BY NORMAN NAGEL
In Noel Coward’s play This Happy Breed, a man’s son is killed in the war and his friends try to help him with pretense talk and euphemisms for death. Out of the emptiness of his heart, he finally cries, “He didn’t pass on, pass out, or pass over; he just bloody well died.” Such honesty can crumble a man. His son was all that mattered to him. What is the point of going on living when the one most precious in all the world has died? Such grief is possible only when we know that life is to have a point, meaning, and worth, but you cannot read that looking into a grave. This we have to face, yet death is a fact that, for all its finality, is not the final fact.
You have not faced death fully unless you have faced the death on Calvary. Jesus was, in fact, a good man. Two bad men were dying along with Him. One of them acknowledged the truth, “We have it coming to us, but not this one.” Jesus was different, yet He was on the center cross, dying along with them. He was not guilty. He cries, “My God, My god, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). That is ultimate death, the forsakenness of God. The death of no more brain waves, breath, or heartbeat has its final weight not in the nullification of any worth, meaning, or happiness that we may have known or hoped for, but in the fact that we are accountable for our lives. This fact is acknowledged also by those who deny God, for they would still justify themselves, claim some meaning, worth, or at least a little happiness, and make a case for themselves.
The greater the insistences, the greater the uncertainty, for we do not do the final judging. Who does? God and the Lamb. Which of the two will be your judge? God? What God? The of our God talk, of our construction or definition? If you insist, that kind of God will be your judge before whom you make your case. Yet they are not separate; there is one throne, the throne of God and the Lamb. “And they shall see His face; and His name shall be in their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4). On your forehead? Yes, for His name was put on you with the water of Baptism, as we confess with the cross put on your forehead and on your heart, the cross of the Lamb who was slain, the Lamb who bore the sins of the world, the Lamb who bore your sins for you in your place and was forsaken of God, where your sins put you but where He was for you in your place.
When Jesus cries, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” have God and the Lamb come apart, opposite each other? Yes, for the Lamb is where we are, opposite God, in our place as sinners. He bears our punishment of sin, the forsakenness of God. Anyone bearing his or her own sin is finally lost, but not Jesus. He is bearing not His own sin, but ours; He is not opposite God, but doing the saving will of the Father. He won’t let go of us, and He won’t let me let go of God. Out of the ultimate darkness of ultimate death comes the cry, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus is through. He has done it. Then He goes through the little death also. The one who was crucified, the Lamb who was slain, is the risen one who sits on “the throne of God and of the Lamb (Revelation 22:3). From that throne God is for us as the Lamb is for us, no other God for us but as He is for us in the Lamb.
This is taken from a sermon preached by Norman Nagel
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