You probably know the words of this well-known English hymn, but what on earth does it mean? How does the death of Jesus save us?
There is a green hill far away outside a city wall, where the dear Lord was crucified, who died to save us all.”
We have many examples in history where one person dies to save someone else – moving stories of parents going into a raging flood, or into a burning house to rescue their children. Moving stories in which the children are saved but the parent is swept away by the flood, or chocked to death by the fire. Such stories easily move us to tears don’t they? And so they should. But how does Jesus save us? What flood or fire is raging around us that we need saving from? In our rich western world most of us tend to think that we are doing reasonably OK, thank you.
The most important thing to work out, if we are to understand the reason why we call next Friday Good Friday, is to realise what it is that Jesus saves us from. First of all he saves us from our own individual failure to do everything we know God would like us to do. How easily we assume that we are really quite good people. We think of sin as something terribly evil that OTHER people do, and forget that all our failures to care for others, all our tendencies to put ourselves first, all these as they build up, hurt others and hurt God.
Secondly, we easily forget that we are part of worldwide humanity- hurting and killing each other and spoiling the beauty of the world in so many ways. It is easy to forget this second problem, to think that, provided we try to be good and kind, then what happens to other people doesn’t matter. But whether we like it or not, we are all part of one humanity. There is no way we can isolate ourselves from other people and from the problems of the world. From climate change to starvation, from exploiting the rain forests to employing and exploiting cheap labour – we are all involved and implicated whether we like it or not.
All of this means that none of us deserve to have the life of fun and laughter, of good food and friends and family that we are lucky to enjoy. The idea that we can eat drink and be merry is a foolish nonsense, not least because if we are happy whilst others suffer, that will one day lead to war, as it has done in the past. But more important even than that, if we think life is just having fun then we need to remember that each of us will one day face death when we will have to face up to the selfish beings we so easily become.
We have some examples in the story of the suffering of Jesus that we have just heard. First, Pontius Pilate, a figure of power. We all know how easily power corrupts us humans. I only have to say the word “politicians” or often “your boss at work” and you know what I mean. Justifying actions by the need to be practical and efficient, and forgetting that we need to aim for goodness and truth above all else! But then there is the fickle crowd shouting Hosanna one minute and crucify him the next. How easily we go along with the crowd! What a lot we have to be saved from!
How helpless we feeble humans are in the face of all this, and so how much do we need God to save us. And he does! But not with a wave of a magic wand like a Wizard, but by a life and a death of sacrificial love. Just as we are moved to tears when we hear of a parent dying for their child, so we must allow ourselves to be moved to even greater tears by the sight of God dying for our sad old world, and in his power renewing us and giving us a hope that looks beyond suffering and death. There is no point in regretting the past. We must simply accept the sacrificial love of Jesus and let it work in us every day.
This is God’s amazing grace. Some think of God as a power far away ticking us off when we go wrong and patting us on the head when we do good, but our God, the God of Jesus Christ, is not like that. Our God comes and weeps with us as we face our failures and fears, and as we look at our messed up world and feel helpless. Our God even comes and dies with us so that we can be drawn from our sadness into his eternal love.
O dearly dearly has he loved. And we must love him too. And trust in his redeeming love And try his work to do.