“Jesus Made It Good”
Good Friday – April 14, 2017
Isaiah 52:13—53:12; Psalm 22:1-17, 26-30; Hebrews 4:14-16, 5:7-9; John 18:1- 19:42
At our Maundy Thursday dinner last night, Sally Covey whispered in my ear: “Stephen has something to ask you.” So, I sat next to Stephen and he said: “Jesus was dead on Friday, right? Well, why is the day called ‘Good’ Friday?” That was a profound question.
When I first became a Christian and began to think about these things, I also asked myself the same question: “Why was Jesus being murdered and buried a good thing? Jesus, such a good man. We walked the Stations of the Cross last night and some people realized for the first time just how brutally Jesus was mistreated, even before he was crucified.
The day after his death was a Friday, his first, full, calendar day lying dead in a tomb. His followers are crushed, dis-spirited, operating in fear of also being arrested and killed, and left wondering, “where did it all go wrong? Now, all hope seemed gone.”
Good Friday? Why is it called ‘good’?
In Church History, Good Friday developed as a day for the express purpose of commemorating the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. But, why is Good Friday called “Good”? How could something as gross as crucifying a man on a cross be considered good?
I realize that most of you have already dealt with this issue to your own satisfaction, but what would you say to Stephen – or someone who was brand new to the Christian faith, or to someone who was exploring Christianity, if that person said, “Why is Good Friday called ‘good’?”
If someone were here for the first time, or after only a few times in church, and they listened to the scripture lessons,
What Would They Have Heard?
From Isaiah they heard about a man whose appearance “was so disfigured beyond that of any human being and his form marred beyond human likeness” (52:14), who was despised and rejected by others, a man of suffering and infirmity, a man from whom others hid their faces (53:3). He was a man who carried our diseases and infirmities, who was struck down by God and afflicted.
He was wounded because of my errors, crushed by my sin, and punished to make me whole. I wouldn’t have thought it was ‘good’ that someone was wounded, pierced, punished, oppressed, afflicted, slaughtered, crushed with pain by the will of the Lord, taken away by a perversion of justice, and killed because of me. Even in his death he couldn’t rest in peace because His grave was with the wicked. I would feel guilty – I do feel guilty. I didn’t ask anyone to do that for me, did you?
Then from Psalm 22, there is a visual description of a man being crucified, and it’s more horrifying than Isaiah. This man is crying out to God in his distress and God is not answering. If I am new to the faith how would I think of God after hearing that?
This man is described as a worm, scorned and despised, laughed at in his agony. This was a man who trusted God completely and still ended up on the horror of a Roman Cross: he was poured out like water, his bones were out of joint, his heart melting from the pain, his mouth dry as dust. His hands and feet were pierced. He is either so thin, or so stretched out that all his bones could be counted. In either case that doesn’t sound ‘good’ to my first-time ears.
He must have been stripped naked because his clothing was being divided up and taken away. How humiliating is that? He is a man who cries out to the God he trusted: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Is this what Christians call ‘good’?
Then I hear a lesson from Hebrews, and I’m really confused and (maybe) turned off. It has to do with entering some sanctuary through the blood and flesh of Jesus who “learned obedience from what he suffered” (:8). Is this how a loving father treats his son?
Then there is the gospel reading from John: Jesus is betrayed by a man named Judas, who must have known him. He knew his habits and where he would be spending the night. Jesus is arrested in the middle of the night. Was he that much of a threat to the government that it took darkness to overcome him?
After he is arrested there is a confusing series of interrogations, none of which seemed to protect his civil rights – did they have civil rights back then? Then I heard about one of his followers – Peter – who three times denied even knowing Jesus. Why? Was he that afraid? Well, at least he had the courage to follow Jesus and sit in the Priest’s courtyard.
Finally, Jesus ends up at someone named Pilate’s office. He was like the governor or a military commander, like the General in Afghanistan who just dropped the Mother of All Bombs. Anyway, the people who want to kill Jesus need Pilate’s permission, and he is reluctant to give it. He keeps questioning Jesus like he doesn’t really believe he is guilty and wants to find a political solution. He does ask a cool question though: “What is truth?” That’s what I want to know also. That’s why I’m asking, “what’s good about this day?”
Pilate wants to set Jesus free but, instead, the crowd keeps shouting for a criminal named Barabbas. Finally, this scary mob demands that Pilate crucify Jesus, and he caves to them and orders that Jesus be crucified. I don’t know much about crucifixion. I’ve see paintings, read books, and Christians are currently being crucified by ISIS in the Middle East. It is awful! I don’t get it, why would people want that as a symbol hanging around their necks? Is that a good thing?
I felt sorry for Jesus as I heard the words describing his crucifixion, his thirst, his death, the spear being stuck into his side; and breaking the legs of the other two guys so they would die faster.
What Is ‘Good’ About This Day?
What would you say to a Stephen, or the first-time visitor to a Good Friday Service, or to someone seeking to understand Christianity? Why is this ‘Good Friday’? It sounds like it ought to be ‘Black Friday’.
I don’t know if it is satisfying to hear that Jesus’ death was a means to a desired end orchestrated by God Himself. What would that end be? Maybe this: Jesus’ death was the means to the desired end of reconciling us to God. Would God go through such extreme means just to get me to talk to God, to explore the possibility of having a relationship with God? The answer is, “Yes!” But, Why?
Because, there is a missing part in every human that is uniquely spiritual. It is a critical part. Everyone is aware of it. It is a longing, a desire, a frustration, a yearning to be connected to something that gives life special meaning. It is the missing puzzle piece to the 1000 piece puzzle that so many of you have put together on a vacation at the beach or the mountains. Ultimately though, none of those pursuits completely fill that spiritual hole, or prove to be the missing part. Because, what’s missing is a relationship with God Himself.
When we read the Creation account in Genesis we read that after each of the events of creation God would examine it and say, “It is good”. The pinnacle of these creative actions by God was us. Isn’t that something? And, we were also “good”. It was so good that we enjoyed a face-to-face relationship with God, which we eventually ruptured by disobeying God. When we ruptured that relationship we fell from a state of grace and fellowship with God. In that original relationship, God was comfortable to ‘walk in the cool of the garden’ with us.
Now, we no longer live at the level where “it is always good” with God, our neighbors, nor ourselves. We humans have no ability in ourselves to bridge the gulf existing between us and God. Yet, we want to end up in Heaven, and God wants us to end up in Heaven, so how do we get back to “it is good”? God had a plan.
It was first hinted at in Genesis 3:15. God would use another human to undo Adam’s disobedience and the effect of sin. The Old Testament is the record of that struggle between God and Israel to keep them faithful enough to God until the Promised One could arrive. Finally, in the ‘fullness of time,” God sent a Son. Through a young woman named Mary God brought Jesus into Israel and the world.
Jesus Had A Destiny to Fulfill.
Jesus wasn’t born just to live. He was to live a certain life that bore total witness to the reality of God. Jesus put a face on the invisible God. He showed Him to be a God of love who cared deeply for the separation in relationship that exists between Him and Us. Disobedience is such a big deal with God that it takes a blood sacrifice to atone for that disobedience. You may not like that thought but it is true never-the-less.
Jesus had to die exactly the way he did, under those exact circumstances for there to be a path cut between earth and heaven upon which we, who believe in Jesus, can travel to get back to a face-to-face relationship with God.
Good Friday is not called good because of the awful things done to Jesus. However, the effect of those horrible things done to Jesus, his death and his resurrection, was to open Heaven for us and that is good!
Jesus paid the price with his own body. Through a relationship with Him we are blessed. In turn, God expects us to be a blessing for others; to help them also understand, and accept, the benefits of Good Friday.
At Holy Cross, we believe that every human soul is worthy of having a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Everyone God brings here will be welcomed in the name of the Lord who made it possible for us to know and love God. That’s a good thing! We invite any who are visiting today to consider whether God would have you join us in declaring and living this Good News made possible by, and through Jesus Christ. Amen? Amen.