John 19:13-18 & 25-30
The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
April 7, 2023 – Good Friday
In his book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott writes: “I could never believe in God if it were not for the cross. In the real world of pain, how could one worship a God who is immune to it? I turn to that lonely, twisted, tortured figure on the cross, nails through hands and feet, back lacerated, limbs wrenched, brow bleeding from thorn-pricks, mouth dry and intolerably thirsty, plunged in God-forsaken darkness. That is the God for me. He set aside His immunity to pain. He entered our world of flesh and blood, tears and death.”
In the book Stott describes the miserable conditions of millions of people who live in the shanty towns of Africa and Asia, the barridas of Latin America and the favelas of Brazil. He then tells a story about a poor man from the slums of Brazil who climbs the 2,310 feet up the mountain to the colossal statue of Christ that towers above Rio de Janeiro: the “Christ of Corovado”. Upon arriving at Christ’s feet, the man looks up to Christ’s face and says, “I have climbed up to meet you from the filthy, confined quarters down there…to put before you…these considerations: There are 900,000 of us down there in the slums of that splendid city…And do you…remain here at Corcovado surrounded by divine glory? Go down there to the favelas…Don’t stay away from us; live among us and give us new faith in you.”
Stott asks, “What would Christ say in response to such an entreaty? Would he not say, ‘[Doesn’t my cross show you] I did come down to live among you, and I live among you still’”?
Stott urges us to climb the hill called Calvary, and from its vantage point survey all this world’s suffering. He notes, “The cross does not solve the problem of suffering, but it supplies the essential perspective from which to look at it…Sometimes we picture [God] lounging, perhaps dozing, in some celestial deck-chair, while the hungry millions starve to death…It is this terrible caricature of God which the cross smashes to smithereens.”
Each Good Friday we climb the hill called Calvary and, with awed wonder, ponder anew how, out of love, the Son of God plunged into the malevolent darkness of our sin-sick world. We reflect on how He submerged Himself in our distress and submitted to the evil we had brought about.
Jesus did that because He loves us. And, in loving us, He gave His everything – and thus to the last never stopped serving everyone He could. And what He did in loving and serving us like that, He will keep on doing to the last of this present evil age.
On Good Friday Jesus was crucified between two thieves, gasping for breath, with the life flowing out of Him. Yet, in the midst of His excruciating, protracted dying, He made sure His mother and “the disciple whom He loved” (likely, John) would be taken care of. Only upon His cementing their mutual adoption of each other could He let go and commend His spirit into the hands of His heavenly Father. The Gospel says that, “after this” – that is, after His mother and best friend had adopted one another – “after this Jesus knew that all was now finished”. So, upon fulfilling one more prophecy and tasting some wine sopped in a sponge, He declared, “It is finished!” and then gave up His spirit.
How remarkable it is that in the agony of the last moments of His God-awful dying, Jesus was thinking more of others than of Himself!
Pastor Leith Anderson once saw something of this in a church member named Joan. Joan had just lost her husband to brutal form of cancer and was now fighting her own painful losing battle against the disease. She asked Leith to come visit her, but it soon became apparent that she hadn’t done so to receive his blessing but to give him hers. She told him she wasn’t afraid of dying and was excited about entering the presence of God. She just wanted to tell Leith one more time how much she loved and appreciated him.
Joan also wanted to ask the pastor about others for whom she was concerned. Leith later learned that every day leading up to her death, she invited one person after another to come to her bedside that she might bless them one last time before she passed.
If anyone ever had good reason to be self-centered, it was Joan. But she, caring more about others and their needs than about herself and her own, acted like Jesus to the last.
Jesus was all about blessing others right up to the moment He could say, “It is finished.” And what was finished? Not His life, but everything that had to be done to enable us to have forgiveness, reconciliation with God, liberation from the past, infusion of new life and power, and satisfaction for the soul. At the cross Jesus had done it all, so that all any of us has to do now to enjoy the benefits of His achievement there is next to nothing: accept His acceptance of us and hang our hope on His loving grace.
On Good Friday all was finished. But in a sense, everything had just begun. For He, who in His incarnation loved us to the last, will in His resurrection love us even into eternal life!
Let us believe this good news and receive the peace it brings, even in a troubled, pain-wracked world!