This post is an annual event I usually post on Maunday Thursday to lift up tomorrow being Good Friday and what it now means to me. The original posting was also on a Thursday eleven years ago. I reflected on this eleventh version of this Good Friday morning from within the chaos of a world more confused than ever. The story never really changes, and the confusion only seems to deepen. I may edit a bit as writers do to keep it current, but I appreciate it more every year. Good Friday can slip by too easily amidst preparations for celebrating Christ’s resurrection on Easter Sunday. His ultimate return is even more significant this year than ever before. We are seeing signs of the Last Days, notwithstanding wars and rumors of wars, nation against nation, and the hangover of COVID-19 and variants. Hatred is running at an all-time high. What better time to be prepared for His return?
That said, if we had not been gifted by what He did for us on Good Friday over 2,000 years ago, the bunnies, plastic grass, and colored eggs would be all that matters on this Easter Sunday. I hope those of you who are reading this for the first time (or again) feel the increased appreciation for Good Friday as I have, and I welcome those of you here who are reading Happy Easter!
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It was Thursday night. Jesus had just broken bread and given it to his disciples to represent His body, the wine, His blood. Later that evening, they left the upper room and walked to the olive grove called Gethsemane, where Jesus sat three of His disciples down and urged them to keep watch as he went deeper into the grove to pray. He took Peter, John, and James with him for a short distance before asking them to sit and wait while he walked deeper into the grove and fell to pray. In Matthew 26:37, Jesus is described as being sorrowful and deeply distressed. Who wouldn’t be? Especially having the knowledge of what would happen to him and the agony he would have to endure. All that suffering to come seemed obvious, but I never considered His agony’s trustworthy source.
Here again, why not ask God to stop this craziness and avoid the suffering to come? In verse 39 of Matthew 26, He prays, “Oh my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.” And he prays in this manner three separate times. “Then an angel appeared to Him from heaven, strengthening Him. And being in agony, He prayed more earnestly. Then His sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground.” [Luke 22:43] What kind of agony was He experiencing? Indeed, it was agony but not the ultimate misery we miss in the chaos of the suffering he experienced.
I have always believed He was in the garden agonizing over the suffering of impending torture, public humiliation, and painful death by crucifixion. With His prayers asking not to drink from the bitter cup, I never considered “the bitter cup” was really not representing the agony of the crucifixion; it was something so much greater and more significant to us all.
There was something else troubling him – Fear. Not fear of dying because that is why He came to the earth in the first place. Not fear of the pain of crucifixion either. His greatest Fear was that His mission would fail – His mission to die as the Son of Man… instead of the Son of God. He had to die as the Son of Man because it was the sin of man he was destined to take on. Oswald Chambers writes of this, and I had never considered it before. True, He was God, but He was also a man, and He had to die as the Son of Man, or His earthly mission would fail. Opting out of that role and into the heavenly protections afforded as the Son of God would represent a failure, and fighting the temptation to go there caused great fear. But still, there was another agony that haunted Him, and there was no escape.
And then they showed up to seize him and in John 18:4…Jesus, therefore, knowing all things that would come upon Him, went forward and said to them, “Whom are you seeking?” He was talking to the mob armed with clubs and swords that had come to arrest Him. He already knew. He had been betrayed by one of His own. He knew it would happen like that and expected it.
Something else we missed was Judas’ motivation. He did not hate Jesus, he loved Him, but His love was based on Jesus being a warrior, not a pacifist. He fully intended for Jesus to rise and call on God to crush the Roman occupation, and when that never materialized, Judas tried to force it by turning Him over to the authorities. Surely, that would serve as a catalyst to launch a military campaign as a warrior.
Okay, back to the garden…so an angel had strengthened Him, and now He boldly walks up to the mob, knowing fully who they were and why they were there. If you saw the “Passion of the Christ,” you know what happens next; absolute agony until He gives up the Spirit on the cross at 3 PM on Good Friday. But that is the agony we all know about. There was another much more intense agony to Jesus that gets glossed over by the distraction of the gruesome details and the accounting of torture and death by crucifixion. We do not witness it until He dies on the cross.
Sunday morning, I will have my routine breakfast omelet and too much coffee, review a story outline, and research for a new book underway. Maybe, I will sit back around 9:00 AM Friday and take a moment and wonder if the hammering had stopped by then. Over two thousand years ago, my Lord Jesus…was pierced for our rebellion, crushed for our sins. He was beaten so we could be whole. He was whipped so we could be healed. [Isaiah 53:5]
And He walked right into it. He had choices. He could have defended himself. He could have played the role of the Son of God and called legions of angels to rescue Him. He was tempted one last time to turn away when he prayed in Gethsemane the night before. But He found strength in His Father God and embraced His Father’s will instead of His own. And yet, He was not a servant to God; He was God, is God, and yet He was also a servant to us. He was the Son of Man. There was nothing beautiful or majestic about his appearance, nothing to attract us to him. He was despised and rejected – a man of sorrows, acquainted with deepest grief. We turned our backs on him and looked the other way. He was despised, and we did not care. [Isaiah 53:2-3]
So many turned away. The multitudes that shouted “Hosanna!” earlier in the week when He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt were the same ones who loudly called out, “Give us Barabbas!” and “Crucify him!” a day later. They turned away when He did not behave as the warrior they hoped He would be. It is so easy to turn away and be part of the crowd. We perpetuate the turning away even today.
Jesus did not fight back. He did not defend himself. He kept quiet when confronted by the high priest Caiaphas, He plied Him with many questions, but Jesus gave him no answer. [Luke 23:9] and displayed what was seen as constant weakness. Yet it was our weakness he carried; it was our sorrows that weighed him down. And we thought his troubles were a punishment from God, a punishment for his own sins! [Isaiah 53:4] How could so many have been so wrong?
He ensured agony through His actions and His ultimate choices. Again, I’m not talking about the physical torture and the excruciating pain of being crucified; I am talking about that moment of separation from His Father to be the Son of Man. That was the essential part of the deal. To accept the burden of sin for all humankind was the moment His Father, our God, turned away, separating from Him when He drank from the bitter cup to accept our sin. And Christ cried out, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” [My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?] [Matthew 27:46]. That was the agony we missed.
The entire event had been prophesied; Christ quoted the first verse of the 22nd Psalm, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me. Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” [Psalms 22:1]
I could never understand why Jesus would question His Father like that. His cry came from an agony none of us will ever know…because of what He did for us. The weight of the sin of every one of us was borne upon Him at that moment, and His Father had turned away in His hatred of sin. Could there be a more significant moment of agony from complete separation from His Father God than that? Could there be a greater agony for a man who lived a perfect life only to experience the crushing weight of all the world’s sin while nailed to a cross? He took that on for all of us, and then He died taking all of it with Him. Yes, He died for me…for all of us.
I doubt the sun will darken around noon this Friday for three hours as it did then. I doubt the earth will shake, and we will likely miss the significance of the temple veil ripping down the middle. At 3 PM, when His suffering finally ended, what will show up in our lives and remind us that our sins had just died with Him? I wonder where I will be and what things of this world will be distracting me then.
Life these days is busy. It is frightening. War in Ukraine, crazy inflation, and hatred of each other terrorize our lives. It is easy to forget whether Sunday represents group celebrations or not or whether we attend a church service. After all, this murder went down over two thousand years ago. The sharp edge of those memories that pained the hearts of those who witnessed His suffering back then is blunted for us by time. Who among us could ever imagine that shocking emptiness that must have filled the hearts of His followers back then? Who could blame the Disciples for scattering, running in fear for their lives? Jesus dying on that cross had to have been seen as an epic fail in their eyes.
There will be no shock factor of that magnitude disrupting our weekend festivities, especially this year. Why spoil a holiday remembering that He suffered for the better part of an entire day before dying for us?
We need to remember. We cannot allow ourselves to forget, or we will turn away and let that memory slip away. There can be no more turning away.
We all have the free will to choose to remember…or not. We all have the free will to turn away. I turn. I am broken. I turn every day. The world and the enemy pursue me and welcome my turning. Turning away is the easiest way to fit in with this world. But… methinks the time has come to stop turning away. It is time to choose differently. Time to remember.
Welcome Christ into your heart and your life on this Good Friday, and remember that He did not turn away from you…from me…from any of us. We were the ones to turn away, but we can turn back in His mercy and grace. It’s time to turn.
Join me in thanking God that tomorrow is Good Friday, and through the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of His Son…for us…we have something to turn toward – something to remember.