Saturday, April 07, 2007

Good Friday

Today is the day that commemorates the death of Jesus Christ, the oddly named Good Friday.

It was an unusual day in history.

Jesus, a Jewish teacher, had only been "known" for three years.

He taught people about God in way that was new and different, revealing a personal God, not just an arbiter of rules.

He touched sick people and healed them, e
ven those with leprosy, the AIDS of his day.

Jesus did miraculous things, verifying his authority over the earth and it's elements; turning water into wine, walking on water, feeding huge crowds of people with a few fish and a bread rolls, restored sight to blind people and much more.

He went further. He raised people who were dead back to life, literally stopping funerals and digging up graves to restore people from death.

His teachings were inspired. They carry weight to the present day and are believed and observed by millions of people throughout the world, not just Christians.

When questioned he stated that the whole of God's laws could be summed up in two simple rules. Love God with all your heart, and love your neighbour the sa
me way you love yourself.

Like him or not, agree or disagree with the Christian faith, I challeng
e anyone to apply those two rules and not find peace and meaning and fulfillment and become a better person. If the world truly embraced those two rules it would be radically transformed.

But, in a foretaste of the trouble that would follow and echo throughout the centuries, the religious leaders of the day were threatened by his popularity and following, confronted by his relationship with God and jealous of his power and authority. So, they killed him.
Late one night they bribed one of his followers to betray him, arrested him, and brought him to trial. They falsely accused him, called witnesses who could not agree or prove any wrong-doing and threatened him with death unless he repudiated his claim to be the Son of God.

I've seen a few real life trials, and plenty on TV and movies, but never one like this. Why was this one different? Because Jesus did not say a word to defend himself. Despite the lies and false accusations made against him he remained silent, allowing them to carry out their sham trial and their supreme act of injustice.

History, the Bible, and witnesses all concur that Jesus had no crime or sin ever recorded against him. He was completely innocent. King Herod and Pontius Pilate both admitted this fact, saying they found nothing against him, certainly nothing worthy of death. But the religious leaders stirred the crowd and turned them against Jesus, demanding that he be crucified. Still Jesus did not protest his innocence or defend himself. He allowed them to carry out their evil actions, right through to a barbaric death by crucifixion, impaled on a cross with spikes through his hands and feet, left in excruciating pain to die of suffocation when he no longer had the strength to raise himself up to breathe by pushing against the spikes through his feet.

It was an horrific way to die. And yet, despite the enormity of the injustice, even on the cross Jesus continued to show love and compassion for other people, calling on God to forgive the very people who were killing him, because they didn't know what they were doing.

Impossible as it is, try putting yourself in Jesus's shoes and consider your reactions in the same circumstances.
I daresay you would not have acted in the same way.

You would not have stayed silent at trial.

You would not have prayed for your killers to be forgiven.
You would not have quietly accepted the death penalty for something you didn't do.

This was no ordinary death because this was no ordinary man. Jesus knew their was a plan. There was a reason he had to die. He knew that his death was planned by God as the single greatest act in the history of mankind because through his death God was able to offer forgiveness to the world for all of it's sin and rebellion.

A little known detail of the crucifixion is that at the moment of his death on the cross, the veil of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. The barrier which had always existed between man and God's presence on earth was torn apart, removed forever. It was as if God himself reached down from heaven and ripped it up, opening the way for man to have free and unfettered access to God. Prior to that, entry to the Holiest place was punishable by death! Now it was open for anyone to come in. It was a symbol of what Jesus achieved by his death, opening the way for people to come to God, by faith and trust in him and what he did on our behalf.

Another thing that is probably not well known or appreciated is how quickly these events took place. The whole time frame from arrest to crucifixion was about 9 hours, with a further 6 hours until Jesus' actual death. We are so used to criminals spending 10-15 years awaiting execution it's hard to conceive that such an important trial and execution was carried out with such phenomenal haste.

It's an amazing story, an incredible event, and the reason, quite rightly, today is known as Good Friday.
It was a bad day for Jesus personally, but a great day for the world.

The full extent of it's significance was not understood however until Sunday.

In one final irony, I am quite sure that the vast majority of people who celebrate or observe Easter this year will concentrate on chocolate easter eggs as the major symbol and meaning of the holiday!

That's amazing!!


Eman said...

We are confirmed in the opinion, that the present age would be deficient in their duty to God, their posterity and themselves, if they do not establish an American republic. This is the only form of government we wish to see established; for we can never be willingly subject to any other King than He who, being possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness and rectitude, is alone fit to possess unlimited power.” —Instructions of Malden, Massachusettes for a Decleration of Independence,

“But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared. And they found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in they did not find the body. While they were perplexed about this, behold, two men stood by them, in dazzling apparel; and as they were frightened and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, ‘Why do you seek the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen’.” —Luke 24:1-5

“I call heaven and earth as witnesses today against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both you and your descendants may live...” —Deuteronomy 30:19

“And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” —Joshua 24:15

“Let the pulpit resound with the doctrine and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear of the dignity of man’s nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God... Let it be known that... liberties are not the grants of princes and parliaments.” —John Adams

“It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested, or restrained in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience...” —The Massachusetts Bill of Rights

“The Son of God suffered unto the death, not that men might not suffer, but that their sufferings might be like His.” —George MacDonald

“It costs God nothing, so far as we know, to create nice things: but to convert rebellious wills cost him crucifixion... You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse... You can shut him up for fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon; or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God.” —C.S. Lewis

“You and I know and do not believe that life is so dear and peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery. If nothing is worth dying for, when did this begin? Should Moses have told the children of Israel to live in slavery under the pharaohs? Should Christ have refused the cross? Should the patriots of Concord Bridge have thrown down their guns and refused to fire the shot heard round the world?” —Ronald Reagan (1964)

Spring seems, on a superficial view, to be the gentlest of the seasons. Yet as poet T.S. Eliot proclaimed, “April is the cruellest month, breeding / Lilacs out of the dead land.” Indeed, the new life rising around us is a hard miracle.

At this season, Christians memorialize the crucifixion of Jesus Christ on Good Friday, and His rising from death on Easter morning. The Resurrection is the central fact that distinguishes Christianity from all other faiths, and we meditate these days on the way to and from the empty tomb.

In Christian theology, Christ’s sacrifice on the cross was the fusion of perfect love and perfect justice, vanquishing evil, in this sense: Because we owe God complete obedience, we have no means to make restitution for our sins. Doing what we should in any instance merely zeroes our balance for that act; we have no way to repay the negative sum of our accumulated sins. Only God Himself could rectify that moral debt on our behalf, in a sacrificial act that is simultaneously purely loving and purely just. One death thus gave each human life forever after an incalculable value, because of that exchange.

Jesus further commanded His believers to follow Him in self-sacrifice: “And when He had called the people to Him, with His disciples also, He said to them, ‘Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me”’ (Mark 8:34). “And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me” (Matthew 10:38). Clearly, Jesus calls His followers to lay down the life of this world and follow Him on the road to the cross.

What lay behind, in the shadow of the cross, was a barbaric world. Life during Christ’s time on earth was cheap, treated as suitable for sport and spectacle. The execution of Jesus by crucifixion typified the cruelty and capriciousness of Roman rule. The Jewish chief priests, arguing for the death of Jesus, clamored, “We have no king but Caesar” (John 19:15). The Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, knew that Jesus was guilty of no capital crime, for he said, “I wash my hands of the blood of this innocent man” —yet, fearing political repercussions should Caesar hear rumors of Jesus as a rival claimant to authority, Pilate permitted the death sentence to be carried out.

Innocent life taken for political expediency—does this sound familiar? We dally with such devaluation today, in embryonic-stem-cell research, abortion, euthanasia, terrorism—all treated as justifiable to relativists. How unseemly, how grotesque, that the devaluation of human life now runs under the banner of “choice.” The question is not whether but what you choose. Among the choices, the hardest path is the road of the cross, following the example of Jesus. Yet if that stony, stumbling course is the hardest, it is also the best.

What swept over the world, after the Resurrection, was a vast transformation. The Apostle Paul took up his cross, in a prisoner’s chains, and brought members of Caesar’s household into the fellowship of Christians—so that they had “no king but King Jesus.” No other possibility aside from true resurrection can adequately explain the acts of the followers of Jesus.

Historically, commemoration of Christ’s Resurrection, as with His birth, has echoed various pagan rites that seem—though not so explicitly and directly as Old Testament prophecies—to presage events in His life. Scholars variously attribute the name “Easter” to derivation of Eostra (a Scandinavian goddess of dawn or spring) or Ostern (a Teutonic fertility goddess), both pagan figures honored at festivals celebrating the vernal equinox. Eostra is one of many similar names of Euro-Mediterranean pagan goddesses, with the form Ishtar most often associated with the region around Mesopotamia’s Euphrates River. Traditions associated with these festivals include the Easter rabbit, a symbol of fertility, and Easter eggs, painted with the bright colors of spring and signifying growth and new life. The Christian holiday builds on the traditions of the Jewish festival of Passover, or Pesach (the derivation of Pascha, another name for Easter), celebrating the Israelites’ deliverance from bondage in Egypt.

Jesus Christ crucified is likened to Passover’s sacrificial lamb: “He was oppressed and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He was led as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, He opened not His mouth” (Isaiah 53:7); and “[Y]ou were not redeemed with corruptible things, like silver or gold, from your aimless conduct received by tradition from your fathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, as of a lamb without blemish and without spot” (1 Peter 1:18-19).

Pope Victor I (c. 189 - 198) standardized Easter to a Sunday holiday, and in 325 the Council of Nicaea set Easter’s date in relation to the paschal moon. The Gregorian calendar correction of 1582 placed Easter as the first Sunday after the full moon following the vernal equinox, falling between 22 March and 25 April. This year, Holy Week coincides with Passover, and as the Gregorian and Julian calendars agree on setting Easter’s date, Western and Eastern Orthodox churches are celebrating Resurrection Sunday on 8 April.

Easter occurs during the season in which the War for American Independence began in earnest: Within two weeks, we commemorate the Battles of Lexington and Concord, which commenced hostilities between colonial Americans and soldiers of the British crown. One culmination of the infusion of Christian respect for life into human beliefs was the Revolutionary War rationale that mankind is deserving of liberty.

In parts of colonial America, Easter was a two-day celebration, over Easter Sunday and Easter Monday. Current-day customs in the U.S. were set soon after the end of the Civil War, mingling religious elements with commercial ventures. By 1870, Easter was a holiday for new spring fashions, flowers and special confections, including sugary eggs and chocolate bunnies. (The White House Egg Roll, dating to 1878, takes place on Easter Monday.)

Many, possibly most, of our Founders were Christians, or else steeped in a political philosophy rooted in the Christian view of human nature. They believed, as we still do, that each individual human is a morally responsible being created in the image of God, and that the only government capable of enduring well is the one that honors this nature by ensuring liberty; the one that is dedicated to principles rooted in the Easter view of human worth. “The God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time,” wrote Thomas Jefferson; “the hand of force may destroy, but cannot disjoin them.”

At the far end of the road to the cross lies the empty tomb—the promise of resurrection and eternal life. Even today, the empty tomb beckons. Will we travel the way of the cross, or take another road?

Carolyn said...