Saturday, April 15, 2006

Reflections on Good Friday

Last night my family attended our church's Good Friday service. In past years our church has not had a Good Friday service, so I've only been to one twice before, at other churches. It was a very quiet, reflective service, more so than the other two I have attended. It almost seemed like a vigil, with the lights dimmed and the candles lit at the front of the sanctuary. The music was quieter than usual, and almost all the words spoken were scripture readings or corporate prayers. As a congregation we read through old testament and new testament passages of the crucifixion, ordered by the seven words of Christ upon the cross. After each, we prayed together and then sang a hymn. It was a time for humility and reflection. Easter in all its celebration will come soon, but Good Friday is a time to focus on the sufferings of the Christ, before we focus on His subsequent glories. Suffering is necessary before glory.

In America, Easter has become largely the Easter Bunny's holiday, but even amongst conservative Christians who do not "celebrate the Easter Bunny", the events of Holy Week are glossed over in the celebration of Easter. Good Friday is often a blip on the timechart of our salvation. We invite friends or neighbors to the Easter services, when we are all happy and joyful (rightly so) as we celebrate the defeat of death, but a close look at the suffering of our Lord is more uncomfortable for us, so most churches either don't have Good Friday services or they are sparsely attended. We are comfortable with the resurrection, but the crucifixion makes us squeamish. We can talk about Jesus dying for us, but then we want to quickly move on to the joy of the resurrection.

A few weeks ago my pastor preached on Christianity Without the Cross, taken from Mark 8:31-33. Next to the sermons he preached on the Pharisees (see posts here and here), this was possibly my favorite sermon he has preached since he was installed a few months ago, though I unfortunately won't have time to recount much of it here.

The passage for the sermon tells of Peter's own distaste for talk of the sufferings of Christ. As evident throughout the gospel of Mark, Peter would much rather speak of Christ's subsequent glories than his sufferings. Mark, Chapter 8 (ESV):

31And he began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders and the chief priests and the scribes and be killed, and after three days rise again. 32And he said this plainly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. 33But turning and seeing his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, "Get behind me, Satan! For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man."

Peter's problem is my problem as well. I admit that meditating on the events of Good Friday is not my favorite task. How can we fully appreciate His grace to us, though, unless we first understand, even to a small degree, the pain that my Savior had to endure for my sins and the sins of all who would believe? Like Peter, I would rather focus on the exaltation of Christ and His love and goodness. I'd rather not have to believe that my Messiah has to die for me, after all I don't really need that much help, do I? I'd rather Him remain the glorious King and the Good Shepherd.

Christ loves us and came to help us become better people. He will never let anything bad come our way. If we follow Him our lives will be rosy. God is a God of love and kindness. Jesus came to die for everyone because He doesn't want anyone to go to hell. God loves you just the way you are, so trust in Him.

Even those of us who don't hold to the Health, Wealth, and Prosperity gospel are like Macbeth in Shakespeare's play. We want to hold on to half-truths like the ones above because they give us hope by our definition and they make us feel good. We are assurred that we will triumph, but we triumph our way as we help God clean ourselves up. I'd be more comfortable with the gospel if Jesus came to help me become more like Him, but Christianity isn't about Jesus coming to help us become better people. Admitting that I need a Messiah so much that He had to come and die for me without my help is hard. When Christ died for me I was his enemy. I would never have chosen God if He had not chosen me. I was spiritually dead without Him; I wasn't drowning, I was dead!

I am never so aware of the penalty of my sin than when I meditate on the cross. I don't mean the cross in the flippant sense we often speak of it, wear it, or sing about it; I mean the cross and the torture that Jesus endured with love and compassion - the gritty details. For an unpretty look at the details of a crucifixion, I suggest reading this post on Mrs. B's blog. It's not nice, but it's part of the story of what Jesus did for His children.

It is easy to accept the love of Christ, but harder to accept the wrath of God, though both are an integral part of God's perfect nature. In the cross we see the wrath of God poured out on Christ, as He stands in our place. We see God's perfect Son speak with forgiveness, compassion, and love as He is in utter agony. It is hard to accept that it was necessary because of my sins - Do I really need a Savior that bad? Yes, I do.

In my eyes, the most difficult and poignant part of the crucifixion story is not the moment Christ's hands are pierced, or when He breathes His last, or even when He shows forgiveness to His persecutors. It is the moment when God the Father turns His back on His beloved Son, when Jesus utters, My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? I cannot even begin to understand the rejection that Jesus felt at that moment, when He, who was the perfect Son of God, was abandoned by His Father. I am the one who should have been abandoned, I am the one who should be rejected by God.

I'm forgiven because you were forsaken.
I'm accepted, you were condemned.


Hell is horrible not because of the torture, flames, thirst, beatings, or any other truths or speculations regarding that place of endless torment; Hell will be horrible because God will not be there. Hell is a state of permanent abandonment by God. To atone for our sins, Christ had to be abandoned by the Father. Suffering was not enough, dying was not enough, rising from the dead was not enough. The Father had to pour out His full wrath on this Spotless Lamb, and He had to turn His back on His Beloved Son.

That realization is to me more horrible, more discomforting, more sobering than all the other details of the crucifixion. In the Father's abandonment of His Son we see the full justice and wrath of God, and the weight and consequence of our sin. It's not a pretty picture, but it's part of the glorious story of God's love and provision for us. It's part of the story of His salvation of His people.

The good news is that the crucifixion and the Father's abandonment of the Son is not the end. After enduring death and rejection, Christ defeated death when He rose again on Easter! Together, the crucifixion and resurrection are the Good News. Separate, they paint an incomplete picture; Good Friday and Easter are the story of God's redemption of His people. Easter without Good Friday is meaningless.

Long ago He blessed the earth
Born older than the years
And in the stall a cross He saw
Through the first of many tears

A life of homeless wandering
Cast out in sorrow's way
The Shepherd seeking for the lost
His life, the price He paid

Love crucified, arose
The Risen One in splendor
Jehovah soul Defender
Has won the victory

Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again

Throughout Your life
You felt the weight
Of what You'd come to give
To drink for us that crimson cup
So we might really live

At last the time to love and die
The dark appointed day
That one forsaken moment
When Your Father turned His face away

Love crucified, arose
The One who lived the died for me
Was Satan's nail-pierced casualty
Now He's breathing once again

Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again

Love crucified, arose
The Risen One in splendor
Jehovah soul defender
Has won the victory

Love crucified, arose
And the grave became a place of hope
For the heart that sin and sorrow broke
Is beating once again

Love crucified, arose
The One who lived and died for me
Was Satan's nail-pierced casualty
Now He's breathing once again

- Michael Card

6 comments:

Mrs.B. said...

Great post! And thanks for linking to me.

On one of my comments my good friend, Mrs. R, talked about what you mentioned about God's turning His back on His Beloved Son....and she also mentioned Christ enduring all of our sin being put on Him......AMAZING!

Lydia said...

In my eyes, the most difficult and poignant part of the crucifixion story is not the moment Christ's hands are pierced, or when He breathes His last, or even when He shows forgiveness to His persecutors. It is the moment when God the Father turns His back on His beloved Son, when Jesus utters, My God, my God, why have You forsaken me? I cannot even begin to understand the rejection that Jesus felt at that moment, when He, who was the perfect Son of God, was abandoned by His Father. I am the one who should have been abandoned, I am the one who should be rejected by God.

How can we fully appreciate His grace to us, though, unless we first understand, even to a small degree, the pain that my Savior had to endure for my sins and the sins of all who would believe? Like Peter, I would rather focus on the exaltation of Christ and His love and goodness. I'd rather not have to believe that my Messiah has to die for me, after all I don't really need that much help, do I? I'd rather Him remain the glorious King and the Good Shepherd.

Amen and Amen! Thank you for bringing out these excellent points.
I could have almost written the same words myself. I totally agree that it was the separation from his Father that Christ endured which was the ultimate torture for him as he was crucified. You don't see that at first glance when you watch a passion play or read the Easter story but it is at the pinnacle of what Christ endured in dying for us. An excellent book that brings this to light is, "Christ Our Mediator" by C.J. Mahaney. It has some timeless truths that are not familiar to many Christians.

Thank you for helping us to see the significance of what Christ did on the cross and how it impacts our lives. If I do an Easter post I may link to this. Have a blessed Easter weekend.

Susan said...

I've never heard of that book by C.J. Mahaney, Lydia, though I know of him - and his wife and daughters, via the Girl Talk blog. I probably should read some of his writings sometime, shouldn't I? I've heard a lot of good about them :).

Sherrin said...

I remember one time when I began to feel the weight of what it must have been like for Jesus to be abandoned by his Father, whom he had been intimate with forever. It would be like being abandoned by your own self. The weight of these thoughts was so great I could not bear to think of it for long. I agree with it that it is the most difficult and poignant part of the crucifixion story. Thank you for these insights!

Although I think you are right that we often don't think enough about Christ's death and its meaning, I also agree with the pastor of the uni Christian group I attended who said we often miss the resurrection out of the gospel. We tell people Christ died for them, but forget to say that he was resurrected for them that they too may become new people and be resurrected. The New Testmant emphasises the resurrection a lot, and we need to do so as well.

Susan said...

Sherrin, I think it's really all about balance, and you're absolutely right that we need to emphasize the resurrection! Both aspects are very important. I just think that Easter often glosses over the heaviness of Good Friday. Certainly we don't want to be too focused on death, to the detriment of the glory and promise of new life :).

Anonymous said...

I SO much enjoy Michael Card's "Love Crucified, Arose" song. The music and words are so glorious, and send my spirit soaring!

Lois