I will be the first to admit that I don’t often fully understand what Jesus did for us on this day. My mind often doesn’t fully register what went on. But the one thing I always do know? He died for me because He loves me. Here I often feel like Peter: I’m all in with my love and enthusiasm, but I’m usually slow to fully understand whatever it is that God wants to teach me.
But thankfully my mind is more clear today. On this day, Good Friday, Jesus took our place. He was punished by God for all of humanity’s sins on the Cross. I’ll go into a deeper explanation of just what this means later in this post, so others who may not fully understand it, can appreciate the true beauty of His sacrifice and love for them.
Whenever I am meditating on something, I try to imagine being there. At the time I’m writing this paragraph, it’s just past 9 AM. Which means Jesus probably wasn’t on the Cross yet, but may have been undergoing sentencing before Pilate and the Jewish people, with Barabbas opposite Him. Or perhaps He was being questioned by Herod.
But as the day goes on, I also remember other things, like the scourging at the pillar, where Jesus was severely beaten with reed sticks, whips, and the flagellum, a NASTY, cruel weapon of torture that was basically a cat o’ nine tails style whip. A whip with many strands, each lined with lead balls, pieces of broken glass and animal bone. This whip was designed to shred flesh and cause as much pain and bleeding as possible. If people were scourged with this whip repeatedly, they often did not survive long enough to make it to crucifixion due to blood loss.
But Jesus did survive. And afterward, he was crowned with the Crown of Thorns: A crown woven out of inch-long thorns that was jammed onto His head and beaten into His scalp. I cannot imagine how much pain He was in. And this was even before His Crucifixion. But He still carried on. For us. He could’ve quit and given out at any time, but He didn’t. He had to finish what He had come to Earth to do.
Sometime before noon on that first Good Friday, He began to carry his Crossbeam (or full Cross, depending on what you believe), on His shredded back roughly 600 yards to the outskirts of Jerusalem. At this point, not only was Jesus suffering serious blood loss due to the scourging and the Crown of Thorns on His head, He also was carrying either a crossbeam on his back that weighed roughly 100 pounds, or dragging a full cross weighing up to 300 pounds. And this went on as Jesus struggled through Jerusalem along what’s now known the Via Dolorosa or Way of Suffering. Along His way to Golgotha, Jesus has His face wiped by a cloth carried by the woman who would one day be known as Saint Veronica, He mourns for the women of Jerusalem, and falls three separate times. Eventually the Romans wanted to speed the process up. So they pressed a man named Simon of Cyrene into service to help Jesus carry His cross the rest of the way to Golgotha, a sort of cliff overlooking Jerusalem. It is here that Jesus will hang for the next three hours, struggling to breathe, and dealing with unimaginable pain from seven-inch nails that were driven into His hands and feet.
But instead of cursing those who crucified Him, like any normal person would have done, Jesus says something profound: “Father, forgive them. For they know not what they do.” It’s a simple saying. Only 10 words. But it shows how much love Jesus had for those who hated Him and wanted Him dead. Yes, Jesus loves us today. And He loves all those who trust in Him. But He also loves truly evil people too. He does not love sin. He hates sin, but looks beyond our sins and loves all of us for who we truly are. But He loved Caiaphas and the rest of the arrogant Pharisees. He loved the mob who delighted in seeing Him die. And He loved His Roman tormentors. He loved them all enough to die for their sins! No normal person would do what Jesus did!
The True Meaning of Today
While I wanted to get the point across concerning Jesus’ unimaginable physical suffering, there is incredible hope in the spiritual suffering He underwent for us. We are imperfect people, and God sees our sins. And while He loves us all since we are His most beloved creations, He is absolutely holy, good and just. Which means none of us are worthy of Heaven by the sins we have committed. And God knew this. So He sent Jesus to show us the way to treat and love each other, and then to die for us in the most painful way imaginable.
I do not, and would never, want to cheapen Jesus’ sacrifice. But for those who do not understand what happened, allow me to pull a page out of Jesus’ book, and use a sort of parable or example to explain what He did for us today.
Imagine two children. One who always gets into trouble, and another who always obeys and listens to his father. One day while the father is outside the house doing something, the disobedient child causes an accident in the house. The father hears it and comes running. He’s severely angry when he finds out what the child has done. He’s going to punish the disobedient child. At the last second, the good child begs his father not to punish his brother or sister. The father instead punishes the good child in the place of the disobedient one. This is what happened on Good Friday, but on a much grander and more beautiful scale! Jesus is perfect, but He was punished in our place since we are woefully flawed and sinful.
Dismas the Repentant Thief
Good Friday is already beautiful enough when you truly understand what Jesus did. But I also absolutely love the story of Dismas the Repentant Thief. Dismas was one of two thieves and murderers crucified alongside Jesus. But unlike his counterpart the unrepentant thief, who seeks to escape his agony, Dismas realizes that he’s being punished justly for his crimes. He endures his punishment willingly. This clip from the 1977 film Jesus of Nazareth always gives me a lump in my throat:
Dismas had no time to turn to God over a long life like we do. He was hours or minutes away from death. But the true sorrow in his heart for the wrong he had done in his life overwhelmed him. And something inside his heart showed him the truth. And struggling to breathe, he called out to Jesus, asking Him to simply remember him as he came into His Kingdom. He wasn’t expecting anything. Can you imagine his joy and relief at what Jesus said to him though?! My goodness! While Jesus offers to bring all of us home to Heaven if we turn to Him and trust in Him, it’s still mind boggling that the first person He took with Him to Heaven was a criminal! A KILLER! But that instance on the Cross shows the depth of His mercy and love.
This might sound crazy to some. It still does to me. But imagine Adolf Hitler, Ted Bundy, Osama bin Laden, Josef Stalin and others. They’re some of the absolute worst people in history, right? Well, what if I told you that if they truly felt remorse for their sins, and recognized who Jesus is, that Jesus could forgive them too? If they sincerely were sorry for all the atrocities they committed and recognized Jesus, they would have a chance at Heaven just like we do. Jesus died for them too. That is the radical love that Jesus offers each and every one of us. Right up until our last breath on this Earth!
It is Finished
By this point, it’s nearing 3 PM in the afternoon. Jesus is absolutely exhausted. He can barely keep Himself going. He’s still in agonizing pain and can barely breathe. He’s slowly suffocating to death as He alternates between trying to prop Himself up, and allowing Himself to hang from the Cross. But He still has enough strength left in Him to ask for a drink since He’s thirsty. So one of the Roman soldiers keeping guard over Him grabs a spear, puts a sponge on it, soaks it in bitter vinegar, and raises it to Jesus’ lips.
After that, it’s time. With one final effort, Jesus completes His sacrifice: “Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit.” Then Jesus lets go. His final breath escapes Him, his eyes go dark and He bows His head and dies. The Lamb has been sacrificed for our sins. Our price has been paid in full.
This is the holiest day of the year. And for good reason. Jesus suffered and died willingly for you, me, and every human being on this planet. If we accept this sacrifice, we can be just like Dismas, and be welcomed into Heaven by our Lord. For He paid our price in full, out of a love for us that is unimaginable and endless. Have a blessed Good Friday, everyone.