Good Friday Service 2nd April 2021
Lord Jesus, eternal Word
What are you saying to us now?
We treasure your words as we read them from the Bible
We treasure your diversity of your Church and its people
We treasure your sacrifice for us on the cross.
On this the darkest day, what are you saying to us now?
John 19: 16b-37
Good Friday is the darkest and saddest day of the Christian calendar. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, nailed to a cross at 9 o’clock in the morning would endure 6 hours of excruciating pain before dying at around 3 o’clock in the afternoon.
Crucifixion was the favoured method of capital punishment used by the Romans in which the victim was nailed or tied to a large wooden beam until eventual death from asphyxiation and exhaustion. It was not unusual for the Romans to keep their crucifixion victims alive for as long as possible to prolong their suffering and humiliation providing a ‘maximum deterrent effect’. The victims could hang for a few days before death came upon them and the corpses of the crucified were typically left on the crosses to decompose and be eaten by animals.
Death on the cross could be hastened by human action hence the breaking of victim’s legs which made it impossible for the victim to stretch up and breathe leading to faster death hastening the effect of asphyxiation. There is little doubt that Jesus and the two criminals would have been left on the cross to decompose, however John chapter 19 verse 31 states:
‘Now it was the day of Preparation and the next day was to be a special Sabbath. Because the Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses during the Sabbath, they asked Pilate to have the legs broken and the bodies taken down.’
I wonder if the Roman soldiers took great sadistic glee in breaking the legs of the criminals either side of Jesus; there is also a suggestion that in finding Jesus already dead one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side out of sheer brutality.
So I want us to consider this; why did Jesus die in the relatively short time of six hours compared to other crucifixions? This question is not to say that Jesus suffered any less excruciating pain, but he did die before the criminals hanging to his left and right. We cannot know for sure but was he tortured and weakened more severely than the other men before being nailed to the cross, or was the shock of being burdened with the full weight of human sinfulness too much for Jesus’ body to bear for a longer period of time?
In many chapters of the Bible we witnessed the ‘super power’ of Jesus performing miracles and acts; healing the sick; raising the dead and driving out demons to name but a few! Yet here, on the cross, Jesus seemed powerless; Jesus had become fully human and did not use the power at his disposal to ease His suffering and pain.
The last words of Jesus in John chapter 19 verse 30:
‘“It is finished” With that Jesus bowed his head and died’’:
Those three words, ‘It is finished’, seem pretty final and would have filled the disciples and followers of Jesus with despair; effectively all their hopes and dreams had now died with Jesus on the cross. We can imagine that whilst Jesus was still alive on the cross, Jesus’ followers would still be hoping for some miracle to release Jesus from his pain and somehow break the bonds of his torture to smite his torturers and seek vengeance against his false accusers, but it wasn’t to be, at least not at that moment in time. We have the advantage of hindsight and we know two days later that Jesus was resurrected.
But was Jesus actually ‘powerless’ on the cross? Just because Jesus didn’t perform a miracle to save himself doesn’t mean that he wasn’t in control. As Jesus hung from the cross scripture was being fulfilled from Psalm 22 verse 18 in John chapter 19 part of verse 24
‘They divided my clothes amongst them and cast lots for my garment’;
Verses 36 and 37 also state that scripture was fulfilled:
‘Not one of his bones will be broken……..They will look on the one they have pierced’;
These references to the scriptures can found in Exodus; Numbers; Psalms; Isaiah and Zechariah. It may sound flippant, but each of these fulfilments of scripture was being ‘ticked off’ during the crucifixion. Jesus also showed how blind the Jewish authorities and high priests were to the scriptures by them not recognising what was happening. In a way Jesus is exposing his accusers of fraud and being self-serving and not God-serving, Jesus is humiliating these people just before his death and straight after his death.
Jesus died as the victor and had ‘finished’ what he had come to do. Jesus ‘gave up his spirit’, an unusual way of describing death, perhaps suggesting an act of will. Jesus was in control, and as surreal as it may seem, chose his time to die.
No bones in Jesus’ body were broken, even the brutal, unusual spear thrust did not break any bones in Jesus’ side; scripture had indeed been fulfilled.
Today is a time to reflect upon the sacrifice made on the cross, but to also remember that Jesus knowingly and willingly gave His life in order to give all people the chance to experience forgiveness of their sins and spend eternity with God in Heaven.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son….” John 3:16
Jesus, by your wounded feet, direct our path
Jesus, by your nailed hands, move us to deeds of love
Jesus, by your pierced side, purify our desires
Jesus, by your crown of thorns, annihilate our pride
Jesus, by your broken heart, knit ours to yours Amen.
Richard Crashaw 1613 – 1649)
*Re-worded from the Methodist Church Prayer Handbook ‘Jesus, the First and Last’ Attributed to Robert Foster Copyright 2017 Trustees for Methodist Church Purposes and adapted with kind permission.
Service prepared by Nigel Mawdsley