Good Friday 2016 – Tenebrae Service of Seven Words

First Word:

Shall we come here this evening to feel sorry for Jesus…to join these women in their weeping and wailing over an innocent man, condemned to a gruesome end?  

Shall we join the crowds along the roads, spectators as though watching a drama unfold before our eyes – cheering for Jesus and jeering all the bad guys – Judas, Peter, Sanhedrin, Caiaphas, Herod, Pilate, the mob, the Romans?  

Or, perhaps, twenty centuries removed from this sort of event…shall we paint a vivid picture of the physiology of crucifixion, trying to comprehend this sort of public execution from the comfort of modern America, perhaps getting so caught up in the pain of his death that we lose sight of the spiritual suffering – the pain of hell?  

We bring all these questions to the foot of the cross.  And here, as we contemplate our Lord’s Passion once more – we take a closer look at his words.  Here, in his final words, Jesus makes sure that we cannot miss the point - the purpose - the reason for all this suffering.  

So it is with the Lord’s words along the way to the cross – “Weep not for me, but for yourselves and your children…”  Let us not weep for Jesus; rather, let us FOLLOW and LISTEN.  

His very first words on the cross come between the awful ringing of the hammer: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing!”  

A prayer – a prayer that God would forgive the very men who put him on the cross; a prayer that was answered as Jesus hung there on the cross, paying the debt of sin and earning forgiveness . . . real forgiveness, for them, for us.  

We don’t know if any of those men came to faith; they may have remained ignorant of who Jesus is.  But his prayer for them is also his prayer for us: that through his cross, God would forgive US:

 

Luke 23:26-34

26 As they led him away, they seized Simon from Cyrene, who was on his way in from the country, and put the cross on him and made him carry it behind Jesus. 27 A large number of people followed him, including women who mourned and wailed for him. 28 Jesus turned and said to them, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me; weep for yourselves and for your children. 29 For the time will come when you will say, ‘Blessed are the barren women, the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!’ 30 Then 

    “ ‘they will say to the mountains, “Fall on us!” 

    and to the hills, “Cover us!” ’

31 For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” 

32 Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. 33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, 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.

 

 

Second Word:

“Nails didn’t hold him on the cross – love did.”  

Perhaps you’ve heard that, seen it.  And I understand the sentiment, the truth behind the statement: God’s grace alone prompted Jesus to live and die for us.  

But at the same time, nails DID hold him on the cross.  We do not divide Jesus into part-human, part-God, as though he is not fully God and fully Man from his conception to eternity.  No; at the incarnation, nine months before Christmas, the divine nature gave all of its attributes - almighty, all-knowing, omnipresent, etc - to the human nature.  What you say about Jesus, the Son of God, you also say about Jesus, the Son of Man.  One person.

And that comes into play here, too; Jesus says to the criminal, who apparently had heard or remembered some promise about the Messiah; Jesus says to him, “Today you will be with me in paradise.”  

What a promise!  Yes, there’s the promise that his suffering would be quick; it would not drag on for days, as other crucifixions did.  And on top of it?  Both Jesus and this man would enjoy heaven that very day, before the sun set.  

Christ’s death is very different from ours; his death was innocent, unearned, bearing all the sin of all time for the entire world.  But then again?  His death is just like ours; because when he died, his soul went to heaven while his body was buried.  There was no delay.  

Dear Christian, find your certainty - your comfort - here: Through the death of Christ, the day of your death here is the first day of your eternity before the throne of God:

Luke 23:38-43

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”                                                             

40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 

42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”  43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”

 

 

Third Word:

Today is March 25, Good Friday.  It’s also March 25, nine months before Christmas – the day when the Christian Church celebrates the Annunciation, which is when the angel Gabriel visited the Virgin Mary and told her she would give birth to a son.  

For quite some time, she has treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.  The shepherds told her about the song of the angels - “Peace on earth, goodwill toward men!”  Nicodemus had shared a little bit of what that would mean when he said, “A sword will pierce your own soul, too.”  

She does not stand here to share in his suffering, nor to bear sin, nor to cooperate with Christ; she stands here as a mother, helpless toward her firstborn.  

But Jesus, ever our active substitute, always fulfilling God’s perfect will in every way; Jesus provides for his mother.  Here is your son; here is your mother.  Fellow believers to support one another in the days and years ahead; the Lord providing once more.  He who had no place to lay his head, whose clothes had been divided up and parcelled out, provides once more: 

John 19:25-27

25 Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, “Dear woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

 

 

Fourth Word:

Forsaken.

Alone.

Lonely, deserted, empty.

Here we see the meaning, the purpose, the anguish; let us perceive what a terribly frightening thing it was, that the Lord Jesus was crushed with the burden of sin so that he groaned and whimpered, as Isaiah had prophesied.  Let us not regard sin as a minor thing; let us not see Christ’s crucifixion as excuse for our own continued lawlessness, for that is exactly what our sinful flesh and Satan would want.  

But instead: Since Christ felt this agony of hell, dear Christian, know this : God will never forsake you.  And because God regarded Christ as guilty of our sin, so it is that God’s face does smile and shine upon us.  

And when your faith is tested, and it seems that dark clouds have covered every hint and glimmer of God’s grace; when it seems that God must be paying you back, or torturing you, see Christ here again: Forsaken by God, so you will never be alone:

Matthew 27:45-49

45 From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. 46 About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” — which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” 

47 When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.” 

48 Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a stick, and offered it to Jesus to drink. 49 The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.”

 

Fifth Word:

These last three words come in fairly quick succession.  

The torments of hell have been finished.  Previously, Jesus had refused any drink that dulled his senses; but now, knowing that all was now completed, Jesus fulfills the last bit of prophecy: He asks for a drink.  Yes, this is his attention to detail – he would not have our salvation lost for lack of fulfilling even the smallest prophecy; and indeed, we might not have known about this prophecy from Psalm 69 if Christ hadn’t purposefully fulfilled it and John recorded it.  God does not want his Word falling to the ground neglected.  

How completely self-possessed the Savior was! He had hung on that cross for six hours and had passed through unparalleled suffering, yet His mind is clear and His memory unimpaired. He had before Him, with perfect distinctness, the whole truth of God. He reviewed the entire scope of Messianic prediction. He remembers there is one prophetic scripture unaccomplished. He overlooked nothing.

But there is another, equally-great purpose: He needs to be able to speak his next words clearly and loudly.  Six hours on the cross have left him parched and dry, barely croaking out his responses; this thirst is fulfillment, asks for relief, and prepares to shout his final words in absolute certainty: 

John 19:28-29

28 Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.

 

 

 

 

 

Sixth Word:

God’s Word is clear.  God says what he means and means what he says; but God’s Word will always be offensive to the sinful mind, and many - in their sin - try to deny what God has said.

Some would say that the notions of a wrathful God needing his holiness appeased is ridiculous.  A couple of years ago, this was made quite apparent; one popular church body wanted to print a hymnal and include the famous hymn “In Christ Alone” – although they wanted to change “There on the cross, as Jesus died, the wrath of God was pacified” to “There on the cross, as Jesus died, the love of God was magnified…”

Which is true.

But true doctrine is lost through fuzzy, nebulous terminology; continued confession of the truth requires clarity, and it requires saying both what we MEAN and what we DON’T mean.  This wording change certainly made their agenda clear: That church body wanted to deny sin, and the need for a payment for sin.  

They sinfully wanted to deny exactly what Jesus says here, at our sixth word.  Jesus clearly sets the entire crucifixion in its proper context and understanding.  The word he uses is one word, similar to the stamp PIF that a merchant might stamp when you’ve paid up on a bill.  PIF - paid in full.  And the word Jesus uses as his sixth word is the Greek version of PIF - quite literally, “paid in full.”  “It is finished.”  

Our debt has been paid in full, signed in the blood of Jesus Christ.  There is no need to pay him back; he charges no interest; he simply says that our sin has been paid in full:

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.

 

Seventh Word:

Death is ugly.  Unnatural.  Disgusting.  Horrifying.  It leaves a gap in our lives, a gaping hole in our hearts; death stalks its prey and always finds its victim.  

But our idealized, sanitized view of death, painted in broad strokes on the silver screen, normally entails a quiet final breath surrounded by loved ones; or, perhaps, a heroic blaze of glory as we lay down our lives, forever acclaimed as the hero who selflessly sacrificed to save the lives of others.  Either way, we mentally envision a death in our own time, on our own terms, after experiencing a full life and unhindered vitality to the very end.

But that type of death is usually reserved for Hollywood imagination, and unlike what we will likely experience.

Christ’s death was also unlike what was expected.  His death didn’t come in silence, or whimper, or struggle; after hewhimper, silent; here, having been through hell, having totally paid the bill of sin, Jesus Christ has completed his work.  Now with a loud cry, he victoriously lays his life down, committing himself into the hands of his heavenly Father:

Luke 23:33-46

33 When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, 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 the Christ of God, 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.” 

38 There was a written notice above him, which read: this is the king of the jews. 

39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”  40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”  42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 

43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.” 

44 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, 45 for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. 46 Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.