by: Kyle McClendon
Growing up, we would hear story after story about the meaning of Easter and why it was worth celebrating. For many of us, it didn’t matter what our parents or Sunday School leaders said; Easter was a day worth celebrating because it meant we got candy from a giant anthropomorphic rabbit. The resurrection of Jesus wasn’t really weighing on my brain or on my soul at that point. I guess I thought, “If he is already out of the grave and it is empty, why bother digging it again?”
Looking back, I didn’t hear very much about what it was that sent Jesus to the grave in the first place. I definitely remember it being about my sin or my wrong-doing that separated me from a holy and righteous God, but I don’t know that I truly understood the gravity of the events that happened at The Place of the Skull. If I’m being honest, I still don’t.
But the grace in days like today--Good Friday--is that God has given us a dedicated time to reflect on and wrestle with the real reason Easter is something to celebrate. Today marks the single darkest day in history and brings with it a tremendous burden and weight that demands attention and focus.
The Crucifixion of Jesus is not an isolated event that took place in a vacuum. It was part of a crescendo that began with the birth of Jesus and picked up speed with every sign, wonder, word, and discussion of the Son of God.
Each moment of Jesus’ life was leading to this hour. This means that each time he spoke to a crowd of people, each time he healed someone, each time he prayed for those around him, and each tense exchange he had with the leadership of the time, he was doing so with the Cross weighing heavy in his heart and on his mind.
When he spoke of the Good Shepherd laying down his life for the Sheep (John 10), it was a deeply personal statement. As he says, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man . . .” in John 9, it isn’t hypothetical or some far off idea--it is an inevitability in the life of Jesus that frames each and every step he takes. His hour was never in doubt. It was simply a matter of when.
If we jumped into time and were somehow able to watch the events of the hours surrounding the death and burial of Jesus, I think we would begin to question our decision pretty quickly. The tale of Jesus’ crucifixion would cease to be something theoretical and would turn into an all-out assault on our senses, our hearts, and--if we are being honest--our stomachs.
Jesus is tried
After being accosted and hassled by Jewish and Roman leaders for three straight years, Jesus no longer demolishes and silences their objections. Instead, he makes the decision to remain relatively silent--only speaking four words when he is before the governor to answer to the accusations being stacked against him.
“11 Now Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the King of the Jews?” Jesus said, “You have said so.” 12 But when he was accused by the chief priests and elders, he gave no answer. 13 Then Pilate said to him, “Do you not hear how many things they testify against you?” 14 But he gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.”
From there, Jesus, along with Pilate, goes before the people with the opportunity to be set free by the powerful Roman official. Yet, the entire time, Jesus says nothing. He doesn’t plead his case; he doesn’t proclaim his innocence; and he doesn’t even condemn Barabbas, the man who is getting ready to be let go despite being a known murderer.
There is a known criminal standing next to Jesus who is far more deserving of death than Jesus himself, and Jesus allows him to go free. He exchanges his freedom for the murderer's death, knowing that means that he will now willingly go himself to the Cross. Meanwhile, Pilate washes his hands in an attempt to absolve himself of the weight, burden, and guilt of the death of Jesus.
“21 The governor again said to them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” And they said, “Barabbas.” 22 Pilate said to them, “Then what shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23 And he said, “Why? What evil has he done?” But they shouted all the more, “Let him be crucified!”
24 So when Pilate saw that he was gaining nothing, but rather that a riot was beginning, he took water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man's blood;see to it yourselves.” 25 And all the people answered, “His blood be on us and on our children!” 26 Then he released for them Barabbas, and having scourged Jesus, delivered him to be crucified.”
But it doesn’t end there. Not only does Jesus take the place of the murderer; he then goes on to Herod’s headquarters to be stripped, mocked, and beaten. Not even the murderer would receive this amount of disdain and abuse, but Jesus did and throughout it all he did nothing, said nothing, and didn’t even think or wish anything ill upon his accusers.
Jesus goes to be crucified
After having a crown of thorns placed on his head and being mocked by the Roman battalion, Jesus walks the Via Dolorosa (“The Way of Suffering”). His body weak from already being beaten and battered, his heart hurting for the people around him, and his entire person waiting to experience something he had never felt before: the wrath of God as a result of sin.
A perfect person knows no punishment; a holy person knows no wrath--yet Jesus was set to endure all of that wrath, separation, and punishment for the first time in his existence.
With each step, Jesus saw the seconds tick down as his final hour approached; each breath getting closer and closer to his last; and each face he passed by, a person whose punishment he was about to endure.
The Cross of Jesus wasn’t placed in a clean, dignified location all on his own. Jesus was hung on a tree next to two thieves. Two men who, like Barabbas before them, probably deserved this punishment. We can assume there were countless witnesses and accounts of their actions that had hurt plenty of people.
And between them, the Lamb of God. A man who didn’t come to “condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17) and had lived a life full of love, obedience, and glory to the Father. That man was nailed to a tree that he himself created by people that he himself knew deeply. And when many of us would have taken revenge or pursued retribution, how does the Son of Man respond? He says, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)
Around noon that day, darkness fell over the entire world and remained there for three hours. The sun did not shine on the face of the Son of God, instead the physical darkness foretold of the spiritual pain that was coming to meet Jesus in a couple of hours.
At this point, one can assume that Jesus’ vision is blurred by the blood pouring down his face. His wrists are mangled from the nails driving through them and then seemingly trying to separate his hands from his body. His entire upper body is fatigued from having to lift the full weight of itself each time Jesus inhales. The Lamb of God is firmly rooted on the altar of the Cross and his body and spirit have been crushed under the weight of sin and what will soon be death.
Jesus breathes his last
Despite all of this, the worst is still yet to come for Jesus. As he labors for his final breaths, he cries out, “‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’” and experiences the true punishment: alienation from his Father. As he who knew no sin became sin on our behalf (2 Corinthians 5:21), the Holiness of God forced a separation between Father and Son. Jesus felt earthly separation--social and emotional abandonment--as well as the great weight of sin that drove home the feeling of spiritual abandonment as well.
At 3 p.m., Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and with his last breath let out a loud cry as his spirit left his body. The great veil in the temple was torn from top to bottom. The ground began to shake. Scripture says tombs were opened and those who had “fallen asleep were raised.”
The state of the world as Jesus’ life comes to a close looks a lot like our life without him: dark, trembling, hopeless, and chaotic. The Son of God took on the sin of the world in an act of ultimate sacrifice, suffering, and compassion. It wasn’t pretty, it wasn’t ceremonial, it wasn’t an honorable send off. It was a day filled with ridicule, shame, hurt, and abandonment.
Who are we?
When we hear these accounts, we naturally want to say that we would be like Mary and John, who stayed with Jesus and watched him until he sent them off. Our ideal reality says that we would have come to the defense of Jesus, but there are two truths that demolish that entire idea:
Jesus would respond to us the same way he responded to Peter in the Garden when he tried to attack the guards that were about to arrest Jesus: “Get behind me, Satan!” (Matthew 16:23). Jesus did not want to be defended; he did not need to be rescued, because nothing was happening that he did not want to take place. Jesus did not have his life taken from him--he willingly laid it down.
Secondly, we wouldn’t be the people defending Jesus. If we are honest, we would probably be in the crowd shouting “Crucify! Crucify!” or we would have walked by Jesus on the Cross without a second thought.
When we read the accounts of the Crucifixion of Jesus with sober, honest eyes, we see ourselves in the violent mob of people. We see ourselves in Pilate who simply washes his hands of this tragedy. We find ourselves walking free after the crowd chose to kill the innocent--our Savior--over us--the guilty. And we see ourselves in the eyes of Jesus as he says, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.”
The weight of the death of Jesus sits squarely on all of us; the blood of Jesus is on our hands. We drove the nails in. We placed the crown of thorns on his head. We spit in his face. The blood of Jesus cries out from the ground and it names each and every one of us as responsible for the spilling of the blood of Christ and the mangling of the Messiah.
But . . .
But the story doesn’t end there. Lest we think that today is all about mourning, death, and despair, Jesus knew there was more to his death. While Jesus knew Friday was going to be the worst day in history, he endured because he also understood that it would lead to the greatest day in history just a few days later.
“He endured the Cross for the joy set before him. . .” (Hebrews 12:2) doesn’t mean that he simply knew that life was on the other side of his gruesome death. It means that the joy of Jesus was in the glory of the Father, and that the communion of God with his people is the source of ultimate glory to the Father and ultimate joy for the Son. Jesus goes to the Cross out of compassion for those who are killing him! He goes to the Cross, takes on our shame, embarrassment, abandonment, and suffering. Jesus becomes what we’ve always been in order that we will be able to experience the communion with the Father he has always had.
The weight of the crucifixion is heavy. The burden of guilt on each and every one of our souls looms large. But God doesn’t leave us with that guilt; he doesn’t leave us in a perpetual state of mourning. No, the Father gives up his son so that we might become the righteousness of Christ, in order that we would be able to cry out “Abba!” and have him hear us! The weight of sin and death is too much for us to bear, but the weight of the glory and grace of God is too much for sin and death.
We don’t serve a corpse. We don’t worship a dead man. Good Friday was full of hurt, pain, and darkness.
We worship a living, reigning, victorious Savior. We serve a God who can take the deep darkness of Friday afternoon and turn it into the glorious light of Sunday morning. We cling to a Savior who willingly took on the most gruesome, painful, and agonizing death in order that we might have abundant, hopeful, and joyful life in the Father.
We must remember Friday. We must. But it should always, always lead us to the joy, hope, and victory that comes on Sunday.
2 Comments on this post:
Beautiful! I would like to share with my Facebook friends.
Thank you for writing this Kyle, it made me pause and reflect today.