HOPE CHAPEL - Friday, April 2, 2021
Good Friday – Reflection & Communion
Weekly Topic – “The Celebration of Resurrection is Made Sweeter through Mourning”
Text – Matthew 26-27 and various others
This evening, I have invited you all to a funeral of sorts. It is my assumption that none of us are overly keen on attending an event where death is the main focus; we prefer celebration to sombreness. However, when we focus on the celebratory side of Easter…and we truly have no greater time to celebrate as Jesus’ followers…without the mourning that should rightfully emanate from us around the events of Good Friday, we run the risk of diminishing the significance of the whole. For many, Easter has turned into just another religious holiday to go to church, visit with family, overeat and spend far too much money on the world’s retrofitting of the holiday with Easter bunnies, chocolate eggs, spring outfits and Easter lilies.
I hope the time that we spend together this evening will give us a fresh taste of the events of Good Friday. Our grief over the need for Jesus’ sacrifice—brought on in part by our very own sinfulness—can make the news that Jesus’ rose from the dead all the more joyful and fill us anew with astonishment. Easter, without the emotion of sheer amazement, sells what God has accomplished on our behalf short. Easter is the greatest moment to date in human history and to treat it as just a time to celebrate, without mourning the cost, cheapens the incredible gift made possible for us all.
Tonight, we’re going to spend some time reflecting on the stories of those who experienced the first Friday, because it is only when we examine the darkness that we can truly appreciate the light.
Let’s begin with two of the people who must bear the blame for the crucifixion of an innocent man—Judas and Pilate. The religious leaders had wanted Jesus dead for some time, but it was going to take getting the cooperation of some key individuals to be able to accomplish their plan.
Judas wanted to start a revolt. I believe with others, that his intent was not to see Jesus crucified, but rather his betrayal came out of his desire to force Jesus into action. After the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, I can only speculate that Judas saw this as the opportune time to strike while the iron was hot. If Jesus waited too long to amass his followers, the faithful crowds of Jews currently swelling the city of Jerusalem for Passover would disperse, the current momentum would dissipate and the opportunity would be lost.
· Matthew 26:14-15 “Then Judas Iscariot, one of the twelve disciples, went to the leading priests 15 and asked, “How much will you pay me to betray Jesus to you?” And they gave him thirty pieces of silver. 16 From that time on, Judas began looking for an opportunity to betray Jesus.”
· But the plan backfired - Matthew 27:3-5 “When Judas, who had betrayed him, realized that Jesus had been condemned to die, he was filled with remorse. So he took the thirty pieces of silver back to the leading priests and the elders. 4 ‘I have sinned,’ he declared, ‘for I have betrayed an innocent man.’ ‘What do we care?’ they retorted. ‘That’s your problem.’ 5 Then Judas threw the silver coins down in the Temple and went out and hanged himself.”
Rather than Jesus uprising, or the crowds coming to his defense to be lead in a great revolution, Judas watched Jesus condemned to die. His complete and utter remorse leads him to throw the blood money back into the hands of the Pharisees before hanging himself.
Pontius Pilate, on the other hand, wanted to stem a revolt. Rome was not kind to its leaders who proved incapable of keeping the peace…and Judea and Jerusalem had earned a reputation for being a difficult area to govern. As the crowds stood before him, with the religious leaders egging them on, he recognized that he was losing control of the situation and chose to do what seemed most expedient—hand an innocent man over be put to death by the mob in order to prevent further problems.
· Matthew 27:17-24 “As the crowds gathered before Pilate’s house that morning, he asked them, “Which one do you want me to release to you—Barabbas, or Jesus who is called the Messiah?” 18 (He knew very well that the religious leaders had arrested Jesus out of envy.) 19 Just then, as Pilate was sitting on the judgment seat, his wife sent him this message: “Leave that innocent man alone. I suffered through a terrible nightmare about him last night.” 20 Meanwhile, the leading priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas to be released and for Jesus to be put to death. 21 So the governor asked again, “Which of these two do you want me to release to you?” The crowd shouted back, “Barabbas!” 22 Pilate responded, “Then what should I do with Jesus who is called the Messiah?” They shouted back, “Crucify him!” 23 “Why?” Pilate demanded. “What crime has he committed?” But the mob roared even louder, “Crucify him!” 24 Pilate saw that he wasn’t getting anywhere and that a riot was developing. So he sent for a bowl of water and washed his hands before the crowd, saying, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. The responsibility is yours!”
The fear of the mob and of Rome’s retribution caused Pilate to ignore his wife’s advice…and while he did not kill Jesus, he cleared the way for others to do so.
As much as Judas and Pilate paved the way for others to kill Jesus, we know that Jesus’ suffering had been prophesied hundreds of years earlier by the prophet Isaiah as God’s plan for the salvation of the world. And as wonderful as that promise was for us, the cost was unfathomable. Jesus suffered, but not just on the cross.
JESUS’ SUFFERING - Jesus’ suffering began before the cross. His final 24 hours must have been excruciatingly difficult.
The final supper with his disciples is one of divided emotions—Jesus knows that the suffering will soon be over, yet the next 24 hours will be the worst of his human life.
· He sits with a group of men, containing some of his closest friends, and knows they will all desert him before the night is over - Matthew 26:31-35 “On the way, Jesus told them, “Tonight all of you will desert me. For the Scriptures say, ‘God will strike the Shepherd, and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’ 32 But after I have been raised from the dead, I will go ahead of you to Galilee and meet you there.”
· One will betray him to the religious leaders - Matthew 26:21-25 “While they were eating, he said, “I tell you the truth, one of you will betray me.” 22 Greatly distressed, each one asked in turn, “Am I the one, Lord?” 23 He replied, “One of you who has just eaten from this bowl with me will betray me. 24 For the Son of Man must die, as the Scriptures declared long ago. But how terrible it will be for the one who betrays him. It would be far better for that man if he had never been born!” 25 Judas, the one who would betray him, also asked, “Rabbi, am I the one?” And Jesus told him, “You have said it.”
· One of his best friends, Peter, will deny knowing him three times - Matthew 26:33-35 “33 Peter declared, “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, Peter—this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny three times that you even know me.” 35 “No!” Peter insisted. “Even if I have to die with you, I will never deny you!” And all the other disciples vowed the same.”
In the garden of Gethsemane, we find Jesus wrestling with himself. He is determined to do God’s will, but he still asks that another means might be provided…not once or twice, but three times.
· Matthew 26:38 “[Jesus tells Peter, James and John] ‘My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” He went aside and prayed…
· Matthew 26:39, 42, 44 “’My Father! If it is possible, let this cup of suffering be taken away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine…My Father! If this cup cannot be taken away unless I drink it, your will be done’…he went to pray a third time, saying the same things again.”
In the courtyard of Caiaphas’ home, the high priest, Jesus underwent the first of the beatings and personally witnessed Peter’s denial
· Matthew 26:67-68 “Then they began to spit in Jesus’ face and beat him with their fists. And some slapped him, 68 jeering, “Prophesy to us, you Messiah! Who hit you that time?”
· And after an evening of being treated this way, it was toward morning that Jesus felt anew the sting of betrayal…Luke 22:60-62 “But Peter said, ‘Man, I don’t know what you are talking about.’ And immediately, while he was still speaking, the rooster crowed. 61 At that moment the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Suddenly, the Lord’s words flashed through Peter’s mind: ‘Before the rooster crows tomorrow morning, you will deny three times that you even know me.’ 62 And Peter left the courtyard, weeping bitterly.”
At the hands of the guards he was mocked and further beaten violently
· Matthew 27:26-31 “So Pilate released Barabbas to them. He ordered Jesus flogged with a lead-tipped whip, then turned him over to the Roman soldiers to be crucified. 27 Some of the governor’s soldiers took Jesus into their headquarters and called out the entire regiment. 28 They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him. 29 They wove thorn branches into a crown and put it on his head, and they placed a reed stick in his right hand as a scepter. Then they knelt before him in mockery and taunted, ‘Hail! King of the Jews!’ 30 And they spit on him and grabbed the stick and struck him on the head with it. 31 When they were finally tired of mocking him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him again. Then they led him away to be crucified.”
He experienced absolute degradation on the cross – As people passed by and jeered, his enemies taunted him and all dignity was stripped away
· Matthew 27:35-36 “After they had nailed him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for his clothes by throwing dice. 36 Then they sat around and kept guard as he hung there.”
And worst of all, he felt deserted by God
· Matthew 27:46 “At about three o’clock, Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” which means “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”
· John 19:30 “When he had received the drink, Jesus said, ‘It is finished.’ With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.”
A number of women and the disciple, John, were there to hear his final words, “It is finished.” And they must have felt it was so…but not in the way he meant. For them, everything they had thought about Jesus, everything they thought he had come to accomplish, died with those words, “It is finished.”
Jesus’ followers and family had no idea what to expect now, and despite Jesus’ words that told of his imminent death and resurrection after three days, they were blind to the events of the coming days.
· Matthew 26:2 “As you know, Passover begins in two days, and the Son of Man will be handed over to be crucified.”
· Matthew 17:22-23 “The Son of Man is going to be betrayed into the hands of his enemies. 23 He will be killed, but on the third day he will be raised from the dead.”
Their hearts had been so set upon one outcome, that they couldn’t accept Jesus’ own very clear foreknowledge—which would have sounded like nonsense. Their world and their expectations had shattered and they were left huddling, hiding for their lives, seeing no hope for the future.
Peter had been so determined to stay with Jesus, so convinced of his faithfulness, that he swore allegiance asserting that his loyalty would remain intact even if all the other disciples abandoned Jesus. He was determined to fight to the death with Jesus, but was wholly unprepared to follow Jesus down a road that lead to the cross.
· In the garden, we see Peter failing the first test of loyalty, not because he didn’t want to remain true, but because he didn’t understand Jesus’ mission. Peter had been prepared to die for Jesus in a battle, but not without a fight. - Matthew 26:52-54 “52 ‘Put away your sword,’ Jesus told him. ‘Those who use the sword will die by the sword. 53 Don’t you realize that I could ask my Father for thousands of angels to protect us, and he would send them instantly? 54 But if I did, how would the Scriptures be fulfilled that describe what must happen now?’”
John initially fled with the others, but because of connections he was permitted into Caiaphas’ courtyard.
· He even got Peter admitted – John 18:15-16 “Simon Peter followed Jesus, as did another of the disciples. That other disciple was acquainted with the high priest, so he was allowed to enter the high priest’s courtyard with Jesus. 16 Peter had to stay outside the gate. Then the disciple who knew the high priest spoke to the woman watching at the gate, and she let Peter in.”
· John is the only disciple who appears at the foot of the cross – John 19:25-27 “Standing near the cross were Jesus’ mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary (the wife of Clopas), and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother standing there beside the disciple he loved, he said to her, “Dear woman, here is your son.” 27 And he said to this disciple, “Here is your mother.” And from then on this disciple took her into his home.”
The disciples went into hiding
After Jesus was dead and buried, there was the very real threat that his followers might find themselves on the Pharisees' hit list and purged – Matthew 20:19 “the disciples were meeting behind locked doors because they were afraid of the Jewish leaders.”
The first ‘Good’ Friday was not a time of celebration, but a time of keeping your head down and out of sight for fear of what could happen now that their leader was dead.
WHAT WAS HAPPENING IN THE SPIRITUAL REALM?
It had been his plan, but that does not mean that God didn’t mourn
· Darkness from noon until 3pm - Matthew 27:45 “At noon, darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock.”
· When Jesus declared 'it is finished' there was an earthquake and graves of holy men and women emptied - Matthew 27:50-53 “Then Jesus shouted out again, and he released his spirit...The earth shook, rocks split apart, 52 and tombs opened. The bodies of many godly men and women who had died were raised from the dead. 53 They left the cemetery after Jesus’ resurrection, went into the holy city of Jerusalem, and appeared to many people.”
· The curtain dividing the holy place for the most holy place was torn as though God was shredding the old contract of his covenant to make room for a new one – Matthew 27:51 “51 At that moment the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.”
Satan, ever the shadowy figure in the background, had worked to make a pre-emptive strike against God’s declared punishment in the Garden of Eden and had used Judas to put his own plan in motion.
· Had Satan thought to avoid his own destruction by being the first to inflict a death blow? Genesis 3:15 “And I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
It is obvious that Satan hadn’t understood God’s words fully or he may have tried a far different approach…like allowing Jesus to simply die of old age. Did he think he was dealing a deadly blow to God’s plan that was unanticipated by God? I can’t help but wonder if Satan knows or understands things better than we humans do at times, so blinded by his own pride. Did he let out a cheer when Jesus cried, “It is finished,” or did he stay back in the shadows to see how God would respond? We don’t know…all I know was that he was in for one big surprise!
The Pharisees got their wish. They had wanted Jesus dead and to ensure that he remained that way – Matthew 27:62-66 “The next day, on the Sabbath, the leading priests and Pharisees went to see Pilate. 63 They told him, “Sir, we remember what that deceiver once said while he was still alive: ‘After three days I will rise from the dead.’ 64 So we request that you seal the tomb until the third day. This will prevent his disciples from coming and stealing his body and then telling everyone he was raised from the dead! If that happens, we’ll be worse off than we were at first.” 65 Pilate replied, “Take guards and secure it the best you can.” 66 So they sealed the tomb and posted guards to protect it.”
Good Friday ends with Jesus dead and buried and the disciples in hiding shamefaced or, in the case of Judas, dead. We are left with a picture of evil having defeated good. Of an innocent man having been put to death. Of Satan apparently having thwarted God’s plan. If it wasn’t for what happens next, the ‘good’ of Good Friday wouldn’t exist. However, until we reflect upon what took place on Friday, we cannot fully appreciate the events of Sunday. The fearful turned fearless. The hopeless turned hopeful. The funeral dirge transformed into a song of unrelenting praise!
Communion – Isaiah 53
Written Reflection – Each of us is responsible for the events that lead to Jesus’ crucifixion. It may not have been our hands that nailed him to the cross, but it was our sin that kept him there. He paid the price with his sinless life for the forgiveness of our sinful one. I want to encourage each one of us to reflect more deeply on this thought. Before Sunday morning when we gather again, I would like to encourage you to write Jesus a note—of praise, of confession, of apology, of devotion, of whatever the Holy Spirit leads you to write. On Sunday, I will let you know what I want you to do with them next…
Sunday, April 4, 2021- “Easter – Unbelievably Good News!” - ONLINE Only
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!