Friday 25th March, 2016
Here we are on this Good Friday gathered together in worship as we remember what our Lord Jesus. Christ has done for us as he took that journey to the cross. This day is not an easy day for many. As what we remember is not pleasant. We remember Jesus being abandoned by those close to him, we remember his being unfairly treated by the chief priests, we remember his standing before for Pilate, the ferocious anger of the crowd yelling “crucify him”, we remember the brutal violence that was dished out to Jesus, violence that is beyond our imaginations; and we remember his brutal death. And in this we remember that Jesus the ordinary man punished for our sins.
If we are to be honest on this day it is tempting to detach ourselves from what happened to him. It is easy to look back and see that this man Jesus got caught up in the evil plans of the religious leaders to kill him, that this was just a tragedy that happened to an innocent man. Others shift the focus away in by focusing on the bigger picture. The God had decided from the beginning that this what was going to happen. Look at all the prophecies in the Old Testament that point to the death of the messiah. This was always going to happen it was a foregone conclusion. This is just the way it had to be.
However, in John 10:11 Jesus says “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep” then a bit later in this chapter he says “No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord” (v 18)
It is easy to see Jesus here as some passive victim, that thing things just happened to him. But Jesus is not as passive as we like to think he was. Right from the start of John’s account beginning at Jesus’ arrest we see that Jesus took the initiative. Jesus was in control of what was about to happen to him. When Judas and those sent to arrest him came: Jesus “knowing all that was going to happen to him, went out and asked them ‘Who is it that you want?’” (18:4) Jesus went out to them. He did not try to hide, he did not try to run away, he did not try to protect himself, but he went out to them and he asked the question “Who is it you want?” He went out and he willingly gave himself over into the enemy’s hands. The religious officials and soldiers seized him and bound him, but the reality is Jesus, put up no struggle and he would have gone freely with them.
When Peter his disciple acted to protect Jesus by striking the high priest’s servant’s ear, Jesus reacted by commanding “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father as given me”
You see Jesus had a resolute and unbending commitment to his Heavenly Father. In fact right throughout Jesus’ journey to that cross he was determined to follow the path his Father had set for him. And make no mistake, this was no easy choice for Jesus to make. He really wrestled with whether he was going to follow through with it and there is no doubt that if he could to he could have wavered; he could have decided not to go through with it; he could have chosen a different path. There is a moment when Jesus is on the edge. You see this clearly in Mathew’s account of the prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane where we see Jesus wrestling with his Father. Jesus prays “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me” in that moment he does not want to go through with it, and yet he says “Yet not as I will, but as you will”.
Jesus did the very thing God asks of you and me, but we can’t do. That is he 100% trusted his Father. He deliberately made that choice to follow the will of his Father. As Paul says in his letter the Philippians 2: 8 “And being found in the appearance as a man he humbled himself and became obedient to death-even death on a cross”. Jesus was not forced, coerced, or bullied into taking this journey to the cross. And if he had wanted to he could have pulled out, he could have chosen a different path. But he didn’t.
Good Friday is one of those days where we look at Jesus and we see clearly his love for his Father and his love for you and me. He made this decision knowing what was about to happen and what was in front of him: Knowing that he would face the desertion of his disciples and denial by Peter; knowing that he would have to face the abuse of chief priest and hard hearted religious leaders and face their false accusations, knowing that he would have to face the anger and the total rejection of the people before Pilate; knowing that he would have to face the extreme physical suffering; knowing that he would have to face death by crucifixion. And knowing all of this, he willingly chose to be obedient and to walk this path. There are things about our faith in Jesus that are at times incomprehensible, and the fact that Jesus made this choice for you and me is one of them.
Not everyone knew that this journey was Jesus choice and that he was taking this willingly. The Jewish religious leaders, for instance, believed that they were in control of the situation. They were the ones who had been planning for some time to kill Jesus, because of his so called blasphemous behaviour. And now they had him right where they wanted him and their plans for his death were coming to fruition. They were finally going to get rid of him.
Pontius Pilate also believed that he was in charge of the situation. After all he even says to Jesus in 19:10 “Don’t you realise I have the power either to free you or to crucify you” Jesus replied “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above”
The thing is that Jesus himself was the master of the situation right up to his very last breath when he said “ it is finished” and then it says “With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit” Even his death was not taken from him, he gave it up willingly.
Many people in our world believe that Jesus existed. They even believe that he lived and died on a cross at the hands of the Roman Empire. But to them this is just some historical event. Yes it happened and yes is moral teaching are good for humanity. Yes Jesus shows us how to live a good life.
But you and I know the truth, we know what reality happened on that cross. We know the punishment for the sins of the world was laid upon him. We know that the anger of God towards our sin was given to him And the most amazing thing is that Jesus took the punishment for the sins of the world, willingly. It was his choice to follow through.
God’s Word says that “the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God” (1 Corinthians 1:18). This is the reality of the world we live in. The world around us does not want to deal with the reality of sin before God. It does not want to face the fact that there will be accountably before him. It does not want to acknowledge sin. But as Christians you and I know different. We see the realty of sin in the world. More than that not just the sins of others, but the reality of our own sinful hearts. We know that Jesus journey to death on a cross was not just something random that occurred 2000 years ago, but that on that cross the punishment for our sin was paid.
Jesus’ journey to the cross demonstrates what our sin is capable of: the political power games, cruelty, abuse, brutal violence, mockery and injustice, because this was how the Son of God was treated at the time of his crucifixion. But it also highlights the extent of God’s love; in that he loves his creation so much that he gave his only Son Jesus and that Jesus willingly chose to obey his Father’s will and gave his very life for us so that our sins may be completely and freely forgiven. Through his sacrifice the very thing that hardens our hearts, our sin, is taken away so that we can be in a right relationship with our God. From this right relationship we are called respond.
1 John 3:16 says 16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters. We are to reflect on Jesus and all the he has chose to do for us, and to respond by seeking to follow him walking in the path that our Heavenly Father wants us to walk, and seeking to follow Jesus by giving our laying down our lives for our brothers and sisters. You see Jesus crucifixion, cannot be just navel gazing and marvelling at what he has done, but it calls for us as believers to respond to others, just has he has responded to us.
It was no random twist of fate that Jesus went to his death on a cross for your sins. He chose to. And why did he choose to do this? He chose to because he loves you so much that he willingly took your place so that your sins and mine are now forgiven. And this is worth pondering and thinking about.
The peace the passes all our human understanding guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus Amen.