The Crucifixion and Death of Jesus hangs over us today as Christians. While many are running about and enjoying the day, the contemplative Christian gives thought to the fact that this is the day that the Church celebrates the sacrficial death of our Lord. If Good Friday had never happened, Easter would have never been possible. Our church has a Good Friday service every year. We will have it tonight, starting with silent prayer and meditation on the Cross at 6pm and worship, community Bible study, and Communion at 7pm. Our Easter service will be packed but our Good Friday service usually has about half the attendance. I've always wondered about that. If your church has a Good Friday service, what are you doing if you are not there? Are you going to the movies? How does Fast and Furious, the Hannah Montana movie, or Monsters vs. Aliens sit with you on the day that Jesus suffered and died for your sins? Are you home watching television? Are you giving any thought at all to what Jesus did and how it impacts your life? I am not trying to bang on people here. Maybe you are engaged in private observances (although, I always think that gathering with the community of faith is better). I know that sometimes people have to work, they are traveling, or there are other things that occur that are legitimate. I am not talking about that. I am talking about the Christian who goes through this entire day and doesn't give a thought to what Jesus did for him, yet gets dressed up for Easter Sunday and attends church. Sometimes, our biggest problem is that we just don't think about things the way we should. We want the glory without the cross and that leaves a skewed view of the Christian life in our minds and our practice.
We love the Resurrection because it is when the victory over death, sin, Satan, and hell was consummated. "He is risen!" "He is risen indeed!" But, we tend to turn away from the Crucifixion. We can't look at it. We don't like the tomb. It is too lonely, too inactive. The truth is, He suffered. He bled. He was mocked, beaten, persecuted, and abandoned. He took all of our sins upon Himself. "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" ~ 2 Cor. 5:21. The perfect Son of God became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God. Turn off the TV for a minute today and think about that. Worship Him. Bow before Him. He is worthy.
We don't meditate on the sufferings of Christ because we know that He rose from the dead and that is the part that we like best. The victory was won. Why meditate on the bad parts? That is over and done with, we say. Jesus suffered so that we would not have to, right? He took all our pain and suffering. Jesus paid the price so that we could have a great life, right? Uh, actually, we are called to join in the sufferings of Christ. When we meditate on Good Friday, we see how Jesus dealt with sin as our substitute, how he bridged our separation from God, and how He brought redemption. Then, we are called to live the same way. I am not saying that we'll be nailed to a cross (literally), but the Bible does say that we will suffer with Jesus if we really know Him. Think about this:
"And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." Luke 14:27
"All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved." Matthew 10:22
"Anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." Matthew 10:38-39
"Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven." Matthew 5:10
"Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me." Matthew 24:9
"But the Lord said to Ananias, 'Go! This man (Paul) is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." Acts 9:15-16
"I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection of the dead." Philippians 3:10-11.
"Now I rejoice in what was suffered for you, and I fill up in my flesh what is still lacking in regard to Christ's afflictions, for the sake of his body, which is the church." Colossians 1:24
That is just the tip of the Biblical iceberg, so to speak. When we want the glory and not the cross, we fall into a false view of what God has done for us that actually leads us into the bondage of legalism. We think that Jesus' Resurrection guarantees us a good, happy, prosperous life. Some even go so far as to say that the Atonement took care of all of our sickness, poverty, and any struggle that we might face. That is just not true. As long as we are in this body, we will have certain struggles and will be limited in certain ways.
16Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.
Yes, God heals. Yes, He gives us victory. Yes, He restores and makes whole and gives us incredible peace and joy. But, all of this is incomplete. Currently, we hope for the salvation that is to be revealed in us. The trials and troubles that we go through today actually have a redemptive work of preparing us for eternity by stripping from us our desire for the things of this world so that we will look to Jesus. Good Friday causes us to meditate on the awful price that Jesus paid for our salvation so that as we hope in this body and suffer alongside Him in this life, we do not lose heart at the trial that we are currently experiencing as though this life was all there was. Our suffering causes us to look to Christ. Meditating on how Jesus suffered for us actually causes us to cling to Him all the more and it strengthens us in our faith. This is the whole purpose of partaking of the Lord's Supper as partaking of the bread and the cup reminds us of what Christ has done as it also reminds us of our joining with Him by faith:
2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. 4In your struggle against sin, you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood. ~ Hebrews 12:2-4.
Finally, if we read Isaiah 53 we do see the amazing truth that because Jesus suffered as a substitute for us, when we suffer we know that we have an Advocate. We have a victorious Savior who went before us and took our pain and suffering upon Himself. When we face difficulties, trials, temptations, and sin, we think of the One who took all of that, bore the rejection for us, died, and rose again victorious, conqureing death, the powers and principalities, and taking God's wrath against sin for us as our substitute. We will suffer. We will be rejected for Christ. We will face hard times. But, Jesus has gone before us to bring us to God and sanctify us, body, soul, and spirit.
So, here are some questions for us to reflect on:
- What does the suffering of Jesus on the Cross mean to you? Why did He suffer and die?
- How does the suffering of Jesus impact your life today? What difference does it make that Jesus suffered for you when you face difficulties in your own life?
- Jesus suffered for the purpose of bringing sinners to God. We are told to join Him in His sufferings. Are you suffering because you aren't getting what you want out of life and it is upsetting to you, or are you suffering to bring the gospel to those who do not know Christ?
- In light of the Cross, how might you view your current sufferings? How can they bring you to Jesus?
I pray that each of you meet with the Lord today, either with your local church, or if you are separated from them, then in some other way. If you are traveling, find some Christians to pray with. If you are with your family, turn your eyes to Jesus today. Don't wait for Sunday. Look to the Cross and let it do its work in your heart.