It is Good Friday today. A day that felt anything but good for the followers of Jesus. Luke 23:32-33 states in blunt terms:32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with Him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified Him, along with the criminals – one on His right, the other on His left.
There they crucified Him On the surface it appears to be a matter of fact description of a common event of that era in the usual place outside the city walls of Jerusalem. Pontius Pilate, the Roman Governor of Judea, like Herod the Edomite King before him, liked the time honoured method of ruling by fear. The horrors of crucifixion kept the vast majority of people in line. The staging of such executions by the sides of the main roads or near major city gates ensured that the majority of people could not avoid viewing the unfortunate victims of Roman brutality and even if they had been criminals it was difficult to avoid sympathy for someone enduring such horrific pain and agony as they struggled to breathe to stay alive.
This occasion, though, was different because although two of the three executed men were convicted terrorists / freedom fighters –depending on your point of view; there was something extraordinary about the man on the middle cross. First of all there was a crown of thorns savagely placed on his head and then above his head was an unusual statement concerning his identity. The message on that cross declared: The King of the Jews (Luke 23:38) in three languages to ensure that as many people as possible passing by could get the message. Hours earlier at the trial the Governor had declared this man completely innocent but had crucified him anyway. But there was even more to it than that. What does Luke want us to notice here?
1. The compulsion of the cross
Everyone else born on this planet would naturally do anything they could to avoid the possibility of such a death which is too horrible to contemplate, but for Jesus there was no other choice. He knew it was the Father’s will and plan for His life on earth.
In Galatians 4: 4-5 we read of Jesus: But when the set time had fully come, God sent His Son, born of a woman, born under the law, 5 to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship. Paul confirmed the identity of the One who would redeem us from our sins in I Corinthians15:21-22: For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.
In His earthly ministry Jesus lived under the shadow of the cross. He reminded His disciples with a degree of regularity about what will happen in the future- once they had begun to grasp who He is as the Saviour of the world. In Mark 8:31-32a Jesus stated: 1 He then began to teach them that the Son of Man must suffer many things and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and after three days rise again. 32 He spoke plainly about this… He knew why He came to this earth and lived in the light of that reality.Could you explain in a sentence or two what is the purpose of your life?
2. The centrality of the cross
John 19:18 states: There they crucified Him, and with Him two others – one on each side and Jesus in the middle. Is Jesus at the centre of your faith; is He the focus of your devotions and praise and worship. Jesus ought to be central because without Him our faith is of no value and for no purpose. He alone was crucified, is risen, ascended and now glorified at the right hand of the Father in heaven. He is the glorified Lord who makes our faith come alive and demonstrably real to us. The other men that day were paying the penalty for their sins and the violations of the law of the land.
There was no doubt about that as Luke 23:40-41 declares, in the words of one of the condemned men to his colleague: But the other criminal rebuked him. ‘Don’t you fear God,’ he said, ‘since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.’Why was Jesus on the cross? It was for your sin and mine that put Him there –not His own as He was the perfect man. The person who has come to faith in Jesus has grasped this amazing truth. Have you put your faith and trust in Him?
3. The conquest of the cross
Did this sacrifice need to be repeated physically or spiritually in any way? No! Jesus on the cross cried out Tetelestai Finished! (John 19:30). It is the most wonderful news we have ever received. Hebrews 10:11-13: explains it so clearly.
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. 12 But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God, 13 and since that time He waits for his enemies to be made His footstool.
The sufficiency of the death of Jesus to cover all our sins, past, present and future is absolutely wonderful. What does this mean for us in practice? Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death (Romans 8:1-2). What an amazing truth this is! But to gain the benefit of it we must turn from our sins and put our faith and trust in Jesus alone for salvation.
I pray that we recognise God’s purpose in the compulsion of the cross –without it you and I could not become part of God’s family. I pray each one of us as Christians will acknowledge the centrality of the cross as it overshadows all our lives as it did His. I pray also that we will rejoice in the conquest of the cross because Jesus is Lord, not only now but for all eternity, Amen.
The hymn for reflection today is Man of sorrows what a name