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
Meditation 5 - Taking Hold of What Has Taken Hold of Us
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
Look upon the one you have pierced.
The Seven Last Words of Jesus
- 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
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.”
- 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
"I tell you the truth, today you will
be with me in paradise."
- 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.'"
- Mark 15:34 "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" My God, my God, why have you
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?
- 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
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."
- 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
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."
- 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