It is a day of prayer, fasting, confession, repentance, and reflection on the sorrow of the cross.
It is good, because of death, Jesus’ death.
It is not a “happy-go-lucky” kind of “good.”
It is a redemptive good.
It is a reflective good.
It is a soul-searching good.
It is good, because it prepares us for Easter Sunday. You cannot experience the JOY of the RESURRECTION without reflecting on the SORROW of the CROSS.
I am preparing for two services today. Our church will host a noon-time community worship service as a part of the SAMA’s Holy Week services. (SAMA is the Sumter Area Ministerial Association based here in Americus.) We will then hold our annual Good Friday Service tonight at 6:30. I am humbled that a few pastor friends will be in attendance.
My message tonight grows out of reflections from this week. Here are my thoughts on the cross for this Good Friday.
The death of Jesus was a shock to his followers. His original twelve disciples left their families and gave up business to follow Jesus who they thought was their king.
Earlier, James and John, the Zebedee brothers, had asked Jesus to give them places of honor in the kingdom Jesus would build on earth. Jesus replied… “You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” (Mark 10:38 NIV)
“The cup” was not the sweet wine of victory, but the bitter cup of suffering.
“The baptism” was not with water, but with torture and ultimate death.
They just didn’t get it. They didn’t know what they were asking…
On the night when Jesus was arrested, the Bible says: “Then everyone deserted him and fled” (Mark 14:50 NIV).
When Jesus was arrested it was dark, not only because it was NIGHT, but because Jesus felt the coldness and darkness of abandonment and rejection.
We worship Jesus as God
And he is a God who understands human suffering.
Have you ever felt abandoned?
Have you ever felt rejected by someone you loved?
Have you been cheated on?
Have you been lied to by someone who said they loved you?
Have you felt betrayed by your friends?
Have you ever felt isolated?
Have you ever felt alone?
You are not alone, Jesus really and truly understands what you are going through. He doesn’t merely understand, because he is God and he knows everything. Jesus understands, because on the day of his death, he felt the same rejection, the same isolation, the same feeling of being forsaken.
After nails were driven into his hand and feet and he had suffered bleeding and dying on a Roman cross, he felt as if even his own Father had forsaken him. Out of his agony of body and soul, he screamed: My God, my God why have you forsaken me?!? (Mark 15:34)
At the cross, where were the crowds?
Where were the crowds of people celebrating his entry into Jerusalem?
The haters were there.
The soldiers were there.
Where were the ten lepers he touched?
Where were the crowds he fed?
Where were the people he healed?
Where was the woman with the issue of blood?
Pilate was there.
The criminals were there.
The religious leaders who felt threatened by him were there.
His mother was there weeping.
Where was Nicodemus?
Where was Peter’s mother-in-law?
Where was Peter for that matter?
In addition to the cruelty and excruciating physical pain of the cross, Jesus experienced the loneliness and agony of abandonment and rejection.
The English word “excruciating” comes from the Latin word excruciates, which has two Latin roots ex, meaning “from” and crux meaning “cross.”Excruciating literally means “from the cross.” It appeared in the English language in the sixteenth century to express the meaning of intense pain and anguish.
Jesus had a real human body and so he felt real physical pain, excruciating pain. But Jesus also had a real human soul and so he felt real emotional pain, the despair of a soul that had been forsaken and rejected.
He fulfilled his own prophecy:
The Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Luke 9:22 NIV)
The death of Jesus is not the testimony of a revolutionary dying for a cause.
Many revolutionaries have come and gone.
His death is not a story of inspiration to motivate us to live a life of self-sacrifice. Many inspirational stories have come and gone.
The cross is the pinnacle of both human history and the climax of God’s salvation history.
Jesus suffered rejection at the cross for our sin.
He suffered the rejection and abandonment we deserve.
The penalty for sin is not just physical death, but the second death, a death after death. Jesus called this place hell.
What makes the wrath of hell so awful is not the flames and fire and heat, but the reality that God is not there.
God’s ultimate punishment for sin is not sadistically torturing people with fire, but completely abandoning us and turning us over to our sin if we choose not to repent.
The Bible uses a number of metaphors to describe hell:
o Fire and brimstone (Revelation 14:11)
o Lake of fire (Revelation 20:14)
o A place where not even worms die (Mark 9:46)
o Tormenting flame (Luke 16:24)
But maybe the best description of hell is simply “darkness.”
Jesus tells a story of a master who gave his servants a bunch of money and one of them did nothing with it. The Master called that servant “worthless.” Then the master said, “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30 NIV)
What makes hell horrible is that God is not there.
Currently, everyone experiences God’s common grace. He power and presence in sustaining all he created. It is hard for us to really understand God’s common grace, because it is all around. It is by his grace we have air to breath, sunlight, rain, vegetation, gravity, relative social order, etc. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17 NIV).
In hell, God’s common grace is removed. It is an empty and lonely eternal existence of abandonment and rejection that will torment all who choose to remain in their sin.
At the cross, Jesus suffered the hellish wrath of abandonment for us. He became our substitute. His act of sacrifice became a way for us to be rescued from our sin.
Romans 5:6-9 NIV You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.  Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die.  But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.  Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!
May your Good Friday be sorrowful and may your Easter Sunday be a celebration!