Good Friday

In the Creation story; told in Genesis; the end of the first chapter says that God looked upon everything that he had made, including mankind, and, behold, ‘it was very good'. It was very good - then sin entered the world.
 
The Bible indicates that God has a never-failing love for his creation, in general; and for man in particular. But scripture also forces us to realise that there coexists with that Divine Love, an abiding hatred of sin.
 
God’s nature makes it impossible for him to overlook sin, and refrain from judging the sinner; for to do so, would offend against his own righteousness.
 
The righteousness of God demanded the destruction of sin; though not, necessarily, of the sinner himself. There is much in the Old Testament to show that God longed for the sinful man to repent, and turn back to him.
 
This is, perhaps, most clearly shown in Ezekiel 18, where it says: 'Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, says the Lord, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?'
 
Such was God's desire, that man should turn to Him and live; that he raised up a succession of prophets and teachers, to point the way of reconciliation.
 
The calls to repentance were mostly ignored; and the righteousness of God could no longer be contained. But there was a problem. Sin and sinner were so often inextricably bound together, that, in the destruction of the one, the other perished. Man died in his sin, and God grieved in His heart.
 
For centuries mankind struggled with the problem of sin, and the separation from God that it brought about. Man tried to overcome separation through sacrifices; but the blood of bulls; goats, and lambs, could never remove sin; for the sinner was never sufficiently identified with the sacrifice.
 
God’s love desired that man should live. Divine righteousness, demanded the destruction of sin. Caught in between; unable to meet the requirements of God; mankind was in a situation from which he could not escape of himself. And there he would have remained; and there would we be also, if God had not intervened.
 
For generations, through the prophets, God spoke of his intervention; of the time when reconciliation would be effected in a new way; that was filled with hope and joy, for mankind. However, especially through Isaiah and Jeremiah, he also spoke of suffering and sacrifice; of One who would be led to slaughter like a sacrificial lamb.
God's way was bound to succeed; providing that man recognised it as his only hope of getting out of his predicament; and took the opportunity.
 
Man's previous ways had failed; because, as said, he could never sufficiently identify himself with the sacrifices that he offered.
 
God's way was bound to succeed, because he would make the necessary, and sufficient sacrifice, through his only Son, who would fully identify himself with sinful man.
 
In that ultimate sacrifice, the power of sin was destroyed. The demands of God's righteousness were fully met; and man received all the benefits.
 
For us, in an age and culture very different from those biblical days: it is difficult to understand the full significance of physical sacrifice.
 
But, if we are to share in the blessings and benefits coming out of Easter; we must understand, as fully as possible; and share in; the spiritual significance of Christ’s Good Friday sacrifice.
 
All biblical sacrifice was offered, with the deliberate intention of bringing about a desired good: especially the remission of sins. And so it is with the sacrifice of Jesus. His death was not the haphazard outcome of a plan that had gone wrong.
 
The cross was eternally present in the mind and heart of God the Father; and Jesus, right from the start of his earthly ministry, knew that death on the cross awaited him, at the end of it.
 
John wrote: 'For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son’; and we must remember, that it was not the infant Christ who won redemption for us; nor Christ the teacher and healer; but the dying Christ; given in sacrifice.
 
God, in Christ, completely identified Himself with man. The sinless life, and utter obedience of Jesus; met the demands of divine righteousness. The full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice; effected at the cross; cancelled out the power of sin and death; and opened up the way to new life.
 
However, when, at the cross, Jesus said ‘it is finished', he spoke only of his part in God’s plans. He opened up the new way of redemption; but whether or not the road to life is thronged with people; or deserted; depends upon their response to what God has done for them.
 
The response required by God, is not merely that we should approve of what he has done; and be thankful: nor passively associate ourselves with the death and resurrection of Christ, and do little about it…
…but that we should become caught up in the whole process of redemption. God tends to reach out to people, through people. Therefore, he desires our co-operation; so that, at any time, he might do so through us.
 
Jesus said: 'When I am lifted up, I will draw all men to myself’. He not only spoke of the manner of his death; but also of the fact that, when he is ‘lifted up’; made manifest, and shown to the world; through the lives of his followers; he becomes very attractive; drawing men to himself.
 
Through God’s call of us: we share in the resurrected life of Jesus. When the Spirit of Christ is upon us; and at work within us; then, slowly, but very surely; we bear the ‘Fruits of the Spirit’ more fully. 
 
We notice the change that the Lord is bringing to our lives; and others notice it too, as they begin to see Christ made manifest in the individual believer, and in the gathered-together Church.
 
When he is clearly seen in us; then we are exercising the finest possible witness to our Lord. But that is the Easter Day of our lives.
 
First, there has to be Good Friday. We cannot manifest the living Christ to the world, without showing the crucified Christ; and we cannot truly do this, in lives that do not share in his sacrifice.
 
Paul said of himself:  'I have been crucified with Christ: it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’. Can we say the same of ourselves?
 
Being ‘crucified with Christ’, seems an ugly concept; and something beyond our powers to undertake; but we can achieve this, by doing as Jesus did.
 
We read that, at the appointed time, he set his face towards Jerusalem, the place where he was to die. He was resolute of purpose; and went there quite deliberately, in obedience to the will of God.
 
Today, we run no risk of physical crucifixion, for the sake of the Gospel; but each one of us must face up to Christ’s challenge: 'If any man would come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me'.
 
We do this by setting our faces towards doing the will of God; being as resolute of purpose as Jesus was; and allowing the Holy Spirit to deny, in us, those things of self that stand between us and God.
 
Jesus said: ‘Any man who puts his hand to the plough, and then looks back, is not fit for the Kingdom of Heaven’.
 
He means that we should not regret our decision to follow him; and should not keep looking back at our old way of life, as though it offered something, that we regret leaving behind. Instead, we must look forwards; following Christ’s lead.
 
A man who has been physically crucified is, to all intents and purposes, already dead to the world. We who have been spiritually crucified, must, in the sense of scripture; be ‘dead’ to those things that would prevent us from experiencing true newness of life in Christ.
 
A man who is not ‘dead’ in that sense risks becoming a worldly Christian; knowing too much of Christ, to be truly happy in the world; but loving the world too well, to be of real service to Jesus.
 
We, who have been spiritually crucified, should have no more life-directing plans of our own; being entirely in the hands of God.  But, every day, we run the risk of paying mere lip service to doing the will of God; whilst we busy ourselves with all sorts of plans of our own devising.
 
Knowing the will of God is not the hardest part. The hardest part is surrendering ourselves to it.
 
In the Garden of Gethsemane, Jesus underwent mental and spiritual agony; as he struggled: not to know the will of God; but to utterly surrender himself to it. It was hard for Christ. It will be no easier for us.
 
For us, too, there is often much mental and spiritual struggle, before we can surrender ourselves, and say, with Jesus: 'Nevertheless, not my will, but your will be done'.
 
The cross of Christ, stood once and for all; but we must never see our surrender to God in Christ, in that light. Daily surrender is essential.
 
Christ’s Easter-Day triumph, was preceded by Good Friday; the day of self-giving and sacrifice.
 
For those following Christ; their personal ‘Easter’ comes after a lifetime of service; during which each day has something of Good Friday about it.
 
For us to share in Christ’s Resurrection; we must also, as far as in us lies, share in his sacrifice and self-giving. The day of sacrifice and self-giving is now, and every day throughout our lives.  Amen.