Scripture: John 18:1-19:42
“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” ~ John 19:30
They say hindsight is 20/20. Whether good or bad we can look back on past events and assess what went wrong, what went right, how we could have done things better, the good that came out of a bad situation and so forth. When I look back now on the hardest times of my life, the times when it felt everything was crashing down around me and falling apart at the seams I can see the good that came out of it, the growth I experienced, the grace I received from others and God. With hindsight, it is sometimes even easy to forget how challenging or bad those situations were, as the details fade into the past and only the positive effects remain.
As Christians, the way we view and understand the Crucifixion acts similarly. It is impossible for us not to view the Crucifixion without looking ahead to the light of Easter Sunday, or at least have it at the back of our minds; after all, we are a people formed by hope and promise of Easter. Without Easter, there would have been no Pentecost, no birth of the Church, and no two-thousand-year history of humanity’s struggle to faithfully follow our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
It is also important for us to remember that today’s events and the events we celebrate on Sunday are not in opposition to one another. Easter does not reverse or undo the pain and suffering of Good Friday, God didn’t need to fix a past mistake, or make the best of a bad situation, the two are intrinsically linked like two sides of the same coin. Just as we can’t understand the Crucifixion without Easter, Easter only has the cosmic, history-altering significance because it follows the Crucifixion.
As we mark Good Friday today, the day when Creation went dark as the very Son of God was crucified, bearing all the death and sin of the world, the light of Easter shines in the background, but it shines on the Cross like a spotlight, piercing through the darkness so that we might see more clearly the truth emanating from the rough-hewn wood of this torture device which becomes for us a symbol of God’s love and mercy.
This Cross in the spotlight is one of the most terrible, gruesome implements humans could dream up to punish another human being. For its time crucifixion symbolized the depths of depravity that humankind could go to, it represented the terrible power of the Roman empire that could impose its mighty will upon nations with impunity.
If we dreamed up a way of saving the world we would likely dream up something more heroic, more appropriate for the Son of God – it likely wouldn’t include the great saviour of the world, the Son of God naked, beaten, crushed, pierced, degraded and shamed for all the world to see.
But considering the world we live in – a world where Russia can indiscriminately bomb civilians in Ukraine; a world where the poor and marginalized suffered the brunt of the horrors of the pandemic; a world that we continue to pollute and destroy with our wasteful living; a world where children are enslaved to make our cheap consumer goods or for the pleasure of evil men; a world where the number one priority is getting mine at the expense of others – considering this world, perhaps it was precisely the only way that God would save the world.
God knew the beloved Son would have to die. For God, this did not come out of the blue. The whole story of creation has been leading to this climax from the very first word. If you want to ask, “How bad off is this world really?” the answer is the cross. It’s that bad. It’s important to explain the cross. It’s important to understand the cross. It’s important to see how God orchestrated history to lead up to that cross. But none of that erases the cross.
Today we are reminded of the great weight of sin and death – a weight which we still feel even on this side of Easter. This weight of sin and death is the very reason our Saviour died such a shameful, degrading, humiliating death – a great debt requires a great payment.
Jesus, the very Son of God, deserved the greatest place of honour and glory – and yet for the sake of our world, for the sake of each of us, for the sake of you, God sent his very own Son to take the full weight of sin and death, the full weight of the humiliation, the full weight degradation.
Jesus bore the very antithesis of life so that we might never know the true sting of death, separated from God forever.
Jesus suffered the greatest humiliation, he took the place of greatest dishonour so that we might know life so that we might be exalted and know the honour and glory that God has prepared for God’s children.
Like the sun breaking through and dispelling the darkest storm, Easter’s light shines even today, it gives us eyes to see the truth of this day, it gives us ears to hear the good news that our sin has been forgiven, the truth that God has won the victory and death has been defeated, but that it was a terrible price to pay.
We’ve come here today to remember Jesus’ death. It’s impossible to observe Good Friday without still standing in the light of Easter. But if that resurrection light provides us with hope and a measure of clarity, it also serves to illuminate the cross like a spotlight. The cross doesn’t go away. It mustn’t. It reminds us this day how bad off we are.
But it reminds us, too, that even so, we’ve never slipped so far that God can’t still reach us. And he does. With nail-pierced hands, he reaches to us today. And once he does, nothing in this world can snatch us out of those hands or separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Remember that our God doesn’t explain away the death or the terror of this world. He doesn’t say that all things considered it’s not so bad after all. Instead tonight he shows us again that he has penetrated the darkness, and only so can he finally rescue us from it. If you can see that in Jesus’ cross, then this Friday is a good Friday after all. Amen.