Tonight I’ve just come from the Good Friday service at our church. Each year I find this to be such a sweet time of worship, reflection, and anticipation. I think as Christians we sometimes have a hard time knowing exactly how we should feel on Good Friday. We are thankful for the sacrifice made on our behalf, we are reminded of our own sin, we’re sad, we’re excited, and we’re probably too preoccupied with plastic eggs to allow ourselves the mental freedom to sort it all out.
So I’ll save you the trouble. We should feel freaking amazed. Amazed because God, in his infinite wisdom, created us already knowing we were going to suck at loving him. He created us already knowing he would die for us. And that even after he died for us, showing just how much he loved us, that we were STILL going to suck at loving him. He knew that we were going to abuse his grace. He knew that we would make a mockery of his name. He knew that we would betray and reject him.
But he still chose to come to earth and feel the fullness of our human experience. And then he chose to experience a few things for us so that we would NEVER have to experience them. First, he experienced separation from the Father. This to me is one of the most striking things about the story. I think we often overlook how incredibly painful this must have been for Jesus–much more so, I would assume, than whatever physical pain he was going through. For all of TIME (literally forever) Jesus had existed in perfect unison with God the Father. He laid down his deity to come to earth and truly live and die among us, and then in his final moments of life as he took all of our sin upon himself, he felt far from the Father. As he is experiencing the wretchedness of sin for the very first time, as well as the physical anguish of death for the first time, He is also experiencing aloneness for the very first time. Because of his atonement, Christian, God will never turn his face from us. When our sin causes us, like Jesus on the cross, to feel alone and far from God, we need only to remember that when he looks at us he sees that our debt as been paid.
Not only did he experience separation from the Father for us, but he experienced his wrath. A good friend posted a quote on facebook this morning from David Platt’s book, Radical. The quote reminded me that today is about so much more than Jesus dying, but also about God’s wrath being unleashed on him. Because Mr. Platt talks about this with far more eloquence than I could dream of, I’ll let him: “Listen to his words: ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.’ The ‘cup’ is not a reference to a wooden cross; it is a reference to divine judgment. It is the cup of God’s wrath. This is what Jesus is recoiling from in the garden. All God’s holy wrath and hatred toward sin and sinners, stored up since the beginning of the world, is about to be poured out on him, and he is sweating blood at the thought of it…One preacher described it as if you and I were standing a short hundred yards away from a dam of water 10,000 miles high and 10,000 miles wide. All of a sudden that dam was breached, and a torrential flood of water came crashing toward us. Right before it reached our feet, the ground in front of us opened up and swallowed it all. At the cross, Christ drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and when he had downed the last drop, he turned the cup over and cried out, ‘It is finished.'”
How great is the Love that can rule with authority over all of creation and in the same instant lay down his life to satisfy his own wrath? How terrifying a King and how gentle a lover!
So my challenge to you now is to put yourself in the story. Feel the sacrifice. Feel the weight of your sin. And remember it tomorrow as you go about your day. Let Easter be more than a busy weekend this year, but rather a holy ritual that leads you into deep worship.
I am lying prostrate on the ground. Beneath me, the earth shakes violently. For three hours, the sky has been dark. All at once the yelling and the jeers have ceased; a hushed whisper-a curious murmur, is sweeping through the crowd. “It is finished.” The repetition of this phrase rises slowly around me, but I know that it originated on his lips. I look to them now. They are slightly open, and from them splash droplets of sour wine and blood. His bruised and beaten body, ravaged by whip and thorn and nail, defiled by all manner of disgust and mortification, now hangs limp and peaceful as the criminals on either side heave their final breaths. The spear is thrust into his torso and there is no cry of pain, but only a spilling of blood. I am struck at once by the gruesome scene: the mockery, the torment, the stench. My eyes fall upon the sign above this dead man’s head. “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews” it reads. It was written as an accusation, but in this moment I can’t recall why. As light returns to the sky at Golgotha, and the earth is stilled once more, my spirit does not echo creation. Within me is darkness and trembling. I walk away from the cross with my head hung, exhausted by the events of this day…this entire week.
Holy Week. As we leave the Cross in humility, we are reminded that it’s drawing to an end. It appears that from last Sunday until now, we have been building to this moment. Death. Sure, it began in triumph. Many of us cheered as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. We waved palm branches and we shouted with hopeful excitement. Oh, how we hoped! This was HIM. The Messiah from the line of David, come to save us from oppression and establish a new kingdom. The prophecies were fulfilled as he came in on the back of a donkey, and we let ourselves believe. Didn’t we? “Hosanna!!” We screamed it at the top of our lungs. “Save us!!” we cried. And now, the air is thick with confusion. We have been fixated on this man for days, each one of us. And then today we watched him die.
Today on this hill at Golgotha, the story of the crucifixion of Christ is a personal one to us. We remember it with great reverence, yet we are not removed from it. Christian of the 21st century, you are represented in this story. You and I are responsible. We killed this innocent man. His blood is on our hands.
Maybe you are among the crowd. Maybe last night, he broke bread with you and washed your feet. And then this morning you denied him. Maybe you refused him in his darkest hour. Or perhaps you spent it mocking him. Maybe it’s your spit that drips from his face even now. Maybe it’s your insults that ring in his ear. Or are you hanging back, blending in? Does your dying Lord catch your eyes in the distance?—Heartbroken and in love with him, but keeping it to yourself.
Or maybe you laughed at him from the beginning. It is possible that you are among the religious leaders, the roman guard, the council that brought charges against him. You were threatened by his claims, incredulous that he was calling himself divine. You were convicted by his teachings. He called you a hypocrite, and you could not refute his reasoning. He easily unraveled your carefully constructed mind traps. He recognized you for who you really are. And did it not leave you terrified of him?
Could it be that you are more like the governor, Pilate? That you could find no fault in this man, no logical reason for his punishment. Your spirit whispered to you of his innocence; your conscience cringed as you gave him over to be crucified. But still, your reputation was at stake. Even though you were a man of power, you were afraid of the angry mob before you. “CRUCIFY!” They demanded it. And so you handed him off and retreated, because when you got right down to it, your life mattered more.
But maybe you believed in Jesus from the first time you heard his name spoken. Maybe you rejoiced in his life and his ministry and followed him unwaveringly. This morning you cried out in protest as the crowd demanded his life. And now you are weeping as they lower the cross and take him away. Your tears are making streams in the dirt under your body and you look on in confusion and anger and sadness. You are feeling a lot of things right now, but guilty is not one of them. You are devastated. “How could they have done this to my Lord?” you think.
But it wasn’t the people who killed him. It was their sin. And your sin. Until his final breath, your sin ruled over you. And that is what caused your savior to die. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8) Sinner, this was always the plan.
And so the point here is not who we are in the crucifixion story. The point is who we ARE NOT. And we, friends, are NOT nailed to a cross. We have not been put on display to be humiliated as we endure excruciating physical and spiritual pain. We are not waiting as our breath becomes shallow, not looking into our mother’s helpless eyes, not feeling the weight of our best friend’s betrayal. We are not, for the first time, experiencing the filth of sin and separation from the Father. No, we have not been shamed or spit on or slaughtered.
On the contrary, we called for his blood. WE put nails in his wrists and in his feet. WE drove thorns into his head and a spear into his side. WE mocked him in the square. And then we stood, cowards at the foot of the cross, to watch him die. Whether we were for him or against him in those final hours, we were there to crucify him. We are responsible. And yet we have been spared.
The story of the crucifixion is personal to us not only because we caused it, but also because we deserved it. We are a broken people, depraved and dirty from our birth. Our very nature is offensive to God, and we are powerless to change it. But God in His ABUNDANT MERCY sent to us a Son who would live up to all that we have been called to. He would, though facing the same exact enemy–the same multitude of trials and temptations, be sinless… without blemish. And God, in His PERFECT JUSTICE, would ask him to die. For us. You see, the only repayment for offending the God of Creation is death. There is no forgiveness of debt without the shedding of blood. Jesus came to die. There was no other way for us. He took our place today, and now we have been marked with his spilled blood. We can appeal to the Great Judge as he searches us for righteousness. Our debt has been paid.
And we, having access to the whole story, know the truth. We know that Jesus not only came to die, but that he came to LIVE. He came to conquer death, to establish a New Covenant with his followers. He came to win for himself a bride!!
Today he has proven his love for us. He has shown us his sacrifice and his commitment. And as his bride, we tremble as we walk away from the cross. We are heartbroken, ashamed, and in awe of his grace. But as his bride, we are not defeated by his death. No, in his death today lies a great hope:
Easter is coming.