Friday, April 15, 2022

A Good Friday Reflection

About six months ago, my daughter Trinity and I both stepped outside into the soft glow of an early morning light. A chill was in the air. Seeing our breath reminded us that summer had faded. Fall was upon us. No more chirping of crickets. No more singing of birds.

Yesterday had been windy and as we looked around, we noticed the trees had surrendered their leaves overnight and the leaves now covered the ground in various shades of colors, like a patchwork quilt brightening a dreary room. Deep red. Luscious green. Bright yellow. Dark brown. And all sorts of shades in between. No leaf seemed exactly alike.

“What happened to all these leaves?” my daughter asked me. “Why aren’t they on the trees anymore?” “The leaves are dead,” I told her. 

A puzzled look crossed her face. “Dead? But they’re so beautiful. How could they be dead?”

I understood her question. When beholding beauty and color, one rarely thinks of death. Yet, these leaves were not signs of life. Their beauty is their death. The canvas on which the Creator had splashed his autumn colors was actually a glorious display of death. 

Which brings us to Good Friday and a paradox woven deep into the fabric of creation. Yes, death is an enemy of God’s good creation. An intrusion. One of the results of humanity’s destructive choice to rebel against God. Like those beautiful autumn leaves, humans have cut themselves off from the source of life, and death has been inextricably tied to our existence ever since. 

And yet, here on Good Friday, there is one death so beautiful, so glorious even, that despite its horror and cruelty, we are transfixed by its splendor.

Why are we transfixed by death’s splendor on Good Friday? To the outsider, it must seem odd that Christians commemorate and celebrate the death of their Founder. Our songs tell of blood, death, and sacrifice (often to upbeat and happy tunes). Gruesome lyrics. Beautiful truth. The paradox of death and beauty is at the heart of Christianity.

To understand the beauty of Good Friday and the beauty of Jesus’ death, we have to look at the Cross.

The Romans introduced crucifixion as a public spectacle, an ugly form of brutality that sent a powerful message to anyone who dared challenge the Roman government. This is what can happen to you, the cross said.

The Roman philosopher Cicero believed crucifixion ought never be mentioned in polite company. Jewish people interpreted crucifixion as a sign of God’s curse.

But one crucifixion is beautiful. In the midst of Jesus’ vicious death, we peer into the very heart of God. On this windblown, stony hill outside Jerusalem – dotted by three crosses – we see God in his brilliant, unexpected glory. Like the autumn leaves that drape the earth in color, one cross shines in beauty.

Martin Lloyd Jones once said: “You will never know God as Father except by Jesus Christ, and in particular, by his death upon the cross… Look there, gaze, meditate, survey the wondrous cross. And then you will see something of him.”

Pondering the meaning of the cross draws us into the self-giving love of God. The cross by itself is not beautiful. The atonement is beautiful because it illuminates the heart of God.

How do we see the heart of God on Good Friday as we come to the Cross?

We see it on that fateful day in Jerusalem, as Jesus lived out his own teaching for the whole world to see, perfectly fulfilling the Law of Moses – and even his own Sermon on the Mount. 

Jesus taught “If someone strikes you, turn to him the other cheek”… On Good Friday, the Roman fists had already bloodied and bruised Jesus’ face, but he did not strike back.

Jesus taught “If someone asks you to go one mile, go with him two miles.” On Good Friday, from Pilate’s courtyard to Calvary’s hill, Jesus had carried his cross, walking miles on that dusty road for you and me.

Jesus taught, “If someone takes your tunic, give him your cloak as well,” Now, on Good Friday, on the hill of Golgotha, just below the cross, his enemies were mockingly casting lots for his clothes.

And finally, on the cross, almost completely unrecognizable, Jesus lived out one last part of his teaching.

He had said, “Love your enemies… Pray for those who persecute you… Forgive…” And on Good Friday, in a moving display of divine love, Jesus prayed for the forgiveness of those who had tortured him.

“Father, forgive them,” he had said. Jesus repeated the phrase over and over again.

Enduring the painful insults and humiliating spit of Roman guards… Father, forgive them

Being lied about and falsely accused in the High Priest’s court… Father, forgive them

Surviving the vicious torture of Roman scourging… Father, forgive them

Hearing the taunts being hurled at him from below the cross… Father forgive them

Here is Jesus – living out the total summation of his message of forgiveness. He is not a hypocrite like others might have been. He is truly and fully God. God being who God is. God doing what God does. 

Jesus’ proclamation of forgiveness to those who despised him can break the heart of stone on Good Friday. Because of his life in our place, and his death in our stead, we are freed from our sins, and also from the Law. Horatio Spafford’s hymn, “It is Well with My Soul” includes these beautiful lines:

My sin – O the bliss of this glorious thought –

My sin, not in part but the whole

is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more,

praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

As we end my friends, I invite you to see Jesus on the Cross again. In the book of Revelation, we are introduced to the striking image of a lamb on a throne. The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world is the King who deserves to sit on the throne.

He is the Lion and the Lamb. That image of a lion’s authority and a lamb’s meekness, the weakness of a bleeding lamb upon the strength of a powerful throne – that image is what we see at the cross. This is where Jesus redefines power and authority. 

And Good Friday is where we see the truest extent of God’s love for us. Good Friday is where we see the Suffering Servant in all the vividness of sacrifice and wonder.

Good Friday. The chance to say thank you for the beauty of this extraordinary death. Thank you, Lord Jesus, for showing us the beauty of a blood-stained Cross.