Good Friday Meditations Ý
Copyright 2003-2004 by William Meisheid

Meditation 1 - Seeing the Obvious

"They will look on the one they have pierced." Not just those gathered around this wooden cross erected on the darkening hill of Golgotha--haven't we all looked upon him? For close to two thousand years humanity has looked back on this seminal, defining moment. It has looked back on the one they have pierced. Yes, all of us have pierced him, for all of us have sinned. As Paul so aptly will remind us in Romans 3:23, it is sin that has placed him there, nailed him to that barren tree, and we are all sinners, each and every one of us.

It is not unusual that this should be so, this universal reflection on the one now hanging in the dusty heat of the afternoon sun. It is because the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is the nexus point, the pivotal moment in all of human history. Everything that came before led up to this moment and everything that has happened afterward is the outworking of it, looking back to it.

As Peter will soon tell the assembled elders in Jerusalem, which will be recorded in Acts 4:11-12, "He is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved."

From the first promise to Eve as mankind was banished from the Garden of Eden that her seed would crush the head of Satan, to the Jews standing that very day throughout the Roman Empire, all of whom awaited the coming Messiah represented in the fifth Passover cup, the Cup of Elijah; everything in the life of the people of God since their creation has pointed to this moment. From David blessing Jerusalem as the city of God, to Nehemiah saving it for the future Messiah to walk in, to the revolt of the Macabees preserving the temple and priesthood from the Abomination of Desolation, so that the High Priest might this very morning pronounce that "it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish"; everything has pointed to this one decisive moment.

As Moses lifted up the serpent in the physical wilderness of Sinai to heal the stricken nation of Israel, so now Jesus is lifted up in the spiritual wilderness of Golgotha to heal the whole stricken human race. Salvation is found in no one else, no one who came before, and no one who will come after. Not in Amon Rah of Egypt, or Ahura Mazda of Persia, not in Surya or Buddha or Hari Krishna of India, not in Confucius or Chang Tao-ling of China, and not in Mohammed of Islam, not in the Passover lambs killed every year, or the scapegoat sent into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement, not in the daily sacrifices of the priests of Israel or in the Law of Moses, which no one alive can fully keep. No, they will not, they cannot save us. There is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved. There is only one way, one truth, and one life. It is in the singular name of the one that the Romans have just pierced. It is in the name of the one whose hands and feet are at this moment nailed to the rough wood standing before us. It is not the thief to his left, or the thief to his right. It is in him and him alone, it is in Jesus the Christ whom we look upon for our hope of redemption.

Look upon the one you have pierced.

Meditation 2 - God is in Control

"For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever and ever. Amen." We say that two thousand years later upon reflection, but at this moment it does not appear to be so. If anything it appears that God has failed, that the Messianic mission of Jesus, his bringing of the Kingdom of God, has been aborted by the concerted actions of evil men.

There is a scene in C.S. Lewis' Christian allegory The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe where Aslan, who represents the Lion of Judah, is bound on the stone table and killed by the White Witch. With a shriek, the assembled agents of darkness celebrate their apparent victory. They think they have won. Aslan is dead, his power was a myth. But they, like the evil perpetrators of Golgotha, were wrong.

Lost in both of these moments, one fictional and symbolic and one real and eternal, is a true understanding of the genuine power of sacrifice and its ability to transform and heal at the deepest level of creation and existence, to cure even death itself. Yesterday in the upper room, Jesus counseled his disciples about the nature of sacrifice saying, "whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant" and speaking of himself he said, "the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

The unique power and glory of God's kingdom is based on sacrifice and service, on the deep, deep agape love of God. The apostle John will later express the truth of this in his great statement learned by every new Christian that "God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."

Paul will later address the same theme when writing to the Philippians when he will say "Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross.” Yes, the death we now see overtaking him.

In stark contrast to this culture of loving sacrifice, the kingdoms of man and their glory are built on the raw exercise of power and we see that power being exercised by Rome at this moment. In the end Jesus' innocence did not matter to Pilate. The only thing that carried any weight was what was best for Rome, what would maintain its undiluted power. That made crucifixion important weapon of statecraft, since it was the most dehumanizing and power affirming death that Rome could inflict, reserved for those who would be made examples of.

That raw self-serving decision is contrasted with the kingdom of God, currently laying its cornerstone in this man bleeding out his life on the cross. Its power is in its acceptance of rejection. It is being solidly built on sacrifice and not just any sacrifice. No, this sacrifice is of the very life of God the Son, with all this being done so that we might be healed from our sin and degradation.

While we are still sinners, in the midst of our continued rejection of his efforts, he still dies for us.

Look upon the one you have pierced.

Meditation 3 - Abraham and Jesus

"Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son." God had asked Abraham to make the fundamental sacrifice, that of his future, his inheritance, his hope. He submitted his will to the will of God and met the challenge placed before him.

With that in mind, what do we see when we look at the cross before us? Beyond any of the spiritual and symbolic images that it may invoke, there is one central tenant, one core fact that we cannot deny: God did not spare His only son. Instead he hangs there on a Roman cross, crucified.

God the Father did not ask anything of Abraham that He himself would not one day do. However, for Abraham and Isaac the call to sacrifice was only a test. Not so for God the Father and his only son, Jesus Christ. There is no ram caught in the bushes nearby, bringing at the last moment a welcomed deliverance. No, the die was cast in the eternal heart of God and sealed by Adam’s first sin, then made final and sure by every sin that followed after.

The cup of sacrifice has been raised to Jesus’ lips and it will not pass him by. There is no reprieve for the lamb slain from the foundation of the world.

When we look within this one all encompassing sacrifice, we see the echos of all the sacrifices that God has in the past, or will at any time in the future, ask each of us to make. From this singular moment of agape, self-sacrificial love, all other acts of sacrifice find their true significance, their eternal grounding, their meaning and purpose.

So, as we look back on our past offerings and face whatever sacrifices that lay ahead, we can know that nothing we offer will ever be forgotten, no effort we make will ever be lost in the dustbin of time. Every effort will find its proper place, its appointed purpose within this single transforming moment.

As you survey this wonderous cross, where the Prince of Glory hangs to die, with love so amazing, with love so divine, what small demand then is God asking of you today?

Look upon the one you have pierced.

Meditation 4 - Death Has Lost Its Sting

"O fail not, with thine immortal power, to hold me, that I quail not, in death's most fearful hour". As death approaches us, whether our real physical death, or the symbolic death of our hopes and desires, or even the death of someone we love and care for, will we "quail not'?

The apostle Paul will later encourage the Corinthians with the following statement, "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" [1 Cor 15:55] Well, at this moment the sting appears very real. Jesus' life is inexorably ebbing away, flowing down the rough wood of the cross in a steady bloody stream, onto the ground below. Except for John, his disciples are scattered, disillusioned. Peter, the self-assured, denied that he even knew him. The sting of his approaching death is biting not just him, but also all those who have believed in him. At this moment everyone is confused and hurting and no one undestands why the river of precious blood runs down that wooden stake.

We shouldn’t be surprised. Doesn't death always bring out this same question? Why, God, why? Death, however it comes, whatever the circumstances, never seems to fit. It always wounds us deeply; it always seems unfair. I am sure that those who love Jesus are at this very moment asking God that same question. Why, oh God, did you allow this to happen?

But God is silent. Though creation itself is screaming out in pain and fury, God is silent. While we pound and cry against the silence, do we also fear that stillness? Do we cower, shrinking back from death's most fearful hour, the hour in which we are forced to wait for God to speak?

Oh God, in your time, not ours, fail not, with thine immortal power, to hold me that I will quail not in death's most fearful hour.

Look upon the one whom you have pierced.

Meditation 5 - Taking Hold of What Has Taken Hold of Us in Christ

It is one thing to not shrink back in fear from what lies ahead, even if it is our death, but it is quite another to actively embrace the path that God has set before us. When we think of courage, especially spiritual courage, we think of the heroes of the faith. However, they did not act in rash bluster, garnering up momentary courage for a quick decision. David's choice to stand before Goliath was built on a life of not shrinking back from what God had placed in his path. Before going out to fight David said to Saul, "Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine." David saw the current moment and its problem in the light of all that had gone before between him and his God.

When Nehemiah placed his life on the line before the King of Persia over the future of Jerusalem, it was the result of months of prayer. When first hearing of the ruined state of the City of God he sat down wept and then for many days mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of Heaven. Just before going into the presence of Artaxerxes, the Persian king, Nehemiah prays "O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of this your servant and to the prayer of your servants who delight in revering your name. Give your servant success today by granting him favor in the presence of this man." Nehemiah then took wine and gave it to the king, but he also allowed his sadness over Jerusalem to show. He had never been sad in the king's presence before, since emotional displays such as this could result in his execution. The king asked him, "Why does your face look so sad when you are not ill? This can be nothing but sadness of heart." Nehemiah, even though he was very afraid, spoke boldly to the king, "May the king live forever! Why should my face not look sad when the city where my fathers are buried lies in ruins, and its gates have been destroyed by fire?" Not only did he not shrink back in fear, but like David he actively took hold of the task that God had laid out for him, even if it meant his death.

On Palm Sunday, when Jesus approached Jerusalem, he like Nehemiah wept over its ruined spiritual condition, but added to his saddness was also its coming destruction. Jesus said, "If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace--but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you, when your enemies will build an embankment against you, and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God's coming to you."

No, Jerusalem and its leadership did not recognize the path, the possibilities God had laid out before them. The question to us then is not whether we will shrink back in fear, but instead will we recognize the time of God's coming to us and actively embrace the path that lies before us. Jesus now hangs suspended over Jerusalem because he succeeded where it failed.

He embraced his calling. Will we embrace ours?

Look upon the one you have pierced.

The Seven Last Words of Jesus

First - Luke 23:34 "Jesus said, "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

If there was any doubt about the sincerity of Jesus' messianic mission, any concern about his full embracing of his death as the true sacrificial lamb, this should lay it aside. He begins his participation in the sacrificial drama with a redemptive request. Earlier Jesus had told his disciples, "I lay down my life…No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord." He was not the prisoner of plotting and circumstance. When Peter attempts to intercede at his arrest Jesus cuts his effort short saying, "Put away your sword! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?" No, he chose to be here. He chose the cross.

Sometimes when we hear this first utterance of Jesus we look at those who maneuvered the circumstances to accomplish this horrible event and wonder, “How could they have possibly done such a thing. How could they be so blind?” Yet aren't we also among those who caused this to happen? Isn't it also our sin that binds those nails deeply into the rough wood? Are we not all as guilty as they? Weren't our voices also part of the crowd yelling, "Crucify him", as we symbolically participated in the Palm Sunday liturgy?

Like them, our solace is found in these words of mercy. We too are included in the company of ignorance and granted his forgiveness.

“Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Second - Luke 23:43 "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Jesus continues his sacrificial participation by giving those present a foretaste of what is possible for us all. He signifies the whole reality of what was happening on the cross by redeeming the life of one sinner, by snatching the first soul from the maw of hell. Out of the crucible of his impending death, he prophecies a single redemption, setting the stage for all redemptions to come.

The teachers of the law had called him a blasphemer for telling the paralytic that his sins were forgiven. Now, while in the midst of crucifixion for this and other supposed blasphemies, he again offers not only forgiveness, but also hope; the hope of resurrection to one who moments before had no hope.

I can almost feel the gnashing teeth of any Sadducees who might be close enough to hear his words. They steadfastly refused to believe in anything after death. To them, Sheol was the end and by crucifying this troublemaker they believed they were getting rid of him forever.

In sharp contrast to that hopeless view of death are these expectant words of Jesus. They give hope not only to the thief hanging next to him, but to us also, to all of mankind. As we each follow their footsteps into the jaws of our own impending death, we too hold onto the hope of our resurrection, the hope of our being with Jesus in paradise.

"I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."

Third - John 19:26-27"…he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'"

The author of Hebrews will later write, "Both the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers." In this intimate exchange with his mother Mary and his disciple John, Jesus takes the bold step of bringing us all of us into the Holy Family of God, making all of redeemed mankind his brother.

Earlier Jesus had told his disciples, "The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son does remain forever. So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed." What greater freedom is there than to become part of the family of God.

As he lovingly counseled his disciples last night, he said to them, "I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit--fruit that will last."

Do you not see that we are brothers and friends, members of a sacred company, our adoption assured by the words of him who has the power to adopt us all.

"…he said to his mother, 'Dear woman, here is your son,' and to the disciple, 'Here is your mother.'"

Fourth - Mark 15:34 "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

We can all feel the absolute agony of that cry. It strikes a cord deep within our own souls, within our sense of utter aloneness. The author of Hebrews will later observe, "Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity." Yes, even the Son of God experienced the fundamental pain of the human race, that of being separated from the ground of our being, of being separated from God. He who had known no sin, would, by accepting the will of his Father, "become sin on our behalf." And, in becoming sin, in that moment, would have the Father would turn away from him.

Jesus, the Son of God, made our sense of loneliness and alienation his own. For one moment in all the time of eternity, from everlasting to everlasting, the unbroken connection within the trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, is mysteriously broken, and the pain of sin and separation enters the heart of God and the pain of His creation is shared within the Trinity.

For God so loved the world that gave His only begotten son and in doing so accepted forever the consequences of that choice and made it His own.

Thank you, God.

"Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Fifth - John 19:28 "I thirst."

Was this mere physical thirst, the natural, though gut-wrenching result of crucifixion, caused by the fluid loss from the scourging, and then the continuous bleeding from nails pulling on his tortured flesh? Or was this something deeper, a stark spiritual thirst, expressing the desire of the sacrificial Lamb of God to consume the sin of the entire world?

The previous evening, in the Garden of Gethsemane, He had prayed that this cup might be taken away from him. Instead, he submitted to the Father's will and agreed to drink from this cup, a cup containing the sin of all mankind. When Peter attempted to defend him in the garden Jesus asked him, "Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?"

We thirst for many things: significance, success, relevance, and many other attempts to fill the ache deep within our souls. James and John wanted to sit at Jesus' left and right hand in the kingdom. But while we thirst for significance, Jesus thirsted for the cup of sacrifice and the consumption of all sin, transforming it into all forgiveness.

Would that our thirst for significance would also be transformed into a thirst for righteousness, that our dry cracked lives would be replaced by streams of living water, washing us in holiness and cleansing us into a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but instead holy and blameless before the Lord our God.

Are you thirsty for God?

"I am thirsty."

Sixth - John 19:30 "It is finished."

We have come to the moment, the central moment, the nexus point of all creation. His agonizing work is completed, mankind's vile sin has been consumed, the debt paid, and now the hidden mystery at the center of creation is revealed. "The Lamb slain from the foundation of the world", as John will later write, has accomplished his appointed work. He had tried to tell them, but they did not comprehend. He had said, "unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit…for this purpose I came to this hour." That hour is near its end and the purpose is reaching its fulfillment.

The Son of God is now ready to fall and bring the long suffering to fruition, to bear the fruit of redemption. The power of sin is broken, the sting of death no longer breeds its fear, for the balm of Gilead has been spread upon the pain of mankind, and healing is available to all who seek it.

We seek that balm knowing that whatever Jesus starts, he finishes, and we are confident of this, that he who began a good work in us will carry it on to completion. One day, the Son of God will also say to us, "It is finished."

Seventh - Luke 23:46 "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit."

The son, abandoned to sin, now turns in faith to his Father in the sure hope of resurrection, taking the first steps on the path that all of us who follow him will tread upon.

Earlier, Jesus had told his disciples "If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me." With his impending death only moments away, Jesus becomes the first man, the first born among many brothers, to walk the path of redemption, showing the way for all of us to follow. Redemption is now, by faith, in the hands of God the Father.

There is no better place for it to be. Looking forward to this beginning moment of salvation Jesus had said, "I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand."

With Jesus' hand wrapped tightly around us and his fingerprints on our soul, we finally arrive, with him, at the end of our journey.

Father, into your hands we commend our spirits. 

[top] [back]

Hit Counter