World-renowned evangelist, Billy Graham, once said, “Sin is the second most powerful force in the universe, for it sent, Jesus the Son of God, to the cross. Only one force is greater Ð the love of God.” That’s why some people call the day Jesus hung on the cross, the best, worst day ever. Most people call it Good Friday, but I call it “God’s Friday,” for on that day God the Father offered His Son Jesus in love to atone for the sins of the world and to reconcile a rebellious creation back to the heart of the Father.
So high hopes of the crowd sang Jesus’ praises the day that He entered Jerusalem’s gates on the back of a donkey. The people had seen Jesus cast out demons, heal the sick, give sight to the blind, even raise the dead. So they rejoiced: “Blessed is the One who comes in the name of the Lord. Blessed be the one who ushers in the kingdom of our father, David.” They believed that Jesus was the anointed one of God, ushering in an age of peace and victory over enemies and unprecedented prosperity to elevate God’s people once again to power in the world. They had high expectations of the Messiah coming to them.
When Luke in chapter two announced Jesus’s birth, He had a sky full of angels singing, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all of God’s favor rests.” According to Isaiah chapter 9, Jesus is the Prince of Peace. As He is born to the creation, He brings peace to earth and favor from God.
But then, in the Gospel of Luke 19, when he’s talking about Jesus’ entrance into Jerusalem, he says, “Blessed is the King who comes in the name of the Lord!” and “Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!” Why is that change of location? Because now Jesus the Messiah comes for the very purpose He was born Ð to offer His life on the cross for the forgiveness of sins of the world and to be raised from the dead to give eternal life to all whom God loves. Jesus was coming to remove every barrier which divides humanity from God, so now God in heaven is at peace.
So the crowd rejoiced that day as Jesus rode the donkey’s back with their high expectations, but soon all would know the profound truth, the paradox, that Jesus would be a crucified Messiah. The events of passion week that followed that triumphant entrance into Jerusalem were significant. With the praises of the people still hanging in the air, Jesus went to the home of a religious leader. They had a little supper party, and a woman crashed the party. She anointed Jesus’ head with expensive perfume, wept at His feet, and dried His feet with her hair. She anointed Jesus as the King He is.
That very night Judas made a deal to betray Jesus to the religious leaders. In the Upper Room, Jesus shared what would be the Last Supper with His disciples in the Passover celebration. Many forget that Jesus’ crucifixion was in the context of Passover celebration. It remembers the Exodus event when God by ten plagues broke Pharaoh’s will and delivered His people from slavery in Egypt, leading them into the freedom of the wilderness, and then the promised land. The people were spared because they took the blood of the Lamb and smeared it on their doorposts as a sign of their faith that by the Llamb’s blood, they would be spared judgment. And so it is with Jesus, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Later, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus, with drops of blood pouring from His forehead, asked His Father if there was any other way? “Yet not my will, but yours be done.” Judas betrays Jesus with a kiss, and the soldiers arrest Him. The disciples all run for their lives in fear. They desert the Master. Peter, despite his bravado, denies Jesus three times, and on His trial Pilate, in an act of cowardice, abdicates justice, though multiple times he had said, “I find no guilt in this man.” He turns Him over to the whim of the crowd for fear of his life. The religious leaders had persuaded the crowd to scream, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!”
Here is the paradox: How could God usher in His kingdom of life and love if the Son of God, the Messiah, is put to death on a cross? How can an infinite, eternal God die and still win? Well on that best, worst day ever, because of the cross, we learn a number of things that are wonderful news for us.
First, because Jesus was rejected by His people, deserted by His disciples, forsaken even by His Father, we know that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus.
Second, because of the cross, we know Jesus has born sin’s curse. He has taken sin’s condemnation on Himself. The Scripture says, “The one who hangs on the tree is cursed” (Gal. 3:13). Jesus was rejected, deserted, forsaken, condemned, even cursed in my place and in your place. Isaiah 53:6b tells us “the Lord God laid on him the iniquity of us all.” Jesus has taken the curse on the cross. That’s why when John in Revelation 22 is painting a vision of the new Jerusalem with the glory of the Lamb’s light shining on all that are in the city, he describes a river of life flowing through that city and trees of life lining the river. Healing for the nations in the leaves of those trees. Then he says this simple statement: The curse has been removed. When Jesus, the Son of God went to the cross, He took the curse that we deserved on Himself.
Third, because of the cross of Jesus, we have unlimited, continual access to the very presence of a holy God. When Mark talks about Jesus’ baptism in chapter 1, he says, “As Jesus was baptized, the heavens split open and the dove descended, resting upon Jesus.” He is remembering the fulfillment of a prophecy in Isaiah 64 where the prophet aches with the words, “Oh that you, God, would rend apart the heavens and come down.”
So, as Jesus is baptized, marking the beginning of His ministry as the Messiah on earth, ushering in that age of peace culminating in the cross and the resurrection, the heavens are split apart and the Spirit descends upon Jesus. It’s the same word in the Greek. It’s schizo, from which we derive the English word schizophrenia. The word means to tear apart, to rip, separate into two. At His baptism, Jesus is fulfilling the prophecy of Isaiah. God is coming down to earth to rescue us.
Mark’s Gospel of the crucifixion account says, “When Jesus breathed his last, the veil in the temple was ripped apart” (15:33). It is the same word. The veil was torn apart and now all people have an open invitation into the very presence of the holiness of God.
Remember the story of Esther in the Old Testament with her husband, King Xerxes. The villainous Haman had made a law that on a certain day all Jews would be put to death. After three days of fasting and prayer, Esther appeared before the king’s throne, even though it was a law of the land that if you appeared uninvited before the king, you could be put to death unless the king extended his scepter to you. The king did extend his scepter, Esther revealed the plot, and God’s people were ultimately saved because of her courage. Likewise, Hebrews 4 tells us that Jesus is a high priest who understands all our weaknesses, yet He was perfect. So in the name of Jesus, we can boldly come before the throne of God to receive mercy and help in our time of need.
When Jesus went to the cross and the sacrifice was finished, He made it possible for all people forever who put their trust in Him to have access and relationship with God. The cross of Jesus also proves that He is in fact the Son of God. It seems like a paradox, but it’s true.
In the very first verse of his Gospel, Mark says, “The beginning of the story about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.” It is interesting that, in this account of Jesus’ life death and resurrection, the Son of God is not confessed by any man until the crucifixion when a foreigner, a Roman centurion in charge of His execution, watches Jesus die, watches Him pray to the Father, watches the courage with which He sacrifices His life, and then says, “Certainly this One was the Son of God.” The demons in Mark’s Gospel affirmed multiple times that Jesus is the Son of God. The Father affirmed at Jesus’ baptism, “This is my son whom I love. I am well pleased with him.”
The Father also affirmed Jesus’ deity on the Mount of Transfiguration with His disciples when Jesus radiated with the fullness of glory, “This is my son, my beloved. Listen to him.” However, it was not until Jesus went to the cross that any man confessed Him as the Son of God. In fact, the mockers at the foot of the cross even said, “If you are the Son of God, come down from there and save yourself.” But Jesus couldn’t save Himself and still save us, so He proved that He was and is the Son of God by finishing His sacrifice. By His blood, our sins would be forgiven, and we would be in relationship with God.
Henri Nouwen, a Christian writer and theologian, tells a moving story from the country of Paraguay about a doctor who cared very much for the poor people in a little village. He would often treat them free of charge. Others in the village Ð the authorities, the police, the government of the village Ð didn’t like the doctor. They didn’t like his politics, and they thought he was stirring up discontent among the poor people. The doctor was too popular for them to take on, so instead they arrested the doctor’s son, put him in jail, and tortured him mercilessly. They tortured him too much, and the son died.
When news of that son’s death spread through the village, the people wanted to hold a huge demonstration march. They wanted to carry his body through the village and demonstrate to the media and to the newspapers what had happened, but the father said, “No, I just want a funeral in the church here in the village. We will show in our own way.”
When the people arrived for the funeral, they had a surprise. The father had taken the body of his son, just as they had found it in the prison cell Ð on a blood-soaked, dirty mattress. Instead of being all cleaned up and dressed in a nice suit and an expensive coffin, the corpse of the doctor’s son in that little village was naked lying on the mattress, covered with cigarette burns, bruises, blood, and scars. It was the strongest protest imaginable! What that father did was put the injustices of his village on grotesque display.
Henri Nouwen goes on and asks, Isn’t that what God did at the cross of Calvary? He displayed the injustice of our world for the whole world to see. The cross showed what kind of world we live in Ð a world of violence, cruelty, injustice. But it also showed the kind of God we have: a God of sacrificial, forgiving love Who gives Himself for us in love.
So that day, when Jesus hung on the cross, it was the best, worst day ever. It was God’s Friday, and on that day God made it possible for you and me to believe that all our sins are forgiven, we can have a relationship with God who made us, and in the name of Jesus we can have eternal life. Jesus on the cross showed clearly He is the Son of God, for who but God could reign from a cross as a throne? Who but God could forgive and promise a future to a criminal thief at His side, even as He Himself was dying? Who but God would forgive His executioners and all sinners with His dying breath? The day that Jesus our Lord died on the cross showed the glory of God’s love for us. This is a day again for you and me to say, Lord, I believe. Forgive me my sin. Come by your spirit into my life. I believe in you. Glory to God.