Why do we need this day? This day that we almost comically call, “good.” I mean where is the good here? There is nothing seemingly good about what happened on that hill called Calvary. An innocent man was killed. His followers scattered. His mother in tears. He was mocked not just by those who wanted him dead, but even for a time by those hanging and dying next to him. And, yet, every year we come back to this cold dark day, and we call it “good.”
Wouldn’t it better, wouldn’t it be more appealing, to get rid of these crosses, and the dripping blood, and the tears, and to just focus, concentrate, on teaching about how God is a God of love? But, that is just it, isn’t it? What happened on that hill, what happened on that cross is love. Take away the cross. Take away the blood. Take away the suffering, and you don’t have a God of love. And, so maybe, this is the question: Does what happened on this day, Good Friday, look like love to you?
On Good Friday, That man, Jesus, who performed so many miracles during his ministry didn’t look like a miracle worker. He looked weak and helpless. Stripped of his clothing. Stripped of his dignity. Bloodied. Beaten. Barely able to stand and now hanging on a cross. Jesus by all appearances had lost. Soon, he would die, but that wasn’t the worst of his fight, no, the worst we don’t see; we only hear.
For three hours Mark tells us that darkness was over the land. Torches were likely lit to provide some light, or perhaps not, as this darkness was unexpected. Either way, it was against this eerie dark backdrop that Jesus spent his final hours hanging from a cross.
Imagine that scene for a moment. Jesus suspended on the cross, naked and exposed to all the mockery of those who passed by, everything was against him. Many of his disciples had left him, his friends stood far away, the thieves hanging next to him railed on him, the soldiers below were more interested in his clothes.
And God? God was silent. No help came for his Son. No legions of angels. No swift retribution and judgment on the mockers and the crucifiers. Nothing like that came from the Father…only darkness. The Father had turned his face from his Son, even taking the light of day from him. I imagine it was quiet too as the world often seems to be when night falls. And in that darkness, in the quiet, we finally hear. A loud cry from Jesus – how it must have carried – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Forsaken. Jesus didn’t just feel forsaken by God, he was forsaken – God abandoned him – and it was hell. There on the cross God the Father withdrew his gracious presence from God the Son. There on the cross, God fought with God. Let that sink in. Here, on the cross, Jesus drank the full cup of the wrath of God, and his Father forsook him, yet Jesus did not forsake God. You heard his words; he called his Father “My God.” Though in hell, Jesus trusted God. This was the plan. The hour of our salvation. This was the way God chose to conquer the one thing we could not, sin.
And here is the thing about sin, in the book the Cross of Christ, John Stott writes, “The essence of sin is we human beings substituting ourselves for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for us. We…put ourselves where only God deserves to be; God…put himself where we deserve to be.” That is what happened there on that cross. God put himself where we deserved to be; he went to hell.
So it was that down the face of the Son of God a trickle of red – Jesus now so small, hurt, and defeated. Yet, there he stayed on that cross because he knew. He knew the pain sin had wrought in his Father’s once perfect creation. He saw it in all the sick whom he healed. He witnessed it in the greed of a close friend – greed which led to his betrayal and arrest. He wept over it at the death of Lazarus. He knew. He understood the cause of sin and what it would take to rid us and this world of it.
Every struggle we endure today. Every temptation that draws us from God’s loving arms. Every doubt that leads us to question our faith, our salvation. Every word said in anger. Every sinful thought of desire. Every action of pride and selfishness. Jesus saw its’ root cause, it’s you and me. There is no one else to blame. There is no other cause. It is us and that sinful nature inside of us. We are God’s enemy. We deserve his wrath, but we could never go there, to a cross. We could never save ourselves. And would we ever have thought to put ourselves there? To punish ourselves for our sins…I think we’d rather not. That is why, there in the darkness, it was Jesus – it could only be Jesus – he was the one forsaken.
He was forsaken by God for them, those soldiers gambling over his clothes. Jesus was forsaken for them, those passer-byers who mocked and heaped scorn upon him. He was forsaken for them, the leaders who wanted him dead and lied to kill him. And there he was also forsaken for you. All life-changing love entails an exchange, a reversal of places, and here was the greatest: God for you. God, in the place of ultimate power, reversed places with the liar, with the adulterer, with the murderer, with the thief, with the sinner…Friends, this is love.
He who had no sin suffered our hell, the hell of all sinners, to bring us to heaven. Jesus was forsaken so that we can never claim that God has forsaken us. Remember that. God loves you. Dark as our nights, God is always there. This torturous tree is a reminder of that, a reminder of a love we do not deserve, and it marks our lives. We cannot escape it. Our own crosses that we bear for him are gracious reminders of it. And it is this day, a day of death that we call Good Friday, that leads to a new day, one of life, but only after death.
Mark, he recorded that death that leads to life with one short verse, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” He died. Jesus died.
And, now, that cross on which Jesus died has been used to mark your head and your heart at your baptism, and it defines who you are every day – it’s why you’re here – and, one day, that symbol, that cross will likely stand over every single one of your graves. We are people of the cross because on that cross we see God’s love, and it is good, and we want nothing else.
So, today, we must confess with that centurion whose own eyes witnessed Jesus’ final breath, “Surely, this man was the Son of God.” God came to earth and we killed him. And yet he is the Son of God. Even dead and carried to his tomb, even buried in it, he is the Son of God, for me and for you.
He is the Son of God and he walked this lonely road for us. To pay a price we could not pay to buy us back from a sinful debt that would have left us damned for all eternity. Here Forgiveness was won. Forgiveness that is freely ours through faith in that man who breathed his last.
We might still tremble at the thought of hell, and often we feel the guilt of our many sins – how can we not? But may your trembling and may your guilt always bring you back here, to the cross. There you will find Jesus, or maybe he finds you. And his arms that once were stretched out in death now lay hold of you and bring you – sometimes kicking and screaming, sometimes bruised and bloodied, yes, at times even faithless and frantic – to life everlasting. He is the Son of God, and he is with us, and he is for us, and there is his love; it held him to a tree. And that love for a world lost in sin it included you.
So let’s sit here a little longer. Let’s take it all in, the suffering, the mocking, the crucifixion, our Savior’s last breath. He who saved others now dead. What does it all mean? That was likely the question running through the mind of Joseph of Arimathea in later verses of Mark as he took Jesus’ cold, lifeless body off the cross. What’s next? As he wrapped that body in linen and placed it in a tomb cut out of rock. Joseph had to wait to find out, but we, we can remember the words Jesus spoke before this all came about, hear them now and believe “Because I live, you also will live.” That makes this a good day. Amen.