“God is Dead”

Zechariah 12:10-14

{Prayer}

            “God is dead.”  This is what a 19th century German philosopher by the name of Friedrich Nietzsche said.  The expression, “God is dead,” is famously associated with Nietzsche’s book titled Thus Spoke Zarathustra.  Nietzsche used the phrase figuratively.

            Zechariah, however, used the phrase literally.  God.  Is.  Dead.  But really?  That’s what God says in Zechariah 12:10, “They will gaze {nabat} upon me whom they have pierced.”  The Hebrew language has two words for look.  Ra’h means see.  Nabat means “gaze, stare, glare, focus, fix, watch.”  Don’t just glance.  Don’t just glimpse.  Nabat.  Gaze.

            Gaze upon God, pierced to take away every sin.  That includes our sin.  Our ugly sin.  Our shameful sin.  Our haunting sin.  Our every single sin.  God not only takes away our guilt, guilt being sin done by us.  God also takes away our shame, shame being sin that’s done to us.  Nabat.  Gaze.  God is dead … to take away the sin of the world.

            Should we be surprised that God suffers and dies?  Not at all.  When God saw evil and misery multiply in the world, he grieved with heart-piercing sorrow (Gen. 6:6).  When God saw Israel’s suffering in Egypt, he came down into the burning bush and said, “I know their pain” (Ex. 3:7).  God is the only person in Isaiah’s book who is “high and lifted up” (Is. 6:1; 33:10; 57:15).  What a claim, therefore, that Isaiah describes the Suffering Servant with the same words, high and lifted up” (Is. 52:13).  Isaiah goes on to write, “He (Christ who is one with the Father) was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities” (Is. 53:5).  Paul puts it this way in 2 Cor. 5:19, “God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.”  God.  Is.  Dead.  Not figuratively.  Not metaphorically.  Not euphemistically.  Literally.  God is dead … to take away the sin of the world.

            Zechariah continues, “They shall mourn for him, as one mourns for an only child” (12:10).  The only Son?  The firstborn Son?  That would be Jesus.  Jesus is God and God is dead. 

            Consider the irony here.  Christ, as God, created the tree from which his cross was carved.  Christ, as God, created the minerals from which his nails were forged.  Christ, as God, created the woman whose son was Judas Iscariot.  Christ, as God, set in motion the political events that sent Pontius Pilate to Judea, Herod to Jerusalem and Caiaphas to serve as high priest.  The implications are stunning.  Christ, as God, arranged his own betrayal, his own torture, his own execution, his own death.

            Gazenabat … into Christ’s eyes, full of anguish and lament.  Gaze at his hands pierced with nails.  Gaze at the great wound in his side.  Gaze at his cheeks caked with dirt; his parched tongue poisoned with gall; his face pale with death.  In less than four-hundred minutes, Jesus experienced an eternity of hell.

            “Now Pastor, wait a minute.  Are you really saying that God hung on a cross?  A split-lipped, puffy-eyed, blood-caked God on a cross?  A sponge was thrust into God’s face?  Dice were tossed at God’s feet?  God bled?  God took the nails?  God took a spear?”  Yes.  Yes.  A thousand times, and forever, yes.  God is dead … to take away the sin of the world.

            You know, though, that there are options.  Instead of leaving our sin with God at the cross, we can be defensive.  When we’re defensive about sin, we don’t admit anything.  We don’t tell anyone.  We keep the skeleton in our closet.  We want innocence, not forgiveness.  When we’re defensive about sin we reduce life to one, passionate, all-consuming goal … hide our sin.  Cover it up!  Don’t address it!  Don’t admit it!  And wherever we do, never, ever confess it.

            When we see sin rear its ugly head, another option is to be defeated.  When we’re defeated we feel as though we don’t make mistakes, we are a mistake.  We don’t foul up, we are a foul up.  We beat ourselves repeatedly with blame and shame.

            Defensive people hide their sin.  Defeated people replay their sin.  Depressed people gasp over their sin.  They gasp, but they never gaze.  They never gaze upon God who hangs dead on a cross.

            Defensive.  Defeated.  Depressed.  Is there a better way?  Zechariah 12:10 includes this promise from God.  “I will pour out on them the Spirit of grace.”  Who is the “them”?  The perpetrators of God’s death.  God pours out his Holy Spirit of grace on the very people responsible for his death.  Who would that be?  That would be me.  That would be you.

            What does the Holy Spirit of grace do?  He breaks our hearts.  Zechariah says, “On that day the mourning in Jerusalem will be as great as the mourning for Hadad-rimmon in the plain of Megiddo. The land shall mourn, each family by itself: the family of the house of David by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Nathan by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the house of Levi by itself, and their wives by themselves; the family of the Shimeites by itself, and their wives by themselves; and all the families that are left, each by itself, and their wives by themselves” (12:11-14).  The people gasp and gaze, they have faith, in God, dead on a cross.

            Faith isn’t feeling bad because our sin was exposed.  Faith isn’t resolving to try harder next time.  Saving faith gasps and gazes.  It gazesnabat … upon God, dead on a cross to take away the sin of the world.

            We don’t have to drink our sin away.  Work our sin away.  Explain our sin away, eat our sin away, cry our sin away, or bury our sin away.  This may be hard to believe, but most of us have carried our sin for so long that we can’t imagine life without it.  We can’t imagine it … but God can.  God does.  And God does more than just imagine it … He gives us Jesus.

            You probably know that corona is the Latin word for crown.  The coronavirus gets its name from a spiked ring of proteins on its surface which resembles a crown, hence the word “coronavirus.”

            If you’re like me, you’re exhausted from gazing upon this crown.  You’re at your wits end.  You’re at a loss as how to handle it all … relationally, financially, emotionally, spiritually.

            As a pastor, I love each of you.  I want what is best for you.  So let me just be blunt for a moment.  If you keep gazing at this crown and all the things associated it with, the fear associated it with it, if you keep gazing upon the manmade crowns of this world … you’ll be completely overwhelmed.  You’ll sink into the depths of despair.

            Friends, there’s another crown.  A crown which announces God’s love, God’s pardon, God’s peace.  God wore this crown on the day he died.  In blood.  On the cross.  To take away the sin of the world.

            Gazenabat … upon this crown and the God who wore it … all for you!  Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever.  Amen.

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