Christ’s followers are in the final preparations of the celebration of Easter Sunday in a couple of weeks. Choirs are placing their final touches on anthems, preachers are on the home stretch of Easter sermon preparations, lilies have been ordered, meals have been planned and matching outfits have been selected. (And this year, April Fools pranks will have a unique twist given the date of Easter. Everybody watch out for Rose Brooks!)
But there can’t be an Easter Sunday without a Good Friday.
We gloss over, “Jesus died on a cross.” Either we forget or aren’t aware of the reality of crucifixion, so we lose our appreciation for what Jesus went through. The Persians invented the practice of crucifixion but the Romans perfected the practice. Roman soldiers took great pleasure and delight in creating, inventing and exploring new painful and shameful ways to bring about death.
Crucifixion was state-sponsored terrorism. The message was loud and clear: Don’t mess with us. Or this could be you. Crucifixions took place in busy public areas. It was done openly, publicly and shamefully.
The historian Josephus called it, “the most wretched of deaths.” To be crucified was so painful that a new word was invented: Excruciating, which literally means “from the cross.” There is not a more painful or shameful way to die than the cross.
Jesus is arrested while praying, betrayed by the kiss of a friend and run through a series of illegal trials. None of the witnesses agree but the state and religious leaders simply decide to kill him and be done with him. He is beaten and spat upon by a mob of soldiers.
He is stripped, almost naked, which in this culture was very shameful. Hands bound together over his head, he is flogged. Isaiah, born 700 years before the birth of Jesus, anticipating this event, said that his form was marred beyond human likeness. Which means, if you knew Jesus and you saw him in this state, you wouldn’t recognize him.
A crown of thorns is thrust into his head and he is mockingly hailed, “King of the Jews.” A crossbar, something like a railroad tie, is laid across his back and he carries it to the crucifixion site. When he arrives they lay him on wood. And the God who made heaven and earth is now laid by the people he made, upon wood he created.
They take the equivalent of railroad spikes and they drive them into the most sensitive nerve centers on the human body through hands and feet. The crosspiece is nailed to an upright piece of wood, which is then dropped into a hole in the ground.
And he looks out on the mob gathered there. He finds his mother. Can you imagine that? The woman who birthed him, the one who saw him for the very first time. The one who counted to make sure that he had 10 fingers and 10 toes. Now she is seeing them nailed to a Roman cross. That’s her son.
And there he dies.
The day Jesus died on is called Good Friday, so what’s good about it?
The Bible uses the little word “for” to transition from how Jesus suffered to why Jesus suffered.
Here are a few examples:
- Isaiah 53:5: But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.
- Romans 4:25: He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.
- Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
The penalty is paid. Condemnation is lifted. Shame is removed. Forgiveness is granted. Grace is offered. We are loved.
The Rev. Scott Hearn is the senior pastor at Gainesville First United Methodist Church in Gainesville.