We are journeying through the events of Holy Week in a mini-series called Come Alive. The idea is to explore what it means to actually come alive to God’s redemption story. On Palm Sunday, we looked at Jesus’ life that brought the Kingdom of God to earth, which was above and beyond human understanding. Tonight, we look at Jesus’ death, and through His death, God’s plan of redemption that altered the world forever.
On Easter Sunday, we’ll celebrate the power of the resurrection and that we too can come alive because the moment that changed the world forever, continues to change our lives.
And so we find ourselves on this Friday, known as Good Friday. Good seems like such a strange way to describe a dark day of mourning, a day when even God’s heart was saddened. It’s strange to call it good when it was the day Jesus was beaten, ridiculed, tortured and killed on the cross. But yet it is good. It is because it was the day God set us free from all our sins. This is the day of salvation. The day that the power of sin and death was broken. Death was literally defeated.
On Good Friday, we remember the way that Jesus suffered. But we know the story does not end there. So we will not look down in fear or defeat. Instead, we’ll hold our heads high as we focus on the cross and discover that the sacrifice Jesus made shows us His great love and that He wants us to be free.
The gift Jesus offers is more than reason enough to respond to God’s open arms and His invitation to draw near to Him. And I’m so glad you are here on this Good Friday. It’s not easy Friday, but it is good as we continue to discover the life-giving truth of Holy Week and of God’s power to transform each one of us into a whole new creation.
It’s so difficult to look at death though. It really is. I don’t know if you have ever been in the room when someone has taken their last breath, but you never forget it.
May times in my short pastoral career, I have sat by the bedside of church members preparing to leave this earth. One of my first, was a gentleman named Charlie. He came to a small church where I was ministering. When he got sick with cancer and was no longer able to attend, I would visit him at his home. We would sit for a couple of hours each time, as he told me his life story, the good parts and even some of the bad.
I often left thinking I should write all of this down knowing that he was telling me these things for one reason, because the end was near and one day I would be standing before his family sharing his eulogy. He even stated towards the end, “I hope you remember all these stories.” I remember him and night after night when his family would call thinking his moment to leave was upon us. I would go and we would wait, and wait. A half a dozen times we did this. I have come to realize this time gave me a chance to comfort Charlie but it also gave me a chance to comfort his family in their grief.
I remember many moments like this, but one stands above them all. When my grandfather who I was close with came to his last few days on earth, I spent as much time as I could with him in his hospital room. I remember many of our conversations like they were yesterday. I remember the expressions on his face, the sound of his voice, and the excitement he had to meet Jesus face to face.
But I also remember the pain he was in, and the pain my family and I were in watching him. In his last moments, I was the only one with him. We had just requested hospice. They told me his kidneys were shutting down. He was in such pain and asked me when. When would this end. When will this be over. To comfort him, I was honest and told him what the hospice nurse had just told me. He gave a sigh of relieve as he took a hard deep breath.
A few hours later, he was again moaning and tensing with pain. I rubbed his head and held his hand and told him to dream. Dream about what it will be like to meet Jesus and to see Heaven. Picture the beauty you will see. In saying that, he relaxed, and then took his last breath.
I’ve said goodbye to family. I’ve said goodbye to church members. I’ve held the hands of members of this community to help them say goodbye to a loved one in the moments of their passing. It is in those moments of staring death in the face, we remember what is most important.
Death is not easy. And there is incredible tension on this day of Good Friday. We look at the cross, this most brutal tool of Roman execution, and we call it “Wonderful” and “Glorious” and “Beautiful.” We call the day of our Savior’s death Good..
As difficult as it is, it is important to take a few moments to look intently at the cross of Jesus Christ. When we do, we can find the confidence that comes from knowing the God of everything laid down His life for us so death would be defeated. When the Apostle Paul considered the cross, he said it this way:
Galatians 6:14 NLT
As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. Because of that cross, my interest in this world has been crucified, and the world’s interest in me has also died.
In other words, may I never have confidence in anything other than the cross of Jesus Christ.
The Greek word translated to “boast” (or exult) literally means to “hold your head high.” So Paul is saying, may I never hold my head high to anything other than the cross of Christ.
We live in a look-down society. When you sit at a stoplight, pay attention to the other people at the light. They are not looking up, waiting for the light to change. Most of them are looking down at their phones. We tend to look down a lot. We look down at our computers. We look down to read, to text, to stand over a countertop and prepare a meal, and even to pray. So many of our daily activities and habits cause us to look down.
There are seventy trillion cells in your body that are a part of your life. And every single one of them is directly impacted by the condition of your spinal cord, and the curve of your neck is particularly important in this. Whenever you look down, you are compressing the spinal cord in a negative way. You are literally cutting off some of the function of your nervous system every time you look down.
One of the most powerful things you can do to correct this is to throw your shoulders back, tilt your neck back, lift your chin, and look up. This posture can literally help restore life to the body.
And it’s the posture the Apostle Paul challenges us to have in order to restore vital function. It’s a corrective measure that we take right now, tonight, to remind ourselves that our hope is built on nothing less than what Jesus did on that cross.
Sometimes we want to hold our heads high about the importance of our work, or our gifts and talents, or about our contributions or accomplishments. But really, we are called to follow the example of Jesus, who stepped out of Heaven and humbled Himself. As we look at His life and what He has done for us, it allows us to kind of recalibrate all the ways in which our lives have gotten out of alignment.
The only one we should be holding our heads high to is the One John the Baptist described as…
John 1:29 ESV
Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!
What an amazing reference John the Baptist made when Jesus first came on the scene. Before He had performed any miracles, before He began His public ministry or preached the first word of His first sermon, John knew who was coming.
John said, “Behold,” meaning “See,” “Look Upon”; the word can even mean “Experience.”
Look upon the Lamb. The Lamb born in Bethlehem, the birthplace of every lamb who would be killed in an official capacity as part of Passover throughout Jerusalem.
Born to be the sacrifice. Born to be the price of our reconciliation back to God. Born to be the payment of our sins. Hold your head high and look upon the Lamb.
Hold your head up high and look upon the One who ate with sinners and who welcomed outsiders. Look upon the One who said, “Let the little children come to Me . . . for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 19:14 (NKJV). Hold your head up and look upon the One who never forced Himself on anyone, yet welcomed and listened to everyone.
Hold your head up high while the Son of Man walks upon the water, calms the sea, casts out demons, and feeds the hungry. Hold your head up high and look as the blind receive their sight, as the lame learn to walk again, as disease is healed, and as those held captive to their sins are set free.
Hold your head up high and look at the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.
In the same way that John the Baptist told us to behold Him, so did the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate:
John 19:5 ESV
So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Behold the man!”
See Him. Experience Him. Look at Him now and remember this day that occurred not quite two thousand years ago.
He has been betrayed. He has been abandoned by His followers and denied by His closest friends. He has been whipped by the Romans. Contrary to what you may have heard, the Romans had no “thirty-nine lash” limit when they were punishing someone who was not Roman. Jesus was beaten until the Roman soldier holding the whip grew tired.
They twisted a crown of thorns and pressed it into His head. And then Pilate brought Him forward and told us to behold Him. After all of that, Pilate declared Him “not guilty.” Just a Friday morning of Roman mockery, but the crowd wanted more. “What do you want me to do?” Pilate asked. “Take Him away,” they shouted. “Crucify Him!”
I know we cannot physically see Him tonight, but as best as we can with our imaginations, look up and look upon Him. Do you see Him?
1 Peter 1:8–9 ESV
Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
How can we look back at a day like this, at such suffering and death, and be filled with inexpressible joy? Because it is personal. The action taken on the cross was personal, for me and for you.
1 Peter 1:18–19 NLT
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And it was not paid with mere gold or silver, which lose their value. It was the precious blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.
Battered and beaten. Abused and abandoned, with only one motivation. John tells us what that motivation is in…
1 John 3:16 ESV
By this we know love, that he laid down his life for us.
His execution was ordered, and He carried His cross through the winding, narrow streets. Too beat and wore down to bear the cross on His own, Roman soldiers commanded someone else to carry it along with Him.
The Via Dolorosa (Dollar-rosa), also called The Way of Suffering, was filled with shops and patrons, crowded like at no other time of the year. During Passover, Jerusalem’s population would swell by over 400 percent. The intention was not just crucifixion but humiliation. They were setting an example for any others who might be tempted to rebel against the power of Rome.
And then His body was laid down and attached to the beams of the cross by Roman nails.
1 Peter 2:24 ESV
He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.
The New Testament writers would reflect upon the cross of Jesus and declare our sins canceled with the pounding of the nails, that His wounds are our healing.
What a beautiful mystery—that the streams of blood from the lashing and the nails and the thorns would cover our sins. Even God the Father turns His head from the sin that accompanies the suffering.
A few moments later, Jesus finishes this work and breathes His last.
If you hold His suffering in your heart, it should create overwhelming gratitude and humility. It is almost impossible not to bow your head in sorrow and reverence. Yet today, this is what we came to see, so look down in defeat. Look up. Look upon Him.
This is what the writers of Scripture talked about. This is the reason we boast. This is the reason we hold our heads high. Even the old prophet, Jeremiah, in the Old Testament says…
Jeremiah 9:23 ESV
Thus says the Lord: “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches.”
We boast only in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified. We put our trust in nothing less than Jesus’ blood and righteousness.
Today we hold our heads high and look to the cross. (point up to the cross) This instrument of death became the cornerstone of victory for our lives. That is what makes this a Good Friday. That is why you can hold your head high today!
Hold your head high as He declares you forgiven.
Hold your head high as He bears every sorrow and every grief and every pain.
Hold your head high as He removes your guilt, your shame, and your penalty.
Hold your head high as the One who knows you by name and declares you “fearfully and wonderfully made,” who boasts over you with joy, rejoices over you with shouts, and loves you without limits.
Hold your head high and know that not only is the cross empty but the tomb is empty too.
Hold your head high and declare as Paul did in…
Galatians 2:20 ESV
I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.
Hold your head high for nothing else but the cross of Jesus Christ. To help remind you to do so, each of you received a small wooden cross tonight. I was given a cross similar to this years ago at a Good Friday Service. I have carried it with me in my purse ever since. Often when I’m reaching in, my hand goes to it. I pull it out, rub it between my fingers and remember what that cross really means.
Let us pray:
Jesus, because you took every sorrow, every grief and every pain, because you removed our guilt and shame and took our penalty, may we always hold our heads high for you. May we never boast about anything other than you. Thank you does not even begin to show our gratitude on this dark day. Thank you for loving us with a deeper love than we can even understand and for declaring us forgiven. And above thank you that you for dying our death. And thank you that the tomb is empty. Tonight and always, we give you all the honor, glory and praise. Amen.
Go forth knowing that your sufferings and sin are not the end. We light this candle of Christ as a symbol that hope is truly on its way.