Meditation for Good Friday

As we remember the events of Holy Week, it all comes in such a rush. So much scripture and meaning packed into these few days. It seems difficult to take it all in. Perhaps that is why we continue to look back, year after year – hoping for just a little more light and a little more understanding. Each year, I concentrate on a different Gospel account – this year, its John. I dare say none of us will ever fully comprehend the wonderful mysteries centered in these few days, but we read and we listen and we pray that the Spirit will reveal a bit more. So it was that this year, as I once again began to prepare for our services of remembrance and gratitude for the grace that is ours through the Death and Resurrection of our Lord, I was drawn to Jesus’ final words in John’s account of Jesus’ Crucifixion: “It is Finished.”

So I began to wonder – what “it” was he referring to? His Earthly life? – yes, but no, it seems to me. They were indeed his final words before he died, but it refers to much more than that. His birth, life and ministry here on earth had enormous significance, but his death seems to mean even more. Just before this last week, John recounts for us Jesus’ raising of Lazarus from the dead. It was the last of seven signs that John chooses to highlight among all the deeds of power and grace that Jesus accomplished during his ministry. So spectacular was this sign that it seems everybody in Jerusalem had heard about it. Especially the religious leaders.

John tells us of their decision in its wake: (John 11:47-53 NIV) [47] Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. [48] If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” [49] Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! [50] You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.” [51] He did not say this on his own, but as high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the Jewish nation, [52] and not only for that nation but also for the scattered children of God, to bring them together and make them one. [53] So from that day on they plotted to take his life.

They understood only that Jesus’ life demonstrated power beyond their conception. They hoped his death would finish the perceived threat to their own power, influence and security. Little did they know how well Caiaphas spoke. Jesus indeed died for the nation and not just to avoid a conflict with the Romans. He died for them and for all the other nations before them, besides them and after them. John takes pains throughout his gospel to show how Jesus’ life and deeds perfectly fulfilled the prophecies in scripture. We read a couple of those earlier – one from Isaiah and one from the Psalms.

John also points out that Jesus, whom John the Baptist had identified as the “Lamb of God that takes away the sins of the World” indeed died at the hour the Passover lambs were sacrificed for the festival. We are told the effect of Jesus’s death – Salvation for all who believe – from the Thief on the cross, to the disciple who denied him, to us. We are not told how, only that through his death on that Cross that are redemption has been won, and that through his resurrection, the power of death has been destroyed for all who will claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior. We are told why Jesus was obedient even to death on a cross. John told us that way back in John 3:16-17 NLT

[16] “For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. [17] God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. He did this willingly and fully. That’s a lot to finish.

Isaiah foretold it all in that amazing passage we read first tonight. Listen to portions of it again and let those words illuminate the work of Christ on the cross in our hearts and minds, as the single candle does on that wooden cross on table tonight:

(Isaiah 53:5-11 NIV) [5] But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. [6] We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [7] He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth. [8] By oppression and judgment he was taken away. Yet who of his generation protested? For he was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people he was punished. [9] He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth. [10] Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. [11] After he has suffered, he will see the light of life and be satisfied ; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities.

We owe everything that we are to the sinless lamb of God, who obediently and willing went to the Cross so that we might live. In his death, the Mosaic pattern of annual sacrifice is completed and fulfilled. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, the blood of Christ has opened the way to God so that we are able to enter into the most holy presence of God, being justified and our sins washed pure in Jesus Christ. That’s what Jesus finished on the cross. That’s why we treasure that horrible symbol of suffering and death. That’s why we contemplate the cross tonight, knowing that through it, God has provided the way, perfectly completed – once, for all time, for all of us. His work is finished. Ours is to follow gratefully and faithfully follow where he leads.