Call to Worship
Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all. [ISAIAH 53:1-6]
Gracious God, having heard your Word, we thankfully remember the life of our Lord Jesus Christ on this earth. Yet we also acknowledge our failure to respond earnestly and faithfully to his witness. We often mistake Jesus for a mere earthly king, friendly companion, or problem-solver, failing to see him as the ruler of all creation. We do not appreciate the depth of his passion and sacrifice on the cross, failing to acknowledge him as our way of salvation. Even in this Lenten season, we have not walked faithfully in the way of Jesus Christ. Forgive us, we pray, and bring us ever more fully into the joy of union with Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen. [WSB]
And when the sixth hour had come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour. And at the ninth hour Jesus cried with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And some of the bystanders hearing it said, “Behold, he is calling Elijah.” And someone ran and filled a sponge with sour wine, put it on a reed and gave it to him to drink, saying, “Wait, let us see whether Elijah will come to take him down.” And Jesus uttered a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood facing him, saw that in this way he breathed his last, he said, “Truly this man was the Son of God!” There were also women looking on from a distance, among whom were Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James the younger and of Joses, and Salome. When he was in Galilee, they followed him and ministered to him, and there were also many other women who came up with him to Jerusalem. [MARK 15:33-41]
Today is called Good Friday, which is not really good because “good” is too neutral a term. The events of Good Friday are the ultimate paradox—at once atrocious and wonderful, scandalous and beautiful, the worst kind of hate and the best kind of love. On this day we were convicted and pardoned, condemned and freed, cursed and blessed.
It was the darkest day. Many who had followed Jesus up to now fled from the events of Friday. And those who stayed to watch wept in horror: the phony trial, the mob that cried out for the blood of the man who was unbending in the weight of their demands and expectations. The brutal beating, the savagery of the soldiers, the grueling walk through the city he had entered to cheers just five days before. Finally, the nails pounded into flesh, the tortured body slouched over, the naked man died as his enemies jeered.
To his disciples – those that had forsaken everything in order to follow Jesus – this day was anything but good. This man, in whom they had put all of their hopes, was hanging dead on a tree. This was the death of their faith, the crushing of all their hopes for a new kingdom, and the end of all they believed in. Or so it seemed.
As his followers laid Jesus in the tomb on that same dark day, Easter Sunday lied in wait for them, but on Friday they couldn’t see it. They couldn’t see the defeat of death, the glory of the resurrection, or the advancement of God’s kingdom. They couldn’t see the whole story. There was no way around Good Friday, only the way through—through pain and death and burial.
It is the same for us; we cannot get around this day. We must go through the pain and death and burial to get to the resurrection. We must go through the darkness of Good Friday to get to the light of Easter.
God is a God of light: darkness cannot survive in his presence. We, who have dark hearts full of sin, should tremble at this fact. But Jesus, who was completely good, cloaked himself in the darkness of our sin and stood under the wrath of God for us. On the cross, he was destroyed and cut off from his Father. It was to have been our fate. On the first Good Friday, in the midst of our darkest hour, God did not cut us off. Jesus Christ, our true light, plunged himself into the darkness so that we might live in the light.
We can go through the darkness of this day because Jesus went through it before us. He is saving us and bringing about our everlasting joy, in a way only God could have chosen. Easter is not far away!
- Take some time to reflect on the darkness of that first Good Friday. Think about what the disciples must have been experiencing that day.
- Read back over Isaiah 53:1-6, reflecting on Jesus suffering and death.
Holy God, you have opened our ears to hear your Word and our lips to proclaim your truth: open our eyes this day to see in the cross the revelation of your love; through Jesus the crucified, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, be honor and praise, now and forever. Amen. [WSB]
All biblical quotations taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Journey to the Cross: Readings & Devotions for Lent © 2013 by Providence Church. All rights reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from Providence Church.
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Cover design by Andrew Shepherd. Book design by Kendal Haug.
Special thanks to Melanie Hebert, Todd Stewman, and Laura Szymanski for their invaluable contributions in editing and writing.