Note: We walked through this tonight in our Good Friday service. As with my preparation for Palm Sunday, Kostenberger and Taylor’s work, The Final Days of Jesus, has been a rich aid in studying the text and preparing messages for this week. I recommend you get a copy of their works for both lent and advent.
I pray the visual below helps you enter into Christ’s grief as you look upon the cross this Good Friday.
This morning, as you were driving to work, possibly settling in at your desk, getting your youngest up from their nap, or headed to class – Pilate was having a tense conversation with the Holy Men, the Priests and Pharisees – and Pilate seems to be losing.
Try as he might, Pilate can’t agree with them about the threat level of this man Jesus. He keeps trying to turn Jesus loose, and the Holy Men finally threaten to write a heated email and cc Pilate’s boss (Caesar), along with a few tersely worded tweets about how Pilate can’t do his job unless he does what they want.
And Pilate is nervous. His wife is telling him she’s had a dream about Jesus, and he should back away quickly. Jesus is puzzling him, because he’s not acting like any terrorist or criminal Pilate’s ever seen. There is something not right. The only thing he can sense for sure is the envy of the Priests that Jesus is threatening their popularity and power.
The threat against his loyalty to Caesar is enough for Pilate. Surprisingly it comes from the High Priests of God, who should be looking for the Kingdom of God – but who deny God’s King, pledging their loyalty to King Caesar as they condemn King Jesus.
This week has left the holy men, the priests, scribes and pharisees, thirsty for revenge, and ready to let Jesus taste their power – real power – as they know how to work a crowd, move the mob, and push Rome’s buttons.
These priests, these keepers of the house of God, get what it is to make things happen. They’ve pressed and pushed throughout the night without sleep – but it’s been worth it for this moment – because now no one is singing Hosanna for the prophet, there is no praise for Jesus. There are no palm branches or royal carpets today.
The faithful have left town, and the remnant that was here before has remained after. What change did Jesus even think he could make in five days? Look at him next to Pilate, unable to shield his eyes from the morning sun, his hands bound behind his back. He looks so weak now. No pithy questions, no high judgements from his mouth anymore. In fact, he’s said next to nothing all night. Like a little lamb, he’s been silent.
And now this lamb is the scourge of Rome. Time to hand him off and watch the work of the holy men play out.
Jesus has been surrounded by crowds this week.
On the hills outside town, a kingly welcome by a longing people.
In the temple, a mixed room of open ears and blind eyes, hope and hatred in every degree.
In the moonlit shadows of the garden, pawns and puppet masters come to arrest him.
All morning an angry mob of Jews, screaming for his death at the freedom of a known terrorist.
And this morning, Pilate has sent him to a battalion of Roman soldiers to be prepared for crucifixion. Here is Jesus: tied to a post – hands outstretched in front of him, a shirtless man surrounded by 600 yelling, mocking, snide, belittling roman soldiers.
And one fierce whip: The Scourge. Nine strands of leather knotted with glass and metal. It often took the lives of many sentenced to crucifixion before they ever made it out of the yard.
Imagine the angle, looking down from above. The white sand, a red speck surrounded by a thick pulsing, moving shiny outer ring. One man, standing in his blood, alone in the center of 600 angry voices, pacing, threatening, harming with each minute.
Hear their cries.
Now mute their voices.
Hear the crack of the whip.
The Gospels give little to no details of the agony of the cross. Most times you hear specifics referenced, people are trying to give color and context to the pain and punishment Christ experienced, and for some reason – the bible doesn’t lay it out for you. It’s not for shock or sensation – but for sight that we think on Christ’s suffering. Blindness, evil blindness is ruling this day, and we need to know sight is possible.
Some of those 600 probably sat down for lunch while Jesus’s hands and feet were nailed in place. They had their fun. Can you see them eating now, joking about the robe and the crown?
While some of you worked through lunch, and others of you made PB&J’s for the third day in a row, Jesus was crucified.
And his mom watched it happen. Can you feel her tears? Her boy, loosing blood by the second, nailed to a log and being yelled at by a crowd. Her boy, whom she bled to bring into the world, now bleeds as he leaves it, and she can’t make it stop.
The Pharisees watched it too – and they didn’t want it to stop. Look what they made happen. They took in the full view, they heard the crowd damning his name, and it was sweet music to them – they were back in power.
You can feel their satisfaction. No more “woe to you, hypocrites”. No more threats.
Imagine the smugness in their eyes, the sick joy in their voice as they get close enough to his feet, but far enough to keep clean from his blood. Looking at Jesus, they are drunk with power. One priest stands before the others, in front of the people, and loudly says:
“He saved others; he cannot save himself. He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.” (Matthew 27:42-43)
Little do they know how much The Father desires the Son. These Holy Men have no sight for the players they are in a cosmic war. They see themselves generals, and they are lego men – but their words, their hate, their worldly authority are daggers at Jesus, because you cannot separate his humanity and his deity – for he is himself. He, human and divine, is nailed to the wood, and he, human and divine, has to endure these insults, this pain, and the next few hours until his death.
And while you were cleaning up from lunch, washing dishes, or heading back to the office, the sun went dark. Now the moon was full last night, so it’s no solar eclipse. It is the brightest and hottest part of the day. It’s an early Spring afternoon, and it’s black as night outside.
If you’re able to think above the sadness, or see past your hate – the darkness in midday might make you pause for a second.
Zoom out from this scene, and onto the wide scale of what’s happening – this kind of darkness has typically meant three things among God’s people in the Old Testament:
- It is a sign that humans are ignorant of their sin.
- It is a sign of Divine Lament.
- And it is a sign of Divine Judgement.
Jesus is on the cross, and the sky has turned black.
Just this week he told the parable, and now they play it out: The owner of the vineyard sent his son, and they killed him and threw him out – wanting the inheritance for themselves.
The darkness could be all three: sin, lament, and judgement.
The Pharisees yell: He trusts in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires him.
And they echo Psalm 22:
7 All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
8 “He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Christ knew his life was required. Hebrews 12 tells us that it was the joy set before him that helped him endure.
And in the middle his pain, in the middle of his body failing: his shoulders long out of socket, his legs cramping, his lungs filling with fluid and every breath a struggle, God begins to pour out his wrath on sin.
Unseen by our eyes, Angels watch on in confusion, and Demon smiles drop as God moves, not to rescue the Son, but to punish him, the sinless, for all sin.
Divine judgement on rebellion, lust, addiction, stolen glances, misplaced hopes, anger, proud moments and stubborn hearts. His hatred of arrogance, lying, cheating, abuse, murder, of twistedness and darkness and evil.
His right punishment of all things that have come and gone, and that will come and go against his perfect standard, design and creation – God’s divine judgement is poured out on the only sacrifice that is able to absorb, pay for, and shield others from all that is deserved by sin and should be felt by sinners.
Absorb. Pay for. Shield.
These actions are coated in Christ’s grief – they are colored with his blood. Living in perfect unity and presence with his father – he feels – for the first and only time in his life, a relationship destroyed by the weight of sin.
But he feels it on the scale of every broken relationship rolled into one, an unimaginable absence of love and affection and presence and stability and safety while he is bleeding out on a cross, yelled at by men who mock his name and his father – while his mother and his friends look on.
It is the most unbearable part of the day, and Christ is alone in it.
He alone experiences this grief – and he doesn’t give in to death in the middle of it.
After a few hours, the crowd had grown quiet watching these three men, many probably left knowing that death was imminent. It’s about when you started thinking of what was for dinner, or leaving early to beat Friday traffic. By mid afternoon, it had likely grown quiet on the hill outside town.
One poet uses the mocker’s words, and imagines Jesus thinking to himself: But, O my God, my God! why leav’st thou me, The son, in whom thou dost delight to be?
And the dark silence is broken as Jesus cries out loud: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46)
A little while later, through bruised ribs and spent strength, he pulls himself up for a breath, and with exhaustion and tears, says, “It is finished.”
That same poet, some 1800 years later would write this moment from Christ’s voice:
But now I die; now all is finished.
My woe, man’s wealth: and now I bow my head.
Only let others say, when I am dead,
Never was grief like mine.
This is our King. Dead upon the cross.