Thank you for being in church today. I mean it! Thank you for being the church today, Good Friday, with the crucified Lord. We live in a word of pain—and also the avoidance of pain. Today, there is nowhere to hide from the painful reality that Jesus died on the cross, his body already broken by torture.
As we gathered today, I said there were two unexpected things that Jesus’ death brought to birth:
The first thing: in the Cross, we see the eternal and infinite love of God for us. We didn’t see that coming. And the second thing: Jesus died as a criminal, but overcame death for us. Death is defeated, and he is risen for evermore! We didn’t see that coming, either.
We’ll talk about the second unexpected thing tomorrow evening at the Easter Vigil, and on Easter Sunday. Let’s talk about the first today:
In the Cross, we see the eternal and infinite love of God for us.
We couldn’t have expected that. The cross was a degrading instrument of death, used for the very worst criminals. People sometimes took days—agonising days—to die, but the torture Jesus received before his crucifixion considerably shortened his time on the cross.
It was commonly understood that anyone who died on a cross was under God’s curse. Why else would they be there? That meant that Jesus must be under a divine curse.
So you can see that the Cross was a genuine embarrassment to the early Christians; it’s not something they’d make up. Following a crucified criminal, calling this criminal ‘Lord’, was like being part of a lunatic cult.
So why did the Christians not hide the details of Jesus’ death out of sheer shame? Why did they remember it? And why do we still remember it 2000 years later? We remember this man of out all the crucified victims for this one unexpected thing: he conquered death on the third day. Jesus rose from the tomb, with the scars still on his hands.
And Jesus also showed the heart of God the Father. He forgave those who ran from him, those who denied him, even those who killed him. This is God’s heart for us.
The Bible says (John 1.18),
No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.
It is God’s Son Jesus who has shown us what the heart of God is: the heart of God for us is mercy, grace, peace and forgiveness. But it’s not just for us—it’s for all people. No exceptions. That’s another thing we didn’t see coming.
The late Michael Ramsay, one-time Archbishop of Canterbury, once said:
God is Christlike, and in God there is no unchristlikeness at all.
In other words, though we can’t see God, we can truly know God through Jesus Christ. God is Christlike. Jesus Christ is the perfect image of God.
So where is God when Jesus gives himself for us on the Cross? Sometimes, it seems people think that God is high above in heaven safe from it all. But that’s not the Christian teaching.
We teach this: God is Christlike. God is there with Jesus. Suffering with him. Enduring the Cross with him.
A picture is worth a thousand words. This sketch by William Blake shows the Father embracing the Son in his agony, and the Spirit hovering between them.
God the Father isn’t a long way off from the sufferings of Jesus; he shares the pain of Jesus and with Jesus, God forgives us. In the same way, God is not distant from our ordinary suffering; the Cross shows us that God is with us at all times, even when it seems he has gone. The Cross declares that God is Christlike, full of grace and mercy. Christ has passed God’s judgement upon us, and that judgement is this:
Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.
Thank you again for being in church today. Thank you for staying with Jesus in his hour of need, and opening your heart to him. Keep your heart open to this loving, living Lord who perfectly shows us the forgiving and reconciling mercy of God. Amen.