For the North End Community Ministry / food pantry visit or call (616) 454-1097.

We meet for worship at 214 Spencer Street NE. Directions.
Service begins Sundays at 10:00AM.

we really should thank God for Friday

When we think of Good Friday we tend to focus—rightly—on the death of Jesus. Even further we tend to focus on the physical aspects of crucifixion. The Romans had perfected this method of execution and it was a truly horrific way to kill a person. Crucifixion inflicted maximum pain with minimal effort. Once a person was nailed into place, the soldiers could go about their business while the man nailed to the cross was truly being tortured to death, with no further action on their part. There was the further humiliation of passers-by who often would hurl insults at the person suffering in such a terrible manner.

We also tend to focus on the spiritual nature of the death of Jesus—and rightly so. God in Trinity was doing something significant on the cross. Jesus was bearing the sins of his people. He had lived the life they were supposed to live and he was dying the death they were supposed to die. It is his sacrifice that ushered in the new covenant, the one by which all the promises of God would be fulfilled.

There was something else going on at the cross, something that might seem, at first, unrelated, for it has to do with a story told by Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Mark tells us a man who was rich approached Jesus, asking about eternal life. Matthew adds the detail that he was a young man. Luke tells us he was a ruler among his people. We know this story as the story of “the rich, young ruler”.

It’s a fairly straightforward story. This man approaches Jesus and asks him what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus responds by pointing him to the law of Moses, telling him to keep the commandments if he wants to inherit eternal life. At this the man became excited, for if nothing else, he was really good at keeping rules. He asked Jesus which commandments, for there were hundreds of them. Which are the ones I must really keep? Jesus tells him he must not murder, he must not steal, he must not bear false witness, and he must honor his father and his mother.

You know the story. The man became very excited, for he had been diligent to do these things. Surely if anyone deserved eternal life, it would be him! Ah, but how to be sure? He told Jesus he had, in fact, kept those commandments, but might there be one he’s missing? Yes, there is one. Jesus told him he missed the one wherein he must sell all his possessions and give the money to the poor.

Where is that command, exactly? Jesus understood something his people had forgotten: the law given to Israel at Mount Sinai was never intended to be a checklist, as if checking off “The Ten” every night ensured you were, in fact, righteous. “Didn’t kill my neighbor again today, though that jerk deserves it. Didn’t sleep with his wife, but did you catch a glimpse of her? Didn’t dishonor my parents today, but why are they always asking me for help!? I didn’t bear false witness against my neighbors, but while I won’t say why, you really need to pray for their marriage…”

Jesus understood that many were like a man named Saul. Saul had been a Pharisee whose zeal would drive him to try to wipe out the church for what he believed was blasphemy. Saul could “keep the law” and even claim he was blameless according to the law, and yet if they were just like Saul, they would still not be righteous. Jesus knows the law was never intended to be a checklist, but a reflection of God’s character. This is why the Lord told Israel, “Be holy, for I am holy.” He did not tell them, “Be holy, for the law says you must.” The law was given to reveal God’s righteousness, and the people of Israel were to align themselves with God’s character as revealed in the law. Israel had long forgotten about God’s character and so the law had become a checklist of daily accomplishment.

This is how this young man had missed what the law had required of him. So where is this command in the law telling this rich, young ruler to sell everything he has and give the money to the poor? This law was standing in front of him.

Years after this the apostle Paul wrote his second letter to the Corinthians. He was collecting money to care for the Christians in Jerusalem for there was a severe famine in Israel. He tells them to be generous but is quick to tell them he is not commanding them to give. He knows he could. He was the Lord’s apostle. As he made clear when he told Philemon that he had the authority to command Philemon concerning his runaway slave, he would rather not use his authority that way. He wanted Philemon to choose what is right. So, too, with the Corinthians. Rather than command them to give, he simply reminds them of the gospel. He wrote,

For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich.

2 Corinthians 8:9

What the young man who approached Jesus didn’t understand—what no one at the time understood—was Jesus was the Rich, Young Ruler. He is God and so he owns literally everything and is the very definition of “rich”. As anyone past the age of 33 will tell you, at the age of 33 he was still young. Being the one who is Lord of all he is the Ruler of rulers. Jesus understood the law was given as God’s self-revelation to Israel. They were to conform to God’s character as defined in the law, rather than merely conform to a list of rules. Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God.

Jesus was telling this man he had to be like Jesus. What is happening on the cross is Jesus is becoming poor, giving everything he has for the good of others. The one possession we all have in this world is our lives, and Jesus gave his so that we, through his poverty, might become rich.

When we think of the crucifixion of Jesus, we must remember the physical agony he suffered. He knew what was coming. In his humanity this is why he pleaded with the Father for there to be another way. He knew there was not, so he surrendered his will to his Father’s will, and he suffered terribly.

We must also remember the spiritual aspect of his death, for Jesus presented himself as the sacrifice that ushers in the new covenant. In this covenant is the promise that God will remember our sins no more, that he will be our God and we will be his people. God in Trinity had orchestrated human history to this point, where God himself would become one of us and do for us what we would not and could not do. The Lord Jesus died in our place.

We must further remember that in the death of Christ the true nature of our God is revealed. As we consider what it means that God died for us, we must ask the same question the hymn asks:

Alas! And did my Savior bleed, and did my Sovereign die?
Would he devote that sacred head for such a worm as I?
Was it for crimes that I have done he groaned upon the tree?
Amazing pity! Grace unknown, and love beyond degree.

The death of Jesus on the cross reveals God to us, for Jesus is the full and complete revelation of God. We are finite and God is infinite so we cannot know everything about God, but if something about God is knowable, it is knowable in Christ. It is on the cross that we see true love and true mercy and grace beyond description. On the cross we see God for who he truly is.

When we look upon the cross we see the horrors of human suffering and agony. We see the blood and the torn flesh, the bruised and battered body of the Lord Jesus. We see the wrath of God come down on Jesus, for God made him to be sin who knew no sin, that we might become the righteousness of God. In the midst of all the violence and the gore and the incredible suffering, we see love—love beyond degree. This is who our God is.

Good Friday is the only time God’s people worship together and focus solely on the death Christ. As we do this, we remember what our God suffered for us. Let us always remember the agony of the cross. Let us always remember what he was doing by enduring this suffering on our behalf. He was ushering in the new covenant by presenting himself as the sacrifice that doesn’t merely cover our sin, but takes it away. As we remember these things, let us also always remember that our right response is to worship. Our God and King gave himself for us and in this act of selfless sacrifice and love, shows us what he is like. When we look to his cross, we see is one who is utterly worthy of worship.