have swallowed him up, and it seems by the end of the Gospel account they will have consumed him. Jesus is fighting against the gates of hell and the devil himself.

As Jesus the Word of God hung dying on the cross, he must have recalled these words, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Genesis 3:15) The hatred of the devil raged with full furry as he attacked the Lord of Life. While Jesus’ heel was being bruised, he was crushing the skull of sin, death, and the devil. There at the place of the skull, Jesus crushed the skull of death by dying.

You see, the death of the body will come to all of us. In a sense death is unavoidable. Yet a person can die with their sins, or he can die with Jesus. Those who crucified Jesus did not want to die with him. They were afraid that dying with Jesus would take away something they didn’t want to loose. Jesus has called us as his disciples to death. He called us to die with him. This is what makes discipleship with Jesus so unattractive. Jesus tells us that the cost of following him is death with him. On the other hand, sin, death and the devil who is the father of lies do not advertise what death with them means. Sometimes this anti-trinity does crassly say, “If you have to die, you might as well die having fun,” or “If you’re going to die, you might as well be doing something you enjoy.” Now you can add your vice, guilty pleasure, or hobby. Generally, speaking sin, death, and the devil do not tell you what it means to die with them.

What is perhaps even more difficult about following Jesus’ call to die with him is that you will then die to yourself. Your life will no longer be lived for yourself but for Jesus; and your death will not be yours but Jesus’ death. The question that follows is what of yourself do you not want to die with Jesus? What of you needs to live apart from Jesus’ presence? What can you no longer do, what activities can you no longer participate in if Jesus is standing beside you? These are the things that block the call of dying with Jesus. Since death is unavoidable, the only options are to die with your sin, or to die with Jesus.

To die with your sin is to undergo what Jesus defeated at the cross. To die with your sin, is to crucify Jesus again or to make his death null and void. For on the cross, Jesus died with your sin. There on the skull, he experienced the death of the soul; he was separated from his heavenly Father. He suffered hell. He suffered your hell; the hell you deserved for your sin. So if you die with your sin, then you will have to answer for your own sin and experience what Jesus already did for you.

On the other hand, if you die with Jesus, then his death becomes your death and his life is your life. When Jesus took your death and death for all the people in the history of the world upon himself, death swallowed him up. Yet death could not contain him. In his death, he destroyed death once and for all. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “It is finished.” Death is now finished, destroyed, and done for. When the Centurion witnessed Jesus’ death he said, “Truly was the Son of God,” for only the Son of God could die in a way that put death to death.

In the death of Jesus on the cross, those of us who are baptized also died with Christ. Daily our sinful nature is put to death and daily, we arise a new person in Christ. Though sin, death, and the world rage against us, they are defeated. They died the death when Jesus crushed their skull. We who have died with Jesus will also live with him.

Go in peace.

Amen.

Rev. Albert B. Collver, Ph.D.