Welcome, friends! In the New Testament Gospel of Luke 24:1-12, we find an account of women approaching the grave of Jesus, only to find an empty tomb. Today, people search for reality in all kinds of empty places. There is, however, hope, because Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Click the videos below and let us enjoy and be in awe that Jesus is alive!
May the glory and the promise of this joyous time of year bring peace and happiness to you and those you hold most dear.
And may Christ, Our Risen Savior, always be there by your side to bless you most abundantly and be your loving guide. Amen.
“My servant will succeed in his task; he will be highly honored. Many people were shocked when they saw him; he was so disfigured that he hardly looked human. But now many nations will marvel at him, and kings will be speechless with amazement. They will see and understand something they had never known.”
The people reply,
“Who would have believed what we now report? Who could have seen the Lord’s hand in this? It was the will of the Lord that his servant grow like a plant taking root in dry ground. He had no dignity or beauty to make us take notice of him. There was nothing attractive about him, nothing that would draw us to him. We despised him and rejected him; he endured suffering and pain. No one would even look at him— we ignored him as if he were nothing.
“But he endured the suffering that should have been ours, the pain that we should have borne. All the while we thought that his suffering was punishment sent by God. But because of our sins he was wounded, beaten because of the evil we did. We are healed by the punishment he suffered, made whole by the blows he received. All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him, the punishment all of us deserved.
“He was treated harshly, but endured it humbly; he never said a word. Like a lamb about to be slaughtered, like a sheep about to be sheared, he never said a word. He was arrested and sentenced and led off to die, and no one cared about his fate. He was put to death for the sins of our people. He was placed in a grave with those who are evil, he was buried with the rich, even though he had never committed a crime or ever told a lie.”
The Lord says,
“It was my will that he should suffer; his death was a sacrifice to bring forgiveness. And so he will see his descendants; he will live a long life, and through him my purpose will succeed. After a life of suffering, he will again have joy; he will know that he did not suffer in vain. My devoted servant, with whom I am pleased, will bear the punishment of many and for his sake I will forgive them. And so I will give him a place of honor, a place among the great and powerful. He willingly gave his life and shared the fate of evil men. He took the place of many sinners and prayed that they might be forgiven.” (Good News Translation)
We all suffer.
Whether a chronic physical condition, emotional or moral distress, mental illness, or spiritual oppression, everyone falls prey to this world’s pain and heartache.
The refugee, the poor, the oppressed, the lonely, the forgotten, the disadvantaged, the diseased, the distressed, and the displaced are just a few of the persons experiencing their own private pain, public humiliation, and an awful suffering.
Suffering that defies reason, the kind of pain which seems senseless, the type of hurt where nothing good appears to be going on at all, is all horribly troubling to the soul.
Perhaps it seems ironic, maybe even cruel, that Christians observe a day called “Good” Friday. Considering the adverse circumstances of so many people, to call today “good” appears awkward, as if Christ’s followers have their collective heads in the sand.
Even for Christians, “Good Friday” may seem a bit oxymoronic for a day observing the torture and death of an innocent man. Some argue that Christ is no longer on the cross, and so, 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.
The bulk of the New Testament Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are given 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 emotion on this day. It is appropriate to feel wonder, gratitude, and deep satisfaction for 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 so incredibly violent, hateful, 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 it will only leave us bereft of the communion of saints both past and present. Consider the ancient witness of the Church:
“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 whichthe world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Galatians 6:14, NRSV)
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; adversity and wholesale hard circumstances, all 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.
As for us, we have this large crowd of witnesses around us. So then, let us rid ourselves of everything that gets in the way, and of the sin which holds on to us so tightly, and let us run with determination the race that lies before us. Let us keep our eyes fixed on Jesus, on whom our faith depends, from beginning to end. He did not give up because of the cross! On the contrary, because of the joy that was waiting for him, he thought nothing of the disgrace of dying on the cross, and he is now seated at the right side of God’s throne.
Think of what he went through; how he put up with so much hatred from sinners! So do not let yourselves become discouraged and give up. (Good News Translation)
We are moving, step by step, inexorably to the cross of Christ. Along the way we will face opposition, ridicule, misunderstanding, and betrayal. We will be befuddled and feel confused. The path of discipleship is not easy.
And yet, on this Holy Wednesday, today’s New Testament lesson informs us that all the suffering of Christ was motivated and animated because of joy.
The road to the cross, along with the cross itself, is painful, in every sense of the word. None of this tortuous suffering seems joyful, at all! There’s no definition, in any dictionary, of joy including severe spiritual anguish, bodily harm, and emotional shame. Joy isn’t remotely mentioned when talking about betrayal from someone close to you.
Jesus did not relish the pain. He was no masochist. Pain with no purpose is nothing but tragic despair. Rather, Jesus clearly understood what the end of his suffering would accomplish: the saving of many lives.
It is most necessary that we do not try to sanitize Christ’s death.
Although many beautiful crosses can be found in stores, the cross of Jesus was anything but lovely to look at. It was bloody. The cross was a harsh implement of torture and execution, meant to expose the condemned to public shame.
Trying to make sense of this great sacrifice on our behalf can be difficult. No earthly illustration or word-picture can begin to adequately capture the idea of vicarious suffering. Perhaps, then, we may understand the necessity of discipline, effort, endurance, and yes, pain, in order to accomplish a goal. We know from agonizing experience that the realization of our most important goals requires a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears.
In a former life I was a cross country runner (back far enough for Sherman to set the way-back machine). Whenever I was running on a road or a golf course, I would sometimes get that very nasty and sharp pain in my side while running. It is called a side cramp, or side stitch.
If you have never experienced such a cramp, the pain feels like an intense stabbing, as if someone were taking a knife and twisting it inside you. Runners know there’s only one thing to do when this occurs: Keep running through the pain, and then it will subside in a few minutes. To stop running only exacerbates and prolongs getting over the hurt, not to mention losing a race.
Jesus endured the cross knowing he was going to experience terrible excruciating pain. He also knew that avoiding the shame and agony would only make things worse; it wouldn’t take care of the problem of sin.
Jesus persevered through the foulness and degradation of the cross for you and me. All of the wretched pain was worth it to him. Christ did not circumvent the cross; he embraced it so that the result would be people’s deliverance from guilt and shame, death and hell.
The end game of Christ’s redemptive work on the cross was joy over deposing the ruler of this dark world and obliterating the obstacles to people’s faith.
Suffering often does not fit into our equation of the Christian life. However, it needs to. No suffering, no salvation. Since Jesus bled and died for us, it is our privilege to follow him and walk with him along the Via Dolorosa, the way of suffering.
Holy Week is a time to reflect and remember on such a great sacrifice, and to consider our Christian lives in the face of such great love. On this Wednesday, allow yourself to feel the bittersweet experience of simultaneous pain and joy – the very real bitterness of seeing the Lord crucified, along with the exultation of joy over being washed clean by the blood of the Lamb.
Gracious Lord Jesus, I give you eternal thanks for your mercy toward me through the cross. It is a small thing for me to follow you even it means great suffering on my part. My life is yours. Use it as you will, through the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
After this I heard what sounded like the roar of a large crowd of people in heaven, saying, “Praise God! Salvation, glory, and power belong to our God! True and just are his judgments! He has condemned the prostitute who was corrupting the earth with her immorality. God has punished her because she killed his servants.” Again, they shouted, “Praise God! The smoke from the flames that consume the great city goes up forever and ever!” The twenty-four elders and the four living creatures fell down and worshiped God, who was seated on the throne. They said, “Amen! Praise God!”
Then there came from the throne the sound of a voice, saying, “Praise our God, all his servants and all people, both great and small, who have reverence for him!” Then I heard what sounded like a crowd, like the sound of a roaring waterfall, like loud peals of thunder. I heard them say, “Praise God! For the Lord, our Almighty God, is King! Let us rejoice and be glad; let us praise his greatness! For the time has come for the wedding of the Lamb, and his bride has prepared herself for it. She has been given clean shining linen to wear.” (The linen is the good deeds of God’s people.) (Good News Translation)
The past few years, it seems as if the world is upside-down. For many people, living on this earth has become something of a surreal experience of folks dying apart from loved ones, racism rearing its ugly head through microaggressions, as well as overt words and actions, and neighbors killed due to gun violence. The suffering is palpable.
However, things will not always be this way. There is coming a time when disease, death, and poverty will end. In the age to come there will be no more numbing grief, seemingly endless tears, constant oppression, grinding hardship, and silent suffering.
The day will arrive when, together with all saints past and present, and along with the angelic host, we will collectively shout, “Hallelujah!” The end of this present age will eventually come.
Time is nothing more than the relationship between events. When all events are ended, there will be no more time – only unending eternity in the presence of God. For the Christian, this is our hope and ultimate salvation. Our deliverance from sin, death, and hell will be complete.
So, we wait and watch, preparing ourselves for the consummation of God’s kingdom. Meanwhile, we are truly in an awkward time between the two advents of Christ. It is the already/not yet time. We are already saved, yet not fully; we are holy, yet not completely; we have our adoption papers as children of God, yet still wait for our celebration feast with Christ.
There are few times more impatient, agonizing, joyful, and hopeful than a marriage engagement. It’s as if two people are inextricably connected but not yet completely together.
I still remember the weird feeling of the six months between my engagement to my heart’s love and standing at the altar marrying my bride. Those months included every emotion imaginable, from exuberant happiness to agonizing waiting, along with hopeful anticipation and sheer nervousness.
It was a time, for me, of unique joy and unwanted suffering. Since I was separated by two-thousand miles from my beloved for most of our engagement, it was an unparalleled longing for the marriage to occur.
That is likely how believers have felt throughout the ages as they look forward to the second coming of Christ. In a period of hardship and even persecution, Christians long for their Savior – to be with Jesus forever and be shed of the world’s crud, the sinful nature, and the machinations of the devil.
In this present age, we have received the Holy Spirit as a sort of engagement ring, a constant sign and presence to help us until the marriage happens with Christ as groom and the Church as bride. Since we have not yet experienced this, it is difficult for us to anticipate just how incredible and inconceivable the coming age will be.
Yet, the Christian intuitively knows, by means of the Spirit, that the upcoming marriage supper will be a heavenly paradise – and so we long for it, especially in these days of uncertainty and difficulty.
Presently, the great harlot attempts to seduce the believers, if that were possible, away from Christ. However, along with all God’s holy angels, we will join in the heavenly chorus which continually sings, “Praise God!” to Father, Son, and Spirit.
The book of Revelation describes the end of history for the purpose of encouraging the saints of God in the present moment of hardship. God will, once and for all, destroy evil, and faithful believers will be united with Christ forever in glory.
So, as we plod through the Christian season of Lent, we do so with the anticipation and hope of Easter and new life. Because Jesus is risen from death, we gaze into the future longing for our own resurrection. Presently, we hold both suffering and glory together, the past and the future.
For it is the past redemptive deeds of Christ which guide us in the present and gives shape to our future. Christ shall return – and it will be soon.