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Editor’s Note: I don’t often write a full manuscript when I’m asked to speak (unless its a wedding). Tonight I had the honor of giving the message at Shoreline Community Church’s Good Friday gathering. To keep within the time slot, I wrote it all out. Seemed like a shame not to publish it here 🙂
We’re here to commemorate what can, without any exaggeration at all, be called the darkest day in human history: the day Jesus Christ was crucified, dead, and buried.
We celebrate a cross, a crown of thorns, and the brutal, violent, bloody torture and death of a man whose most notable crimes were healing the sick, raising the dead, and touching the untouchables.
We recall a night filled with betrayals, mock show trials, and angry mobs. We look back to a hill called “the place of the skull” where three men were impaled and displayed publicly so the entire community could watch them die a slow, agonizing, excruciating death.
And we call that “Good Friday.”
By most measures, this could not be called a good day. It wasn’t a good day for the closest followers of Jesus, who within the next few days will be scattered, broken, lost, and disillusioned. It was not a good day for anyone who had dared to let themselves believe that this Jesus was telling the truth, that He had really come from God with a message of love, forgiveness, and new life.
As they were walking along the seven mile road from Jerusalem to the tiny, insignificant village of Emmaus three days later, two of those followers met a stranger who asked them what had happened. They laid it out for him:
“Jesus of Nazareth,”…“He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.”
“We had hoped.” Everything they had believed is now proven to be a lie. Their plans for the future evaporated. The very foundations of their lives shattered. It’s an admission of defeat, bound up in regret, sorrow, and longing. “We had hoped.” Past tense.No longer.
Ever had a Friday like that? Or a Monday? Or a Tuesday? If we’re honest, most of us would say we’ve been to that seven mile road where dreams end. We’ve had that kind of Friday. The day you realize that no matter what you do, how hard you try, it isn’t enough. If we’re telling the truth, deep in our hearts we all know that something isn’t right with this world – with us. We know there is a problem, that we’re a million miles away from how things were meant to be. And it’s crystal clear on this kind of Friday.
The Friday when that person you love is taken away from you. The day when you’ve betrayed your best friend. When your family abandons you. When you’ve broken someone’s heart. The day you learn that son or daughter or husband or wife isn’t coming home. The night it hits you that everything is falling apart, and it’s all your fault.
“We had hoped.”
God saw our Fridays. He saw the limitless beauty of the world He created consumed in chaos and death. He saw us, His children, so far from His home we could never find our way back. He saw us lost in our fears and failures. He saw it before he hung the stars, before He rolled out the universe.
He knew something had to be done, and He was the only one who could do it. So He made a tree to hold His son’s broken body. He looked across the vast expanse of time, and formed this Friday.
Romans 5 (MSG)
Christ arrives right on time to make this happen. He didn’t, and doesn’t, wait for us to get ready. He presented himself for this sacrificial death when we were far too weak and rebellious to do anything to get ourselves ready. And even if we hadn’t been so weak, we wouldn’t have known what to do anyway. We can understand someone dying for a person worth dying for, and we can understand how someone good and noble could inspire us to selfless sacrifice. But God put his love on the line for us by offering his Son in sacrificial death while we were of no use whatever to him.
In blood and sweat and tears and betrayal and mockery and sacrifice and death, God proves once and for all that He is for us. All of our fears and failures, our lies and murders, all the things we’ve done wrong that we meant to do – these he adds to the account of His perfect, blameless only Son, and sends Him to receive the death sentence in our place.
Romans 5 (MSG)
Now that we are set right with God by means of this sacrificial death, the consummate blood sacrifice, there is no longer a question of being at odds with God in any way. If, when we were at our worst, we were put on friendly terms with God by the sacrificial death of his Son, now that we’re at our best, just think of how our lives will expand and deepen by means of his resurrection life!
What joy! What hope! It’s forever settled – everything I’ve ever done was written on that cross before I was born, covered in His blood, buried in that tomb. My freedom is secured, mine for the asking. It’s the greatest Friday in human history – once and for all, in plain sight for all the world to see, emblazoned on our hearts and our history, God proves that He is all-loving and all-good. And three days later, on Easter Sunday, we see that He is all-powerful, that not even our greatest enemy, Death, can hold Him. He walks out of the tomb under his own power, leaving behind our broken past and announcing our bright future.
Imagine it. He walks from that tomb, clothed in life, holding the keys of death, Hell and the grave. He finds his way through the streets of the city, past the gates, and out to the seven mile road to Emmaus, where he meets two broken-hearted disciples, in the middle of nowhere, on the way to nothing. And he walks alongside them – and us – on their road – and on ours – and holds out hope, reception, mercy, grace, and new life to everyone who will simply believe it and receive it.
And that’s why we gather tonight to worship, to pray, to remember the body and blood of Jesus with the symbols of bread and wine. As the Apostle Paul said,
Romans 5 (MSG)
Now that we have actually received this amazing friendship with God, we are no longer content to simply say it in plodding prose. We sing and shout our praises to God through Jesus, the Messiah!
This truly is a good, Good Friday.