Isaiah 52:13-53:12 – Good Friday

CrossChrist
Depiction of Christ on the Cross at Holy Hill in Hubertus, Wisconsin

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)

We all suffer.  In some way, whether a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone faces living in a fallen world with its pain and heartache.  Presently, the entire world is suffering the scourge of the COVID-19 virus.  Every person in my neighborhood, city, state, and nation is impacted and affected.  Not only do many suffer because of disease and death itself, all are enduring either lost wages, limitations, loneliness or more.  Suffering that seems to have no reason, the senseless kind, the type where nothing good appears to be going on at all can be very troubling to our souls.

Perhaps it seems ironic, maybe even cruel, that Christians would observe a day called “Good” Friday.  Considering the hard circumstances of so many people, to call today “good” appears awkward, as if Christ’s followers have their heads in the sand.  Even for Christians, at first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a 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 the victory he achieved.  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 very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ means the redemption of the world.  On this day we 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 his redeeming work of the cross.

16th St Baptist Church Crucifixion Stained Glass Window
This stained-glass window was donated to the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church of Birmingham, Alabama by the people of Wales after the church was bombed in 1963.

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.  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, redeeming all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is 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 import and impact could never plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, for a chunk of churches and Christians, it’s not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Maybe it’s because neither Christian nor non-Christian wants to ponder something that appears so icky and bloody.

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 blood and violence) 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)

6a7f0-thecross

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just 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 adversity and wholesale hard circumstances make sense, in the Christian tradition, when they are viewed in solidarity with Jesus Christ crucified. 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.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.

Along with all believers everywhere we pray:

Jesus, Lamb of God, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Bearer of our sins, have mercy on us.

Jesus, Redeemer of the world, grant us your peace.  Amen.

Click Were You There performed by The Vigil Project as we station ourselves near the cross.

Good Friday

christ on the cross

We all suffer.  In some way, whether with a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone must face living in a fallen world with its pain and heartache.  Suffering which seems to have no reason, the senseless kind and the type where nothing good appears to be going on at all can be very troubling to our souls.

At first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man.  Yet, it is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant the redemption of the world.  On this day Christians 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 in light of this redemptive event.

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 worship services often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross.  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, redeeming all creation.

Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is 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 not plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.

With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, it is not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Perhaps that is because no one likes suffering and cares not to think about it.  Not only do unchurched folk care not to think about it, but church attenders would like to be mindful about other things than the cross.

Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the problem: “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).

Our contemporary religious milieu celebrates and promotes self-styled spirituality; it is the “in” thing to eschew church and develop a personalized religion that fits the demands of the modern (or postmodern) world.  The cross, however, is “out;” too much blood and sacrifice, and not enough of what I’m looking for in life.  Perhaps we should think long and hard on Hebrews 13:12-13 –

“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.”

The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges.  Because Christ suffered, our suffering has meaning.  So, today, let us 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.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the suffering on the cross.  Amen.

Good Friday

 
 
            At first glance, “Good Friday” might seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man.  Yet, it is very good in the sense that the crucifixion of Jesus Christ meant the redemption of the world.  On this day Christians 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 in light of this redemptive event.
 
            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 worship services often take a somber form due to the brevity of Christ’s experience on the cross.  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, redeeming all creation.
 
            Sadness, then, is far from the only emotive expression on this day.  It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for the accomplishment of deliverance from the power of sin.  Thus, we not only remember the suffering of Christ, but what that horrible suffering accomplished.  In fact, the cross of Jesus is so significant that an eternity of considering its impact could not plumb the depths of its far-reaching effects.
 
            With all that has been said, one would think that Good Friday is a hugely observed day on the Christian Calendar.  Yet, it is not.  The bottom line is that the cross is not popular.  Not only do unchurched folk care not to think about it, but church attenders would like to be mindful about other things than the cross.  Episcopal priest Fleming Rutledge has adroitly put her finger on the problem:  “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).
 
            Our contemporary religious milieu celebrates and promotes self-styled spirituality; it is the “in” thing to eschew church and develop a personalized religion that fits the demands of the modern (or postmodern) world.  The cross, however, is “out;” too much blood and sacrifice, and not enough of what I’m looking for in life.  Perhaps we should think long and hard on Hebrews 13:12-13 – “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.”
 

 

            The extent of Good Friday goes far beyond just a day on the calendar; it is the fulcrum upon which all of Christianity hinges.  So, today, let us 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.  In short, let us worship God in Jesus Christ because of the cross.  Amen.

Isaiah 52:13-52:12


             “He had no majestic bearing to catch our eye, no beauty to draw us to him.”  As I was reflecting on this phrase this morning and contemplating the life and death of Jesus on this most holy of days, Good Friday, I began to think about Abraham Lincoln, of all people.  You see, in his ascendancy to the presidency and in his time in office Lincoln was routinely caricatured in political cartoons as an ape or baboon.  Memoirs of people who had seen the president often commented on how extremely normal and homely he appeared.  In fact, Lincoln was quite gangly; he was tall with very long arms and legs.  Indeed, he did look something like an oddity.  Yet, when Lincoln spoke, people listened and were amazed at his intelligence, ability to connect with people, and his grasp of political philosophy.
             Sometimes I wonder if our Lord was actually physically here on earth today if most people would even remotely recognize him.  Perhaps Jesus would be ridiculed and despised, just like he was all those centuries ago.  I think it is safe to say that he would not make it to the cover of GQ, or make commercials selling underwear.  Instead, Jesus came as a humble servant.  He suffered throughout his life, endured a horrible death by torture, and secured for us deliverance from the power of sin.  God has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
             Most people have forgotten that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on Good Friday in 1865.  Just as the press did not miss a beat to castigate Lincoln while he was alive, they quickly recognized the parallels between him and Christ in their respective deaths.  But while Lincoln was clearly identified with the American people in their baptism of blood with the Civil War, his was not a salvific death.  Only Jesus, in his singular suffering, died as a substitute for us.  Perhaps Jesus had no outward beauty, but his inward beauty has not only drawn me to him, but saved me from an empty life of sin.  Praise be to God!
             Lord Jesus, you were the suffering servant who has pioneered salvation for me.  Thank you for your sacrifice, and I give eternal praise and gratitude for your willingness to endure the cross.  My heart and life is yours; use it as you see fit.  Amen.

Hebrews 10:16-25

            By the wounds of Jesus Christ we are healed of the stench and power of sin.  There is forgiveness.  And where forgiveness exists and is the controlling existential reality, there is no longer any offering for sin.  In other words, Jesus has offered a once-for-all sacrifice for sin.  Therefore, there is no need whatsoever for us to provide something that will take care of and deal with our foul and odious sin; Jesus has already done it.
             Good Friday is the most bittersweet day in the Christian Year.  It is bitter because they have tortured and crucified my Lord.  It is sweet because the Lord Jesus accomplished what he set out to do:  opened the way back to God through a new and living way.
             So, then, Jesus did not go through the agony of the cross just so that no one need offer the blood of bulls and goats as a sacrifice anymore.  No, he did it all to strike a death blow to the power of sin so that we could take advantage of this new spiritual reality.  We now can draw near to God without any obstacle.  We now can persevere and hold fast to our bold confession of Christ.  We now can effectively spur one another on toward good deeds, reminding each other of the tremendous privilege we have of sharing in Christ and his finished work.
             Faith, hope, and love are our business as Christians.  Good Friday was the means by which we are now able to live into these three great actions of the Christian life.  All that we do, all that we say, and all that we plan are to center fully around the person and work of Jesus using these incredible tools of faith, hope, and love.  Let us consider and reflect deeply on our new reality made possible on this most holy day.
             Merciful God, as darkness covers the land today I confess along with the Roman centurion:  surely Jesus is the Son of God.  How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me?  It is a small thing for me to dedicate myself completely to faith, hope, and love.  These three actions I endeavor to live into as a means of gratitude for your great sacrifice, Lord Jesus.  Amen.

Good Friday


            What makes Good Friday good?  For Christians all across the world, this day reminds us that the grace of God in Christ makes Good Friday good.  The good news is that when Jesus died on the cross, it was neither simply a terrible act of violence nor just another crucifixion by the Romans; it was a courageous rescue operation that broke our bonds and set us free from the tyranny of the world, the flesh, and the devil.  
            What has God liberated you from?  Do you have and enjoy freedom in Jesus Christ, or are you still in bondage and need to be freed?  One of the harshest masters in our culture is the enslaving master of shame.  It locks us in an inner prison of the soul and makes sure that we do not tell our secrets.  Shame’s slaves are legion:  a well-respected mother secretly struggles with alcoholism, afraid to divulge what really keeps her going throughout her day; a much-loved man keeps looking at pornography, with no one suspecting his dark insatiable lust; a woman cannot bring herself to share with anyone that years ago she had an abortion, and barely a day goes by without the guilt raging within her; a family is too ashamed to ask for help, and are wondering how they will pay the bills this month; a couple suffers in agonizing silence, lonely and too scared to speak to anyone in the church for fear that they will be labeled as weak and unspiritual.  And on and on the examples can go.  
            All these people live in the icy grip of shame, which is why they keep up appearances on the outside, but on the inside are hurting and dying a thousand deaths.  A load of guilt has kept them hostage.  They are ashamed because they feel they have not lived-up to others’ expectations of them.  And that sense of not measuring-up has enslaved them.  
            But here is what makes Good Friday good.  This good news, the greatest story of all, of Christ’s crucifixion tells us that Jesus not only bore our guilt, he bore our shame.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of God.  Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart (Hebrews 12:2-3).  Because Jesus did not allow himself to be bound by any shame, he freely took our place.  He took on the shame that should have been ours – the cruelty, the rejection, the mockery, and the sheer humiliation of shame – he took it all for us.  And since Jesus became shame for us, there is no need for us to be ashamed of anything anymore.  Our addictions, our failures, and our sinful secrets were crucified on the cross with Jesus.  By faith in this substitutionary sacrifice on our behalf we experience real and genuine freedom.
            We are all to come to the foot of the cross and find forgiveness, love, and healing in Jesus’ name.  Christian author Richard Foster has said:  “By living under the cross we can hear the worst possible things about the best possible people without so much as batting an eye.  If we live in that reality, we will convey that spirit to others.  They know it is safe to come to us.”  Good Friday is good because it frees us from our pride and self-centeredness and allows the new community of Jesus-lovers to help others break their bondage to shame and guilt.
            Grace is neither just a word, nor simply a nice idea – it is a powerful spiritual reality to be lived and experienced.  Today is the day of salvation.  Today is the day of forgiveness.  Today is the day to let go of our crushing burdens and tell our secrets in Jesus’ name.  Today is the day to rid ourselves of bitterness and the petty nursing of grudges against others.  Today is the day to repair that damaged relationship and apologize for being such an obnoxious and stubborn sinner.  Today is the day of salvation.  Jesus is waiting for you with outstretched arms.  See the wounds on his hands and his feet – wounds that heal and bring new life.