Pastor Sherry’s Good Friday Meditation
Scriptures: Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; John 18:1-40.
This past weekend, I provided some psychological (as a licensed psychologist) and spiritual (as an ordained pastor) training at a nearby Christian, residential treatment center for those suffering from mental health issues or addictions. In response to something I said, one young man wanted to know what makes me think Christianity is superior to any other of the great world religions. The treatment center is avowedly Christian, so I was surprised that he appeared to believe that Jesus is just like any other religious figure, one among equals; I also realized he was less interested in discovering an answer and more committed to being provocative. I thought a minute and replied, “It is the only world religion in which the God chose to die for His people.” That answer seemed to have caused him to think. I hope it also opened a way for him to draw closer to our Lord.
On Good Friday, we commemorate the day our God died. We say, “Christ died for us,” and that is true. Over 2000 years ago, on a hill just outside the city of Jerusalem, Jesus Christ—God in the form of a man–died on a cross. As Revelation 13:8 tells us, He was…the Lamb slain from the creation of the earth. This was not a “Plan B,” devised by the Trinity when it became evident that people could not, on their own, sustain an intimate relationship with a holy God. It had always been God’s plan that His Son would die as a substitutionary sacrifice for the sins of all of us. At the Cross of Christ, we see our God at His most loving and at His best. We also see human beings at our worst.
Our Scripture passages appointed for today are all appropriately solemn. The Apostle John’s “Passion Narrative” (please read it now) takes us through Jesus’ arrest; His trials before the former high priest, Annas, the current high priest, Caiaphas, and the Roman overlord, Pontius Pilate; then finally to His actual crucifixion. What is stunning in John’s account is how calm Jesus appears to be. We know He had been so stressed earlier that, as He prayed, He sweated blood. Now that His time had come, however, as a huge detail of men arrives to capture Him, He seems to be firmly in control. Twice He tells them who He is, almost prompting them to proceed. Though the lynch mob was armed, Jesus would not allow them to become violent toward His disciples. He even chastised Peter for cutting off Malchus’ ear and heals the damage. One would think this might alert them that Jesus is who He says He is, but they are so bent on destroying Him that they ignore that evidence. Instead, they tie Him up and haul Him off to see Annas.
Now Annas had displeased the Romans, so, though legally out of power, he nevertheless still operated as the chief religious broker of Jerusalem. Biblical scholars say he was both brilliant and evil. Many credit him with the final plan to eliminate Jesus. He has his troops wait until the cover of night, when all those who loved Jesus would be home sleeping. Annas interrogates Him and an official of some sort strikes Jesus for what he interprets as insubordination. Jesus challenges them honestly (verse 23)àIf I said something wrong, testify as to what is wrong. But if I spoke the truth, why did you strike Me?ImHim The most just and honest person in the crowd calmly but firmly reminds them that they—and this kangaroo court–are out of line. By Jewish law, no court trial could begin or be held at night. Additionally, no one could legally strike a person on trial without a verdict. Finally, Jewish Law prohibited sentencing a man on the day he was brought to trial. Annas then sends Jesus to Caiaphas, the Roman’s choice for “high priest” and Annas’ son-in-law (an early example of nepotism).
John reminds us in 11:50, that Caiaphas had previously said to the Sanhedrin—when they were plotting how to eradicate Jesus—You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish. The puppet high priest did not realize then that he had spoken prophetically. Nevertheless, Jesus knew that by this point, He had totally recommitted to laying His life down for the sins of Israel and for us. Caiaphas and Annas find Jesus guilty of blasphemy because He honestly admitted He is the Son of God. They would have liked to have stoned Him, but the Romans forbade any other nation to invoke capital punishment but them. So Jesus is next sent to Pilate.
Pilate tries every which way to free Jesus: He knows the Jewish religious establishment is just jealous of Him. He has Jesus scourged (39 lashings with a whip), hoping this will satisfy their blood-lust. He offers to set Him free, but hands Him over to be crucified when the Jews threaten to report to Caesar that Pilate has let a man go who claimed to be the king of the Jews. And so, trading the sinless Son of God for a murderous insurrectionist, the Jewish leadership has their way and Jesus is crucified. Ironically, the sign on His cross identifies Him as King of the Jews in three languages: Hebrew, the language of religion; Greek, the language of culture and education; and Latin, the language of law and order. The Jews want it reworded, but ironically Pilate will not bend.
Notice that John does not tell us much about the crucifixion. The soldiers gamble over who will get His clothes, and John relates three statements Jesus makes as He is dying: (1) He asks John to care for His Mother, Mary; (2) He says He is thirsty; and (3) He asserts, It is finished (meaning the work of salvation He was set to do is complete). Lastly we learn that Jesus’ body was removed and buried just before the Sabbath began at sundown.
All four Gospel writers were all rather circumspect about Jesus’ six hours on the Cross. They each highlight His dignity, but they did not want us to focus on His agony. J. Vernon McGee says the Father deliberately made darkness come over the land from noon until 3:00pm so that curious observers could not witness Jesus’ intense suffering. He was of course suffering from extreme physical torment, but also because He had taken on all the sins of the world (spiritual torture)—past, present, and future—as well as experiencing, for the first time, being totally separated from His Father (emotional and cognitive anguish).
To get a sense of what the crucifixion was like, we have to turn to the Isaiah (52:13-53:12) and Psalm (22) lessons. The Isaiah lesson appointed for today (please read it now) is the 4th Suffering Servant Song. It is a Messianic prophesy, written about 700 years before the events actually transpired, but fulfilled perfectly by Jesus. It is a prediction of how Messiah would be treated prior to and during His execution. Isaiah tells us that Jesus will be raised high, lifted up (on the Cross), but also highly exalted (when it is all over). No one who viewed Him carrying His Cross would think this could ever be so. He will, in fact, startle the whole world—render them speechless—because it will be through the loss of all things that He gains all things.
To begin with, He looked ordinary, not model or movie star handsome. Isaiah foretold that He would be (v.3)à…despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and familiar with suffering…. He was beaten beyond recognition; pierced, crushed, oppressed, afflicted; executed in the worst possible way, like a common criminal, hanged between two true felons; and he died childless, cut off—a condition the Jews would have regarded as evidence of a tragic, futile existence. People will think He got what He deserved, but He didn’t: (vv.4-5)àSurely He took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. Verse 9 tells us He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in His death, because He had done no violence, nor was any deceit in His mouth. The Father will richly reward Him (v.11)àAfter the suffering of His soul, He will see the light of life [resurrection], and be satisfied…Therefore I will give Him a portion among the great, and He will divide the spoils with the strong. In other words, God intends to reward Him as though He were a king sharing in the spoils of a great military victory. His rewards derive from having gone willingly to death and from having interceded with His body for our sins.
Psalm 22 (please read it now) reveals to us Christ’s thoughts from the Cross. He feels forsaken by His Father—even though the Father had been present with Him as He was arrested, subjected to His ludicrous trials, beaten, and nailed to the Cross. But the Father turned His back on Him when He became sin for us, from noon until 3:00pm. He admits to feeling like a worm. This was a specific type of worm, called a “Coccus,” which emitted a substance used to make red dye—symbolic of Jesus’ blood poured out for us. From the Cross, He feels surrounded by His enemies: The soldiers are the many bulls…the strong bulls of Bashon; His tormentors from the foot of the Cross (Scribes, Pharisees, the hostile Jewish mob) resemble (v.13)àroaring lions tearing their prey; and (v.16)àdogs have surrounded Me; a band of evil men has encircled Me, they have pierced my hands and my feet. Nevertheless, He trusts in the love of His Father.
Biblical scholars tell us Jesus fulfilled 28 prophesies of the Messiah from the Cross. We can recognize them from our Psalm and Isaiah readings. The sinless Son of God laid down His life for us, paying the penalty for our sins, clothing us in His righteousness, and reconciling us to God the Father. These sacred writings prove to us that Jesus—and only Jesus–was and is the Messiah, the Son of God.
Psalm 30:5 says, Weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning. The only way to the joy of Easter is through the agony of Good Friday. In God’s economy, suffering often appears to precede satisfaction, trial comes before triumph, clouds before sunshine, rain before flowers. Today, let’s remember that salvation is free for humankind, but it cost God and Jesus everything! Let us remember our Lord today with gratitude and abiding love! Thanks be to God who gives us the victory—over sin and our death penalty–through our Lord, Jesus Christ! AMEN!
©2020 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams