Good Friday Service of Darkness — March 25, 2016 — Devotions begin at 27:00
FIRST WORD: Luke 23:32-34
“Forgive and forget” — so that saying goes. If someone wrongs us, we are encouraged to forgive them, and to forget how we have been wronged. But forgetting is hard. We have a brain with memories stored in a hard drive that cannot easily be erased. I may sincerely want to forgive, but I may still struggle with that because I just can’t forget.
If forgiveness is hard after the crime has been committed against us, just imagine how hard it would be to forgive while the crime is being committed against us.
I cannot imagine the pain of the nails that were driven through Jesus’ hands and feet, but I can imagine the revenge I would want to get on those who would do such a horrible thing. And so it shocks us to hear what comes from Jesus’ lips — not revenge, but forgiveness. He forgives his enemies as they violate him, he forgives these cold soldiers who in ignorance and callousness were “just doing their job,” and he earns forgiveness for those soldiers and for you as he hung on the cross.
SECOND WORD: Luke 23:35-42
If you have had the privilege of being at the bedside of a Christian loved one who is about to be called home to heaven, chances are you have seen something you wouldn’t normally see in someone about to face death: a calm person. I am not suggesting that a Christian will always or automatically be calm in the face of death. Perhaps it is valuable to distinguish between dying, the process, and death, the end of life on earth. Certainly we have reason not to look forward to dying, for it is the end result of our sinfulness. But as Christians we have no reason to fear death, for it is the entrance into eternal life.
In the beautiful promise of Jesus in his second word from the cross, we have the reason why we need not fear death. He turns to a criminal who shouldn’t have a prayer — figuratively or literally! This man can do nothing anymore to make up for his crimes. He has run out of time. He can only plead for Jesus to perhaps remember him.
What is Jesus’ answer to this man? “Today!” What comforting news, because not only does that mean his physical pain and torment will be done by the end of the day, but far more important is the promise that he would be with Jesus in heaven that day! “Today!”
What is Jesus’ answer to you? Where will your soul find itself after your last hour? There is no need to worry or wonder about what you have done. We rather look at what Jesus has done–a holy life lived for you and offered into death for you to pay for your guilt in full before God. Believe that good news, and then hear what he tells you: “Today!” Jesus says — whenever that day is for each of us, be it the day of our death or the day of Christ’s return — “You will be with me in paradise.”
THIRD WORD: John 19:25-27
There are two church holidays taking place today. One you know about (it’s the reason you are here today), but the other you probably don’t know about. If it were not for other pastors making this observation on social media this week, I would have missed this connection.
Obviously we are celebrating Good Friday today. But church calendars also set March 25 aside as the “Annunciation of Our Lord.” March 25 is nine months away from Christmas. And so, nine months before the birth of Jesus, Christians remember the announcement from the angel Gabriel to Mary, Jesus’ mother, that she would miraculously conceive and give birth to the Son of God. The convergence of these two holidays happened just a handful of times in the 20th century, it happened once before this century, and after today it won’t happen again until the year 2157, if the Lord allows this world to exist until then.
What a shock for Mary to learn that of all the women of the world, throughout time and location and history, she was the one who was chosen to be the mother of the Son of God! What an honor!
And yet, what a horror! For as much as it pains any of us to seriously look at the agony of the crucifixion, could it have been more emotionally painful to anyone than Mary? When she said to the angel, “May it be to me as you have said,” some thirty plus years before the crucifixion, could she have known that in time this would mean that she would witness her firstborn son suffering and dying a criminal’s death?
But even as Jesus suffered the agony of the cross, he was still concerned for his mother in her agony. Her other children, who at this point still think Jesus is a fraud, are nowhere to be found. We assume that Joseph is deceased and no longer in the picture.
When Jesus had so many heavier concerns bearing down on his soul, notice how concerned he is for his mother’s well-being. And in this precious moment at the cross, we see his perfect obedience to the second table of the law, the law of love for our neighbor — or in his case, his mother.
FOURTH WORD: Matthew 27:45-46
Jesus, the Son of God, always spoke about his Father in heaven. Every sermon he preached, every conversation he engaged in, every prayer he prayed, even the model prayer he gave us — everything speaks about or addresses his Father. Even at the cross, as his enemies nail him to the cross, he prayed that his Father would forgive them. As he is about to give up his life, he prays to his Father to receive his spirit. Every time I can think of, Jesus always addressed his Father.
There is one mind-numbing, bone-chilling moment during the crucifixion when Jesus did not use that term of family closeness, “Father.” He cried out the words in Aramaic, and Matthew provides a translation for his readers: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
This was no information-seeking question. This was a rhetorical statement with a strong message for you and for me and for all of humankind. In those words are this mind-boggling truth: God forsook God. God the Father turns his back on God the Son, and poured out the full fury for our sins on Jesus.
That questions should have been our cry–and not for a few hours of agony but for an eternity in the flames of hell. But in that blood-curdling cry of Jesus and is the incredible and comforting reality that because Jesus endured the full fury of God’s wrath for you, you will not! God forsook God on the cross so that by faith in Jesus you will never be forsaken by God in this life and especially in the next!
FIFTH WORD: John 19:28-29
If I am hungry, I open the refrigerator; I stop in at a restaurant; I grab a bite to eat. If I am thirsty, I open the fridge again; I pick up an iced tea somewhere nearby; I turn on the tap and get some water. Even in severe drought conditions, we Californians haven’t worried all that much about thirst.
The sweat and agony and blood loss surely made Jesus thirsty long before the cross. Yet he refused the mild pain-killing wine vinegar the soldiers offered him at the start of this horrific scene. Why? Because he had one task, one mission: to endure the full fury of God’s wrath on our behalf. And so nothing — not even a sip of pain-reducing sour wine — was to come between him and his mission.
But now, knowing that his work was complete, and to fulfill a prophecy in the psalms, Jesus asks for a drink. It is so simple that it seems insignificant. But it shows us that Jesus crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” and left no task incomplete in his salvation-work for us.
When you wonder where you stand with God, when you thirst for answers, look to the One who thirsted on the cross for you, knowing that he left nothing for you to do but to receive and be refreshed by the thirst-quenching nourishment and soul-satisfying feast that he gives you in his forgiving and life-giving Word.
SIXTH WORD: John 19:30
It is one word in the Greek New Testament: tetelestai. It is three simple words in English: “It is finished.” But in that simple word is a message of comfort that turns the blood and agony of Jesus into the most beautiful picture we can gaze on.
In some contexts, the word Jesus spoke could refer to a debt that had been paid in full. In other contexts, the word Jesus spoke could refer to a mission accomplished.
And in today’s context, are those not beautiful word pictures to describe what we celebrate? For in these words Jesus was not so much saying that his life was finished, or his sip of sour wine that was finished. Jesus’ mission was finished. His mission was accomplished. He had achieved and won the forgiveness of sins for the world that no one in the world could ever secure because of sin. He had paid the debt we owe to God in full, with no payments on principle or interest remaining! There was no more for him to do. There is no more for you to do. We only receive when God calls us to believe.
If John 3:16, the verse that now adorns our church’s side sanctuary walls, is the “gospel in a nutshell,” then perhaps this sixth word from the cross is the gospel in a phrase — “It is finished” — or the gospel in a word — tetelestai.
SEVENTH WORD: Luke 23:46
In the sermon during this afternoon’s service, I said that this could easily be called the most cataclysmic day in human history. God forsakes God on the cross! Jesus endures an eternity’s worth of punishment during the few hours he hung on the cross. An eerie darkness hangs over the earth, signaling the momentous mystery that is taking place. When Jesus dies, the earth shakes, the dead are raised, the temple’s curtain is torn in two, and the Roman solider at the cross concludes that maybe, just maybe, we are dealing with a divine being here.
In the midst of all this chaos, at the end of all his suffering, on this most cataclysmic day in history, something so simple and beautiful came from the weary lips of Jesus. He spoke to his Father again. He was no longer forsaken. He was victorious.
He committed his life to his Father, because he had given his life for you and for me. Jesus gave up his life with complete confidence that his soul would be received by his Father with approval of all his work — approval that would be demonstrated to all when the Father raised his Son back to life on the third day.
And so with Jesus’ final words and his last breath, he has sanctified our death. For we too can pray this same prayer with the same confidence that we may die with the Father’s approval — not his approval of our work, but his approval of his Son’s work done completely on our behalf.
God give us this confidence at the hour of our death, knowing that Jesus, who committed his life to his Father and rose again, will raise us from death to life and bring us to eternal life.