Faith Matters

Good Friday opens the way to God's presence

"Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing" - the criminals crucified on either side of Jesus could be taken to symbolise us all

AT first on Good Friday it doesn't look like Jesus is doing very much, writes the Rev Andrew Watson.

It seems to be others who are active - betraying, arresting, accusing, condemning, mocking and crucifying. Some comment on how silent Jesus remains through it all.

But he is much more than a passive victim. He makes clear beforehand that no-one is forcing him to do anything.

Jesus is offering himself as the vital atoning sacrifice that lawbreakers might receive grace and forgiveness and be saved from condemnation in the coming judgement.

He is the pure and spotless Lamb of God, dying among criminals, to redeem wrongdoers of every kind.

And although there is something unspeakably cruel about crucifixion, exposing someone in agony, for Christians there is something really quite beautiful and moving in the cross.

There is our High Priest, lifted up between heaven and earth, mediating before God for us, head bowed by the weight of our sin but arms wide to embrace all who trust in him.

Jesus doesn't say much on the day of his crucifixion but every word he does say is most profound.

For example, "Father forgive them, they don't know what they're doing." This could refer specifically to the soldiers who are only doing their brutal job, or the religious opponents who turned up to ridicule him.

That would be a profound practice of his own teaching to love and pray for enemies and those who persecute us.

There is our High Priest, lifted up between heaven and earth, mediating before God for us, head bowed by the weight of our sin but arms wide to embrace all who trust in him 

It could also be referring to the criminals on either side of him who could be taken to symbolise us all.

In a spiritual sense we're all offenders with limited time but as Jesus gives himself as the sin offering for the world he prays, "Father forgive them...".

It's as if he says, 'Let their guilt be put on my account. I'll take the blame. Let the punishment fall on me. Accept my life, my suffering as a sufficient sacrifice.

'May my wounds be their healing. Forgive them. Absolve them. Grant them peace and set them free.'

This is the one priest we need.

One of the criminals is foolishly determined to remain defiant and dies cursing. The other pleads for some kind of mercy from Jesus.

Perhaps this man had heard Jesus preaching some time before. He knew he deserved to be condemned, he had nothing to offer in service.

His was a cry of desperation: "Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner."

And here is the outrageous beauty of grace as the High Priest, from the very agony of his own cross, assures the penitent sinner: "Today you will be with me in Paradise."

Jesus the one mediator between people and their maker, offered himself as the necessary sacrifice so that dying criminals like us could be assured of forgiveness and a place in God's paradise.

Shortly after this Jesus declares a note of triumph: "It is finished". The mission is accomplished; the Priest has made the offering. The sacrifice has been made - atonement has been paid for with the blood of the Christ.

Jesus commits His spirit to the Father and breathes His last and at that moment the curtain before the Holy of Holies mysteriously tears from top to bottom.

The way to God's presence is now open. We don't have to stay away. Trusting in Jesus as our Priest we may safely approach our maker and judge and say, "Father...".

Rev Andrew Watson is minister of Cairncastle Presbyterian Church, Co Antrim.

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Faith Matters