This morning, I was honoured to speak at a church service for the combined churches of Yeovil’s annual Good Friday service, which follows a walk of witness through the town. Here’s what I said:
September 24, 1869 is known as The Black Friday. In America, two men, Jay Gould and James Fisk, tried to corner the gold market on the New York Gold Exchange. It triggered runs on banks and a sudden drop in stock prices. Then there was Black Thursday in 1929, which caused massive worldwide economic depressions. That’s before our time, for most of us, anyway, but many of us will remember Black Monday in 1987, which was another global financial collapse.
Today isn’t Black Friday. It’s Good Friday, but perhaps Black Friday might seem a more appropriate name. After all, when Jesus finally died, the sky went dark – not just for a few minutes but for hours. It was Black. And it was a dark day in many ways. There doesn’t seem to be much that’s good about Good Friday. In a way, it’s the most shameful day in human history.
It’s not just the death of an innocent man, a carpenter from Nazareth. But the brutal torture and execution of the perfect man. And not just a man, a man from heaven, God on earth. God came to earth, lived the most wonderful life, healed the sick, gave sight to the blind, fed the hungry and raised the dead.
And we hated him. We mocked him and we killed him. And we didn’t even do it in private, hoping no-one would notice, but in plain view of the world, making a public spectacle of him – with the authority of the religious community and the state.
What About You?
Perhaps we think we would have behaved differently if we’d been there. Perhaps we think we’re good. Because we’re religious. But it was the good people, the religious people who wanted Jesus dead. It was the ones who knew their Bibles, who had memorised the prophecies who did this terrible thing. And that’s us. Perhaps you know the verse from the modern chorus by Stuart Townend:
Behold the man upon a cross
My sin upon His shoulders
Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
The religious leaders mocked him. The soldiers beat him. The crowds turned on him. The disciples deserted him. His best friend denied him. Where are you in that list? If we’re honest without ourselves, we find the reality of Jesus, his power and his authority, to be an inconvenience in our lives, and in our worst or lowest moments, we want nothing to do with him.
But this isn’t Black Friday. It’s Good Friday. Why’s it called that? Is it just one of many ironies of that day? So much that goes on that day is ironic.
Jesus is found guilty claiming to be God, when he is God. He is ‘crowned’ with a crown of thorns, even though he truly is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
The soldiers who mock him tell him to prophesy and yet they themselves are fulfilling the old testament prophecies.
A sign is written up saying ‘This is the King of the Jews’ as a joke. And yet he is the True King of the Jews – a direct descendant from David and Abraham, Isaac and Ja
A common criminal recognises Jesus’s innocence, and is told that he will be with Jesus in paradise.
A hated centurion realises that Jesus is a righteous man, perhaps the son of God.
Priests mock Jesus saying ‘He saved others, but he can’t save himself!’ But he could save himself. He just chose not to, in order to save others.
The man who raised the dead, was dying. And died.
How is this Good? And not Black? This is the blackest of black comedies. Or is Good Friday just another irony? An ironic name for a terrible day when we killed God. W
hat’s going on?
What’s Going On?
There’s another clue. And another irony. It’s Passover. All over Jerusalem, all over Israel, God’s people were slaughtering a perfect lamb, and remembering how their ancestors daubed the blood on the doorframe and escape the judgment of the angel of death in Egypt – so they could leave their lives of slavery to the Pharaoh, to live freely into the promised land.
By allowing himself to be slaughtered, Jesus showed himself to be the true lamb of the Passover, giving his life so that his people could escape the judgment that is referred to throughout the Bible; Jesus saves us from our slavery to the madness of sin, rebellion and h
atred. From those dark moments when we want nothing to do with Jesus. All those things for which we deserve death – and why death entered the world. We are complicit with those who executed the Lord Jesus Christ in broad daylight – but we can find out what’s really happening on Good Friday in Colossians 2:13. Paul writes:
13 When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14 having cancelled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. 15 And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.
Despite the gruesomeness, that day on which Jesus died, that Friday, was for us a very very Good one.