20 Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew, in Latin, and in Greek. 21 Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Do not write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews. ’” 22 Pilate answered, “What I have written I have written.” 23 When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. 24 So they said to one another, “Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.” This was to fulfill what the scripture says, “They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.” 25 And that is what the soldiers did. Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son.” 27 Then he said to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home. 28 After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfill the scripture), “I am thirsty.” 29 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. 30 When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
Jesus’ Final Week: Good Friday
It’s may seem weird to you that–as we have adorned the sanctuary with the green of the palms–that we now turn our attention to the cross. Usually the church tasks the little ones with waving the branches down the isles, only to lay them around the chancel. At which point, the rest of the service contains great rejoicing at the entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem–which we have already covered in this series–with only veiled references to what is to take place once Jesus enters Jerusalem.
It goes like this: “The crowds have heard of this amazing Nazarene and they show just how amazing they think he is–though they will soon turn their backs on him. Jesus rides in on the donkey and the foal of the donkey so that the scripture would be fulfilled through this, God’s only begotten son–who will soon be slain.”
Or something like that…
Traditionally, this is how the observance of Holy Week is typically kicked off, right? If you are even used to the typical observance of Holy Week. There’s Palm Sunday, followed by Maundy Thursday (an observance of the Last Supper, Good Friday (the crucifixion) and we finish all that off with Easter (the resurrection).
How many of us have been to a mid-week church service lately? How many of us have plans to take Thursday night and come in to partake in Holy Communion and recognize the importance of that night and meal? How many of us have plans to come in on Friday night for an observance of Good Friday? Honestly, unless it’s Christmas eve and we have the next day off anyway, we have little desire to do these sorts of things.
I am not here to rag on you for that. That’s not my purpose for bringing these things up. My reasoning for bringing this up is point out the unintended consequences.
Let’s look at how the typical church-goer, then, experiences the events of Jesus’ final week. If they make it on Palm Sunday, they see the “hosannahs” and “blessed is he’s” accompanied by the palm branches. They have the crucifixion alluded to them, but they really go right on by it to be spit out in front of the empty tomb. They came face-to-face with the reactions of Mary to the angels claims that the one they are looking for is not there. It’s the majesty of God triumphantly defeating death. The reminder that God did it because he loves you, and a tepid call for you to approach the altar to give your life to God.
Professional evangelists refer to those as decisions.
Assuming most churches stick to a traditional script–or one that follows these usual Easter landmarks–this means that the typical Christian doesn’t experience the crucifixion. Let me be clear: no one has been asked to. What I am saying is that it would be very easy for the typical believer to skip right over the biblical account of the crucifixion.
I don’t know if this was one of the goals of this movie, but I think The Passion of the Christ was one way to respond to this type of thing. That movie became such an underground success with the Christian crowd, and remains so to this day. In fact, I showed it at the last church I served as part of an attempt to create experiences in the church–outside of Sunday morning.
In my own personal opinion, The Passion–as imagined by Mel Gibson–went too far. There isn’t biblical evidence which supports the gore Jesus suffered at the hands of the Romans in the film. I have seen this movie quite a few times–first time was actually in the theaters–and about once a year since it’s release. After seeing the metal tangs of that Roman whip dig into Jesus’ side and rip his flesh out into the faces of the others who were beating the life out of this man, it changes your perception of the crucifixion. I have noticed, though, that I have become overly sensitized to the violence–like any number of us have become desensitized to any other violence in any other movie. So much so, that I watched it last year while I was finishing some conference paperwork.
So, we don’t want to just brush over the Good Friday and get to the good parts of the Lenten/Easter season. Also, we don’t want to dig in so much as to distort what the day is about–or desensitize ourselves to it. Let’s, then, look at the day from Jesus’ perspective.
Look, first, at the genuinely human moment Jesus has in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if it be your will, let this cup pass from me.” In the whole debate over Jesus being fully human and fully divine, this would have to go under the “fully human” column as prime evidence. You could say Jesus has been preparing for this his whole life. When the time comes, he recoils as if to say, “if we don’t have to to do this, that’s alright with me.” But he finishes his prayer/plea by saying, “yet not my will, but yours.” Beyond his doubts, he commits.
His decision made, he prepares to endure the torrent which is about to beset him. The betrayal by Judas is followed by the trial before the Sanhedrin–where he is condemned for the crime of blasphemy. Once Peter denies him, he is set to go before Pilate–who is so scared by who he is and what the people want to do to him. The same people who were shouting his praises just a few days earlier, are now calling for his death. Given the choice, they choose a criminal be released over Jesus–the same one who had healed their loved ones in the temple days earlier. He is beaten, berated by guards, given over to the murderous mobs, made to carry his own cross, nailed to it and left to die. All to fulfill prophecy and God’s desire to reconcile man to himself. And the church calls it “good.”
Of course, there’s a reason for calling it “good,” which has to do with the whole thing. Jesus’ death, when matched with his resurrection, is the key to how God reconciles humanity. Jesus’ death carried with it the weight of sin for all mankind, for all time–as we are told. His resurrection was God saying that I have the final word when it comes to the power of sin over your life. That is why they call it “good.”
To so many, however, it doesn’t seem so good. To some it seems “bad.” Others might call it mean. One prominent atheist–and hence many more–have called it “cosmic child abuse.” Why would an all-powerful Being need to allow his son to be torturously killed so the rest of humanity can go live in a mansion in the clouds? This is what some critics might say.
However, I am willing to say–pretty confidently–that there are some sitting here today who have their doubts as to how “good” they believe the crucifixion to be. They don’t go as far as to say the crucifixion is “cosmic child abuse,” but the idea that God can only forgive us if Jesus does this thing is so much to wrap their head around. They keep their opinions to themselves in Sunday School. They quietly question the faith they have come to know and have doubts about.
There are thousands of people sitting at home right now who have gone through this. The idea that Good Friday had to happen is too much. Some who are still in the church are holding on because they have come to enjoy the fellowship and nearly everything else they have come to know and love about living a faithful life, but they just don’t get Good Friday–the crucifixion is a mystery.
So, I propose we look at this in its simplest terms. About 2,000 years ago, there lived a man. He began a movement by caring for the lowliest and poorest among us. He showed compassion and love to nearly everyone he met. As for the others, he spoke truth in an attempt to show them the error of their ways.
For a guy raised in a small, backwoods town, this would have been enough. However, he felt he was called to do something more. He thought he was supposed to be a sacrifice. A grand display of love born from an act of the basest form of violence and evil. Maybe he was unsure; maybe he wasn’t. He struggled with the decision, but ultimately came to the decision that he needed to die. Not for any other reason than he felt that the world somehow needed it. His love for this world led him to take a punishment relatively few have ever taken.
Doesn’t that display of love deserve our attention? Arguably, this event is the most important in the course of human events. Doesn’t this warrant your faith in something? Love? Goodness? Pureness of heart?
Most of us sitting here know this story and have believed every line since we were old enough to know what the word crucifixion means. Some of us may have began to doubt. This is the harder of the two.
The love and goodness of this Nazarene led him to do something that has survived throughout the centuries. In his mind, there was doubt, hesitation and fear. There was also love and resolve. That’s why we have to see this event up close and personal. We really shouldn’t just brush past it. It is only through seeing and knowing the pain that we can come to know the joy we can have as a result.