I’m not real big on the idea of wordless sermons, but this one was pretty good. As I walked out the door of our church yesterday morning, I saw a young boy from the church preschool hugging the large aluminum cross in the courtyard. He was literally clinging to the cross. I said, “Thank you, Lord, that’s really neat.” Then it got even better. As I approached the boy to lead him back to his mother, he hid himself behind the cross.
Posts belonging to Category Cross
Why we celebrate Good Friday: Today Christians around the world celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus died on the cross. To many observers it seems a misnamed holiday. That first Good Friday seemed anything but good. Jesus was betrayed by one of his own disciples; he was forcibly arrested, falsely accused, grossly mistreated, illegally tried, and unjustly sentenced to death. His followers deserted him and fled. Peter denied knowing him.
Furthermore Jesus was innocent. He had done no wrong to deserve such punishment. Even Pilate, the Roman Governor, testified: “I find no basis for a charge against this man.” (Luke 23:4) And so on Good Friday we celebrate the execution of an innocent man who was abandoned by his friends and sent to his death on trumped-up charges. What’s so good about that?
To answer the question we need to go back to Jesus’ birth when the angel announced to the shepherds: “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ the Lord.” (Luke 2:10-11) Good Friday is good because it is the culmination of the good news that the angels brought to the shepherds that first Christmas morning. We have all sinned and broken God’s law. And therefore we are all in need of a Savior. Jesus came into our world to be that Savior, and he accomplished the work of salvation by dying on the cross for us.
The New Testament refers to Jesus as the “Passover lamb who was sacrificed for us.” (1 Corinthians 5:7) The Passover lamb was an animal without blemish or defect. In the same way Jesus is the perfect Son of God. When Jesus died on the cross, he was not dying for his own sins, because he had no sin. He was dying for our sins; he was dying in our place.
The good news announced by the angels at Christmas was fulfilled in Christ’s death for us on Good Friday. What’s so good about Friday? Jesus, who was born to be the Savior, completed his work of salvation on the cross. It was a good work, and God made a way of salvation for all who believe. “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Of course three days later, the story gets even better. But that would be peeking ahead to Easter!
It is not uncommon for preachers to compare Jesus’ arms stretched out on the cross to his arms stretched out in love for us today. I thought this was a more modern convention, but apparently the analogy goes back at least as far as John Calvin.
“God declares to us that Jesus Christ, who once had his side pierced, today has his heart open, as it were, that we may have assurance of the love that he bears us; that as he once had his arms fastened to the cross, now he has them wide open to draw us to himself; and that as once he shed his blood, so today he wishes us to be plunged within it. So, when God invites us so sweetly and Jesus Christ sets before us the fruit of his death and passion, . . . let us all come to take our stand with our Lord Jesus Christ.” (John Calvin, Sermons on Isaiah’s Prophecy of the Death and Passion of Christ, p. 82)
Thank you, Lord, for the wide open arms of Christ my Savior.
HT: Ray Ortlund
Here are two Good Friday poems by George Herbert, one of my favorite poets. As with all poetry, you will get the most out of the poems if you take them slowly and read them through several times, out loud if possible.
“GOOD FRIDAY” – by George Herbert (Notice how each stanza roughly resembles the shape of a cross.)
Oh my chief good,
How shall I measure out thy blood?
How shall I count what thee befell,
And each grief tell?
Shall I thy woes
Number according to thy foes?
Or, since one star show’d thy first breath,
Shall all thy death?
Or shall each leaf,
Which falls in Autumn, score1 a grief?
Or cannot leaves, but fruit, be sign,
Of the true vine?
Then let each hour
Of my whole life one grief devour;
That thy distress through all may run,
And be my sun.
Or rather let
My several sins their sorrows get;
That, as each beast his cure doth know,
Each sin may so.
1. score. Mark, as in counting.
“THE PASSION” – by George Herbert
Since blood is fittest, Lord, to write
Thy sorrows in, and bloody fight;
My heart hath store; write there, where in
One box doth lie both ink and sin:
That when sin spies so many foes,
Thy whips, thy nails, thy wounds, thy woes,
All come to lodge there, sin may say,
No room for me, and fly away.
Sin being gone, oh fill the place,
And keep possession with thy grace;
Lest sin take courage and return,
And all the writings blot or burn.
Source (for poems and footnotes): George Herbert: The Country Parson, The Temple (The Classics of Western Spirituality; 1981)
This question came up in church last week:
How much did Jesus know about the cross? How much did he know about what would happen when he arrived in Jerusalem? Did he know about all the events that would take place between Palm Sunday and Easter, or did he just have a general knowledge that he was going to suffer and die?
The person asking the question felt that Jesus’ determination to walk the road to Jerusalem would mean that much more to us if we could say with confidence that Jesus knew everything that lay ahead for him.
It is an interesting question, and theologically delves into the mystery of the incarnation. Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God who became fully man without ceasing at the same time to be fully God. Jesus possessed both a divine nature and human nature in one person. So how does one reconcile Jesus’ omniscience as God with his growth and development as a human being?
The Scriptures indicate that Jesus retained his divine omniscience even in the incarnation but chose not to exercise it at certain times. So where did Jesus get his knowledge of things to come? Some of his knowledge of future events may have come through his personal study of Scripture, some by direct revelation from the Father in prayer, and some by his divine attribute of omniscience. We find examples of all three of these avenues in Jesus’ life, and it may be that various combinations of the three contributed to his knowledge at different times.
As Jesus made his way toward Jerusalem and the cross, the Scriptures tell us that he knew many details of what lay ahead for him. He knew that he must suffer and be rejected, and that he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. (Luke 9:22) He knew that he would be betrayed. (Luke 9:44) He knew that he would be handed over to the Gentiles and that they would mock him, insult him, spit on him, flog him and kill him. (Luke 18:31)
Many of these things Jesus could have known simply from his study of the Scriptures. But Jesus also knew other details that would have required a different type of knowledge. For example, Jesus knew from the beginning who would not believe and who would betray him. (John 6:64) Jesus knew in advance that Peter would deny him three times. (John 13:38) And when the soldiers came for him in the garden, John tells us that Jesus knew everything that was going to happen to him. (John 18:4) He could only have known such things by direct revelation from the Father or by drawing on his omniscience as the Son of God.
So, how much did Jesus know about the cross as he walked toward Jerusalem? Did he know every single detail that would take place that week? Possibly, but we cannot say for sure. It is all part of the mystery of the incarnation.
But if we step back further in time, before his incarnation, Jesus most certainly knew every detail that would take place leading up to the cross. Drawing fully from his omniscience in his pre-incarnate state, Jesus knew everything that he would suffer in Jerusalem. Yet he still chose to come and die for lost sinners like you and me. He is “the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world.” (Revelation 13:8) How much did Jesus know about the cross? We may rest assured that when Jesus left the glories of heaven to come to earth, he did so with full knowledge of the cross and all that it would entail.
Here is a poem I wrote for Easter a number of years ago. I hope you enjoy it, and I wish you a very happy Easter!
“EASTER” – by Ray Fowler
Weave a crown of thorns; spit on love incarnate;
Stretch his flesh against the splintered surface and
Strike the nail’s head. Crushed for our sins,
The Savior breathes ever slower.
Breath of Spirit pierces the tomb’s dark chamber;
Blinding flash illumines the corpse now rising,
Standing, dancing, joyfully living love for
Those who had slain him.
Click here for technical notes on the poem “Easter.”
Click here for more poems by Ray Fowler.
“Joseph took the body, wrapped it in a clean linen cloth, and placed it in his own new tomb that he had cut out of the rock. He rolled a big stone in front of the entrance to the tomb and went away.” (Matthew 27:59-60)
Today is Holy Saturday. It is a day when Christians around the world find themselves caught between remembering the crucifixion on Good Friday and celebrating the resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is a day of mixed emotions. It is a day of waiting and anticipation.
It is good to remember that we are merely caught between the observances of these two days. On that first Holy Saturday, Jesus’ followers were caught between the actual events of Good Friday and Easter. They had to go through the full day with Jesus their Lord and Master crucifed, dead and buried. On Easter we celebrate the empty tomb. But on that holy and sacred day the tomb of Jesus was woefully full.
Jesus’ followers did not know that Easter was coming (although they should have!). We do, and that makes all the difference. We live on this side of the resurrection. On this Holy Saturday and every Holy Saturday we serve a risen Savior.
So let us rejoice in Christ who died and rose again. But let us also remember this day when Jesus’ body lay buried in the tomb. Let us feel for the disciples whose hope was buried along with him. And let us marvel at the incongruent wonder of God in the ground.
Here is a poem for Good Friday.
“GOOD FRIDAY” – by Christina G. Rossetti
Am I a stone, and not a sheep,
That I can stand, O Christ, beneath Thy cross,
To number drop by drop Thy Blood’s slow loss,
And yet not weep?
Not so those women loved
Who with exceeding grief lamented Thee;
Not so fallen Peter weeping bitterly;
Not so the thief was moved;
Not so the Sun and Moon
Which hid their faces in a starless sky.
A horror of great darkness at broad noon –
I, only I.
Yet give not o’er
But seek Thy sheep, true Shepherd of the flock;
Greater than Moses, turn and look once more
And smite a rock.
(Note: Christina Rossetti is perhaps best known for her Christmas poem, “In the Bleak Midwinter”.)
Here is an excerpt on human suffering and the cross from John Stott’s landmark book, The Cross of Christ:
I could never myself believe in God if it were not for the cross. The only God I believe in is the One Nietzsche ridiculed as ‘God on the cross’. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who was immune to it? I have entered many Buddhist temples in different Asian countries and stood respectfully before the statue of Buddha, his legs crossed, arms folded, eyes closed, the ghost of a smile playing round his mouth, a remote look on his face, detached from the agonies of the world. But each time after awhile I have had to turn away. And in imagination, I have turned instead to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through his hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me! He laid aside his immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death. He suffered for us. Our sufferings become more manageable in the light of his. There is still a question mark against human suffering, but over it we boldly stamp another mark, the cross which symbolizes divine suffering. ‘The cross of Christ … is God’s only self justification in such a world’ as ours.1 (John Stott, The Cross of Christ, pp. 335-336)
1 P.T. Forsyth, Justification of God, p. 32.
The following is excerpted from A. W. Tozer’s essay, “The Cross is a Radical Thing,” found in his book, The Root of the Righteous. I trust you will find it a meaningful meditation on the cross for this Good Friday.
“The cross of Christ is the most revolutionary thing ever to appear among men.
“The cross of the Roman times knew no compromise; it never made concessions. It won all its arguments by killing its opponent and silencing him for good. It spared not Christ, but slew Him the same as the rest. He was alive when they hung Him on that cross and completely dead when they took him down six hours later …
“After Christ was risen from the dead the apostles went out to preach His message, and what they preached was the cross … The radical message of the cross transformed Saul of Tarsus and changed him from a persecutor of Christians to a tender believer and an apostle of the faith. Its power changed bad men into good ones. It shook off the long bondage of paganism and altered completely the whole moral and mental outlook of the Western world.
“All this it did and continued to do as long as it was permitted to remain what it had been originally, a cross. Its power departed when it was changed from a thing of death to a thing of beauty. When men made of it a symbol, hung it around their necks as an ornament … then it became at best a weak emblem … As such it is revered today by millions who know absolutely nothing about its power …