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Good Friday
Light of Christ Anglican Church
The Rev. Michael Moffitt, April 2, 2021

Why It’s Called Good Friday

Today we have gathered together to remember the darkest day in human history. This was the day when those who called themselves the “children of God” conspired with Satan to humiliate, torture, and put to death the Son of God. Often people ask why this day would be called Good Friday when something so dark and terrible happened. We come into the church and find the altar stripped, and usually the cross is draped in black symbolizing the hopelessness felt by the disciples of Jesus.

There is no Eucharist because today is not meant to be a celebration but a remembrance of that day long ago when our Savior suffered and died on our behalf. The cross was not the symbol of victory but of defeat in the most humiliating way. The prophets foretold all that the Messiah would go through on behalf of sinners. One of the most often quoted is from Isaiah 53:3–6 that we read on Palm Sunday,

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—everyone—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

When we read Old Testament stories like Genesis 22:1–18 we see through Abraham a type and shadow of what God would do through his only son that he loved. Throughout the story of Abraham from Genesis 11:31 to 25:17 it is clear that God was the initiator of their relationship and it was God who graciously committed himself to Abraham.

But in our story tonight God tests Abraham’s obedience. From the beginning of chapter 22 it’s quite easy for us to be alarmed at God’s command to Abraham to present his son Isaac, whom he loves, as a burnt offering to the Lord. Human sacrifice was abhorrent and a practice of pagan idol worship. Even though the law of God had not yet been established, there was a law written upon the hearts of men, and this command seemed impossible to reconcile. I have pointed out before that I can’t help but wonder about the difficulty of doing such a thing that seemed to contradict the promise that God had made to Abraham about all the nations of the earth being blessed through his seed.

The story moves from God’s command in verse 2 to verse 3 and Abraham moving in obedience to the command. I’ve always imagined what was going through Abraham’s mind in the period between the command of God and Abraham moving to accomplish what God demanded. I assume that he wrestled all night with what God asked of him, but I bet that God did not answer him. There was nothing to say, only obedience.

You know the story. Because of his fidelity, God assured Abraham that it would be through his son Isaac that all the promises of the covenant would be fulfilled. God himself providing the ram caught in the thicket by his horns was a type and shadow that points us to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who died for those in bondage to their sins and provided the only way to have life with God. In taking an oath to bless Abraham and all nations through him, God guaranteed the promise to Abraham’s offspring. God tests his saints to prove the quality of their faith and obedience.

He often does this through adversity and hardship, and Jesus was no different. Like Abraham, Jesus, the Son of God was in his humanness tested. Hebrews 5:8–9,

Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. 9And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him…

As the events of Jesus’ crucifixion on Golgotha unfolds in each of the gospel accounts of the Passion, we can look back to Old Testament stories, the word of the prophets, and Messianic Psalms like 22 and 110 and remember that what happened that day was intentional. It all transpired because God knew what it would take for our sin to be atoned for and for us to be free from the curse of sin and death. Jesus knew the prophecies because as God he had placed them in the mouths of those who spoke them.

I must confess that I used to feel like I was acting when I came to a Good Friday service and pretended to be somber about Jesus being crucified. I knew that it happened over 2,000 years ago, but more importantly, I knew what happened on Sunday, the third day, when he rose again. It was suggested to me that I should focus on my sin as the reason Jesus had to go to the cross in the first place. It was suggested that Good Friday was the proper time to contemplate my part in that. I saw the point, but I really felt that I should be aware of my sin and the need for righteousness every day. If I love the Lord, then I should reflect on and confess my sins daily. Isn’t that a part of following the daily office—we confess our sins daily?

As I considered this and prayed for God to open my eyes to how I should respond to this day, he caused me to remember when I was a child there was a period of many months when I had terrible nightmares and would wake up trembling in the dark. I remember desperately wanting morning to arrive, so the light would shine in through the window and I would be able to see that everything was all right, I was safe. As long as it was dark, I was afraid to even cry out lest I awaken the awful thing lurking in my room.

That was a long time ago, so I had forgotten about that darkness and how I felt so alone and hopeless. As I considered this, I knew this memory was pointing me to two things that pertain to Good Friday.

The first was how Jesus was made to experience a darkness that I will never have to know because he took it upon himself. As we read in Isaiah 53 and in the Gospel (John 18:1–19:42), everyone turned away from him, even his disciples ran away out of fear for their lives. Those who had earlier welcomed him to Jerusalem as their king with shouts of “Hosanna, Hosanna in the highest, blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” now joined with the religious leaders with shouts of “Crucify him, Crucify him!” Instead of bowing down to the Holy One, the God of Israel, they conspired to have Jesus beaten unmercifully, scourged, spit upon, mocked, and crucified, and there was not anyone able or willing to come to his aid, not even his Father who was in Heaven.

Consider Isaiah 53:10, “Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…", and Psalm 22:1–2,

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
        Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?  
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
        and by night, but I find no rest.

It was those very words that Jesus cried out on the cross at the moment when the Father turned away from him. In Matthew 27:46 we read,

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

This cry reflected the depth of Jesus’ distress as he endured the pain of separation from His Father for the first time. Later the disciples would realize that Jesus was enduring the curse of God’s judgment on sin—the full, furious, and dreadful wrath of Almighty God. The darkness that he experienced was total and there was no hope that relief was coming from anywhere. He was made to experience the full wrath of God and the terror and hopelessness of Hell where God is completely absent.

You and I have no way of understanding a darkness that is so complete and so totally without hope. Jesus knowingly took this punishment upon himself so that we wouldn’t have to. That is why the somberness of Good Friday is called for and also why it is called “good”. By good, it is not an expression of our approval, but that this day is holy. We often fail to consider the consequences of our sins or have a true understanding of how deep they can be embedded in our hearts. A great example of this darkness and the depth of human depravity is in John 19:31,

Since it was the day of Preparation, and so that the bodies would not remain on the cross on the Sabbath (for that Sabbath was a high day), the Jews asked Pilate that their (Jesus and the 2 robbers) legs might be broken and that they might be taken away.”

The day of Jesus’ crucifixion was the day that all the preparations for the Sabbath had to be done and this was not an ordinary Sabbath but the Passover Sabbath. According to the Jewish law if there were bodies left on crosses during this time it would defile the land. You’ll notice that the Jews were willing to join forces with Rome to commit murder but then felt compelled to turn around and insist that the Jewish ceremonial law be enforced.

So, they requested that the legs be broken so death would come much quicker. Without the legs to hold up the body a person would literally suffocate because they could not take in enough air. They had gotten their way and Jesus was dead. Problem solved. When they came to Jesus to break his legs the guards realized that he was already dead and so they pierced his side with a spear to make sure. John places this detail in the story as a way of showing that all these things happened according to the will of God and to dispel any rumor that Jesus was not actually dead.

Everything was going according to plan—but not the one set out by the Pharisees. This was the plan of God set down before the foundations of the earth. The Old Testament passage that I quoted earlier from Isaiah 53:5,

but He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed.

Psalm 34:20, “He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken” which fulfilled the requirements of Numbers 9:12 where the Passover Lamb was to be sacrificed but not one of his bones could be broken. Remember John the Baptist speaking through the Holy Spirit as he recognized Jesus in John 1:29, “Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.”

Now upon the cross the perfect sacrificial lamb had been slain. Our Epistle reading from Hebrews 10:5–7; 10–12,

Consequently, when Christ came into the world, he said, “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings you have taken no pleasure.  Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the book.’”
…And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

And every priest stands daily at his service, offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God…”

So, the first compelling reason that we should consider our sin on Good Friday is because Jesus loved us enough to take our punishment and experience what we deserved. That is not something to take lightly or forget. Instead, it demands our reflection and recommitment to the loving obedience of God.

The second focus that I believe the Lord wants us to contemplate on Good Friday is to prayerfully consider what the disciples went through as they saw their Lord and the object of all their hope placed in the tomb. Perhaps there were a few moments when Jesus was hanging on the cross that some were hoping that he would suddenly move in power and come down to defeat the enemy, but when they took down his lifeless body and placed it in the tomb, all hope was gone.

I suspect that fear became their constant companion as they wondered what would happen to them because they had been Jesus’ disciples. None of the Gospels comment much on what the disciples were thinking or feeling during that time, but I can imagine that they were numb with grief at a level they had never known before. I suspect they went to bed not wanting to wake up. Everything they cared about was gone—their dreams, their view of God—shattered, and they most likely felt betrayed by Jesus.

The one thing that had to be nagging at their conscience was the fact that they had all run away. Maybe they were asking themselves things like: “What if we had stayed and fought valiantly? Would God have given us the strength like David’s mighty men of 30? Wouldn’t it have been better to die fighting than to run away like cowards?” I can’t even imagine the turmoil, self-loathing, and pain that Peter dealt with. Try to consider what was going through Peter’s mind as his thoughts returned over and over to the fact that he had denied that he even knew Jesus three times. How could he ever get past this? How could he live with the shame and the guilt and the judgment of others? Where could he go and hide?

I am sure that they were all inconsolable and I wouldn’t be surprised if there weren’t a few arguments or fights that weekend. There just didn’t seem to be any good thing that would come out of all these events, just darkness and despair.

Have you ever had something so traumatic happen to you that you could not see any way out or forward? I have, and it was overwhelming, and it consumed every thought and darkened every possibility that I could think of. I didn’t know if I would live through it or if I even wanted to. Just like the disciples, Jesus came to my rescue and the overwhelming darkness began to recede and light shown into my life again. I saw an example of how dark events can shape our perspective on life and the ability to bounce back.

On my first trip to Rwanda, I went to a money exchange office in downtown Kigali, the capital city. I gave them $2,500 American and they gave me approximately 2.5 million Rwandan francs in 5,000 franc notes. I had a stack of 500 bills as I walked down the street in broad daylight and a very crowded capital city. No one seemed to even notice me. When I got back in the car, I commented on this to the Rwandan Anglican priest that I was with. He looked very somber as he replied, “You had no reason to worry. Since the genocide in 1994 we abhor violence. We still can’t believe that we could have been capable of such godless and barbaric acts against our own people.” Revival has broken out in East Africa again because the Gospel message of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection has brought light and joy again to nations full of darkness and despair.

We are in a similar situation in the United States as we are confronted with the godlessness of our culture and the truth that over 60 million children have been butchered by the abortion industry and many of our schools are teaching children that sexual perversions are normal and are doing so without parental consent.

One of the most important points that we can take away from Good Friday is that there are many, many people around us who are enveloped in that kind of darkness. This past year the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives of millions, and it seems that almost everyone has family members or friends who have been diagnosed with it and some have died. There are millions who have likely been ruined financially because of this virus. There are many in our own community who for various reasons feel no hope for the future and they live trying to embrace anything that will get them through the day. No matter what it is, it never satisfies the need that only Jesus can fill and so they continue to spiral down into darkness, anger and hopelessness. Our own country has spiraled down in a level of godlessness that we would not have previously thought possible.

Scientists and governments leaders feel that there is now a vaccination for the coronavirus. That’s good and we should pray for their success. The truth is that the greatest problem that people are suffering from is that they don’t know Jesus, at least not the Jesus of the Scriptures. They have no understanding that their sin separates them from a holy God and only Jesus can set them free from the curse of sin. Without him there is no hope for the present or the future including eternity. There is no vaccination that will remove our guilt from sin. Today, we reflect on the sacrifice that Jesus made for us on the cross and also our need to lay hold of that sacrifice by faith, trusting him to shine light into the darkness of our own hearts and those around us. It is also a reminder that the gospel is the only true message of hope and salvation for everyone who will receive it and we are the messengers; we have the cure. This day is a reminder that on the darkest of days Jesus made a way for us by sacrificing his own perfect life. That is why this day is good and it is holy and the reason for living.

Let’s pray.

©2021 Rev. Mike Moffitt

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