The Great Exchange

Good Friday always used to baffle me as a kid.

‘Is there actually anything good about Good Friday?’, I used to wonder.

Last week I was helping a bunch of five-year-olds write about the story of Easter. Seeing it through their eyes I realised just how unique a story it is.

For many of those five-year-olds it was probably the first time they’d heard the real Easter story. And they, just as I used to be, were somewhat baffled.

Today is Good Friday. But where’s the Good?

On Good Friday, with thorns on his head and nails in his hands, Jesus stretched out his arms and uttered those words, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

image Good Friday takes us right back to the heart of the gospel. Jesus received punishment in our place: we are forgiven. And we are to forgive, as we’ve been forgiven.

It’s good news because I’m forgiven. But it also means that those who’ve hurt me are offered that same forgiveness. It’s easy to get caught in wanting mercy for ourselves and wanting others to receive full punishment for their sins against us.

But that’s not the way of the Cross. No one, not one single person, is excluded from the forgiveness offered through the Cross.

That’s the scandal of grace: we receive forgiveness not because of who we are, but because of who He is.

And it’s offensive to our earn-your-grace mentality. And it confronts our “I’m right and you’re wrong” mindset. In the shadow of the cross we’re all wrong. And we can all receive His grace.

On Good Friday the Great Exchange took place:

His wounds, my healing

His blood, my peace.

His pain, my freedom;

His death, my life.

I didn’t earn it. There’s nothing I could do to earn it. It’s His free gift of grace.

And as we receive that grace He calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Him. Sometimes there’s no harder way to pick up our cross than by offering forgiveness to others.

We want justice. We want to be proved right. We want things to be fair.

I know, because I want those things for myself.

But the way of the Cross, the Good-Friday-Way is forgiveness. When we forgive, we wave our “right” for justice and put it in the hands of God. When we forgive, we set others free as we release them from our judgement. And when we forgive we also set ourselves free:

“To forgive is to set a prisoner free and discover that the prisoner was you.” Lewis B. Smedes

So, today, this Good Friday, where righteousness and peace kiss each other, it’s time to receive that forgiveness afresh for ourselves.

And it’s time to lay our weapons down. It’s time to lay down our hurtful words, our poisonous thoughts, our bitterness and our anger. It’s time to be kind to each other, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God through Christ has forgiven us.

It’s time to offer grace and forgiveness befitting the bride of Christ.

That’s the way of the cross. It cost Him everything. And it will cost us too. But as one young disciple said “Following God is always worth the sacrifice.”

One thing I (sometimes) forget about Jesus

I love Holy Week.

I love the opportunity to take a fresh look at the journey Jesus took as he headed towards the cross. I know this may sound a bit silly, but because Jesus was fully God, I sometimes forget that He was also fully human. It’s a hard mystery for us mortals to get our heads round – that Jesus was both fully God and fully human.

But when I look at his time in the Garden of Gethsemane I am struck more than anything by His humanity.

He wants His family – His disciples – to stay awake with Him. But all they can do is fall asleep.

And He prays that prayer. It’s a prayer that says “If there’s another way – if there’s another way to get your children back, then please take this suffering away from me.” The agonising reality of what is to come hits Him in full force – all the punishment will be laid upon Him, and He’ll be separated from the Father.

It’s agonising.

And yet He then utters some of His most powerful words: “Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.”

 

your will not mine

 

Your will, not mine.

“This isn’t about my immediate pain, my immediate reality, what I’m experiencing right now. I’m trusting you Father, and whatever you say I will do.”

“Whatever you say I will do.”

I can’t imagine those words would have rolled off His tongue. These were weighty, measured, full-on words: “Whatever you say I will do.” The words in the New Living Translation say “He was in such agony of spirit that His sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.” These weren’t roll-off-the-tongue-kind-of-words.

But when I read the account in Luke 22, I’m amazed to see that as He uttered those words “an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened Him.”

In that moment, where Jesus fully embraced the reality of what was to come, the Father sent an angel. I wonder how the angel strengthened Him. Some commentaries suggest it was  physical strengthening because His body had become so weakened with sorrow –  He needed strengthening  so that He was physically able to go to the cross.  I don’t know. One day I’ll ask the Father and I’ll know, for sure.

But I love the fact that this fully human Son of God was given strength to continue in obedience.

None of us will ever face anything like this. But if we’re following Jesus there will certainly be time where we too will utter those words “”I want your will to be done, not mine. Whatever you say I will do.”

But as we utter those words we will also be given what we need by the Father to continue in that path of obedience, the  path that takes us towards the cross. There’s always a channel of grace offered to us as we walk in obedience.

We may receive a scripture, an encouragement from another, an increase in joy, maybe even an angel…. whatever it is, it doesn’t really matter. Because it will be enough.  It will be enough to physically, emotionally or spiritually strengthen us, to keep us going on the path He calls us to walk. That’s the kind of Father He is.

 “I want your will to be done, not mine.”

 

41 He walked away, about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed, 42 “Father, if you are willing, please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” 43 Then an angel from heaven appeared and strengthened him.44 He prayed more fervently, and he was in such agony of spirit that his sweat fell to the ground like great drops of blood.

Luke 22 (New Living Translation)

“He knew it was time for him to die. They had planned it long ago, he and his Father. Jesus was going to take the punishment for all the wrong things anybody had ever done, or ever would do.

‘Papa! Father!’ Jesus cried. And he fell to the ground. ‘Is there any other way to get your children back? To heal their hearts? To get rid of the poison?’

But Jesus knew – there was no other way. All the poison of sin was going to have to go into hs own heart.

God was going to pour into Jesus’ heart all the sadness and brokeness in people’s hearts. He was going to pour into Jesus’ body all the sickness in people’s bodies. God was going to have to blame his son for everything that had gone wrong. It would crush Jesus.

But there was something else, something even more horrible. When people ran way from God, they lost God – it was what happened when they ran away. Not being closes to God was like a punishment. Jesus was going to take that punishment.

Jesus knew what that meant. He was going to lose his father – and that, Jesus knew, would break his heart in two.

Violent sobs shook Jesus’ whole body.

Then Jesus was quiet. Like a lamb. ‘I trust you, Papa,’ he said. Whatever you say I will do.’ ”

A Dark Night in the Garden, The Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones