The late African American pastor Gardner C. Taylor once spoke of Jesus’ crucifixion as unmasking sin. This unmasking is the work with Jesus had come to earth to perform.
In John 17:4, Jesus prays to the Father, saying, “I have glorified thee on earth: I have finished the work which thou gavest me to do.”
Soon afterward, Jesus, on the cross, “waded out into the cold rushing river of death,” Taylor said. “As he nears the other side there is a cry on his lips, ‘It is finished,” and with that shout he passes from mortal sight. So he was claiming completion at the very end. What does it mean?”
The great Brooklyn pastor answers the question. “In his life and in his death Jesus unmasks sin forever for what it is. He finished that task.”
Throughout human history, sin has deceived humanity. Taylor:
Sin has always looked like something beautiful. It wears alluring garments and seems so light-hearted. Sin has always deceived men and women because it seems so nice, so harmless, so festive. It appears beautiful and stylish. There is a smile on its face, inviting, welcoming. It seems gentle, so sophisticated, so fashionable. It has ever thus deceived people. Jesus at Calvary snatched the mask from evil and exposed it for what it is.
Taylor notes that the masks of sin we wear are not only personal; they are social. (The exact date of this sermon is unknown, but it aired on NBC’s “Radio Vespers Hour” in 1959, 1969, or 1970, according to Edward Taylor.)
“We, in this land have posed as a most civilized and gentle people whose only concerns are law and order.” Taylor said much of the anger and bitterness in America at the time was due to the resentment many feel because “events have forced us to show an ugly racism, a terrifying streak of cruelty, and a sick suspicion” regarding the institutions and leaders of society.
In other words, the events occurring in America at the time -- presumably racial discord -- revealed the deep sin at work in society and the distrust and resentment it caused.
The ultimate unmasking of sin both personal and societal occurred in Jesus’ death centuries before -- the event that revealed sin and its consequence. But the all important resurrection occurred on the following Sunday providing deliverance from the death of sin. We are not stuck on Good Friday. We joyously move to Easter.
So, we linger on Good Friday in our thoughts and prayers because our masks can finally be laid aside. But, make no mistake, Easter is the great celebration. We have faced death and discovered a Savior who delivers.
(Gardner C. Taylor’s sermon, “A Completed Task,” is included in volume one of The Words of Gardner Taylor, compiled by Edward L. Taylor. The above quotes are taken from this volume.)