Good Friday and The Mystery of the Cross

On Good Friday, it is important to meditate on all that is happening at the cross. We especially need to reflect on the mystery of the cross. Here’s one practical lesson on the mystery of the cross from the British theologian, Alister McGrath:

“Experience cannot be allowed to have the final word–it must be judged and shown up as deceptive and misleading.  The theology of the Cross draws our attention to the sheer unreliability of experience as a guide to the presence and activity of God.  God is active and present in His world, quite independently of whether we experience Him as being so.  Experience declared that God was absent from Calvary, only to have its verdict humiliatingly overturned on the third day.”

Good Friday and Three Truths the Cross Enforces

When the Apostle Peter discovered that Jesus would experience humiliation and suffering, he exploded, “God forbid, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” Then, Jesus’ offered a devastating rebuke: “Get behind me, Satan, you are a stumbling block” (16:22-23). Jesus reminded him and us that the son of man came to give His life.

This notion parts company with all other religions. The Jewish Encyclopedia quotes Psalm 22:1 in debunking the notion of a crucified God: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” “This final utterance was in all its implications itself a disproof of the exaggerated claims made for Jesus after his death by his disciples.  No real messiah could suffer such a death.  It is an impossible article of belief which detracts from God’s sovereignty and absolute otherness.”

Jesus is defeated and destroyed… destroyed by his enemies.  This was a sign of weakness and a sign of judgment from a common sense perspective, but it wasn’t God’s perspective.

Something happened to his disciples that overcame their common sense. It “changed the cross from a proof of defeat into a badge of honor, a bottomless source of joy and peace and a comfort for absolutely anything” (Timothy Keller).

As we prepare for Good Friday, it is wise to reflect upon these wise words from John Stott and his book The Cross of Christ: “The cross enforces three truths” (page 83).

“First, our sin must be extremely horrible. Nothing reveals the gravity of sin like the cross…. If there was no way by which the righteous God could righteously forgive our sin, except that he should bear it himself in Christ, it must be serious indeed….

Secondly, God’s love must be wonderful beyond comprehension…. He pursued us even to the desolate anguish of the cross, where he bore our sin, guilt, judgment and death. It takes a hard and stony heart to remain unmoved by a love like that….

Thirdly, Christ’s salvation must be a free gift. He `purchased’ it for us at the high price of his own life-blood. So what is there left for us to pay? Absolutely nothing!”

Good Friday – A Prayer of Confession of Sin

Merciful Father,

we meet each other today at the foot of the cross.

We wait with each other as those who inflict wounds on one another:         

         Have mercy on us.

As those who spurn Your love for other loves: 

         Be merciful to us.

As those who put our trust in power and prestige:

         Be merciful to us.

As those who pursue only our own personal interests:

         Be merciful to us.

As those who put others on trial:

         Be merciful to us.

As those who refuse to forgive:

         Be merciful to us. 

As those who are afraid of the world’s frown and displeasure:

         Be merciful to us.

We pray for the sake of your dear Son who died to grant us mercy, Amen. 

Good Friday – Finding Hope in Suffering

Psalm 129 sets forth one notable feature of our journey of faith that we’d rather not talk about – suffering. In fact, many religions say that it’s an illusion. For some who profess faith in Christ, it causes them to abandon their journey of faith entirely. Where do we find hope when we suffer?

Hear the Word of God from Psalm 129:

1 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” – let Israel now say—

2 “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.

3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”

4 The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.

5 May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!

6 Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up,

7 with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms,

8 nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you!

We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

How do you tend to respond when you suffer? Have you ever said or thought something like the words of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Some of us are prone to get angry with God at his apparent indifference to our plight. We tend to charge Him with wrongdoing. We doubt His goodness and question His love and power. Some of us sulk and wallow in self-pity. Others of us take vengeance on our pain with the unrelenting pursuit of illicit pleasure. Others of us blame and shame others. Psalm 129 reminds us where to find hope in the midst of our suffering?

We generally need to recall God’s Pattern. It was his pattern with Israel, Jesus, and with us. Cross and crown … tragedy and triumph… sufferings and glories to follow.
Israel – Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, The Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the Muslim crusaders, and the Nazis. Why such persistent antisemitism? Satan absolutely hates Israel as the people through whom God promised to send the Messiah. Why is this? The Apostle John declares that “the Son of God appeared  to destroy the works of the devil” (1 John 3:8).

Listen to how the Psalmist describes Israel’s suffering: They “plowed upon my back.” This is a powerful metaphor combining the idea of a vicious, painful scourging with the painstaking and thorough effort a farmer would make to plow a field.
But they have “not prevailed against me” (v. 2). They did not gain the victory. Persecutors never completely prevail over God’s people. For the Lord cuts the cords of the wicked.

Have you ever wondered why God persist in using this pattern of suffering before the glories that follow? This pattern can easily be traced in the life of Israel, in the life of Christ, and in the lives of Christ’s followers. One reason He does this is so that the world might know that the power is not from ourselves but from God.

But what would life be like in our fallen world if God eliminated suffering? Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and journalist answers: “Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered” (Jesus Rediscovered, 1969. pp. 199-200).

We need to specifically remember Good Friday. Indeed, the Psalmist laments the repeated and frequent afflictions of his people, but this Psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah on the day that we call Good Friday. For Jesus is the ultimate sufferer whose back is plowed to bring healing to us… His sin-sick people.

What do we do on Good Friday? We worship our suffering Messiah who willingly dies on our behalf. We recall His cross, we take time to relive the anguish, and renew our vows to live as His followers.

Why did He suffer so? Our salvation was contingent upon Jesus’ suffering. One of the things we remember on Good Friday is that the Messiah had to suffer. He suffered to ultimately end all suffering.

But notice that it doesn’t end with suffering. Paul spells out Jesus’ exaltation to the church at Philippi: “He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:8-10). 

For Jesus, He endured the cross before He received the crown. The way of humiliation and suffering prepared and led Him to great glory.   God uses this same pattern with us. 2 Corinthians 4:17-18 reminds us: “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

May you find on this Good Friday renewed hope to persevere in your own suffering as you remember the One who suffered and died for you.

A Prayer for Good Friday

O Father, at Calvary’s cross,

Your grace removes my burdens and heaps them on your Son,

who is made a transgressor, a curse, and sin for me.

There Christ was all anguish that I might have joy,

cast off that I might be brought in,

trodden down as an enemy that I might be welcomed as a friend,

surrendered to hell’s worst that I might attain heaven’s best,

stripped that I might be clothed,

wounded that I might be healed,

thirsty that I might drink,

tormented that I might be comforted,

made a shame that I might inherit glory,

entered darkness that I might have eternal light.

My Savior wept that all tears might be wiped from my eyes,

groaned that I might sing an endless song,

endured all pain that I might receive the crown of glory,

bowed his head to lift mine up,

experienced reproach that I might receive welcome,

closed his eyes in death that I might gaze on His unclouded brightness,

and expired that I might forever live.

All this transfer your love designed and accomplished.

Go forth, O conquering God, and show me the cross,

mighty to subdue, comfort and save. AMEN.

– Taken from “Love Lustres of Calvary,” The Valley of Vision: A Collection of Puritan Prayers.

A Worship Guide for Good Friday

Grieving on Good Friday

REFLECTIONS

O all ye who pass by, behold and see; man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree; The tree of life to all, but only me:  Was ever grief like mine?

—  From the poem “The Sacrifice” by George Herbert

Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?  Look around and see.  Is any suffering like my suffering that was inflicted on me, that the LORD brought on me in the day of his fierce anger?”

— Lamentations 1:12

CALL TO WORSHIP  – Galatians 6:14

Leader: “The cross of Christ is the door to heaven, the key to paradise, the downfall of the devil, the uplifting of mankind, the consolation of our imprisonment, and the prize for our freedom. The cross of Christ is the safeguard of our faith, the assurance of our hope, and the throne of love. It is the sign of God’s mercy and the proof of forgiveness. The cross is the way to peace, joy, and righteousness in the kingdom of God. The way to victory over sin, despair, and death is through the cross of Jesus Christ.”

— Abbot Rupert of Deutz, ca. 1100 AD

People: Therefore, “may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified.”

SCRIPTURE READING #1 – John 18:1-11

With clubs and staves they seek me, as a thief, who am the Way and Truth,

The true relief; Most true to those, who are my greatest grief: Was ever grief like mine?

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.

See, from His head, His hands, His feet, sorrow and love flow mingled down:

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown?

SCRIPTURE READING #2  – John 18:12-24

See, they lay hold on me, not with the hands—Of faith, but fury: yet at their commands

I suffer binding, who have loosed their bands:  Was ever grief like mine?

There is a Fountain

There is a fountain filled with blood drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains . . .

The dying thief rejoiced to see that fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away . . .

SCRIPTURE READING #3 – John 18:28-40

Then they accuse me of great blasphemy, That I presumed to be the Deity,

Who never thought that any robbery: Was ever grief like mine?

What Wondrous Love is This?

What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this, O my soul!

What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,

To bear the dreadful curse for my soul.

SCRIPTURE READING #4 – John 19:1-9

The soldiers lead me to the Common Hall; There they deride me, they abuse me all:

Yet for twelve heavenly legions I could call: Was ever grief like mine?

Man of Sorrows,” What a Name!

“Man of sorrows!” what a name for the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!  Hallelujah, what a Savior!

Bearing shame and scoffing rude, In my place condemned He stood,
Sealed my pardon with His blood; Hallelujah, what a Savior!

SCRIPTURE READING #5 – John 19:10-16

Thus trimmed, forth they bring me to the rout, Who Crucify him, cry with one strong shout.

God holds his peace at man, and man cries out:  Was ever grief like mine?

O Sacred Head

O sacred Head, now wounded, with grief and shame weighed down;
Now scornfully surrounded with thorns, Thine only crown;
O sacred Head, what glory, what bliss till now was Thine!
Yet though despised and gory, I joy to call Thee mine.

What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression, but Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior! ‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor, vouchsafe to me Thy grace.

SCRIPTURE READING #6  – John 19:17-27

O all you who pass by, behold and see; Man stole the fruit, but I must climb the tree;

The tree of life to all, but only me:  Was ever grief like mine?

Tenebrae Hymn—Were You There?

Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?
Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they crucified my Lord?

Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?
Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they nailed Him to the tree?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.

Were you there when they pierced him in the side?

SCRIPTURE READING #7  – John 19:28-30

But now I die; now all is finished.  My woe, man’s weal: and now I bow my head.

Only let others say, when I am dead, Never was grief like mine.

Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?
Oh!  Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble.
Were you there when they laid Him in the tomb?

BENEDICTION

Father, into your hands we commit our spirits.  AMEN

– Adapted from Psalm 31:5

A Psalm for Good Friday – The One Whose Back is Plowed

Psalm 129

Psalm 129 is one of the Psalms of Ascent. It is a very fitting Psalm for Good Friday. Suffering is one notable feature of our journey of faith that we’d rather not talk about and certainly not experience. In fact, many religions say that it’s an illusion. Even for many who profess faith in Christ, it causes them to abandon their journey of faith entirely. Suffering is certainly a harsh, intrusive feature of living life in a broken and fallen world. Psalm 129 helps us to understand where to find hope when we suffer!

Here’s the text of this short Psalm:

1″Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” – let Israel now say—

2″Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth, yet they have not prevailed against me.

3 The plowers plowed upon my back; they made long their furrows.”

4The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.

5May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward!

6Let them be like the grass on the housetops, which withers before it grows up, 7with which the reaper does not fill his hand nor the binder of sheaves his arms, 8nor do those who pass by say, “The blessing of the LORD be upon you! We bless you in the name of the LORD!”

How do you tend to respond when you suffer? Have you ever said or thought something like the words of Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is the way you treat your friends, it’s no wonder you have so few!” Some of us are prone to get angry with God at his apparent indifference to our plight. We tend to charge Him with wrongdoing. We doubt His goodness and question His love and power. Some of us sulk and wallow in self-pity. Others of us take vengeance on our pain with the unrelenting pursuit of illicit pleasure. Others of us blame and shame others.

From Psalm 129, where do we find hope in the midst of our suffering? Our text highlights two things …

  • Recall God’s Pattern in redemptive history: Cross and crown… Tragedy and triumph… Sufferings and glories to follow.

Israel – Israel suffered at the hands of the Egyptians, the Babylonians, The Syrians, the Greeks, and the Romans, the Muslim crusaders, and the Nazis. Why such persistent anti-Semitism? Satan absolutely hates Israel as the people through whom God promised to send the Messiah to destroy both the devil and his works.

How? Plowed upon my back. This is a powerful metaphor combining the idea of a vicious, painful scourging with the painstaking and thorough effort a farmer would make to plow a field.

Not prevailed against me (v. 2). Did not gain the victory. Persecutors do not prevail over God’s people. The Lord cuts the cords of the wicked.

Have you ever wondered why God persist in using this pattern of suffering before the glories that follow? This pattern can easily be traced in the life of Israel, in the life of Christ, and in the lives of Christ’s followers.  So that the world might know that the power is not from ourselves but from God.

But what would life be like in our fallen world if God eliminated suffering? Malcolm Muggeridge, a noted British author and journalist answers: “Supposing you eliminated suffering, what a dreadful place the world would be. The world would be the most ghastly place because everything that corrects the tendency of this unspeakable little creature, man, to feel over-important and over-pleased with himself would disappear. He’s bad enough now, but he would be absolutely intolerable if he never suffered” (Jesus Rediscovered, 1969. pp. 199-200).

  • Recall Good Friday

Indeed, the Psalmist laments the repeated and frequent afflictions of his people, but this Psalm has its ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah on this day that we call Good Friday. For Jesus is the ultimate sufferer whose back is plowed to bring healing to us His sin-sick people. Today we recall our suffering Messiah. We recall His cross, relive the anguish, and renew our vows to live as His followers. Jesus suffered to ultimately end all suffering.

One of the things we remember on Good Friday is that the Messiah had to suffer. Our salvation was contingent upon Jesus’ suffering. The way of humiliation leads to great glory.

Prayer:

Merciful Father, we meet each other today at the foot of the cross. We wait with each other as those who inflict wounds on one another: Have mercy on us.

As those who spurn Your love for other loves:  Be merciful to us.

As those who put our trust in power and prestige: Be merciful to us.

As those who pursue only our own personal interests: Be merciful to us.

As those who put others on trial: Be merciful to us.

As those who refuse to forgive: Be merciful to us.

As those who are afraid of the world’s frown and displeasure: Be merciful to us. Amen.