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Good Friday Service

March 29, 2002


In "Good Friday Surprises," Leith Anderson weaves a common thread throughout that makes you think of things you might never have realized before.


Even on his way to die, Jesus did the unpredictable.

It was a day of surprises, the day Jesus was killed.

Luke recounts eyewitness accounts of that fateful day.

In each case, there is an element of surprise.

It was a surprise for Simon.

He was from North Africa, and to be in Jerusalem for the Passover was a dream come true.

But a surprising thing happened. Jesus stumbled under the weight of the cross, right in front of him.

Roman soldiers could draft anyone into their service with the touch of a spear blade.

Simon was the closest person, so he was forced to pick up the cross and carry it, a humiliating


Mark recounts the same story but adds another detail – Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus.

It's unusual for a father to be identified by his children, unless the children are quite famous.

By the time Mark's Gospel was circulated, two of the most famous Christians in all of the empire must have been Alexander and Rufus.

In Romans 16:13, Rufus is described as the son of a woman whom the apostle Paul considered his surrogate mother.

Put the pieces together and it's obvious that when Simon returned home, he told his wife about Christ and the crucifixion.

She became a godly woman and an influence to Paul.

Simon told his sons what he had witnessed, and they became two of the greatest believers in the first-century church.

The surprising embarrassment Simon endured that day turned out to be a great good for Simon and his family.


As Jesus made his way to Golgotha, a group of women followed him, crying and mourning.

In all probability they had never met Jesus; they were professional mourners who dared to come

out when men were crucified.

They always carried a liquid narcotic to help take the edge off the excruciating pain that accompanied crucifixion.

These were women who had made this journey often.

But this time, something unexpected happened.

Jesus turned and expressed sympathy for them: "Don't weep for me; weep for yourselves and your children" (Luke 23:28).

He anticipated a difficult future for them and their children.

I don't think they knew Jesus or they would have quickly realized that this was just like him.

His concern wasn't about his own pain, but he focused quickly and clearly upon the problems and pain that others face.


The Roman soldiers -- Jesus' executioners -- had crucified many men by nailing them to wooden crosses.

As the dying men would scream and suffer, the soldiers would sit at the feet of the crosses and play games -- desensitized to the incessant curses and pleas.

They prided themselves on being people not caught by surprise.

Yet never before had any one of them heard what Jesus said.

Soon after his hands and feet were nailed to the cross, and it was lifted into place, Jesus prayed audibly for his executioners, "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

It was enough to shock the toughest veteran.

So it's no wonder that when the centurion made his final inspection after Jesus' death, he said "Surely this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:47).

The forgiveness of Jesus was a surprise then, but it is still a surprise today.

We are surprised by his forgiveness.

He knows our worst sins so well, yet Jesus' heart still seeks to forgive.


On the day Christ died, the angels must have been struck speechless at God's sacrifice.

But perhaps even more amazing to them was the conversation between Christ and a common

criminal (Luke 23:42, 43).

For the condemned thief on the cross, time was running out.

Regardless of what he had done before, in the end, he did fear God.

He realized that his judgment after death would be totally determined by God.

Like the convict on the far side who insulted Jesus (Luke 23:39), this man must have come to the cross with knowledge of Jesus.

He understood Jesus was no criminal.

Even more important, he must have realized Jesus was God's Son who was headed back home to the paradise from which he had come.

Believing this, the thief decided to make one last request.

He asked Jesus to save him when he arrived back in heaven.

What an interesting contrast between the criminal who mocked Jesus to save him physically and this man who sought Jesus to save him spiritually.

Of course, Jesus said yes.

He was being crucified for this very purpose -- to save sinners and to promise heaven to all

those who ask.

Two thousand years later, the invitation still stands.

by Leith Anderson

from Christian Reader magazine

Excerpts from "The Cross" by Max Lucado (pp. 4-20)

It rests on the time line of history like a compelling diamond.


Its tragedy summons all sufferers. Its absurdity attracts all cynics. Its hope lures all searchers.


History has idolized and despised it, gold-plated and burned it, worn and trashed it.

History has done everything but ignore it.

Can you ignore it?

How could you ignore such a piece of lumber?

Suspended on its beams is the greatest claim in history.

A crucified carpenter claiming to be God on earth. Divine. Eternal. The death-slayer.

Never has timber been regarded so sacred.

No wonder the apostle Paul called the cross event the core of the gospel.

3  If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing. 4 ¶ Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5  It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. (1 Corinthians 13:3-5 NIVUS)

Its bottom line is sobering: if the account is true, it is history's hinge. Period.

If not, the cross is history's hoax.

As you ponder Christ on the cross, what are your thoughts?

Perhaps it's been a while since you looked at the cross.

Perhaps you never have.

But I urge you to do so.

May it trigger a turning of your heart until you stand face to feet with the one who claimed to come to save your soul.

It is heaven's dream.


The dawn of heaven's dream. God on a cross. Humanity at its worst.

Divinity at its best --- God isn't stumped by an evil world.

He doesn't gasp in amazement at the dearth of our faith or the depth of our failures.

He knows the condition of the world --- and loves it just the same.

For just when we find a place where God would never be (like on a cross), we look again and there he is, in the flesh.

God on a cross? The creator of the universe sacrificing himself for his creation?

How could this be? Who was this Jesus?

He was – and is – a God with tears. A creator with a heart. Bloodstained royalty.

A God who became earth's mockery to save his children.

How absurd to think that such nobility would go to such poverty to share such a treasure with such thankless souls.

How incredible to know that God himself died on a cross for his children.

But he did. Incredible. Yes, incredibly, he did.

Jesus was given to you.


And with the help of those who don't know the law, you put him to death by nailing him to a cross.


But this was God's plan, which he had made long ago; he knew this would happen.


God raised Jesus from the dead and set him free from the pain of death, because death could not hold him.

23  This man was handed over to you by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. 24  But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him. (Acts 2:23-24 NIVUS)

The cross was no accident.

Jesus' death was not the result of a panicking conmological engineer.

The cross was not a tragic surprise.

Calvary was not a knee-jerk response to a world plummeting toward destruction.

It was not a patch-up job or a stopgap measure.

The death of the Son of God was anything but an unexpected peril.

No, it was part of an incredible plan. A calculated choice.

"It was the Lord's will to crush him."

Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand. (Isaiah 53:10 NIVUS)

The moment the forbidden fruit touched the lips of Eve, the shadow of a cross appeared on the horizon.

And between that moment and the moment the man with the mallet placed the spike against the wrist of God, a master plan was fulfilled.

What does that mean? It means Jesus planned his own sacrifice.

It means Jesus intentionally planted the tree from which his cross would be carved.

Ig means he willingly placed the iron ore in the heart of the earth from which the nails would be cast.

It means he voluntarily place his Judas in the womb of a woman.

It means Christ was the one who set in motion the political machinery that would send Pilate to Jerusalem.

And it also means he didn't have to do it – but he did.

It was no accident – would that it had been!

Even the cruelest of criminals is spared the agony of having he death sentence read to him before his life even begins.

But Jesus was born crucified.

Whenever he became conscious of who he was, he also became conscious of what he had to do.

The cross-shaped shadow could always be seen.

And the screams of hell's imprisoned could always be heard.

This explains the glint of determination on his face as he turned to go to Jerusalem for the last time.

He was on his death march.

As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. (Luke 9:51 NIVUS)

This explains the resoluteness in the words, "The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again."


17  The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life— only to take it up again. 18  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father." (John 10:17-18 NIVUS)

It explains the enigmatic question, "Does this offend you? What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before!"

61  Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, "Does this offend you? 62  What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! (John 6:61-62 NIVUS)

The cross explains ---

Why he told the Pharisees that the "goal" of his life would be fulfilled only on the third day after his death.

He replied, "Go tell that fox, ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ (Luke 13:32 NIVUS)

          The mysterious appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration to discuss his "departure."

30  Two men, Moses and Elijah, 31  appeared in glorious splendor, talking with Jesus. They spoke about his departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem. (Luke 9:30-31 NIVUS)

          They'd come to offer one last word of encouragement.

          Why John the Baptist introduced Jesus to the crowds as the "Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!"

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29 NIVUS)

Maybe it's why he tore the grass out by the roots in Gethsemane.

He knew the hell he'd endure for saying, "Thy will be done."

Maybe the cross was why he so loved children.

They represented the very thing he would have to give: life.

The ropes used to tie his hands, and the soldiers used to lead him to the cross, were unnecessary.


They were incidental. Had they not been there, had there been no trial, no Pilate, and no crowd, the very same crucifixion would have occurred.


Had Jesus been forced to nail himself to the cross, he would have done it.

For it was not the soldiers who killed him, nor the screams of the mob: it was his devotion to us.

So call it what you wish: an act of grace. A plan of redemption. A martyr's sacrifice.

But whatever you call it, don' call it an accident. It was anything but that.

Jesus didn't take a wrong turn that led him to the cross.

He marked the path and marched purposely to Calvary.

Forget any suggestion that Jesus was trapped.

Erase any theory that Jesus made a miscalculation.

Ignore any speculation that the cross was a last-ditch attempt to salvage a dying mission.

Jesus went to the cross on purpose. No surprise. No hesitation. No faltering.

You can tell a lot about a person by the way he dies. And the way Jesus marched to his death leaves no doubt:


He had come to earth for this moment. Read the words of Peter.

"Jesus was given to you, and with the help of those who don't know the law, you put him to death by nailing him to a cross. But this was God's plan which he had made long ago; he knew all this would happen" (Acts 2:23-24, NCV).

The journey to the cross didn't begin in Galilee. It didn't begin in Nazareth. It did not even begin in Bethlehem.

The journey to the cross began long before.

As the echo of the crunching of the fruit was still sounding in the garden, Jesus was leaving for Calvary.

God on a cross. The ultimate act of creative compassion.

The Creator being sacrificed for the creation.

God convincing man once and for all that he would give anything, pay any price to save his children.

He could have given up. He could have turned his back.

He could have walked away from the wretched mess the world became, but he didn't. God didn't give up.

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