Remembering Jesus’ Death
Good Friday services are the most unusual thing we do. Every year I am aware of its peculiarness.
Most people avoid funerals at all costs. Even there they try to keep the sunglasses on and maintain a hard shell that doesn’t show the least bit of vulnerability. Good Friday is particularly hard and uncomfortable.
Let it set in for a moment. We are remembering a person who died. That is not uncommon, we do it at the death of friends and family. We remember their lives, but on good Friday we recount the details of Jesus’ death. We just read the entire crucifixion story. How sadistic! People don’t get together and rehearse the moments of a person’s passing, the play by play of their last words, the hospital’s last mistakes, the harsh words said by relatives. We would be content to let those things pass into memory and simply remember the legacy of the person who died.
But to let the sufferings of Jesus pass without remembering them would be completely inappropriate, because the unique thing with Jesus’ death is this: He died for me. He took my place. As the Scripture says,
[But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. (Isa 53:5)
Good Friday presents us with a couple problems, and rather than avoid those I want to press into them.
It is said that “~(as long as people) persist in closing minds and hearts to pain, which surrounds us, we remain locked in an undeveloped version of ourselves, incapable of growth and spiritual insight.” Karen Armstrong. Bud. 31
When we push aside pain, hardship, and acknowledging deeper realities we remain undeveloped and incapable of growth and truly being human.
Good Friday tells us that
- Evil is Real.
Evil is real. We know evil is in the world. But we tell ourselves it will never come upon us. You may hope that God’s word would say something different, but it confirms this.
“Humanity has a problem. There are signs of it all over the world.” Phillip Ryken, Salvation p17.
Hate, murder, invasions, threats, murder, theft. All tell the problem.
The death and crucifixion screams at us that evil is in the world. If Jesus is who he says he is. If he is the sinless Savior of the world, one who never sinned, but came to show people the way of God and was killed by those who didn’t want to hear it; then you are reading the worst and most evil act of human rebellion ever.
We should not be deceived at what is in the world. Look how you see evil.
-Satan enters Judas. Satan is real. Evil is in the world. It can hold sway over our minds, our thoughts. Judas left the door cracked and look what came in.
And remember Satan didn’t stop there. After entering Judas he asked to sift Peter like wheat. 21:31
-Evil of the chief priests’ belligerent pursuit of Jesus began with bribing a disciple to betray his teacher. And it culminates in them inciting a crowd to shout crucify him when the leaders have searched and found nothing deserving of death in Jesus.
Evil in the crowd. Many in the crowd may not even know what the big deal is. They don’t care about justice. Perhaps they hated Jesus. Perhaps they just didn’t want to be bored for the day and found it intriguing to call for a man’s crucifixion.
-Evil in the governor. Pilate recognizes Jesus is innocent. He does nothing. Nothing to condemn him further. Nothing to set him free. Can’t look at people seeking to kill an innocent man, do nothing, and be innocent yourself. Pilate is complicit and responsible for his action. Thinks he can go back to his coffee and cigarette like nothing has happened.
-The guards mock Jesus. Beating him to the point of his skin coming off. Blindfolded him and asked the prophet to tell who hit him. To them it is just another assignment, and they want to get done with their shift.
-The thief on the cross probably went through life putting others down and that is how he justified his stealing from them, now nailed to a cross he continues putting others down to make him feel better about himself.
-And where are the disciples. No where near Jesus. Fearless Peter dropped back because a young girl questioned him and now he keeps a safe distance from Jesus. Not egregious. But how do you feel when your closest friends abandon and ignore you in your darkest hour.
-Even the brutality of the cross says something of evil, it is repulsive, and ways are invented that when all reason fails to deter evil, perhaps brutality at last might.
-And we have to point out the triumph of evil. Jesus dies. For his disciples this was unthinkable, unimaginable. The one who walked on water, fed thousands, rebuked the wind and waves never even puts up a fight. Not one single miracle on this night. Evil wins. There are times in this life where evil conquers… for a time. We cannot observe Good Friday without an eye to Sunday. But you have to let this settle for a bit. Jesus died. It was a complete defeat. There are times evil prevails.
There are times we pray and pray… and our friend dies of cancer. Where the marriage ends. Where the baby does not live. Where the adversary wins. Where God’s hand is strangely absent. Wonder if he is paying attention. Wonder if he cares. Wonder if he is able.
There are problems in the world. They hit us in the face when we read the death of Jesus. But the problem goes deeper too.
- Evil is Within Me
“The fault dear Brutus, is not in our stars, but in ourselves.” Julius Ceasar, Act 1, scene 2.
Evil is much easier to deal with when we define it with specific actions that we have never done. I never took silver from the Pharisees. I didn’t betray Jesus in the garden. Or perhaps with egregious actions like murder. I’ve never killed anyone! I’ve never killed anyone. Evil becomes much more painful when it is defined in terms of attitudes and dispositions.
The great question of who killed Jesus must be asked. In this passage, who killed Jesus. Everyone gives an excuse. Yet all contributed. And that is where we see our own guilt.
Detective Poirot would say they all did it just like on the Orient Express.
But rather than cast stones at them we have to reflect that we see the same in our lives. How many times have you been indifferent to doing right, how many times have you overlooked the hurt of another. How many times did you choose to lag behind in God’s plan hoping he wouldn’t notice or perhaps just wouldn’t need you that bad. Felt God would understand the immense sacrifice required by you to obey him. Had a lot of stuff to do. We have done everything they did.
Just as the crowd parted and Jesus’ lovingly stern eyes met the fearful eyes of Peter right after he denied his friend, so also God sees through all that we do. All the good excuses are parted, sifted and ground up to nothing. He sees our evil for what it is.
Even more as we see our guilt we are reminded God doesn’t let sin slide. The crucifixion tells us that. It tells us that evil is real and must be punished. It tell us God is just and punishes.
If an insensitive joke gets your slapped. And your slap gets a 10 year ban. Then what is the punishment for slapping God? Surely there is a consequence to my poor decisions and actions. And it is– death.
We feel awkward at funerals because we become aware how close death walks beside us and we know our own mortality. Good Friday tells us there are problems in the world and it is also inside of us. We have to square with our own mortality but also with our own failures before God.
- Evil is Overcome.
Evil is real. It is present. It is in us. But we also see it overcome.
Jesus never stoops to handling evil the way evil might handle itself. No foul words. No degrading comments. Firm conviction. And love in his voice.
Though Satan asked to sift Peter, Jesus prays for him. Doesn’t berate the devil or go on a tirade. He simply prays.
Even in his death he is praying for others. Don’t weep for me but for your children (23:28).
His last words are not words of vengeance and retribution, not the wicked witch of the west’s vengeful words, “I’ll get you my pretty.”
Perhaps no one saw evil more for what it was that the sinless Savior. Perhaps that’s why he could hang in excruciating pain, having his skin peeled off from the blows he received, betrayed by his Sunday school teachers and abandoned by his disciples, and he still says,
“Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (23:34).
Are you kidding me??? After all that has been done?? After all the rejection, the ignoring, the distancing, the complacency, the outright spit in your face hate you, and he prays for my forgiveness??? Is it possible? Because if that can be forgiven then surely any other sin could be as well.
Even in death it seems as though Jesus is fully in control. He is laying down his life for people who reject him. The greatest evil in the world is turned into the greatest source of good.
He is going to overcome it. We read knowing the end from the beginning. But since he suffered in our place we do well to remind ourselves what he accomplished for us. He looked in the coldness of our hearts, saw us at our worst, and still loved us and knew what he could turn us into.
God has a plan of salvation. Satan has a plan of destruction.
There is no sin greater than the blatant rejection of Jesus. We are complicit in his death. It was our sin that put him there. And he shows his incredible love that would overcome evil. His death takes the punishment we deserve. Even our worst, most heinous sins can be forgiven.
We remember it!
In just a short period of time, the first true sound of the resurrection will show just how far Jesus triumphed over evil. He is raised again, showing his sacrifice is accepted, his actions approved, and a way to life secured.
It is quite interesting that his death and burial take place on the same day. And the next is the Sabbath. A day of rest. By law his people, his followers could do nothing on that day. They rested. Silenced their hearts and lives. They were not able to move on with life and distract themselves with the greatest duty in the world. To consider what had been done for them. Rest in obedience 23:56. Quiet, waiting.
It’s a good thing for us to simply take time to reflect on what we heard. Can’t just go jump on email and act like it never happened. Can’t just brush it aside. Acknowledge it from a distance. Stand in silence. That would be to continue in our sin.
If we are going to experience his salvation and understand it, we have to open ourselves to the pain he felt, the evil he endured, the significance of our own sin. You would never take a medicine that you do not believe you need. Soften your hearts, open the door for the Lord to work. Stopping keeping your defenses up and healing away.
Jesus breaks that down. Calls us to hear it, see it, pay attention to it, take it in, and be healed. We can acknowledge our own evil, faults and failures and know we are still loved.
- Where do you see evil at work in the death of Jesus?
- Which characters or parts remind you of your own sin and evil?
- What parts of his death and burial give you hope to experience forgiveness?