Before I ever cared about Good Friday, I valued it. We got out of school early!
Those days are gone, except for religious schools, some public schools and universities and, believe it or not, the Stock Market! A few states, Tennessee, Connecticut among them, declare Good Friday a holiday.
Years later, after embracing the Christian faith, I learned that Good Friday was a solemn observance of Jesus’ death. For years after I quietly wondered why it was “good.”My Bible taught me that sin was bad, and that Jesus died for my sins even though he was the innocent Son of God. His horrific death by crucifixion is the centerpiece of Good Friday. So how could such a day be, in any sense, good?
Good Friday grows out of the Gospel (which means “good news”). The two come together when you realize what a good and perfect God did to rescue his bad and helpless creatures. At their last supper together with his disciples, Jesus announces that one of them was a betrayer. His disciples began an awkward blame game, asking in turn, “Is it I?” I highly recommend that question if you are preparing yourself for Good Friday. The tendency to betray is in every one of us.
“Is it I?”
In the comfort of fellowship there are always the seeds of division. The things we have in common bind us together, but the things that grow out of our sin nature continually pull at the seams. We are always one decision away from becoming undone.
“Is it I?”
The moment we become lazy in our faith or take it for granted, the devil is there to lie, tempt, lure, kill and destroy. Reclining at the table with those disciples we become lambs for the slaughter.
“Is it I?”
Good question, but while the answer is, “Yes,” the true Lamb of God has been offered up on our behalf and his blood cleanses us from all sin.
His body leaves no place for ours on a cross.
The story turns its focus from the disciples to Jesus. His prayer in the garden is a mix of human desire and divine submission. “Remove this cup” was the plea of an innocent man facing an unjust sentence of death. The injustice, the shame and the pain of a cross troubled his mind and cried out for relief. The request, however, was followed immediately with submission: “Yet, not what I will, but what you will.”
The Son of God knew why he had come. He didn’t “fall” from heaven, he was sent. He was clear on his mission; he came “to seek and save the lost.” His sorrow fades to submission, and submission to resolve: “Rise, let us be going; behold my betrayer is at hand.”
As we share in Christ’s suffering, God calls us to the same path of sorrow, submission and resolve. He expects that we will ask, and invites us to ask. But he also expects us to trust in his purpose and plan.
We like Jesus have been sent, and the circumstances of our lives, while sometimes chaotic and confusing, are a lifestream flowing from the throne of God, filled with meaning and purpose.
In the end he was alone. Even his closest followers watched at a distance as the perfect, terrible plan of God unfolded; the death march along the Via Dolorosa
We were not not designed to be alone. How much more striking is it that the Son of God, the Word of creation, was alone. Evil in motion, Judas gathered a crowd of haters, wooed by 30 pieces of silver. His conspiracy climaxed with a kiss, the ultimate irony. Luke’s gospel includes Jesus’ piercing question, “Do you betray the Son of Man with a kiss?”
Peter had a very different way of opposing the plan of God. He drew his sword. Had he not fallen asleep in the Garden while Jesus prayed, he might have submitted to the plan as Jesus did. It is Luke again that adds the precious detail that Jesus touched the man’s ear – one of Jesus’ captors – and healed it. Even in the face of false accusation leading to death, Jesus loved.
Before the moment passes, Jesus asks one of those questions designed to raise more questions: “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me?” Isaiah’s words are fulfilled, “By oppression and judgment he was taken away.”
Alone. So it had to be, for the Son of God alone was sufficient as a sacrifice for our sins.
At the end of his gospel, Matthew describes two fates: that of Jesus, led “like a lamb to the slaughter,” and that of Judas, the black sheep of the disciples who would take his own life.
Death, in itself, is neither bad nor good. The death of Jesus was the highest expression of love and makes possible the forgiveness of sin. The death of Judas is the highest expression of sin and demonstrates the end of a soul tormented by his own greed. His last words, “I have sinned, for I have betrayed innocent blood.”
Easter week leads us on a path that confronts death and forces us to choose between two deaths: the death that leads to resurrection and life, and the death sentence that comes to sinners who reject a savior. Good Friday is good because God’s plan – though terrible in our eyes – was perfect in his and, in the words of C.S. Lewis, “forced open a door that has been locked since the death of the first man. Everything is different because He has done so.”
That’s good, very good.
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