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Apr 18, 2014

That Horrible Good Friday

Preacher: John Repsold

Series: Road to the Cross

Keywords: love, righteousness, wrath at sin, confession, repentance, saving


This is a series of readings that were written and delivered for our 2013 Good Friday evening service. It is 4 separate 5-minute meditations that focus on 4 elements of that first horrible Good Friday: Christ's Compelling Love, God's Righteous Wrath, Confession At the Cross, His Amazing Saving Work


Good Friday

April 18, 2014


The Motivating Love of Christ

Motivation matters.

  • Ask any woman who was tricked into marrying a man she thought loved her only to find out that he really wanted her family money.
  • Ask any soldier who thought his foxhole buddy had signed up to fight for freedom from foreign powers only to find that he really joined to inflict the greatest damage possible on his own countrymen.

Motivation matters.

  • Ask the children of a mother or father who showers them with gifts of all kinds…except time and tenderness… because he’s really in love with his career or hobby or secretary.

Motivation matters…and it almost always becomes evident if you watch someone’s life long enough.

            What motivated God in human flesh, the God-man Jesus Christ, to give so much kindness to children, so much grace to people, so much truth to lovers of lies, so much healing to the sick and so much forgiveness to the rebels?

            What quality, what virtue, what characteristic can possibly account for the only true God greater than our entire universe by exponential measures to care about people who prefer to curse him and crucify Him

Only one thing: LOVE, not as it is defined by our culture’s poets or actors but LOVE at it is demonstrate by the only true God.

Many people throughout history have laid down their lives to save others. Real love does that. But so much of what passes for “love” in our modern society is little more than personal self-interest longing to fulfill some personal need. We may love in order to get someone else to love us. We may love so that our need for love is met by the love of others.

            But imagine that you are someone whose life is so filled with love, so loved by others so perfectly that there is no need to be loved one ounce more by anyone. What becomes of that person who is both perfectly loved and perfect at loving?

            Since there is only one being in human experience who fits that description, we need not waste our time wondering. That being who is perfect love personified is God himself, the God of the Bible, God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Being three persons in one God, they have shared perfect love and enjoyed perfect love forever. God did not create us because he “needed” someone to love. He created us because he is love. Love is always finding new ways to give itself to others, even when that giving is very costly.

            And when we turned our back on the only God of perfect love, what did perfect love do? It did not force itself upon us. It did not demand that we recognize it for its true greatness. It came searching for us, humbly hidden in human form, perfectly expressed in sinless human nature.

            Love cared enough to lay aside its greatness and take on weakness.

            Loved cared enough to submerge its beautiful perfection in the sea of ugly humanity.

            Love cared enough to help a couple of embarrassed newlyweds, to cherish playful children, to stand against abusive leaders, to forgive selfish businessmen, to shelter soiled street walkers, to heal hopelessly sick men, women and children.

            Love hated human rebellion and its horrible effects of disease, of destroyed lives, of poverty, of loneliness and of death to come and drink deeply of all those putrid fountains.

            Love fed the hungry, it healed the terminally ill, it restored the abused, it rebuked the abusers.

Love taught the truth, it freed those ravaged by crushing evil, it confronted lies that led people farther away from real life and took time to embrace those considered most unworthy of even a touch.

            Love, perfect love, did not flinch or recoil as we would when confronted with the all-consuming cost to rescue self-absorbed, guilty, petty, cruel and prideful humans. Love didn’t shrink back from…us.

Instead Love wadded into the cesspool of sin, it dove into the acid of human hatred. It poured out its eternal saving passion in every drop of blood drawn with the lash; it shouted out faithful love with every piece of flesh ripped from its body.

And then it allowed evil itself, raging in confused finite minds and streaming from the powerless lips of His own terribly inferior creatures, to use his loving humility to inflict shame, torture, mutilation and unspeakable degradation on Love itself.

What else can possibly account for such willing suffering in the face of such unjustified hatred?

What can make any sense of a God more powerful than a billion galaxies with ten billion suns each like our sun willingly submitting his unequalled greatness to our unfettered evil?

Come with us tonight to the cross of Jesus Christ where perfect Love meets horrendous evil. Come to the cross of Christ were divine love collides with devilish rage. Let that Love which gave and gave and gave of Himself on the cross break through the walls of indifference and familiarity and shame and bitterness and a thousand other human shortcomings that keep every one of us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus.

“…at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8)

God’s Wrath Against our Sin Poured Out on Christ

            Have you ever asked yourself, “Why are people so angry these days?” We seem to live in a world full of angry people. Why is that?

Hardly a week goes by when you don’t see one driver angry with another. Walk the streets of downtown and you will probably hear angry words shouted between wandering youth or homeless adults. Homes across our city and nation often hear the raised voices and shouted words of angry people.

Is all this anger really justified? Probably not. But neither is it totally unjustified. There is something very wrong with the person who sees terrible injustice unfolding before their eyes and is not moved to anger. To watch someone you love be abused and not feel anger is wrong. Anger is one of the right responses we should have when we see evil doing real damage to people.

The problem is, most of us are moved to anger by things and people who simply don’t do what we want them to do…when we want them to do it…how we want them to do it. So much of our anger is simply selfish immaturity.

But where sin abounds, anger will also multiply. The more we sin against each other, the more anger will bubble to the surface of our emotions. That is why our culture is becoming an increasingly angry culture. And in some sense, that is how it should be. Evil that wounds and damages people should make good people angry.

This is why we cannot truly understand the cross of Christ without trying to grasp the wrath of God. As much as a God who is angry against our sin may terrify us, a god who was never angry with human sin would lead us to despair.

There is no sin that does not do damage to someone. Every sin I have ever committed has either damaged me or someone around me…or both. And as anyone who has been abused or wounded by the sin of someone else can testify, one of the most damaging of sins is sin that we refuse to recognize. Failure to see just how much one’s sin damages others will only lead us to keep wounding and hurting others at ever-increasing levels.

So if we, imperfect, sinful people, do and should feel anger towards those who sin against us or against those we love, should not our most loving God who sees how horribly human sin is damaging people, not be angry with us and our sin? God has every right to be angry with every one of us for our sin. In fact, He would not be a god who should be worshipped if he demonstrated no anger against our sin.

            The Bible sometimes uses a metaphor…a word-picture…of drinking from a cup that has very bitter wine when it speaks of the wrath of God. If you’ve ever taken a drink of straight vinegar, you know the sensation. Jesus used that metaphor of drinking the bitter cup of God’s wrath against sin to describe what he would have to ingest spiritually on the cross. The wrath of God against all the sin of humanity across all the centuries would be poured out on His own Son on the cross that day. It was divine wrath that should have been born or drunk or ingested by each of us. Instead our sinless Savior drank that horrendously bitter cup so that we might drink the amazingly beautiful “cup of blessing” He now offers.

  • Instead of God’s anger, we can have his loving approval.
  • Instead of God’s judgment, we get undeserved mercy.
  • Instead of God’s wrath, we get his grace that heals our wounds and reverses the horrible effects of our sin.

As I Thessalonians 5:9-10 says, For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ. 10 He died for us so that, whether we are awake [alive] or asleep [dead], we may live together with him.”

This amazing exchange is only possible because of the cross of Christ. True justice demands genuine wrath. But it was the love of God that made a way for God’s just wrath to be poured out on himself…on the Son of God…so that His abundant love, mercy, grace and kindness could be poured out on us.

So many in this world will still be the object of God’s just and perfect wrath. That will happen, not because God wants it to or because the cross of Christ was insufficient to deal with God’s wrath over sin. It will happen because people refuse to let go of their sin, refuse to embrace God’s solution and instead continue rebel against God through rejection of Jesus Christ. That singular rejection will keep them sinning against God, against people and against themselves.

The Apostle John wrote in John 3:36--Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.

So many at the cross in Jerusalem that day rejected the Son of God. So many mocked and ridiculed, spat on and despised the Savior who was drinking the cup of God’s wrath for them. So many then and now still see their own sin as small while viewing God’s wrath against their sin as wrong.

            But to those who humbly approach the cross knowing it is their own sin that held Jesus there that day, God offers forgiveness. To those who “believe in the Son” God takes eternal death and separation from Him and exchanges it for eternal life and intimacy with Him.

That is why Paul could write in Romans 5:9-10, “Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life!”

The Right Response to the Cross—Repentance

            For people who are not willing to admit that it was their sin that put Jesus on the cross, the cross is something to be avoided. One cannot gaze upon “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” if they are not willing to acknowledge they are part of that “sin of the world.”

            But for those who allow the Spirit of God to convict them of sin, the cross of Christ becomes their favorite view, the place where they are found time and again coming to God to transact a “great exchange.”

            In an exchange, one party lets go of something so that they can trade it for something else that is better or of greater value. In the “great exchange” of the cross, we agree with God about our sin—that it is first and foremost against Him and also damaging to us and others around us. In this “great exchange”, we leave at the cross of Christ what, in the moment of sin we cherished, but which now, in the shadow of the cross we are ashamed of. We lay on Christ the sin of every evil we have done as well as the sin of every good we have failed to do.

That Good Friday at the cross of Christ so many years ago saw so many different responses to the cross.

  • One thief on one side of Jesus’ cross saw Christ’s cross as a sign of God’s weakness. He taunted Jesus with the words, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” For him, the cross was something to be saved from, not saved through. For him, Jesus unwillingness to interrupt His work of saving all mankind from the eternal consequences of our sin was not a good enough reason to not save him from the temporal judgment of his crime.

There are still many who feel the same way. Angry at God for not freeing them from the temporal penalties of their own sinful behavior, they blame God for their suffering and go to the grave cursing His offer of forgiveness.

  • But some are like the other thief who, willing to acknowledge that his own sin deserved both the temporal judgment of the Roman civil authorities and the eternal judgment of God, humbled himself and asked Jesus to save him. He recognized that Jesus had done “nothing wrong”, nothing deserving of punishment let alone capital punishment by the cruel and unusual measures of crucifixion. Somehow he understood that there was a “great exchange” going on for him personally that day. He grasped that the innocent Son of God was bearing His eternal guilt before God even as he himself was still suffering for the temporal consequences of his sin.

There were others at the cross that day too.

  • Most of the soldiers saw the cross of Christ as a means to ridicule the entire Jewish nation. “King of the Jews” was the inscription they put over Christ…as they nailed his flesh and bones to that horrible throne called the cross. Others saw the cross of Christ as a way to pick up a little material wealth—a seamless but bloodied robe that was the last vestige of human dignity and decency Christ had before it was torn from his torn flesh, exposing his naked body to stares and indignities of a watching world.
  • But there was one centurion, one guard who, seeing how Christ forgave his torturers and tormentors, how he bled and died on that Roman cross, “glorified God” with his proclamation that Jesus was truly sinless, truly a righteous man, truly not deserving of the cross. In that moment he, a man of great worldly power, stood under the power of the cross and found forgiveness for his sins and his part in nailing divine flesh to that human instrument of torture.

So what is your response to the cross? Do you turn away from it or recoil in anger or shame because God has allowed you to suffer some natural, some human result of your sin? Without those experiences, sin would never be ugly to us. Without any temporal consequences to our sin, we would never face the eternal offer of God’s forgiveness.

So here is what we would like you to do as a way to personally respond to the cross of Christ.

The Bible tells us that “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). There is not a person in this room who has not rebelled against God in word or thought or deed and who does not need to come to the cross of Christ in repentance.

            Repentance means that we agree with God about our sin. What He calls sin, we agree is sin. When he says it separates us from Him, we agree. And when he asks us to leave it behind, to leave it at the cross and to move on into a new life of fellowship with Him and obedience to Him, we say, “Yes.”

So we want to invite you to do something symbolic here tonight. On that piece of paper you found on your chair when you came in, write down whatever sins God brings to your attention in the next few minutes. Humble yourself enough to allow the Holy Spirit to put His finger on either past sins you have not agreed with God about or present, recent sins He chooses to bring to your attention.

            We will take about 2 minutes of quiet reflection to do that. Then Andrew will give us some instructions about what to do next with your list and how to enter personally into a “great exchange” at the cross.

            So take 2 minutes to let God speak and to write down sins of your life that He is wanting you to let go of.

For God SO loved the world…the world…that He gave…he GAVE his Only Begotten Son….” (Jn. 3:16)

More Saving by not Saving

That horrible Good Friday, Jesus died. All four Gospels record the event.

Luke 23 tells us…

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals—one on his right, the other on his left. 34 Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.

35 The people stood watching, and the rulers even sneered at him. They said, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is God’s Messiah, the Chosen One.”

36 The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar 37 and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.”

Jesus had already told his disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane that all he had to do to protect and save his own life was summon 10s of thousands of angels with a single word. He could have killed every inhabitant of Jerusalem that day with just a word. But he chose a different path.

            It’s interesting how those who mocked him spoke more truth than they understood. “He saved others….” How very true. How many had Jesus saved…from illness…from demons…from hunger, legalism, immorality, from shame, from the gods of riches and power and so much more. Jesus had truly saved so many.

            But what his mockers failed to grasp was that in, that very moment, as he hung naked, in shame before his mockers, He was doing more saving than he had ever done. As king of the Jews, as God’s Messiah, as the Chosen One, “saving himself” was not what he had come to do. He had come to save the world, the mockers before him, his own family, his disciples…and millions of people through all time who would put their faith and trust in his perfect and holy sacrifice taking place that very moment.

            No, he would not come down from that cross…by choice. Because saving others was what Jesus’ life and death was all about.

Matthew records what happened the very moment he breathed his last breath of mortal life on earth. We find it in his Gospel, chapter 27.

51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. 53 They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.

54 When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!”

55 Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. 56 Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons.

John in his Gospel, chapter 19, adds this about one further event that took place that day. It, too, was a “saving” event for a couple of men who had not gone public with their belief in Jesus until that horrible Good Friday.

38 Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away. 39 He was accompanied by Nicodemus, the man who earlier had visited Jesus at night. Nicodemus brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about seventy-five pounds.[e] 40 Taking Jesus’ body, the two of them wrapped it, with the spices, in strips of linen. This was in accordance with Jewish burial customs. 41 At the place where Jesus was crucified, there was a garden, and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had ever been laid.

Truly Jesus “saved others.” He saved these two men from silence about their belief in Him. They had position and prestige and power to lose by doing so. But they had Christ and eternal life to gain. Joseph and Nicodemus were saved that night.

A Roman centurion got saved that afternoon Jesus died. Jesus’ prayer to the Father from the cross, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do” was answered in the life of that man. That Gentile centurion, responsible to oversee the death of the Son of God that day, found that Jesus refusal to save himself was just what was needed to save him, a sinner who had crucified the Lord of Glory.

And there were the many women who had followed Jesus all the way from Galilee. They got saved that day by the One who refused to save himself.

And then there were you and me and millions of other sinners through all time who have and will put their faith in Jesus. The moment he died, that curtain of the temple that separated God from people was torn in two, “from top to bottom.” From heaven to earth, God made known the reality that no longer would anyone need to go to Jerusalem, to offer a sacrifice in the Temple, to have a priest do their bidding before God.

            Jesus chose NOT to save himself that horrible Good Friday so that he could save all who put their trust in Him…forever.