By Pastor Glenn Pease
Martin Luther one day sat down determined to try and understand the cry of Christ from the cross. He meditated for a long time, and went without food or drink, and little movement. Finally, he broke his silence with a cry of amazement, "God forsaken of God, who can understand that?"
No one could understand that, at least not in all its fullness, but just because you can't exhaust a subject does not mean you can't examine it and get some measure of understanding. We want to look at the cross again on this Good Friday, and try and see more of the meaning hidden in its mystery. First let's look at-
I. THE TEMPORARY TRAGEDY AROUND THE CROSS.
It was temporary because even the hate and evil of those who crucified Jesus was forgiven, and they too were free to receive the pardon which He purchased on the cross for all sin. Jesus was dying for all sin including the sin of crucifying Him. The cross was on a hill near a main road going into Jerusalem. There were people constantly going past who could see this awful scene. Many of these people were going to the temple, or were coming from the temple. They were people on a religious journey. This was part of their religious heritage and duty. They saw Jesus on the cross, and remembered He was the one who said, "Destroy this temple and in three days I will raise it up." That seemed like a proud boast to them, and they shouted at Him to come down and show that He had power, and prove He was the Son of God.
There was no sign of sympathy, but only contempt. They were on their way to worship the God of compassion, but they had none themselves. They were just like the priests and Levite who walked past the man who had been robbed and beaten. There was no compassion for his need and suffering. The tragedy of the cross reveals just how self-centered man is, even religious men. These people were the people of God. They had the highest revelation God had given to man. They were the cream of the crop, and yet they lacked compassion.
"Is it nothing to you all you who pass by?" The answer of God's people is, "No it isn't anything to us." The cross revealed the depth of human depravity. It shows us that people basically do not care. That is the major sin all people fight. We just don't care about other people's problems and needs. It is scary to imagine yourself on that road to Jerusalem that day. Would you and I be different? Would we have stopped to talk to Jesus to comfort Him, or would we join the mockery because we love to see the noble fall, for it makes us feel better.
John Wesley had to learn the hard way that we have a tendency to be judgmental rather than sympathetic. He rebuked a brother for his small contribution to a worthy cause. He knew the man had a good income, and it angered him that he would do so little. The man looked him in the eye and said, "I know a man who buys parsnips in the market once a week and boils them in water, and lives on parsnips and water all week." "Who is that?" asked Wesley. The man said, "I am that man." "I don't understand," said Wesley. The man explained that he had made many debts before he became a Christian, and that he was now determined to repay those debts to let people know how much Christ had changed his life. Here was a man doing a noble thing, and he was being rebuked for selfishness. Jesus was doing the most noble deed of history, and He was being mocked and rebuked.
In verse 32 the leaders of Israel mocked Him and say that they will believe if He comes down from the cross. This is the height of self-centered pride. Man is dictating to God the terms by which he will believe. It is man demanding that God conform to his will. It is part of the universal pride of man that says, "God, you do this or that, and then I will believe." Leslie Weatherhead tells of the time he had a test, and he prayed for God to help him, but he failed it. It shrank his faith for a while until he woke up and realized he was trying to use God as a slave to do his will. Jesus was on the cross because He prayed, "Not my will but thine be done." But we reverse that and pray, "Not thy will but mine be done." Do it my way, and I'll believe and follow you as Lord. Such is the tragedy of man's self-centeredness.
Thank God He does not cooperate with man's self-centeredness. Had He answered that prayer and come down, all of us would have had to pay for our own sin and be sunk forever. The whole plan of God depended on unanswered prayer, and a denial of their request that He come down. He rejected their request and stayed on the cross, and became their Savior, and ours. That is why it was only temporary tragedy. But look next at-
II. THE TERRIBLE TRIUMPH ON THE CROSS.
Jesus had been on the cross from 9 to noon, and then came three hours of darkness and silence. The clamoring and mocking ceased. Men suddenly became aware that something was happening here that went beyond this world and its affairs. It was out of the hands of men. G. Campbell Morgan felt these three hours were the most significant in the whole account of the crucifixion. In these hours all the forces of Satan, the prince of darkness, were gathered together to quench the light of life, and Jesus had to face these forces alone. His family, friends, and followers, and now even His Father had forsaken Him.
David went into the lion's den, but God was with him. Shadrack, Meshack, and Abednego went into the fiery furnace, but God was there. Jesus went into the den of Satan, and the fires of hell, but no one was there. He was alone, forsaken by all. Why? Because hell is separation from God, and this is what Jesus paid for us. He went to hell and endured an aloneness that only those in hell can know. We can't begin to grasp what Jesus had to go through in bearing the sin of the world. But it was a literal hell experience.
But none of the ransomed ever knew
How deep were the waters crossed,
Nor how dark was the night,
That the Lord passed through
Ere He found His sheep that was lost.
We cannot know all He went through, but we do know that He came through. Jesus did not end His life in tragedy, but in triumph. He did not die forsaken of the Father. Even this cry of being forsaken is in past tense, and in Psa. 22:1 also it is a cry about what is now over. It is as if you put your child in a dark closet, and then three hours later you open the door and they cry out, "Daddy, daddy why did you do this?" Jesus does cry out in wonder at what He has had to endure, but He does not die forsaken. He ends His life with the words, "Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit." Jesus was in hell on the cross, but He ends His experience by being reconciled to God, and headed for heaven. He pioneered the way so that all lost sinners can now escape hell and enter heaven reconciled to God.
It was a terrible tragedy, but it was a tremendous triumph, and that is why we call it Good Friday. It was the best Friday that history has ever recorded, for on that day sin and death and hell met their Master, and they were defeated. It was not until Easter Sunday that that defeat was demonstrated, but the victory was already won on the cross. That is why Good Friday is a day to celebrate a great victory, and that is what we do through the means of observing the Lord's Supper. Jesus said, "Do this in remembrance of me." He knew that as long as we keep our eyes on Him and the work He did for us on the cross, we will always be able to live in a spirit of victory. The cross was the worse thing man ever did to God, but the best thing God ever did for man. We celebrate the cross because it is there that we see just how much God loves us.