Good Friday: It’s Our Choice

by Jacob Juncker

This message was offered at Wesley United Methodist Church (Culver, IN) on Good Friday, March 29, 2013 as part of a Tenebrae Service.

READINGS: John 18:1-19:42

Friendless Friday

It was a lonely day for Jesus.

Jesus had just finished supper with his friends—which to remind you, according to Jewish custom, the new day begins at sundown, not sunrise.  So, it was the start of a new day.  There was a glorious sunset and the moon was on the rise.  Jesus had just finished eating with his twelve closest friends when he told them, rather abruptly, “Get up.  We’re leaving this place” (John 14:31d).

The disciples didn’t know where Jesus was leading them, but they’d grown pretty accustomed to that.  Jesus often led them on unfamiliar paths: to places and people that they would have never visited or even recognized.  Yet, they trusted Jesus.  As they walked Jesus pleaded with his friends: no matter what happens, stick with me.

Remain in my love.  If you keep my commandments, you will remain in my love, just as I kept my Father’s commandments and remain in his love.  I have said these things to you so that my joy will be in you and your joy will be complete.  This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.  No one has greater love than to give up one’s life for one’s friends.[1]

By the end of the day, this teaching would take on a whole new meaning.

You know how the story goes.

By the end of the day, Jesus will be arrested, kept up all night by the questions of the chief priests… He will be beaten, put on trial by Pilate, whipped some more by Roman guards, betrayed by the very people who welcomed him into Jerusalem with shouts of Hosanna![2]   He’ll be found guilty by the masses—more culpable than a murderous, rabble-rouser named Barrabas who was released at the request of crowd.  By the end of the day, Jesus will have walked “the lonesome valley” to a place called, in Aramaic, Golgotha (or Skull Place).  He will be strung up, nailed to a cross and lifted up between two criminals.  The world will go black and Jesus will die.  Most of his friends will be too afraid to do anything.  They’ll stand at a distance confused by the scene: the Messiah, the Christ, God in the flesh, the one who has come to redeem the world and establish a new, heavenly realm on earth will be overcome and executed by the world God so loved and came to save.  It must have been a confusing sight.

Even some 2000 years removed, the sight is still unbearable: nearly too much for us to witness.  But on this of all days, we mustn’t avert our eyes.  Because, on this day, we begin to see how much love Jesus, God in-the-flesh, has for us.  The teachings and miracles weren’t enough to convince us.  We need the cross—because it jolts us from our comfortable lives and demonstrates just how far Jesus will go to demonstrate God’s love.

This is how much Jesus—the incarnate God—loves us.

He allows us to say no.  He doesn’t force himself on us.  He allowed Judas, Peter and the other disciples… He allowed the crowds, the religious and secular leaders to say no.  God loves us so much that God allows us to choose.  Our God is not coercive.  God does not use mind control tricks or magic to get us to recognize God’s gracious presence in our midst.

What he does, is remind us of the consequences.  When we fail to choose to God, when we neglect to bear witness to God’s gracious presence, when we put our own needs before those of God and neighbor, we choose to put God on the cross.

So tonight, we’re reminded just how lonely it was for Jesus.  When we said no to God, we put Jesus on the cross.  And, it was in that moment, that he demonstrated how much he loves us; because he let us say no.  May we never forget the price God paid for our choice.

Let us pray.

Savior of the world,
what have you done to deserve this?
And what have we done to deserve you?
Strung up between criminals,
cursed and spat upon,
you waited for death,
and looked for us
for us whose sin has crucified you.

To the mystery of undeserved suffering,
you bring the deeper mystery of unmerited love.
Forgive us for not knowing what we have done;
open our eyes to see what you are doing now,
as, through wood and nails,
you disempower our depravity
and transform us by your grace.[3]

[1] John 15:9-13, Common English Bible.

[2] c.f. John 12:12-19.

[3] From This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2004), 123.