Good Friday April 19, 2019
This evening’s service is a form of the ancient Office of Tenebrae, the Latin word for darkness. Its roots are found in the 4th Century A.D. By the use of light and darkness, it seeks to impress upon our hearts the blackness of sin and the Savior’s sacrifice for it. The extinguishing of candles represents Jesus’ ebbing life on the cross. The last candle is not extinguished, signifying that death has no victory over Christ, but that He will rise again, giving all who believe in Him the sure hope of resurrection to eternal life.
The service is conducted in a subdued manner and will end in silence. Several hymns appropriate to the meditations will be sung. No offering will be taken during the service so that we do not diminish the focus on Jesus’ supreme sacrifice that we commemorate this evening. The offering plates will be found at the door. There you may place your offering in response to the gift of Himself given for us.
The Introductory Meditation: Our Savior’s Parting Gift
On Maundy Thursday, wherever possible, able-bodied believers gather in God’s house. They come to receive the Lord’s Supper. This Sacramental meal bridges nearly two thousand years and thousands of miles for us, taking us back to the cross in a most personal and intimate way.
As He finished the Passover meal with His disciples on the night before He went to Calvary, the Lord Jesus left His forgiveness in a unique form. Taking a portion of the unleavened bread and the cup of wine on the table, He gave them to His disciples and said: “Take eat, this is my body….Take drink, this is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mk.14:22). Miraculously, but really, He gave them his body and blood along with the bread and wine to assure them of the forgiveness of all their sins.
What a parting gift, the gift of Himself, His own body and blood that was used to win our forgiveness! Jesus knew how often His followers would be weak and wobbly, how often their faith would flicker and fade, and how often they would need the comfort and confidence of forgiveness. So He gave them the miracle of Himself in the Holy Supper. Who can doubt that sins are gone and heaven opened as one receives the body and blood of his Savior that paid the price for sin?
When sins alarm you and guilt won’t let you go, when faith needs feeding and hearts cry out for happiness, then, dear friend, stand at His table to hear Him tell you again and again: “Here is my body; I gave it for you. Here is my blood; I shed it for you. Your sins are forgiven. Go in peace.”
The Savior has left us a wonderful parting gift; a gift of redeeming grace. It no longer leaves us as mere spectators at the cross. By it He draws us into Himself; through it we are saved.
The Commemoration: Questions Answered from the Cross
I. Do We Need God’s Forgiveness?
The first words that Jesus spoke from the cross do not sound like the words of a dying man, especially one who is unjustly undergoing unspeakable pain. Most people would curse those who were nailing them to a cross. In contrast we hear the Savior’s intercessory prayer as he looked down upon His tormentors: “Father, forgive them; they do not know what they are doing.”
What had “they” done? They had deceitfully betrayed Him, falsely accused Him, illegally tried Him, and unjustly condemned Him. They had scourged Him, crowned His head with thorns, and nailed Him to a cross like a criminal. And for what? For calling Himself the Christ, the Son of God. He proved it was true by His preaching and His miracles and the Father above had proclaimed it.
Did these men need forgiveness? Yes, for they dared to raise their hands against the holy and innocent Son of God. Never could they make atonement for such a sin; nor would their ignorance excuse them before a holy God. They may not have known what they were doing. Still the inescapable judgment of divine Justice stood against them.
Since they could not atone for their crime, their only hope of salvation lay in the grace of God. Did these people need God’s forgiveness? Yes, of course! For this Jesus prayed.
What about us? Do we need God’s forgiveness? After all, we weren’t the ones calling for His death. We lifted no hand against Him….Or did we?
Every sin is an offense against the holy will of God. Would any of us dare to stand before God who sees all things and searches each heart and say, “I am pure. I have never sinned against You?” Our own hearts condemn us. Do we need God’s forgiveness? You know the answer.
For this Christ Jesus prayed and then laid down His life as an atoning sacrifice for sin. There is forgiveness with God for Jesus’ sake. If He could forgive those who so mercilessly killed Him, He can forgive us as well.
Sadly, they wouldn’t believe it, and so lost its blessings. Believe and you shall be saved, for at the cross of Christ forgiveness is found for all. We do not deserve it; but, oh, how we need it, and more, how richly He gives it!
II. Does God Want Me?
Of all the questions of life the most significant are those that deal with our personal relationship to God. The human heart at times is filled with grave doubts about it. Some people feel that God is too exalted, too far removed, too busy to be concerned with their little lives. God concerned with my problems? Hardly!
Even the most sincere Christian may have his moments when he wavers on this point. Added to that, the sense of guilt for wrongs done can be so strong that it drives one to despair. Think of Simon Peter, for example. He once cried out to the Savior, “Depart from me, O Lord, for I am a sinful man!” Could God want me?
Go to the cross. See the Savior. Listen to His words. By His side hangs a convicted criminal. Christ knew that man’s sins. In agony over them the man turned to Jesus and made a request, “Lord, remember me when you come into Your Kingdom.”
No merit to plead; only to fall upon the mercy of the Savior. Jesus replied: “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in Paradise.” It was as if He said, “Yes, dear friend, no matter how sinful you are, God wants you and I have paid the price.”
No one is beyond the pale of God’s love, for God so loved the world. No one is so low that God cannot lift him up, for Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners. No one is so dirty that Christ’s redeeming blood cannot wash him clean. For the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin. Scriptures re-echo these truths time and time again. For God is not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance and live.
Tragically a man may say, “I don’t want God.” But he can never truthfully declare, “God does not want me,” for Christ died for all to draw them into His kingdom. Indeed, He wants you.
III. Am I my brother’s keeper?
If the most significant questions of life are those that deal with our relationship to God, then the questions of next importance are those that deal with man’s relationship to man. Along these lines the first question of any magnitude came shortly after the fall into sin. It came from the mouth of Adam and Eve’s first-born son, Cain.
With a heart full of jealousy he murdered his brother Abel. Shortly afterwards God came to Cain and asked, “Cain, where is your brother Abel?” Cain replied with a lie: “I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” It is a question born in the heart of a murderer. We would do well to remember that.
Not many would want to identify themselves with Cain, yet unknowingly we do. Prejudice, hatred, unkindness or cold indifference to others says, “I am not my brother’s keeper. What he does is his own business. I’ve got my concerns; he’s got his.” Perhaps, no human court would ever convict us for that, but before God such thoughts stand condemned for the Lord has said, “Whoever hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.”
Am I my brother’s keeper? We may answer, “No!” But there is an answer of an entirely different kind shown to us from the cross.
When Jesus looked down from the cross, His gaze fell on His enemies; and He forgave them. His head turned to the criminal; and He pardoned him. Next His eyes beheld some loved ones, and His attention was drawn to His mother. We would expect her there, for mothers worry about their sons.
She had been there to wrap her new-born Son in swaddling clothes as she laid Him in a manger. She had been there when the twelve year old could not be found in the company of those returning home from the festival. Worried she turned back to Jerusalem to look for Him and searched until He was located in the temple. Although she became increasingly aware of the unfolding of His divine nature and work, He was still her son. Rejected by man, forsaken by God, He was still her son.
In the midst of His agony, Jesus’ eye rested on her. Seeing her need, He bid His disciple John to care for her for love, sympathy, and helpfulness should prevail among those who are called His disciples. Under Him we are each other’s keepers.
What He did there, He did not only for her but for us. In perfect obedience throughout His life He fulfilled for us the divine law of love. And by His innocent death, He paid the penalty for the times we have not been our mothers’ and brothers’ keepers.
Am I my brother’s keeper? There are only two answers to it. The one is from Cain, a murderer; the other is from Christ, the Savior. Cain or Christ? Which shall it be?
IV. How serious is sin?
In these times of national and worldly uncertainty, people ask questions that they think are vitally important to life here. The questions are valid, as we seek with God’s help to forge our future. But of greater importance for our future well-being are those questions which are not often asked. And the one that we dare not ignore to ask, especially in hard times, is: How serious is sin? Something of the seriousness of sin and its effect upon people may be seen in the tragic occurrences of the past.
Sin produces dire consequences. We see it in a Flood that covered the earth and swallowed up man and beast, except those whom God safely nestled in the ark. We see it in the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, cities well known for their vice and shameful ways. We see it among Old Testament Israel, God’s chosen people who rebelled against Him and whom He scattered across the wilderness. How serious is sin? Do we need to ask? This is how serious sin is.
From twelve noon until three a strange darkness settled over Calvary and “all the land” on the day Jesus was crucified. All grew silent except for the groans of those on the cross. Then at three Christ cried out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? That is My God, why have you forsaken me?”
Forsaken by God! Who can understand it? Who can fathom the depths of suffering that gave rise to such a cry of anguish? Abandoned by God, Christ suffers the full brunt of hell. Though we cannot comprehend its horror, we know why He suffered so. The cause? Sin is serious business; it brings down God’s punishment upon it. And Christ willingly suffered it in our place.
How serious is sin? It separates man from God and plunges him into hell. Thank God it moved Him in love to send His Son to endure it for us. And in that love Christ triumphed over it.
We dare not regard it lightly. We daily abhor it, repent of it, and cling to the Savior to receive His gracious forgiveness. Then we serve Him in grateful love, remembering till our last hour that He was forsaken by God that we might never be.
V. Why do the righteous suffer?
When a bad man suffers, we tend to say, “He’s getting what he deserved.” But when a believer suffers, it does not seem right and fair to us. Why do the righteous suffer? Look at Christ.
Mocked, scourged, bloodied, nailed to a cross, hanging between heaven and earth. Through it all, His thoughts are not on Himself, but on those around Him. Now, for the first time on the cross, He expresses a need for Himself: “I thirst,” He cries. Such intense suffering, and all He wants is a drink. Why did He, the Righteous One, suffer so?
Many will say He suffered because of wicked men: a greedy disciple, self-righteous leaders, a paranoid Roman governor, and sadistic soldiers. True, he did suffer because of wicked men. Even the Bible says that. But that is not the whole answer. Why did He suffer? Not only because of wicked men, but for wicked men.
VI. Can I be sure of salvation?
Christ’s thirst had another purpose – to make us certain. When His thirst was eased by the drink He received, He was enabled to cry out with a loud voice for all to hear: “It is finished.”
This is a topsy-turvy world where fortunes and plans turn on a dime. It’s a world where it seems one can’t be certain of anything. Years ago we thought the war in Afghanistan would not last long, although our leaders warned us not to think that way. But with our smart bombs and superior military intelligence and strength, it seemed like it would be over in an instant. Americans were so sure. Still, it drags on. The other day I heard it is the longest war that the U.S.A. has been in, 18 years now. Can we be sure of anything?
Not in this world, but in heaven you can. Just stand before the cross and listen. Christ wishes to make you certain.
In response to His words of thirst, a soldier ran to fill a sponge with vinegar and wine, put it upon a stick, and lifted it to Christ’s mouth. The drink worked to clear His throat long enough and to give Him enough strength that was needed to cry: “It is finished.” It was as if He said, “My work for you, dear sinner, is complete. Redemption is finished. Mission accomplished. All is done.” But can I be sure of my salvation? Dear friend, Yes, Christ says so.
Man may deny its truth; he may doubt it, question it, ridicule it. But no man can ever change what is fact: “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s Son, cleanses from all sin.” And “he that believes it and is baptized shall be saved.” Your attitude never affects that truth for it is divine truth. But, sadly, your attitude does affect you.
As far as God is concerned, it is done. He will not forsake you for God is faithful. Besides, He gives you this Sacrament tonight as a seal and pledge of His commitment to you. “Neither death nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
Can I be certain? Yes! Jesus has removed all doubt with one cry: “It is finished.”
VII. Can death be beautiful?
And so it shall be for those who believe for in such faith they share the blessed benefits of His salvation. To such He promised: “I am the Resurrection and the Life. He that believes in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Yes, death can be beautiful. But only in Jesus who has abolished its fears and brought life and immortality to light.
The Lord Jesus is my Savior; He is my Shepherd; in Him “I shall not want. When I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for He is with me. His rod and staff, they comfort me. He is preparing a table before me, in the presence of my enemies. He anoints my head with oil and my cup runs over. Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” In the Father’s house above a mansion is prepared – prepared for all who believe. And it is beautiful. (God, grant it to us in faith for Jesus’ sake.)
(service revised 4/18/2019)
(The Prayer for Good Friday:
Lord Jesus Christ, in humble awe, reverent silence, and solemn worship, we gather around your cross to remember your death. At the cross open our eyes to see the horror and misery that sin, death, and the devil have brought into the world and that you have taken upon yourself. But enlighten our hearts to see that with your death you destroyed death, with your sacrifice you reconciled us to God, and by Your blood you purchased us to belong to you forever.
Help us to believe that all is now done and we are your own. Fill us with joy and peace in our forgiveness. And help us rededicate our lives in thankful love to serve You and all You give us.
O Lamb of God who bore the sin of the world, hear our prayer for Your name’s sake. Amen.)