Good Friday: The atoning sacrifice

For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin.  As it is written:

“None is righteous, no, not one;

no one understands;

no one seeks for God.

All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;

no one does good,

not even one.”

“Their throat is an open grave;

they use their tongues to deceive.”

“The venom of asps is under their lips.”

“Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.”

“Their feet are swift to shed blood;

in their paths are ruin and misery,

and the way of peace they have not known.”

“There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

…But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it— the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.  (Romans 3:10-18; 21-25)

Whenever a law is broken, there is a punishment that must be carried out.  Whenever a hurt is inflicted, it must be redressed.  The most basic sense of justice won’t allow otherwise.  If an injustice between two humans is serious enough to merit retribution, how much more the wrong between man and his Creator, a woman and her Maker?  Even more so because all wrong done from one person against another is ultimately against God.  The idea of justice is not a human one, for

“the LORD sits enthroned forever; he has established his throne for justice” (Ps. 9:7)

There is only one answer for those who do not fear God: eternal punishment without relief.  No one can escape it

“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)

and

“the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)

This does not mean physical death, although that is part of the curse, but that Christ will inflict

“vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thess. 1:7-9)

Because of the nature of sin and the nature of justice,

“without the shedding of blood, there can be no forgiveness of sin” (Heb. 9:22)

The Law, given in the Old Testament illustrates the holiness of God and the repulsiveness of sin so that we can understand the nature of both.  Even in the Law sacrifices were given that would temporarily cover over the sinner’s offense.  But this was only to show the way to Christ, who became the only atoning sacrifice, the only propitiation.

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned–every one–to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all…

And they made his grave with the wicked and with a rich man in his death, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth. Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.  Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied; by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities. (Isa. 53:4-6; 9-11)

Perfect justice meets perfect mercy.  In his death, Christ bore the sin that separated me from God.  He took my sin so that He would bear my punishment so that I may believe and find forgiveness and peace with God.

“For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21)

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

Psalm 34:16

The face of the LORD is against those who do evil,

to cut off the memory of them from the earth.    Psalm 34:16

This verse is set as a stark contrast in the midst of verses showing God’s care for His own.  Whereas the LORD watches over the righteous to deliver and preserve them, the LORD watches the wicked to destroy them with His judgment.

I do not think I feel this truth often enough or keenly enough.  I eagerly remember and recite the verses that promise God’s steadfast love, care, and mercy, but I do not often remember what happens to those who oppose God.  I wonder if I would feel a greater sense of urgency in sharing the Gospel if I were as quick to remember God’s justice as I am to remember His mercy.

“Those who do evil”, who are they?

Lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure  rather than lovers of God, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power.  2 Timothy 3:2-5

Those who continually practice

sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.  On account of these the wrath of God is coming… anger, wrath, malice, slander and obscene talk. Colossians 3:5-7

That was me at one time.  These people are all too often family members, co-workers, friends, neighbors, and classmates.  And all too often I walk through life with them in the comfort of the grace I’ve been shown, instead of remembering that “all memory of them will be wiped from the earth.”

How good God is to send a reminder today.  Now the question is, how will that change my thoughts, prayers, and actions today?

A Day of Remembering: Good Friday

There are many days set aside on the U.S. calendar as days of remembering.  We remember to give thanks in November.  We remember our independence.  We remember 9/11.  We remember to honor our Veterans.  We remember our Grandparents.  We remember our parents.  On our personal calendars, we remember our birthdays and the birthdays of those close to us.  We remember anniversaries: of weddings, of first dates, of adoptions, of fires, of tornadoes, of hurricanes, of earthquakes.  We remember the days the ones we loved died.

Even though we have these special days set aside to remember, I doubt any of us forgets these events the other days of the year.  Every day, I remember that I have a wonderful mom and dad.  I remember to give thanks (most days).  I remember that I live in a free country.  Whenever I see something Grandma would have liked, I remember that Death says I can’t show her anymore.  Tears sometimes flow because one of the deepest loves of my life has been taken from me.  Joy wipes the tears away because I remember that I will get to see her again.

Today is a day of remembering on the Christian calendar: Good Friday, the day of remember Christ’s death.  It is one of those days that we have set aside, although not a day should go by that Christians do not remember what Christ has done for us.  Nor is Good Friday the only day that we remember Christ’s death.  Every time we celebrate communion, we do it in remembrance of Christ’s death and resurrection… and Christians will continue to do so until he returns.

So, why this day set aside?  As with other history-changing and life-changing events, this day is set apart to remember something that we remember the rest of the year as well.

Good Friday services are more solemn than Easter or Christmas services — and even sorrowful — but grief does not reign.  I would argue that wonder and thanksgiving reign over sorrow on Good Friday. (Just as there would be no occasion to celebrate Christmas if there were not Good Friday and Easter, if there were no Easter, Good Friday would be the gravest and most hopeless of all holidays… but I’ll talk about that later).

Sorrow is appropriate for Good Friday, just as sorrow is appropriate when we remember our sin, and as sorrow is appropriate when remembering a horrific crime against another person.  Good Friday’s sorrow is because we remember that Christ, fully God and fully man, after a lifetime of loving, serving, teaching, patiently guiding, and healing was taken by a mob and endured unimaginable beatings from trained soldiers, was run through trials by political and religious leaders that mocked justice and religion, and was left to die, naked, bleeding, cursed and mocked on an expertly devised instrument of fatal torture.  That was just the physical side.  On the spiritual side, he bore sin… and with that, separation from God — something that I cannot even begin to imagine.

And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour.And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” — Mark 15:33-34

Christ is sinless.  The sin He bore was not His.  The sin He bore was mine.

That’s where grief meets wonder.

That’s how we can call this Friday “Good”.

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person–though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die– but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:7-8

Then wonder grows.  The mob that took Jesus and crucified him did not do it because Christ was powerless.

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities–all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. — Colossians 1:16-17

“He’s speaking it all into being: the soldiers, the priests, the thieves, the friends, the mothers, the brothers, the mob, the wooden beams, the spikes, the thorns, the ground beneath him, and the dark clouds gathering above. If he ceases to speak they will all cease to be. But he wills that they remain. So the soldiers live on, and the hammers come crashing down.” Rick Gamache, A Crucifixion Narrative

Wonder then meets with more wonder.

When Jesus had received the sour wine, he said, “It is finished,” and he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. — John 19 :30

…he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption. — Hebrews 9:12

Christ’s death is enough to secure my forgiveness before God.  Christ’s death did not start a process that I complete by feeling enough remorse over my own sin.  I don’t earn forgiveness because I feel enough shame or by inflicting punishment on myself.  I’m forgiven only based on the merits of Christ’s death for my sin.  The only appeal I can make for forgiveness is God’s own promise that He forgives those who trust in Christ’s work alone.

In the temple, at God’s command, there was a curtain separating the Most Holy Place from the Holy Place.  God’s presence dwelled in the Most Holy Place.  If anyone went in to God’s holy presence, he or she would die because of their unholiness.  Even the high priest only went in the Most Holy Place at the appointed time once a year to offer a sacrifice for the people.  The curtain was torn from top to bottom at the moment Christ died.

And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. — Mark 15:37-38

For Christ has entered, not into holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true things, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf. Nor was it to offer himself repeatedly, as the high priest enters the holy places every year with blood not his own, for then he would have had to suffer repeatedly since the foundation of the world. But as it is, he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. — Hebrews 9:24-28

Now, through Christ’s death, the unholy can dare approach the Holy to seek forgiveness of sin.

Grief does not reign, but there was grief.  Christ knew that in talking to his disciples.  But He also knew that the grief that reigned in their hearts as they watched him die would be replaced by joy that could never be taken from them.

Jesus knew that they wanted to ask him, so he said to them, “Is this what you are asking yourselves, what I meant by saying, ‘A little while and you will not see me, and again a little while and you will see me’? Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice. You will be sorrowful, but your sorrow will turn into joy. When a woman is giving birth, she has sorrow because her hour has come, but when she has delivered the baby, she no longer remembers the anguish, for joy that a human being has been born into the world. So also you have sorrow now, but I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you. — John 16:19-22

And so even while we remember the blood, the suffering, and the horror of Christ’s death — and remember that it was our sins that He bore, and for our sins that He died — we wonder at love that would sacrifice so much for people who are so undeserving.  And our hearts rejoice, because we remember that Easter followed.  And we persevere in hope because we know that Christ will come again, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrow, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.  But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.  All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. — Isaiah 53:3-6

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness. — 1 John 1:9