The Journey to the Cross - Good Friday
Good Friday - The Glorious Agony of the Cross
"And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left." (Luke 23:33 ESV)
What an overly simplistic way to describe what happened on that hillside.
“…there they crucified him…”
Crucifixion wasn’t an uncommon capital punishment in the Roman world. In fact, in a matter of divine efficiency Jesus is not alone when he was hung on the tree. Two thieves, one on his right side and one on his left, were crucified with Jesus. I say efficient because multiple men were punished at once rather than one at a time. I say divine because, for one of the thieves, this day of his death actually became the first day of his eternal life.
“One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, ‘Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’ But the other rebuked him, saying, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.’ And he said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.’” (Luke 23:39-43 ESV)
Jesus was exhausted.
He had labored all night in prayer for all of those who belong to him (John 17:1-26).
And Matthew 26 & 27 describes in great detail the hellishness of the hours from late on Thursday night and into Friday.
He was betrayed by one of those close to him.
He was deserted and denied by his own disciples.
He was tried and found guilty under a mockery of justice.
He was beaten.
He was mocked.
He was rejected by his own people.
Finally, He was hung on a tree.
And here, at his last, a simple plea from a guilty man, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” This thief recognized the penalty deserved for his actions and he recognized that Jesus was paying a debt that was not his to pay. Here hung an innocent man between two guilty men.
The other thief wanted a miracle. He wanted to be rescued from the pain of the cross and yet Jesus had another miracle in mind. Jesus, at the end of himself, did something remarkable. He extended grace and saved an underserving sinner. Jesus, who was physically wrecked and emotionally spent, did a miracle while hanging from a tree trying in desperation to catch his breath…He overcame the sinful heart of a thief and rescued his soul.
This is what makes Crucifixion Friday “Good” Friday. Jesus goes to the end (John 13:1) to pay not only for the sins of the thief but the sins of all who would, like the thief, call upon the name of the Lord Jesus for rescue (Romans 10:13).
The spotless lamb of God, would be the sacrifice for the sins of God’s people.
And this was God’s plan all along. Jesus would be the one who would intercede for transgressors (sinners, you & me) and would make atonement (payment) with his own blood.
Crucifixion Friday is a day for reflection because it shows us, in graphic visual reality, the gruesome effects of our sin. My sin hung Jesus on a tree.
But Friday is Good because even in his weakest, Jesus, the God-Man, has the power to save and forgive sinners, among the worst of which I should be counted.
"The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day,
And there have I, though vile as he,
Washed all my sins away.”
(“There is a Fountain” - William Cowper - 1772)
Who has believed what he has heard from us?
And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed?
For he grew up before him like a young plant,
and like a root out of dry ground;
he had no form or majesty that we should look at him,
and no beauty that we should desire him.
He was despised and rejected by men;
a man of sorrows, 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 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.
He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?
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.
Therefore I will divide him a portion with the many,
and he shall divide the spoil with the strong,
because he poured out his soul to death
and was numbered with the transgressors;
yet he bore the sin of many,
and makes intercession for the transgressors. (Isaiah 53 ESV)
** For further reading: “The Believing Thief” By Charles Spurgeon