Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – Good Friday

Golgotha by Norwegian artist Edvard Munch (1863-1944)

The Lord says, “See, my servant will act wisely.
    People will greatly honor and respect him.
Many people were shocked when they saw him.
    His appearance was so damaged he did not look like a man;
    his form was so changed they could barely tell he was human.
But now he will surprise many nations.
    Kings will be amazed and shut their mouths.
They will see things they had not been told about him,

    and they will understand things they had not heard.”

Who would have believed what we heard?
    Who saw the Lord’s power in this?
He grew up like a small plant before the Lord,
    like a root growing in a dry land.
He had no special beauty or form to make us notice him;
    there was nothing in his appearance to make us desire him.
He was hated and rejected by people.
    He had much pain and suffering.
People would not even look at him.
    He was hated, and we didn’t even notice him.

But he took our suffering on him
    and felt our pain for us.
We saw his suffering
    and thought God was punishing him.
But he was wounded for the wrong we did;
    he was crushed for the evil we did.
The punishment, which made us well, was given to him,
    and we are healed because of his wounds.
We all have wandered away like sheep;
    each of us has gone his own way.
But the Lord has put on him the punishment
    for all the evil we have done.

He was beaten down and punished,
    but he didn’t say a word.
He was like a lamb being led to be killed.
    He was quiet, as a sheep is quiet while its wool is being cut;
    he never opened his mouth.
Men took him away roughly and unfairly.
    He died without children to continue his family.
He was put to death;
    he was punished for the sins of my people.
He was buried with wicked men,
    and he died with the rich.
He had done nothing wrong,
    and he had never lied.

But it was the Lord who decided
    to crush him and make him suffer.
    The Lord made his life a penalty offering,
but he will still see his descendants and live a long life.
    He will complete the things the Lord wants him to do.
“After his soul suffers many things,
    he will see life and be satisfied.
My good servant will make many people right with God;
    he will carry away their sins.
For this reason I will make him a great man among people,
    and he will share in all things with those who are strong.
He willingly gave his life
    and was treated like a criminal.
But he carried away the sins of many people
    and asked forgiveness for those who sinned.” (NCV)

Le peintre et le Christ (The Painter and the Christ) by Marc Chagall (1887-1985)

With all the suffering in this world due to ongoing diseases, natural disasters, moral distress, and so much more, it might seem awkward that Christians everywhere would observe a day called “Good” Friday. 

Considering the hard circumstances of so many people, to call today “good” might appear cruel and out of touch with the world. Even for Christians, at first glance, “Good Friday” can seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man. 

Some would argue that Christ is no longer on the cross and we need to give all our focus on the resurrected Jesus and victory. No need for all this suffering stuff. Yet, the Resurrection only has meaning because of this very day, Good Friday. Without the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, there is no King Jesus. 

For Christians everywhere, this day is an incredibly good day because the crucifixion of Jesus Christ means the redemption of the world. On this day followers of Jesus remember and commemorate the events that led up to the cross; unpack those events and interpret them with profound meaning and significance; and worship Jesus with heartfelt gratitude because of the redeeming work of the cross.

The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given over to the final week of Christ’s life, especially leading to the cross. Good Friday observances often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross. 

On this day, Christians remember the last words of Christ, and recognize the significant impact his death had on the immediate persons around him. Believers also contemplate the lasting results of that singular death as an atoning sacrifice; perfect love; reconciliation between God and humanity; victory over evil; and the redemption of all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression today. It is also appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin. There is the recognition that something profound and meaningful has truly happened in the egregious suffering of Jesus. Thus, we not only remember the anguish of Christ, but what that horrible torment accomplished. In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its impact could never plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

Mount Calvary by William H. Johnson (1901-1970)

With such profound meaning, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar. Yet, for a chunk of churches and Christians, it is not. The cross is not a popular subject. Maybe it’s because neither Christian nor non-Christian wants to ponder something so bloody and sad.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the issue: “Religious people want visionary experiences and spiritual uplift; secular people want proofs, arguments, demonstrations, philosophy, and science. The striking fact is that neither one of these groups wants to hear about the cross.”  Indeed, as the Apostle Paul has said, the cross of Christ is “a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

A personalized religion which leaves the cross out of the picture (too much violence and sacrifice) might seem appealing yet will only leave us bereft of the communion of the saints both past and present. Consider the ancient witness of the Church:

“I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord… he suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to hell.”

Apostles’ Creed

“For our sake he [Christ] was crucified under Pontius Pilate; he suffered death and was buried.”

Nicene creed

Christ suffered “in both body and soul – in such a way that when he sensed the horrible punishment required by our sins ‘his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down on the ground.’  He cried, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’  And he endured all this for the forgiveness of our sins.  Therefore, we rightly say with the Apostle Paul that we know nothing ‘except Jesus Christ, and him crucified;’ we ‘regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus our Lord.’ We find all comforts in his wounds and have no need to seek or invent any other means than this one and only sacrifice, once made, which renders believers perfect forever.” –Belgic Confession, Article 21

And let us consider further the New Testament witness:

“Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify the people through his own blood.  Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, and bear the abuse he endured.” (Hebrews 13:12-13, NIV)

“May I never boast of anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, NRSV)

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges. Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning. Each situation of trauma; every case of disease; all suffering and wholesale hard circumstances only make sense, in the Christian tradition, when they are viewed in solidarity with cross of Jesus Christ.

So, today, let Christians everywhere contemplate the cross, observe the salvation accomplished through Christ’s death, and offer prayers and petitions for those who need deliverance from the power of evil. Let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.

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