A meditation on Jesus’s death upon the cross for Good Friday, 2023.

All who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Ps. 22:29

They crucified their King. The same crowds who proclaimed “Hosannah in the Highest, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” cried out “Crucify Him”. Do you note the relative indifference of Pilate. He is trying really hard not to have to reckon with Jesus. He avoids it with philosophy and political theory. He avoids it by throwing the question back on Jesus, by throwing the responsibility back on the religious leaders and the crowds. Eventually he has to make the call to crucify him. Pilate does so at the behest of those who had just celebrated him as King. The crowds are fickle, unformed, unshaped. Crowds can turn this way and that. It is the Holy Spirit only in the Ecclesia, in the Church Crowd, that can keep it oriented and offered to Jesus. May this Spirit so discipline and orient our crowd. May he prevent us from blowing this way and that and forgive us for when we have. He carried his cross to the hill, in some gospel accounts too weak to make it all the way by his human strength. This perfect sacrifice without blemish, this lamb of God, this lion of Judah was laid down. Nails hammered through the vein centres of his ankles, his wrists. He was lifted up to die the death of a petty worthless slave, he who spoke creation into being, he alone who was holy and worthy and innocent bled in pain before them.

For three hours the sky turned black. Heaven and earth convulse with the Lord’s Passion. Jesus is falling upon the cross not only under the rebellious wrath of crowds, priests and Roman legions. Jesus is falling here under the wrath of the living God. For this reason the sky turns black. For this reason he who is God cries out “My God, my God, why hast thou foresaken me.” In that darkness he suffers, in that darkness he takes all of our suffering and cruelty and wickedness upon himself that we might receive in its place his righteousness. By this body broken, by this blood poured out does our God remain a just God punishing and hating sin. He would not be a holy God, a good God if he did not. He would be unjust to leave the sin and rebellion of our race unpunished. And on this dark day, our judgment is issued, that on the last day we may receive a mercy we do not deserve.

A sign above him proclaimed him the King of the Jews. It proclaimed him King in Aramaic the language of the common people. It proclaimed him King in Latin the language of the ruling elite. It proclaimed him King in Greek the international trade parlance of that day. Behold your King my friends. Such a King you have, high and lifted up, upon nails, suffering and dying, putting himself in the place of the powerless in the place of the slave. And you had better know that means you. For we are slaves to sin, unable to do the good we were made for, incapable of showing the image in which we were made. Christ can work that good in you. Christ can show that image in you. That powerless suffering slave, that place is yours, and there hangs your King and your hope.

He breathed his last. Dying the perfect death he set his people free from death.

And with a spear they pierced his side. This is the Evangelist quoting a prophecy of Zechariah again to show what kind of Christ this Jesus is. This prophecy in Zechariah 12-13 speaks of a day of mourning when a fountain shall go forth from the side of the one who was pierced, a fountain that will cleanse the people of impurity and sin. Yet even then when the Shepherd King is struck the sheep will scatter. But even then this shepherd will pursue them, and refine them with Spirit and Fire. And the Shepherd King will claim them and say “they are my people”, and the people will say “The Lord is our God”. And look as the spear pierces Jesus water comes from his side pouring like a fountain, and blood pours forth for the cleansing of sin. This pierced and broken body, this soul pierced under the wrath of God, is taken and laid in the tomb. The King was slain.

Why then do we call this death “good”? Because it is good news to us, by it we reap what we cannot sow and gather heavenly riches that we do not deserve. By this death the wrath of God passes over it. By this death the shroud of death and the oppression of sin are already defeated for us. We will all die. We deserve to die once in this life and to enter thereafter into the second death. But if we by faith receive this death, we will die continually to sin even though we live, and we will live now in the steps of an eternal life prepared for us.

We must see how wretched we are. We live in a prideful and vain age. We prize independence in some cases even above life itself. There are men who lose their entire sense of identity and security if they lose their jobs. There are those among the elderly who fight to live independently and in their own home right to the end. There are young people who psychologize or sociologize and blame all of their failing on everyone else rather than to accept that they are frail flesh and dust.

How then shall we who are but dust receive this atoning death offered for us? By faith. Not an inconstant and wavering faith. God will work in his faithful people a sure, steadfast, grounded faith, with no reservations. To what end does he produce this faith in those who he gathers? That whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. In this way does Jesus’s death save us and stand for us. God will slay us with sorrow and conviction over our rebellion and sin, he will break our hearts. He will give us new hearts that can trust in him. That with the heart we might believe, and that faith reckoning us as righteous will cause our tongues to confess Christ as our King. As the soldier looking on could not help but confess we will say “truly this man was the Son of God.” And so we must trust that God has and will forgive our sins. We must trust that he has accepted us into his favour as sons and daughters. We must trust and accept that he has freed us from the bonds of damnation not for our merits but solely because of our Lord’s passion and death. This Jesus humbled himself and took upon him our human nature. This Jesus for our sakes sustained the reproach of the cross. By his wounds we are healed.

All who go down to the dust will kneel before him—those who cannot keep themselves alive. Ps. 22:29