Today is Good Friday. The name seems like a misnomer when you consider that it marks the day of an execution — three in fact.
Good Friday is the day the Christian Church remembers the death of Jesus, nailed to a cross, whipped and spat on, suffocated by his own weight. Think about it — a day to celebrate one single death.
But this death is different from any other death in the history of the world.
This was death — on purpose. And no, I’m not talking about the coward’s suicide or some thrill seekers stunt.
In every detail, we have revealed of this death we are witnessing tonight — in every word recorded, we see purpose.
God had been promising this death since the Garden of Eden, when he promised an offspring of Eve to crush Satan’s head, while in the process, Satan would strike his heel.
This death recorded in Luke 23, John 19, Mark 15 and Matthew 27 is the keeping of that promise.
This was the one God had promised would come with the very specific purpose of being “pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities,” who would be “assigned a grave,” who would be the one it was the Lord’s will to crush (Isaiah 53).
Today, on Good Friday, we see that purpose fulfilled, in every word.
At our service this evening (7:30 p.m.), we’ll consider all seven things our Savior said from that cross, and we’ll see the purpose in each one.
For now — let’s just look at the first thing he said. This is recorded in Luke 23.
“As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children.
Then they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” and to the hills, “Cover us!” For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed.
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.
Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”
Luke, the historian that he was, gives us details on the way to the cross. We see the foreigner Simon forced to help carry the cross.
We see the crowds weeping and wailing at this travesty of justice. We see Jesus warning of the destruction that would come upon Jerusalem.
We see the setting — in the middle of criminals, on the hill called “The Skull,” in the most repulsive place you can imagine, the cruelest way to die.
If ever there was a setting that screamed a pointless death, if ever there was a style of execution that proclaimed to all who saw that this person accomplished nothing but problems — this was it.
So today, on that dark background, see how brightly this death shines. Enter into this dark, gloomy day – Jesus.Stripped of his clothes, mocked of his dignity, beaten nearly senseless, nailed to the wood and hoisted from the earth – this dying man opens his mouth and reveals the purpose of all of this. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”
They knew they were aborting justice.
They knew something just wasn’t right — but they followed their orders and put to death God’s only begotten Son. That part, they didn’t know. But that they were doing something wrong, of course they knew.
But for now, focus on the first part of this first word — “Forgive them.” Father, forgive them. That is why this death happened. There’s the purpose. “Father, forgive them.”
On that cross, Jesus prays for us – for us who know when we’ve done wrong as well.
We might not always know all the trouble our sins will cause – but we know.
You knew what you were doing when you gossiped and griped, when you lacked love or looked out for number one. We know the greed and lust in our hearts.
Now see its wages.
The Christ hangs dying.
That’s why we mark Good Friday.
On this cross, we see the wages of sin paid. We see what was necessary to wipe away sin. See what is necessary for forgiveness.
So witness this death with a purpose.
And as you hear Jesus’ first word from that cross, you actually see God answer Jesus’ prayer.
His death achieved its purpose — our forgiveness.
His death’s purpose gives purpose to our lives.
Rev. Jonathan Scharf is pastor of Abiding Grace Lutheran Church in Covington. Worship every Sunday is at 10:30 a.m. Full sermons and more information can be found at abidinggrace.com.