A sermon by Harry Goodhew
Good morning. Today is Good Friday. Around the world people of different races, languages, ages, and stations in life are thoughtfully and prayerfully remembering the crucifixion of Jesus.
In some Church traditions, people will have been preparing for today for the last forty days observing the season of Lent. This last week is, in the Christian calendar, designated as Holy Week. Others will sing or listen to John Stainer’s Oratorio “The Crucifixion” with its words by J Sparrow Simpson:
Holy Jesu, by thy passion, By the woes which none can share,
Bourne in more than kingly fashion By thy love beyond compare:
Crucified I turn to Thee, Son of Mary, plead for me.
So, let us this morning reverently recall how it is that Jesus brings his wonderful rescue to us and our world.
Listen to an extract of the account of our Lord’s crucifixion from the Gospel of Matthew.
Then the soldiers of the governor took Jesus into the governor’s headquarters, and they gathered the whole cohort around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on his head. They put a reed in his right hand and knelt before him and mocked him, saying, “Hail, King of the Jews!” They spat on him, and took the reed and struck him on the head. After mocking him, they stripped him of the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him.
And when they came to a place called Golgotha (which means Place of a Skull), they offered him wine to drink, mixed with gall; but when he tasted it, he would not drink it. And when they had crucified him, they divided his clothes among themselves by casting lots; then they sat down there and kept watch over him. Over his head they put the charge against him, which read, “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” Then two bandits were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left.
And 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?” When some of the bystanders heard it, they said, “This man is calling for Elijah.” At once one of them ran and got a sponge, filled it with sour wine, put it on a stick, and gave it to him to drink. But the others said, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to save him.” Then Jesus cried again with a loud voice and breathed his last. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The earth shook, and the rocks were split. (Matt. 27:27-31; 33-38; and 46-51)
There is horror here: the cruel and agonizing suffering of death by crucifixion. There’s the bitter mockery involving a parody of a profound truth about kingship. And there is anguish, resignation, and hope expressed in the terrifying words drawn from Psalm 22.
As a scene of human suffering one would want to turn away. Who would want to watch it? Only those drawn by love for the victim, or those motivated by animosity, or those whose job it was to do these sorts of things and for whom constant repetition had benumbed their finer feelings.
But other eyes were watching and they saw something altogether different.
Of this scene of horror, the Apostle Peter later said at the memorable Feast of Pentecost in Acts Chapter 2:
Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. (Acts 2:22-23)
There was, and is, a Divine perspective on the events of Good Friday, a perspective that we must recognize and personally embrace. It was what God accomplished in what happened that day, rather than the actions of human beings, that is of lasting and eternal significance.
What God purposed and accomplished in the death of Jesus is expressed in numerous passages of Scripture. These have given rise to a variety of ways of looking at and explaining the meaning of Jesus’ death: each with its own important emphasis. However they all find eloquent and faith-generating expression in the words of John:
God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. 10 In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. (1 John 4:9-)
One of the Church’s great teachers wrote:
… in Christ he (God) offers all happiness in place of our misery, all wealth in place of our neediness; in him he opens to us the heavenly treasures that our whole faith may contemplate his beloved Son, our whole expectation depend upon him, and our whole hope cleave to and rest in him. This, indeed, is that secret and hidden philosophy which cannot be wrested from syllogisms (human reasoning). But they whose eyes God has opened surely learn it by heart, that in his light they may see light (Psalm 36:9)
A modern writer has said:
The death of Jesus of Nazareth as the King of the Jews, the bearer of Israel’s destiny, the fulfilment of God’s promises to his people of old, is either the most stupid, senseless waste and misunderstanding the world has ever seen, or it is the fulcrum around which world history turns.
Christianity is based on the belief that it was and is the latter.
So, as you and I look at the cross of Jesus again this Good Friday what are we to see? To see it for what it truly is we need first to see what is says about us.
Why, because, by nature, we are enslaved to sin and disobedience. As the New Testament says we are “children of disobedience” and therefore “of wrath”: of God’s proper reaction to our rebellious and destructive nature and behaviour. There was no way we could save ourselves from that just and deserved recompense.
The cross says, however, that God loved us so much that he provided a sacrifice to cover eternally our sin and to avert his judgment. Prefigured by the animal sacrifices of the Old Testament, Jesus the perfect God/ Man gave himself as our substitute and representative. So, we look again today at the cross and say, “that was for me”. There God has dealt with all my sin. It is perfectly covered. I am free of it all”.
Thus, made right with God he has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts. He has given us new hearts and taken away our hearts of stone so that we will walk in his ways and keep his commandments. Through the cross and by God’s Spirit we are reborn as God’s daughters and sons.
Equally profound is the victory that God won over all evil in the death of Jesus. Just a few hours in front of television, radio, or with our newspapers give us as all the evidence we need that evil is real and is present and active in human society. Whether we speak of moral or natural evil, life on our planet is deeply affected by it, in deed riven with it. Yes, there is good but there is profound evil. The Bible says that on that Good Friday God triumphed over evil. It did its worst in Jesus and came off totally defeated. One day we will see the fruits of the death of Jesus in a new heaven and earth in which there will be no evil. As the Bible says, “We are saved in hope”, that is, in eager expectation of that glorious day.
To look at Jesus dying on the cross is to become aware that standing with Jesus may at some point be a costly exercise for us. It is for many people in the world at the present moment. We can only pray that if and when that happens, God will give us what we need to be faithful to him. But looking at the cross and the love it expresses to us may enable us to love bravely in return.
Good Friday says to all: Jesus Brings Rescue. Charles Wesley put that rescue into song with the words:
He breaks the power of cancelled sin, He sets the prisoner free;
His blood can make the foulest clean, His blood availed for me.
Accepting for ourselves what Jesus did does truly set us free. It frees our guilty consciences. It frees our hearts to sing. It frees us from self-centredness to serve the purposes of God and to serve in whatever ways we can the temporal and eternal good of people around us. St. Paul gave us a sentence we can adopt for ourselves: “… it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20 NRSV)