It’s natural to keep a comfortable distance from things that pain us if it is at all in our power. I think that is why Good Friday has always been so complicated to me in my adult life. Can we just breeze past this part and quickly make our way to the empty tomb?
Good Friday requires something from us. And it is well that it does.
When we arrive in Luke 23, we observe the ways that the chief priests, scribes, soldiers of the Roman army, and Roman officials have all falsely accused, mocked, and ultimately sentenced the innocent Lamb of God to death.
After the painful journey to Golgotha, Jesus is brutally nailed to a cross and hoisted between two criminals. Jesus, hanging from the cross- drenched in his blood, the pain pulsing from his wrists and feet, his lungs gasping for air- observed on the ground below him how the soldiers cast lots for his garments. The crowd stood by watching, the rulers mocked Him, the soldiers spitefully offered sour wine to quench His thirst… all vile and detestable treatment of a man who did nothing but love.
He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Can you imagine the expression of the criminals next to Him? The only ones with the same view point on the crowd as Jesus… the only other ones truly able to take in the entirety of the scene… and they hear Jesus ask for the Father to forgive these people.
One of the criminals was enraged… “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” We don’t know this man’s story, but he knew who Jesus was. Maybe he had even seen Jesus speak or perform a miracle. His rage revealed how little he really knew about why Jesus came.
The other criminal speaks up, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” He knew they were getting what they deserved, and he also knew Jesus was experiencing the greatest injustice in the history of the world.
Atonement works like that. A sacrifice paid the price of the sinful one who deserved punishment. The Passover lambs whose blood covered the door posts of the Israelites hundreds of years prior were atonement and provision. The sacrifices made in the Temple were constant reminders that sin has a price, blood must be shed, atonement must be made.
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” he utters.
“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus replies.
Jesus hangs there, the veil in the Temple tears in two, and he shouts, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!” He breaths. The earth quakes as creation responds to the passing of the Son of God. And the chest that held countless close, the heart that beat with love, the lungs that breathed words of life… they were now lifeless.
Please do not miss this- He gave up His life. He was not a weak man, He was not helpless, He was not without defense, He was not dealt a fatal blow that He wasn’t able to overcome. He was King Jesus willingly laying down on the altar. He was the Lamb of God allowing His blood to flow on our behalf. He was perfection, the ultimate propitiation taking sin on Himself.
The cross was OUR fate. We deserve the cross. We earned it. It is what we merit because He is holy and we are sinful. But Love’s plan was always redemption- entire and secure. Love’s plan would change everything for us. Love would go farther than we could imagine to redeem us.
Jesus wasn’t dealt a fatal blow that day. Death was dealt a fatal blow. That’s what we get to celebrate on Sunday.
But today, my friends, today we have to linger at the foot of the cross. We have to gaze at the fullness of what our sin cost the Holy One that day. We need to hear our own voices in the crowd, we need to feel the dirt on our knees as we cast lots for His garments. We need to recognize the frustration that we harbor when He doesn’t show up like we think He should. We need to acquaint ourselves once again with the cost. We need to look into His eyes- to see the sorrow and love there on our Savior’s face as He bore our sin.
Good Friday… I struggle so much with calling it “good” when I linger at the foot of the cross. It hurts. It is uncomfortable because it reminds me that I am responsible. Yet, we can’t truly grasp the joy and victory of the empty tomb when we don’t recall the deep cost it took to conquer death once and for all. Love is what makes it good.
Look today, friends. Look today to the One who willingly offered Himself in your place. May your soul afresh remember the extent to which Love went on your behalf.
Listen to this as you reflect over Luke 23 this Good Friday.