Rembrandt’s Raising of the Cross (1633)
Rembrandt painted himself in the center of the painting (with beret) illustrating that he, like all sinners, was responsible for Christ’s suffering and death.
(…continued) We can begin by noting that the suffering of Jesus was not limited to the cross on Good Friday. His suffering started long before that. Right after Jesus was born, King Herod was out to kill him. Throughout his ministry Jesus was ignored, lied about, plotted against, and rejected by the very people he created and came to save. John 1:11 says, “He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him.” Are there any more tragic words in all of Scripture?
But even that tragic rejection was just one more chapter in a long history of humankind’s rejection of God. Way back in the beginning, in Genesis 6:5-6 we read that God was already suffering over the wickedness of those he created:
The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart.
That grief and that suffering continued throughout the Old Testament. Then in the New Testament, we have God himself coming to earth, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, to speak to his creation, to love them and teach his people, and to win them over– and what happens? He is rejected and killed.
God, in Jesus, was treated just like He had been treated throughout the ages, by disobedience and rejection. In Jesus’ life on earth, and especially in the last week of his life, we see the curtains of heaven being pulled back a little bit; and we see in person, the pain God has always endured. The suffering of Jesus was not just what God laid on him. It was also what we laid on him, and what we lay on him still. It is not as though Jesus left heaven, spent his thirty three years here, and then said, “Well, that takes care of that unpleasant little task;” and went back to the comfort and ease of heaven. God has always had a suffering love for us, and what we see on Good Friday is what has been going on in the heart of God ever since the third chapter of Genesis.
Throughout the Bible we read about God’s unending love which continues to forgive and make promises to his unfaithful and unreliable people. On Good Friday we see the other side of that. Along with that incredible love, comes sacrificial suffering. Committed love always means sacrifice and suffering.
Now that is something we can understand. We know that the more we love someone, the more we will suffer on their behalf. The one who loves deeply will also suffer deeply. We know what it is to suffer for the sins of others.
I have a friend whose son disappeared many years ago. In his youth he was reckless and rebellious and selfish, angering and breaking the hearts of all who knew and loved him. He lied, deceived, stole to maintain his drug use, was sometimes violently abusive, and took advantage of any who ever showed him any good will. Finally, he left and never came back. His parents still love him, still worry about him, and still pray for him. But they don’t know if he is dead or alive, doing well or sleeping on some street. They have suffered over that son for 25 years.
It would be foolish to say to those parents, “There is no need for you to suffer. You are innocent. Your son is the guilty one. You don’t have to feel so bad.” Would that help? Of course not. To love is to suffer, even if innocent.
A relationship doesn’t have to be that bad for us to understand this. To love anyone is to suffer with them and for them. We suffer when our loved ones suffer– from illness, bad choices, troubled relationships, alcoholism, financial difficulties, or whatever it is. And, those who love us suffer on our account.
God is the father of us all, loves us all, and suffers over us, just like any parent. As Isaiah said long ago, “Surely he has carried our sorrows and borne our griefs.” We know what that is like, and so we can understand one small part of Christ’s pain and sacrifice on Good Friday. He died for our sins, the sins that have always been causing grief in the heart of God, as he watches in sorrow as his children hurt themselves and each other.
This is only a partial explanation of what it means that Jesus suffered and died for our sins. There is much more to it, and theologians over the centuries have explained it in many different ways. And all the different explanations are not necessarily competing claims for truth, but are different facets of the same truth.
Somehow, on the cross, God acted to restore our broken relationship with Him. We try to understand, and we are able to get glimpses of the whole truth; but we will be frustrated if we insist on a complete and precise explanation.
The good news is we are not required to comprehend all ‘the mysteries of God.’ It can be as simple as the old Sunday School song: “Jesus loves me, he who died, heaven’s gates to open wide; if I love him when I die, He will take me home on high.” Or as Jesus Himself said to his disciples; “Greater love has no man than this; that he lay down his life for his friends.”
Believe that, and you will be saved.
Hosea 11:8b — (God says), “My people are determined to turn from me;… (but) how can I give you up?… My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused.”
John 11:35-36 — Jesus wept. Then the Jews said, “See how he loved him!”
Matthew 23:36 — (Jesus said), “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing.”
John 3:16 — For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
A PRAYER FOR GOOD FRIDAY by William Barclay:
O God, our Father, we thank Thee this day that Thou so loved the world that Thou didst give Thine only Son for us and for all mankind. We give Thee thanks this day for Jesus Christ, our blessed Lord, and for His death upon the cross– that he loved us and gave himself for us, and that he came to seek and to save that which was lost. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. Help us this day to remember, and never again to forget, the love of Him who laid down his life for us. Amen.