Every year, three days before Easter, we come and celebrate our Lord in the Good Friday. In Chinese we called it “the festival of suffering”, but in English term, it is called the “Good Friday”. You might wonder, why does Jesus’ suffering on the cross be “good”? You don’t think hearing someone’s agony in a torturing device, waiting to die as a good thing, right?
Well, in western culture, today is called “Good Friday” because God is good. Our God is gracious and full of mercy. God’s attributes are good, and His works are good. Therefore, God’s gift to us must be good. In biblical definition, “Good” on the material level was the promised blessing of God in His covenant with his people. It is a day of celebration because God’s goodness displays on this very good Friday 2000 years ago when he has given us his One And Only Son, Jesus Christ as a gift. So that whoever believes in Christ will have eternal life, and their sins be forgiven.
1) The Crucified King
On that fateful day of crucifixion on 3rd of April, Year 33 AD, Pontius Pilate the Roman governor sentenced Jesus to death. Mark’s Gospel recorded that Simon, who came from Cyrene of North Africa, was forced by the Roman soldiers to carry the Cross of Jesus to the place called Golgotha. Golgotha in the local Aramaic means “the skull place” because the hill looks like a skull, as you can see in the photo. It is a place for death.
The Romans invented the crucifixion to execute condemned criminals as punishment by prolonging the pain of the criminal as long as possible. The victims would have to suffer for hours to days until they die slowly. And they would be crucified next to the main roads as a public warning and deterrent to terrorise the population. The public shaming was so great that people would not even mention their names out of shame. Yet, the powerful healer, the Son of God dies in this way as a publicly humiliated human being.
The Scripture records that the soldiers crucified Jesus, nailing him down to the wooden beam. There, they divided up Jesus’ clothes and gamble with the belonging to see what each would get. This humiliation of Christ was all under God’s plan of salvation. The prophetic words from King David, one thousand years before Jesus has spoken in the Scripture, in the messianic Psalm 22, predicting what the Messiah of God must fulfil and suffer: “16 Dogs surround me, a pack of villains encircles me; they pierce my hands and my feet. 17 All my bones are on display; people stare and gloat over me. 18 They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.” (Psalm 22:16-18)
The humiliation for Jesus on the cross was entirely under God’s will. It was all under God’s plan from the beginning. Why? It is because Jesus’ mission on earth is the save us from our sins. But the price that God has to pay to save us is very high. The Bible tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23). Only a sinless person can pay that ransom of sin to save many. If Jesus did not die and resurrected, our sins are not forgiven. He execution as a normal person. Jesus did it only because he loves you. Jesus loves you so much that he is willing to sacrifice his life for you, so that we, the sinners, might live in God’s judgement. Your soul is important in God’s eye. Jesus wants you to be saved from your sins. He doesn’t want to see you go to hell. He is like a U-turn sign at the gate of hell and calling you to return to God. Jesus endured the suffering for each of us so that all who believe in Him will be saved.
But the question is, are we taking it for granted? Are we hearing this story of what Christ has done for us, and walk out without change, without gratitude and no response? Many people have listened to the gospel story since they were young, they might have been born of a Christian family, but not everyone will respond to God’s calling of repentance. Do you know who Jesus really is? Who is Jesus? If we don’t truly understand who Jesus is, we cannot fully comprehend why does he have to die on the cross.
There are two titles of Jesus in today passage that proclaim Jesus’ true identity. First, is that Jesus is King, and secondly, Jesus is the Son of God to take away sins.
On the cross, the Romans often inscribe the crime that the criminal had committed. And what is the charge against Jesus? It reads, “The King of the Jews”. Jesus did not commit any crime; he was crucified for who he is – the King of the Jews, the long awaked Messiah from the line of King David. Pontus Pilate, the Romans governor, had asked Jesus earlier in Mark 15:2, “Are you the king of the Jews?” and Jesus answered. “You have said so,”
Jesus is unlike any other kings on the earth. The other kings receive their crowns in their coronation to rule their land. But Jesus’ day of coronation is the day of his death in execution. His crown was not made of gold and silver, but a crown of thorns that was designed to inflict pain on his forehead in the execution. The other kings are surrounded by their officials, but Jesus was surrounded by two criminals, two rebels who are sentenced for an uprising. They were crucified next to him. Other kings receive praises from their people, but Jesus received condemnation, humiliation and mocking from all of those around him.
As we can read in verse 29, “Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!” 31 In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! 32 Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:29-32)
2) The Saviour who had no sin to be sin for us
On the surface of the event, Jesus looks wholly defeated. His enemies think they have won. But unknowingly in their contempt, the truth about Jesus was proclaimed in their insults. “Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”
Jesus could have saved himself, but he endured this suffering because of his love for us. He could have chosen not to take the pain and humiliation. He could have killed those who mocked him. But he endured it all and suffered because he loves even his enemies. We all had a significant part in the drama that day because our sins were on the cross. Jesus died for us, and his death paid the penalty for our sins. So now, the only correct response we can make is to confess our sins and gratefully accept the fact that Jesus paid for our sins so we wouldn’t have to. If we don’t receive this gift from God, we are insulting God. Don’t insult God with lack of concern toward the greatest act of God’s love in history.
Someone may ask, how did Jesus destroy the temple made with hands and builds a new one not made with human hands in three days? Well, Jesus has changed the way of the Old Testament sacrificial system of animal sacrifice and rebuilt a new temple with his blood and his life. After he died and buried for three days, Jesus will conquer death and rise again in the glory of God. The old temple of animal sacrifice by priests would be a thing of the past. For it is insufficient for the animal’s blood to cleanse the sin of the people year after year. Still, in that year on the Day of Atonement, Jesus died on the cross as the perfect sacrifice, once for all so that the old system of animal sacrifice is no longer needed. Instead, Jesus has started the Church, which is his body, where people from every nation worship him and remember his sacrifice once for all. Jesus has effectively taken away the sins of the world, that – is what he must fulfil as the Saviour of the World.
When we look back to the first Passover in Exodus, in the last plague at Egypt, God did not check who inside the house was worthy. He checked the blood of the lamb on the doorposts, and if there is blood on the doorposts on each house, the judgment will pass over. In the same way, we receive the grace of God through Jesus on the cross. None of us is worthy. But God only checks the blood of Christ on the cross. Only the blood of Jesus can cover our sins.
In verse 33 of Mark’s gospel, the Bible says, “At noon, darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon.” The darkness lasted for three hours, from the time Jesus was crucified until the moment of his death. The heavens have cosmic display a sign of distress, agony and grief over the death of the King, the Son of God. Darkness was also a sign of God’s judgment upon the earth. Still, now the judgment is landed upon one person, Jesus alone to take all the punishment.
As prophet Amos declared, “In that day,” declares the Sovereign LORD, “I will make the sun go down at noon and darken the earth in broad daylight. 10 I will turn your religious festivals into mourning and all your singing into weeping. I will make all of you wear sackcloth and shaved your heads. I will make that time like mourning for an only son and the end of it like a bitter day.” (Amos 8:9-10)
Taking the sin of the whole world is painful. Jesus, who has no sin, is now made sin for us. That was the only time in human history, not before, not after, that the Father and the Son have been separated by the sin of this world. Your sin, my sin, everyone’s sin were all cast on Jesus. So Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?”, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus’ cry recalls the first verse in the Messianic Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1) It is that very moment the sins of the world have been taken away because Jesus has taken the full force of judgment from his Father. Jesus was feeling the full wrath of God, against all the sins of humanity—past, present, and future. Jesus cried out in agony as he bore the sins of the world and was separated for the first time from his Father because of this sin.
People around Jesus thought that he was calling Elijah the Prophet, but no. Jesus cried out and died on the cross. Jesus’ death fully displays God’s sovereignty and grace, who sends his beloved Son to give his life as a ransom of many. This is how God’s will is at work in Jesus’ death and fulfils the Scriptures.
3) The Crucified Son of God
When Jesus died, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.” (Mark 15:38) This curtain in the temple separates the Holy Place and the Most Holy Place at the back, a place reserved by God himself. Only once a year, the high priest could enter on the Day of Atonement to sprinkle the blood of the sacrificed animal on the mercy seat of the Ark. This curtain symbolises the barrier of sin between mankind and the holy God, separating the holy God from sinful people. But now the curtain is split opened, signifying the hostility between God and us has finally been broken because of Jesus’ sacrifice. Now everyone can see what is inside the Most Holy Place. The breaking of the curtain in the temple symbolises that we have full access to God and his blessings flow out from the temple where everyone on earth can receive his forgiveness of sin. It is no longer a barrier between man and God because Jesus has fulfilled the righteousness and makes the final and ultimate atonement of sin. That is why we can meet God face to face without the fear of dying like the priests in the Old Testament. Jesus has died in our place and cleansed us from all our guilt and shame. The barrier of sin is no more, like the temple curtain – it is finally broken.
At this moment, the Roman centurion who crucified Jesus, proclaim Jesus’ true identity. “He said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39) His confession and acknowledgement of Jesus mean that Jesus’ full identity is directly linked to his death. It is through the death of Christ that we can see the new temple, a house of prayer for all nations becomes a reality.
As the psalmist wrote, “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him, for dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” (Psalm 22:27-28)
This blessing will last for many generations as it is written, “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. 31 They will proclaim his righteousness, declaring to a people yet unborn: He has done it!” (Psalm 22:30-31)
Jesus has done it all by himself alone. It was God’s salvation plan, to be accomplished only by the Son of God, the King of the Jews, the Messiah and Saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ. God chose to love us. God chose to save us. God chose to have a relationship with us with the cost of the life of his beloved Son.
If everybody in the world woke up and said, “Someday I have to stand before my Maker and give an account for every word I have ever spoken, every deed I have ever done, every thought I’ve ever thought, and every task I’ve failed to do.” How dreadful is the Day of Judgment! Do not fear, all we need to do is give thanks to God that Jesus has already taken away all the sins we have committed, all the sins we have had in mind, every wrong thing that we have spoken. You are forgiven because Jesus has died for you.
As we reflect upon the gospel narrative, remember the magnitude of love that Christ has for us to lead us to live. Remember Jesus on this very Good Friday, that we should not go back to our former way of life as we are called to be his people. Jesus has taken our sins away on the cross, so sin no more. Let us obey God and live in his way, let us respond to God with praises and thanksgiving, for Jesus has done it. He has fulfilled his mission on earth. But now it is our turn to receive this gift of forgiveness of sin. Don’t waste it. The life of the Son of God is very precious, and it is the most lovely thing that God has done for us. Take this gift of salvation and forgiveness today and every day, so that we will live a holy life for God in his glory. Let us thank you, Jesus, for what he has done – now and forever!