HE DID IT FOR US…. HE CHOSE THE NAILS
This evening we gather for a solemn occasion. We gather to remember that Jesus died. That’s a fact that we Christians understand down deep in our hearts. This day we call “Good” really wasn’t so good back then when Jesus went to the cross. It only became ‘good’ years later as the church celebrated this day when Jesus took the sins of the whole world upon himself on that old rugged cross. You see, Jesus took that which was bad, his suffering and pain, and turned it into something good, his death on the cross and his rising from the grave to give us forgiveness of sins, and eternal life in paradise with him and those who believe.
His disciples have scattered, Judas has betrayed him, Peter denied him three times, and the rest have gone into hiding. He was getting ready to stand before Herod and then Pilate, put on trial for being loving, humble and kind. It didn’t make sense. As far as the world would look at it, it would not be a good day.
But let’s look at that Friday for a few minutes because it’s one of the most powerful days of our faith. Without it, we would not understand God’s love for us, nor Jesus’ love either. We don’t like to think about it most of the time. Most movies about the life of Christ show some of the suffering that Jesus had to bear that day. The whippings by Pilate’s men. The weaving and placing a crown of thorns upon his head. The spitting in his face, the mocking him as King. Many people who saw the movie “The Passion of Christ” were upset on how graphic those scenes near the end were. Other movies might spend a few minutes on that scene of his dying. But the Passion of Christ spent just about the whole time on that Friday we call ‘good.’ How could they put this on the screen? Each time the whip fell, and the soldiers laughed, well, for most in the audience it was horrible. Many shrieked, almost as if they felt the whip, or the crown of thorns being pushed into his head. How could they do that to a person? How could the others let this happen? But that is what they did back then. That’s how they punished those who were crooks, preparing them to die. Crucifixion was no easy task. It was a cruel, and a humiliating thing. It was to be a deterrent, like our old electric chair, so others would stay the course. That is why they crucified outside the city, on a hill, so those who passed by could be warned, if you don’t behave, if you go against Rome, this is what might be waiting for you.
And so, it was for Jesus. The gospels tell the story. They tell about his shallow trial. They tell how people would release a criminal, rather than Jesus. When asked what crime Jesus committed, they just kept yelling to crucify him. Even Barabbas, a thief, maybe even a murderer, was shocked when the people picked him to be released and Jesus was led away to be crucified.
And so, it was that day we call Good Friday. Trial over. Beatings done, and Jesus is led to a hill called Golgotha, or the place of the skull. Along with him two other men. But of the three, only Jesus took the beating. Pilate had thought maybe if he had Jesus beaten to within an inch of his life, and the crowd saw his punishment, that they would feel sorry for him and maybe have pity on him. But it didn’t go down that way. No! It just gave the crowd more ammunition to yell for him to be crucified. Led by the religious leaders who wanted this thorn- in- their- flesh gone, the crowds shouted again and again against Jesus. Pilate, not sure which way to turn, condemned him, but washed his hands of the decision, trying to say he found no fault in this man called Jesus. He could not find one crime he was guilty of. But he gave into the crowd. “Take him away” Pilate said. “His blood is on your hands.”
Led through the streets of Jerusalem, a weakened Jesus, carries his cross while people gather to watch his journey. No one dared get close to him or help him for fear that the soldiers would beat them. If he was going slow, a soldier would lay his whip on his back. A weakened man carrying a cross. It would be a tough thing for a man who was well, never mind a man who had been beaten half to death. Finally, when Jesus fell a third time, they reached into the crowd and grabbed a man to help Jesus carry his cross. You wonder if this man’s life was transformed that day. I bet it was. I bet he had a story to tell to his kids, his grandkids, and anyone who would listen. “I helped Jesus carry his cross” he perhaps would say with humility.
Up the street, down the road, up the hill to Calvary until he got to the waiting party of soldiers who wished they had been assigned to other duties. They placed the thieves on their crosses and hoisted them leaving the center position for one last criminal. When Jesus arrived, they took his clothing, laid him on the cross and drove the nails into his hands and his feet. When finished, they hoisted him up between the two thieves and waited for all three to take their final breathes.
We don’t like to think about all that, do we. It kind of hurts. You want to block those things from your mind. It’s there in all of the gospels, but the only time we think about it is on Good Friday. And as we know, a Good Friday service is not well attended. There are other things to do. We don’t want to hear about death and crucifixion. We just want to hear about resurrection and Jesus is alive. But we can’t have the victory of Easter morning without the suffering of Friday, can we. It just doesn’t work like that. Our cantata this year reminded us to “Come to the cross and Remember.”
What should we remember? Should we just remember the joy of Easter? Should we not remember the suffering of Friday? Should we remember why Jesus died for us? Should we not remember how much he loved us? Should we not remember how much God himself loved us that he sent his son into this world to take away its sins? That would be no easy task.
That mean snake in the grass who got Adam and Eve to take a bite of the forbidden fruit had for years been trying to get rid of the one that one day would come and bring salvation. From the beginning of Jesus’ ministry when he tempted him in the wilderness, to this very moment, Satan would put Jesus and God to the test. He would pour it on. And God would let him. God could have said enough is enough, but he didn’t. And Satan was enjoying every minute, every blow Jesus took, every stroke of the hammer, every swing of the whip.
And when the crowds began to mock Jesus, telling him to come down from the cross and they would believe, Satan perhaps smiled because he knew it would not happen. He had Jesus in the right place. He had God in the right place. What were they going to do? God’s plan of salvation seemed to be falling apart.
For 9 hours Jesus hung on the cross while the people mulled around waiting for his death. Don’t know how long the thieves held up. But we know this, one thief sought forgiveness, the other, just wanted to be free. One asked Jesus to remember him when this was all over, while the other said get him and himself off this wicked cross. One found salvation and eternal life. The other found eternal punishment.
Soldiers gambled for his clothing that was worth nothing at all as they waited for the end to come. The women who followed Jesus were there trying to console one another and to console Mary, the mother of Jesus. Some of those who were followers of Jesus waited as well in horror as the waiting went on.
Then it was getting closer. The skies began to get darker. It looked like a rain storm was coming. Lightening could be seen on the horizon. The wind was picking up. Clouds were overtaking the sun and there was a cold breeze whipping the crowd as they drew their clothing tighter around themselves to keep warm and dry. They all hoped it would be soon. They looked at Jesus and they knew he couldn’t last much longer. He called out in pain and was offered something to help him deal with the pain he suffered, but he turned it away. He began to cry out to his Father asking why he had to bare all this pain… but he knew why as he took the sins of the whole world upon himself…. every last one of them. And then the crucial moments….looking at the crowds around him who were longing to hear each word he said. They listened, telling others who were shouting to be quiet. “Father in heaven. My Father,” he was heard to say as he looked at the crowd, then looked toward heaven. “Father, forgive them for they know not what they are doing.” And a hush fell over the crowd. Who could forgive those who were doing such a thing? Who was this who wasn’t asking for deliverance, or freedom, or healing, but asking forgiveness for those who put him here on this cross? Not just the soldiers, not just Pilate, not just the religious leaders, not just those who rejected, mocked, or who turned away from him. But all the people who sin. The past. The present. The future. Forgive those who continue to reject his inviting hand of faith. Forgive those who rebel against God’s way. Forgive those who walk in hate and not in love. The centurion who led many crucifixions looked up at Jesus in his finally moments and came to realize who this man was as he blurted out on that cold, rainy, dank Friday, “Truly, this is the Son of God.”
Then finally, when the moment was right. When the time on this earth was about to end, he looked at the crowd one last time, his eyes falling on his mother, his friends, perhaps he smiled a smile that could have been interpreted by them of a smile of assurance all would be well. He then looked toward heaven, and cried out one more time, and breathed his last. And the lightning struck, and the wind blew, and the rain fell and curtain in the temple broke in two, as Jesus died. It was over.
Not one of my favorite stories. But one of the stories we need if we are to remember what Jesus did for the world, and for you and me. It’s sad to say that our sins helped put him them. We should never forget that. He loved us so much he was willing to stay on that cross as long as he had to in order to take the sins of the whole world upon himself. And when they were all dealt with, he took that final breath and died.
Mark’s gospel says, “With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last.” The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “SURELY THIS MAN WAS THE SON OF GOD!”
Thus, comes to end the Friday we call Good Friday. Satan’s power has been displayed and the people at the cross were devastated. Jesus was taken from the cross placed in a tomb and it was sealed. Satan knowing Jesus was out of his hair, lit a cigar and sat on the tomb in celebration. But that was Friday, and my friends, Sunday is coming!