Good Friday 2012
Luke 23:32-34 (NRSV) "Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals -- one on his right, the other on his left. 34Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." And they divided up his clothes by casting lots."
What sorts of prayers do you pray when you find yourself in trouble? Are they prayers for help; prayers directed to your own needs? I wonder how you respond when people hurt you? I mean really hurt you? Do you wish that you could get even? If you pray, do you pray the sort of prayer you hear so often in the movies or on TV: “May you rot in hell!”? It’s understandable if you do, I guess. It would have been even more understandable if Jesus had called out to his father in heaven to remember those who were doing such cruel things to him; those whose words must have stung as they jeered and mocked; Pilate who’d knowingly passed an unjust sentence on him; the soldiers as they gambled for the clothes they’d just torn off him, leaving him naked and exposed. But no. We’re told that he prayed for those who were hurting him, “Father forgive them!” In fact the sense of the Greek is that he went on praying for them. Even as they did their worst he was praying that God would forgive them. He understood far better than we ever will, why he was there; that his death was to bring forgiveness to those who are his enemies. The forgiveness that comes from Jesus’ death on the cross is for those who are most in need of it.
Do you worry about whether you’re good enough for God? Well that’s actually the wrong question. The right question is: are you bad enough to need God’s forgiveness? You see only when you acknowledge your need for forgiveness are you in the right state of mind to ask for it and to receive it. Those that Jesus prayed for didn’t know what they were doing, so they couldn’t ask for forgiveness. Yet in his love he prayed for them anyway. And here’s an amazing thing: Christ continues to pray for us even now. Rom 8:34 says: “Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.” His work on the cross is finished, but his work of intercession on our behalf continues.
As we think about that, let’s pause for a moment to think about those things we’ve done or not done for which we need to ask forgiveness. Then we’ll pray a prayer of confession and then sing what’s really a prayer reminding us that, undeserving as we are, Jesus invites us to come to him for forgiveness
Hymn: Just as I am without one plea
A Promise of Paradise
Luke 23:39-43 (NRSV) "One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, "Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!" 40But the other rebuked him, saying, "Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong." 42Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." 43He replied, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.""
There’s quite a contrast between the worldly wise criminal and the criminal with the softened heart. One can’t see beyond his own pain and loss. All he can do is mock Jesus for his claim to be more than the mortal being this crucifixion will show him to be. Or so he thinks. The other, though, sees beyond the obvious, beyond the present reality. He sees with the eyes of faith that there’s far more to this man than meets the eye. He may not be able to explain it, but he’s seen something in Jesus that requires more than earthly explanation. He’s seen something that the Roman soldiers will see after the event. With the eyes of faith he looks to Jesus and calls out “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” He understand that when faced with Jesus you must make a choice: to believe or to reject, between faith which leads to life, or rejection which leads to death; and he chooses faith.
[Faith. From The Unutterable Beauty G.A. Studdert Kennedy, Mowbray & Co, Oxford, 1986]
Behold Your Son (George Hemmings)
John 19:25-27 (NRSV) " Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother's sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, "Woman, here is your son." 27Then he said to the disciple, "Here is your mother." And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home."
Gathered around the cross were soldiers who crucified Jesus, the chief priests who mocked him, the crowds who jeered him. But we also find a few who truly cared for him including Mary, the woman who bore him. At the start of his public ministry, at the wedding at Cana, Jesus had addressed Mary, ‘Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.’ But now, his hour has come. Now he hangs on the cross, in great physical agony, engaged in the most monumental task ever to take place – the atonement for our sins. And yet, in the midst of this he draws breathe to ensure that Mary is cared and provided for.
As we’ve worked our way through 1 John, we’ve seen the repeated command to love God and love one-another. What a great example Jesus sets before us, as even in the depths of his suffering, his love is expressed through ensuring that Mary’s needs are met. He does this by entrusting her to John, the beloved disciple. Although John had abandoned Jesus along with the other disciples, he’s returned. John now stands vigil, along with the women, at the foot of the cross. And so Jesus declares that Mary is to be ‘adopted’ by John. And so we read from that day, from that very hour, John took Mary into his home, he cared for her as a son should. We can only imagine the comfort that these two people who loved Jesus so, provided for each other.
Hymn: Rock of Ages
Matt 27:45-46 (NRSV) "From noon on, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon. 46And about three o'clock Jesus cried with a loud voice, "Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?" that is, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?""
“Surely he hath borne our griefs.” Handel’s Messiah
Christ Jesus you were forsaken by your Father so that we might experience his acceptance; your body was broken and your blood shed so that we might be healed and made whole; you were faithful unto death so that we might be faithful unto life; your last command was that we might love one another, one family together, from every tribe and nation, a new creation united through your sacrifice, redeemed by your blood, healed by your love, united by your covenant of peace. In your death may we find life and in your example might we find inspiration
to give ourselves as living sacrifices for you.
John 19:28 (NRSV) “After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’”
One of the things we’ve noticed about John’s 1st letter over the past few weeks is that he seems to be addressing the question, “was Jesus completely human?” His firm teaching is that, yes, he was fully human at the same time as being fully divine. Of course there’s a mystery there that I don’t think we’ll ever fully fathom, but if we want some evidence of Jesus’ humanity at this moment, what more do we need than these words: “I am thirsty.” Death on a cross was perhaps the most cruel and painful method of death ever invented. It was torture and execution rolled into one. It involved a long gradual wearing down of the strength of the sufferer. Breathing became more and more difficult as the legs and arms lost their strength, The person would become more and more dehydrated as the heart laboured to keep the blood circulating, until the combination of the two resulted in their death, often after a period of days. So this cry of thirst from Jesus was a natural cry of someone suffering on a cross. He suffered like any other person would. Yet at the same time there’s something else in this cry. In Matthew’s account the 3 hour period of darkness has taken place just before this. Here we’re told that all was now finished. It’s almost as if this is the cry of one who sees the end in view. It’s impossible to use any human analogy for what Jesus went through, but perhaps we can get a feel for it by imagining a marathon runner who’s run to their limit and they turn the final bend, enter the stadium for the final lap, and a great sigh escapes their lips. They cross the finishing line and suddenly their legs give way. Or you might imagine a man who’s been involved in a car accident. He’s seriously injured, but as he looks around he sees his wife and child lying unconscious. So he walks down the road to call for help. The ambulance arrives and takes them to the hospital. His wife and son are treated and only then does he collapse from his own injuries.
Here it’s a bit like that. It’s as though Jesus has stood firm under all the suffering of separation from God, separation due to the sin of the world, and now that it’s over he can stop and notice his own suffering.
Hymn: O Sacred Head Sore Wounded
Finished (George Hemmings)
John 19:29-30 (NRSV) "A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. 30When Jesus had received the wine, he said, "It is finished." Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit."
‘It is finished.’ Not, ‘I am finished’ as though Jesus has finally been conquered and is beaten. No he cries out, ‘It is finished.’ It’s true that his physical suffering was at an end. The pain and the agony would soon be over. But there’s so much more to it than this. The other gospel writers record that Jesus cried out in a loud voice. This cry echoed out, just as it should. For ‘It is finished’ is a triumphant cry, as Jesus conquers sin and death.
And so there’s no greater phrase in the whole of history than this.
It is finished – Christ’s purpose for coming into the world has been accomplished.
It is finished – there’s nothing more for Christ to do.
It is finished – he has fulfilled all the demands of the Old Testament law.
It is finished – he has broken Satan’s power over us and the world.
It is finished – he has offered the one true sacrifice for sin, so there’s no need for any other.
It is finished – there’s no greater, no sweeter, words than these.
For ‘It is finished’ – tells us there’s nothing left for us to do. There’s nothing we need to add or contribute. Jesus doesn’t say, ‘I’ve done my part, now you need to do yours.’ No, he says ‘It is finished.’ We don’t have to worry if we’re good enough for God. It is finished – Christ has already done everything necessary to wash our sins away, to reconcile us to God, to win our salvation.
And so ‘It is finished’ – comforts us when we face the challenges, the difficulties, and the pain and suffering that we face in this world. It is finished – Jesus has already overcome the world. He has already conquered sin and death. He has already won the great victory. And so we don’t have to wait and wonder if good will triumph over evil. The battle is over, and Christ has won. We’re just waiting for the day when he’ll return and receive the crown. And as we’ve seen throughout 1 John, we’re in Christ and he is in us. So we too share in his victory. We too will be crowned with him. And so we can have confidence as we wait to enter the peace and the rest of heaven, for ‘It is finished’.
Into Your Hands
Luke 23:44-49 (NRSV) "It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, 45while the sun's light failed; and the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46Then Jesus, crying with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit." Having said this, he breathed his last. 47When the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God and said, "Certainly this man was innocent." 48And when all the crowds who had gathered there for this spectacle saw what had taken place, they returned home, beating their breasts. 49But all his acquaintances, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things."
It’s been suggested that there’s something of a parallel between the 7 sayings from the cross and the 7 days of creation. I’m not totally convinced about that but it is true in this respect: in creation the 6th day was the day on which God finished his work, and similarly the 6th saying is the cry of triumph: “It is finished!” Similarly in creation the 7th day was the day of rest, and here we find the 7th saying is a word of rest. Jesus, having finished his work, hands his life over to God the Father. Jesus is the only beloved Son of God, who, having submitted all to his Father’s will, now gives himself over to the Father’s care. He commits his Spirit to the Father and immediately dies, and it happens so suddenly and peacefully that the Centurion looking on is amazed. I guess this Centurion would have seen hundreds, even thousands of such executions but this one is different. So much so that he concludes that Jesus must have been innocent. Matthew actually reports him and his fellow soldiers as saying that he must have been the Son of God.
Finally, here is Jesus on the cross, still suffering untold pain, yet he’s still in communication with God. His communion with God isn’t lessened by his pain and suffering. If anything he’s thrown even closer to God, even more onto dependence on God. This is a lesson I think we could all learn. Sometimes we can think God is far from us when we’re in pain, when we’re lonely or unhappy for whatever reason. But even then those who are followers of Jesus can call to God as Father, just as Jesus did. John 1:12 tells us, “to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.” As God’s sons and daughters, we too can commit our spirits, in fact our entire lives, to God’s care, knowing that he can be trusted to look after us just as he looked after Jesus.
Hymn: Beneath the Cross of Jesus