Good Friday: Better Than We Ever Imagined
Updated: May 28, 2021
They had hoped for a Messiah. Someone who would rescue them from the reach of Rome. Someone who like Moses would deliver the entire people from their enemies. On Sunday, he had ridden into the city as a king might, while crowds ran to him, crying out loud Hosannas. They believed in him, thought that he might be the fulfillment of their hopes, the son of David, the fulfillment of all prophecy. But now he was dead.
So many voices cry out to tell this story. The woman who poured out her most expensive perfume. The disciple who decided to trade a life for 30 coins. The man who offered his house for Jesus to eat a final meal with his disciples. The friends who could not stay awake to pray on the most agonizing night in history. The crowd who came to a prayer garden armed with swords. The religious leaders and teachers who bribed people to lie for them. The disciple who denied he had ever known Jesus. The rulers who cared more for the people’s approval than the triumph of justice. The criminal who was released while an innocent man was condemned. The foreigner who carried Jesus’ cross. The people who mocked him as he died.
As I read through the story, I wonder which voice was mine. I want to be one of the generous people. The woman who poured out her perfume or the man who opened up his home. Even the man who carried the cross. He may not have been doing this of his own free will, but it turned out to be a really wonderful thing. The reality is…more often, I’m like the friends who slept instead of praying or the leaders who really just wanted the approval of others. But at least I’m not betraying a friend or mocking Jesus, right? I’m not as bad as them, so I must be okay. We all try to write ourselves into the story as the good guys. Well, I do, anyway. I want Jesus to recognize me as one who would have stood by his side all the way to the end. And I want to deceive myself into thinking that the crucifixion was all someone else’s fault. I don’t want to be the one he had to die for. But I am the one he had to die for. The cross was for me.
In her reflection on Easter, Laura Harbert wrote about the three phrases people most want to hear. “I love you” was the first phrase. We all want to know that we are loved, that we are treasured by someone, that we are not alone in this world. God showed his love for us when he sent Jesus. He took on himself the pain of giving up his only son. Jesus endured the feeling of abandonment, all because he knew it was necessary for us – he did it out of love for us. John 3:16 says that God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only son so that anyone who would believe in him would not perish but have everlasting life. Honestly, this seems completely ludicrous. The book of Romans addresses that, saying, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” The cross is God’s way of saying “I love you.”
The second phrase people most want to hear is “I forgive you.” I don’t know about you, but the more I learn about God’s love, and the more I experience it, the more I come to recognize how unloving I am. The more I experience how good God is, the greater my realization of how “not good” I am. And while words like sin and repentance have fallen out of fashion, I am very aware of my wrongs and wish I could always make the right decisions or consistently live in a way that honors God.
We wish to hear the words I forgive you because they convey the depth of the relationship. Forgiveness can mean that someone knows us in our darkest places, that we have harmed them by our words or actions, and that they still want to be with us. But we fear that if the other person truly knew us, they would leave. Jesus’ response was the opposite. Because he knew our sin and knew that our debt was too great to ever repay, he paid it for us. On the cross, he heard the very people he was dying for mocking him and denying him, and he said simply, “Father, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing.”
Sometimes I think we know exactly what we are doing. We are saving face. We are trying to look superior. We are doing what we think will get us ahead. We are looking out for our own best interests. And yet, could it be that all of those things are just another way that we are missing the point? That really…we don’t know what we are doing? Colossians reminds us that when we were dead in our sins, God made us alive with Christ. He forgave all of our sins, canceled the charge against us that condemned us, and nailed it to the cross. In a few minutes, we will invite you to come forward and nail your sins to the cross, as a tangible way of remembering what Jesus has already done for each of us. As you nail them, remember that you are forgiven and you are loved. And that you are the reason he died. The cross was for you. No matter what sins you may think are too great, or feelings that you are unworthy, the cross says that God believes otherwise. And it is more than enough.
Finally, we are also going to participate in communion together. In his final meal with his disciples before going to the cross, Jesus told them why he was doing this, that his body would be broken and his blood poured out for the forgiveness of sins, changing the meaning of the simplest aspects of the meal for all history. We are later told to do this as a way of remembering his death and resurrection. Jesus understood our struggles and how we are prone to forgetfulness. But the cross is something that should transform our lives, as his death changed everything for us. We are loved and we are forgiven because he paid the greatest price – his very life. Remembering is a way of honoring his sacrifice; remembering also helps us to see ourselves the way he sees us – as worth it.
If you were keeping track, you might have noticed that I only told you two of the three phrases people most want to hear. The third phrase, surprisingly, is this: Supper’s ready. This is what God through Christ has invited us to. A simple meal through which we can celebrate even his death, knowing that through the cross, we can have abundant life. The invitation is open to all – the one who poured perfume on Jesus’ head along with the one who heaped insults on him, the one who betrayed him and the one who lied, the ones who prayed through the night and the ones who fell asleep – to each one of us who would come to Jesus, no matter who I am or who you are, the table is open. What an incredible gift.
You are loved. You are forgiven. Supper’s ready. And it is more than enough.
This is a Good Friday sermon I gave at Evergreen Baptist Church Los Angeles in 2015.