It was a Friday of unimaginable viciousness and cruelty, leading to a horrible death. And yet, the Church has forever named it “good.”
At first, it certainly seems counterintuitive to do so. Referring to such horror as good appears to grant dreadfulness a license. It seems to give a coaxing nod to all that makes for this world’s misery, allowing it a certain measure of liberty to run wild, letting it off the chain to choose and devour its victim.
In a way, there’s an element of truth to these things. I think the Gospel writer, Luke, meant for us to sense it when He recorded the Lord’s words to the ones who’d arrived at Gethsemane to take Him into custody. His words were plain. Before giving Himself over, Jesus said, “Now is your hour and the power of darkness” (22:53). In other words, “You’ve been granted this time. Make the most of it and do your worst.”
We are to know that absolute devilry was let off its chain in those moments. In the truest condition of godforsakeness—the Heavenly Father mysteriously abandoning the Son—absolute ghastliness was granted permission to unleash its most devastating weapons from its cruelest arsenal.
This was the terrible license allowed that unique Friday, a day we call good.
Jesus would have called it good, too. He hints at this during His arrest. When Peter takes his sword to prevent the engagement, Jesus asks him rhetorically, “But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?” (Matthew 26:54). He sternly commands Peter to sheath his sword, questioning again rhetorically, “Shall I not drink the cup that the Father has given me?” (John 18:11). Again, this is to say, “Peter, this must happen. If I don’t endure darkness’ fury and drink the cup of wrath owed to those who brought the powers of Sin, Death, and hell into the world, then it will be left to its rightful owners. That’s you and all of humanity. But you cannot meet what’s due. None can endure it. None can defeat it. For your sake, Peter, what’s happening is good. It must be me. It has to be me.”
And so, it was.
Good Friday stands in history’s record as the moment when everything that had every right to consume and destroy everyone for all eternity turned its fullest attention on Jesus. It was a horrific day for the Lord—so horrible that human language can never describe it sufficiently. Knowing this, give the day your attention. Approach it with care. Know that something much deeper is happening to the Lord than what mortal eyes or ears can receive. It isn’t just physical or spiritual cruelty of the worst kind. It’s far more than that. It’s cosmic in proportion and beyond anything anyone could have ever endured.
Embracing this fact with all solemnity, if you feel the need to let out a sigh of relief at some point along the way home from worship, please feel free to do so. Good Friday was a good day for humanity. It was the day the ultimate punishment for Sin was endured, and its eternal price tag was fully met. Jesus did it. He wanted to. Good Friday sees Jesus’ arms stretched on the cross as far apart as they can reach. This is more than His death. It is the image of a world-encompassing embrace from the Divine. He loves you. He gives His life for all.
I mentioned worship a moment ago. Be sure to go. Here at Our Savior in Hartland, Michigan, there will be two services. The first is at 1:00 p.m. This is the Tre Ore service. Tre Ore means “three hours.” It symbolizes the Lord’s three hours of suffering at midday on the cross. The second is the Tenebrae service at 7:00 p.m. Tenebrae means “darkness.” We know the meaning of this title. It’s everything into which the Lord goes for our rescue. These services will lead their visitors into and through the details of the Lord’s work. If you can, immerse yourself in them. I promise you’ll be blessed. You’ll certainly be imbued with a more profound sense of Easter’s acclamation, which, together with the forgiven Church, we’ll sing out two short days later.
Considering that today is Reformation Day—a day marked by actions resulting in events that changed the course of the entire world—I suppose I’ll just go ahead and put this out there to see what happens.
I sure am glad that Martin Luther didn’t just pray for his enemies, but that he actually fought back, having engaged them in ways that eventually stopped the wheels of a dreadful machine intent on stripping humanity completely clean of the Gospel of salvation through faith in Christ alone.
Thanks, Martin, for reminding us that there’s more to Christian faithfulness than prayers, pious intentions, and potlucks. Thanks for showing us that sometimes—just sometimes—blades need to be sharpened and armor needs to be fastened as battle lines are drawn against the cosmic powers aligned in opposition to Christ and His Church.
Allow me to keep going.
I suppose while I’m sharing these things, I’ll add that I’m glad David went toe to toe with Goliath instead of staying home and figuring that God would sort it all out in His own way (1 Samuel 17). And speaking of this same future monarch, I’m glad the prophet Nathan was willing to risk his own life to confront King David regarding his murderous affair with Bathsheba. I imagine a prophet facing off with a king would be quite the sight.
I should say I appreciate the trifecta of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. When King Nebuchadnezzar imposed mandates that stripped away their religious liberty, they stood against him. Indeed, rather than simply—and much more easily—excusing themselves from faithfulness by saying it was their duty to obey the governing authorities, they demonstrated a better sense, one proving that sometimes the government is genuinely honored when it is resisted (Daniel 3:1-30).
I’m sincerely thankful for John the Baptist’s exemplary stand before King Herod, namely his unequivocal devotion to God’s moral and natural law in relation to marriage. Too many clergy believe it isn’t their place to deal in such things. Sure, they give their theological reasons. And they sound really smart, too. Personally, I think it’s because they’re scared. And why wouldn’t they be? They know, just as John knew, that their actions might spell their end (Mark 6:17–29).
Oh, what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul (Matthew 16:26)? I’ll say this can start when a person gets over his or herself.
Let’s keep going.
I’m grateful that Saint Peter finally put his often misplaced boldness to a better use, having told the Sanhedrin to go fly a kite when they attempted to strip the Apostles of their freedom to preach and teach the Gospel. “We must obey God rather than men,” Peter said, so dryly, and yet so robustly by faith (Acts 5:29).
I really appreciate Saint Paul. For example, right after Saint Paul and his fellow missionary, Silas, had been unjustly beaten and thrown into prison, once the treachery to their rights as Roman citizens was discovered, rather than letting their persecutors off the hook, Paul demanded they be paraded through the city in their shame (Acts 16:35-37). I don’t know if such scenes in the Scriptures are supposed to make me smile, but admittedly, this one does.
Even better, while standing before Festus, instead of accepting what seemed to be the inevitable fate of the “little man,” Paul refused to go quietly into the night, as the poets would say. He worked the system, appealing his rights as a citizen before Caesar, rather than sheepishly shrinking into the easier assumption that he was outclassed and done for, relegating his fate to the simpler hope that God would just have to handle it (Acts 25:9-12).
I suppose lastly, I’m also quite fond of the fact that Paul wasn’t beyond calling out the Church’s enemies by name in his Epistles, effectively neutralizing particular characters’ attempts to corrupt or destroy the Gospel both in public and private (1 Timothy 1:19-20). In other words, move in ways that hinder or pervert the people of God and the Gospel for faith and Paul won’t hesitate to make you famous.
I’m not sure if it’s a good thing, but that, too, has the potential for making me grin.
Now, please don’t misunderstand. You should pray for those who are enemies of the Church, offering regular petitions to God that He would change their hearts. This means laboring in love for them, not only trusting that God will keep His promises to work things for the benefit of salvation, but also bearing in mind that you, too, were once at enmity with your Creator, and yet He loved you enough to redeem you by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s by His sacrifice that Christians have real peace, and as a result, they’ve been recreated to desire peace with their foes. Still, having said all of this, I sure do appreciate Amelia Earhart’s practical observation, which offered, “Courage is the price that life exacts for granting peace.” I think she was right by these words. And the examples from God’s Word I described above are proof. They remind us we shouldn’t step from the Gospel assuming that the postures of a bowed head or a turned cheek will be all that’s required when engaging with the world around us. There may be times God shows His love for the world through you by putting you out in front of a giant. It may be that He expects you to take an uncompromising, and quite possibly a personally damaging, position against a bully. He may expect you to be a shield for Christian liberty. He may lead you into an unexpected fray to speak a firm word to a liar, or expose a shameful parade of fools, or publicly decry false theology, or call someone out by name who must be marked and avoided by others.
He may require that you demonstrate genuine honor for the government by resisting it.
In short, faithfulness to Christ may mean stepping up. It may actually mean getting in the way of the Gospel’s enemies and doing what you can to crush them. Yes, crush them. It may mean warring against them, not only to bring their godless ways to a halt, but to do so through deliberate actions that confuse their efforts, threaten their power, and eventually retake the fields they’ve seemingly conquered.
As a side note, clergy who preach against this—or do what they can to get in the way of Christians engaging in these ways—are wrong, and they should be told as much. Perhaps at a minimum, they need to read Saint James’ Epistle in its entirety, being sure not to skip over the more uncomfortable portions describing the loveless spirit that would say to a person in need, “Be warm and well fed” (James 2:16). After that, they might give Luther a quick perusal. They’ll find more than enough content relaying something similar to:
“Our works are God’s masks, behind which He remains hidden, although He does all things. If Gideon had not obeyed and gone to battle with Midian, the Midianites would never have been conquered, even though God could, of course, have conquered them without Gideon. He could also give you corn and fruit without your plowing and planting, but that is not His will” (Exposition of Psalm 138, W.A. 31. I. 435 f.).
Finally, after a little light reading from Luther, may I be so bold as to suggest listening to what I said at our recent conference? Click here to view the video.
Remember, the opposite of Biblical love is not hate. It’s apathy. It’s inaction. For God to have lacked love means for Him to have forsaken us in our condition of Sin. But He didn’t. He reached to us. He acted. Even better, God recreated us by His Gospel to be people who are ready to respond when things are out of kilter. Some of the required actions sting. Some of the required actions are very hard to do. No one wants to be wrong. No one enjoys being told they’re out of line. No one prefers to be told “no.” But God’s holy Law reminds us of just how wrong we are in ways that reach into our very cores. In a sense, the discipline God shows us in this regard is an emanation of His love. It is a warning given to those He’d rather not to lose to eternal condemnation. Because we’ve been recreated by that same love, this is our desire, too. If it isn’t, then we need to check our faith.
And so, to bring this morning’s thoughts to a close, Christians love through action, whether that be by rebuking and correcting, or through gentleness and care. Either way, through the Word of God, the Holy Spirit provides discernment, all the while reminding us that such love will take different forms in different contexts. And part of my point: sometimes—just sometimes—this love must roll up its sleeves and get dirt under its fingernails.
I’m wondering… have you ever experienced a moment when you felt like you were at the bottom of the barrel in your station? Like you were the worst accountant in the firm? Like you were the least valuable engineer on the project or the worst teacher in your school? Like you were the least relevant mother in the PTL? Like you brought the least muscle to the team?
On second thought, what am I saying? Of course you’ve had these thoughts. Everyone has. Only a narcissist can exist in a way that preserves the “self” from such honest reflection. Only a narcissist would believe his or herself to always be right, to always know what to do, to have no imperfections, and to be the brightest star in the sky.
I’ll admit to having had a moment not too long ago when I felt like the most useless pastor on the planet, that everything about who I am as a person in comparison to others who hold the same office—the things I appreciate, the activities I enjoy, my personality that communicates my very real humanity—all of it was of little value, and maybe even in complete contradiction to the office I hold.
I suppose when it comes to serving in the church, that’s probably about as close as one can get to reconsidering one’s future in any role.
But again, I presume we all go through this. I have to believe that Saint Paul felt this way sometimes. There was a time when he was a persecutor of the Church. He hunted and killed Christians, and yet God made him an essential asset in the proclamation and spread of the Gospel of justification for the sake of Christ. The proof of this rests in the simple fact that Paul wrote most of the New Testament. We receive the words of our Lord by way of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. But so often we see how Paul was put into place to help us see how it all fits together.
Just thinking out loud, I wonder if one reason we find ourselves in such low points, perhaps as I hinted to before, is because of a kind of jealousy born from comparison between individuals. In other words, I wonder if Paul ever slipped into comparing himself with Peter. I wonder if he ever found himself jealous that Peter was with Jesus from the beginning. Peter saw the miracles. He was with the Lord for the Transfiguration. He walked on water, even if only for a moment. He saw the Lord on Easter Day. Peter certainly didn’t have a past like Paul’s. He hadn’t been complicit in the unjust executions.
I wonder if Paul was ever jealous of Peter in these things.
This certainly is an itch that I sometimes need to scratch. I see other pastors—their seemingly carefree schedules, casual workloads, the freedom to pursue higher degrees in education—and I get a little jealous. But it’s also in those moments that I have to be mindful of just how easy it is to fool myself. The jealousy of self-comparison has a way of sharpening the eyesight, but in reality, it only sees in part. It’s only fixing itself on one piece while missing the bigger picture. It sees what another person has, but really, it’s seeing what it “thinks” the other person has. It’s not seeing that perhaps Peter, as a normal human, sometimes feels as though he’s doing all he can to stay afloat. It’s not seeing that he still wrestles day and night with his betrayal of Jesus. It’s not seeing that he’s still pit against his bumbling inadequacies that not only played out with regularity right in front of Jesus and the other disciples, but because of his personality, they probably still do. It only sees the Peter it wants to see (and maybe even expects to see), rather than the one who’s truly there in a very holistic way—someone with flaws, someone who’s often burdened by the cares of this life, someone who struggles with relationships, someone whose efforts in the ministry are by no means perfect because he is not perfect.
I like the way the King James Bible translates Song of Songs 8:6. It reads, “Jealousy is a cruel grave.” It sure is. It buries us with unnecessary and unrealistic concerns. It tempts us to measure our worth in the Kingdom of God according to the wrong standards.
I suppose in conclusion, and being as honest as I can, if everything I’m doing is a product of my intellect and muscle, then the only kind of pastor I can be is a bad one. In fact, the only kind of father, husband, or friend I can be is a bad one. I’m of the same mind as Paul when he said that when it comes to sinners, I’m the chief (1 Timothy 1:15). As a sinner, I’m not fit for any of these roles, let alone the job of pastor, and I’ll never produce anything by way of these roles that would ever meet the Lord’s lawful expectations. I just can’t do it.
But on the other hand, if it’s the Lord who is at work in my life and labors by the power of the Holy Spirit through the Gospel, if He’s the One who has taken such a flawed and quirky individual and set him here and there in the world, all the while knowing the flaws—sometimes using them and other times sequestering them—then I can be content with where I am and happy with what I have. I can be found willing and able to change the aspects of my person that seem to get in the way, and I can pursue enhancing the more helpful ones. In all of this, I can be faithful and keep on keeping on, knowing that I’m right where God wants me.
This is His gig, not mine. It’s His plan. It’s His work. By faith, I know it’s all for my good—and God-willing, yours, too.
Having said all this, I know what I’ve rambled on with this morning might seem somewhat relative to me, but I’m hopeful there’s something here that you can take and apply to your own circumstances, especially when you’re feeling down. Remember that God loves you, and if you ever question your value, look to the cross. He exchanged the life of His only begotten Son for your life. That’s a pretty big deal.