The Text: John 19:23-39
A survey taken overseas asked people about what question they would like to ask God. Most of those asked, said they’d ask God “Why is there suffering?” For many people, suffering makes it very hard to believe in God. The good news of Good Friday is that God didn’t stay aloof from suffering, but shared it with us. God Himself is our co-sufferer who experienced suffering first-hand with us and understands what it’s like to suffer.
A suffering God is the most profound response to human suffering there is. Who knows how much suffering God has had to bear because of the way our sins, faults and failures have hurt Him? Christ’s passion, dying and death are the point at which divine and human suffering meet. It is not enough to know God in His glory and majesty unless we have first got to know our Creator in the suffering of His Son on Good Friday. There can be no pain worse for a parent than to see his son suffer and die in a terribly cruel way, as God the Father did on Good Friday.
“The crucified Jesus is the only accurate picture of God the world has seen (A. Baker).” By means of Christ’s suffering on the cross for you, God is saying to you, “This is where you ought to be. Jesus, My Son, hangs there in your stead; His tragedy is the tragedy of your life. You are the rebel who should be hanged on the gallows. But lo, I suffer instead of you, and because of you, because I love you, despite what you are. My love for you is so great that I meet you there with my love, there on the cross. I cannot meet you anywhere else. You must meet me there, by identifying yourself with the One on the cross.”
Good Friday was when God took His own medicine. At Calvary God submitted to the conditions He laid down for us and seemed to suffer defeat. But instead God defeated death with death, and our suffering with His own suffering. By entering into our experience of suffering, Jesus can comfort us in all our distresses like no one else can. Over the centuries, Christians have kept coming back to the cross of Christ for comfort, strength and hope. You see, the cross of Christ has released into human history the most powerful force for regeneration and renewal the world has ever seen. It is the pinnacle of everything Christ achieved for us on earth. There Jesus took on responsibility for all our failures, took them as His own and took the punishment they deserve. Instead of judging us, Christ was judged in place of us, with the ungodly men being crucified next to Him, so that we might be acquitted and set free from our sin.
Therefore, as we read in Romans 8:1, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” That’s the unsurpassed good news Good Friday made possible. There can be no true love without a willingness to suffer for and with those we love. We go to the Cross of Christ for our definition of love. “This is how God showed His love for us: He sent His only Son into the world that we might have life through Him. This is what love is: it is not that we have loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the means by which our sins are forgiven (1 John 4:9-10).”
Our crucified Saviour continues to attract the devotion and wholehearted commitment of millions of people because His suffering for everyone on the Cross is the greatest demonstration of love the world has ever seen. At the Cross we see a totally other-centred love. Instead of focussing on His own pain, Jesus shows love for His executioners by asking God to forgive them and welcomes the penitent thief being crucified next to Him into Paradise. Now Jesus shows His love for His mother by making sure she is cared for.
Mary is there with St John, “the disciple whom Jesus loved”, because they cannot bear to be anywhere else. At the Cross St John was overwhelmed by our Lord’s love for him, and represents all of us who love Jesus and are forever grateful for His love for us. John now places himself at the service of Jesus. Mary sees all the hope she’s placed in Jesus now gone. How sad it is that Jesus’ brothers aren’t there. Maybe they’re too scared to be seen with Him. We wonder what’s going through Mary’s mind. Perhaps Mary is haunted by the words of Simeon: “and a sword will pierce through your own soul also.”
Thinking more of His mother’s pain and anguish than His own suffering, Jesus now entrusts His mother to the disciple He knows will care for her best of all. “Woman, here is your son” Jesus says to Mary. In doing so, Jesus adopts St John as His brother. Then to John He says, “Here is your mother.” Jesus now gives both of them a new future in the community He has established through His cross and resurrection. His death creates a new set of relationships, bringing together as Christian siblings, those previously unrelated.
John and Mary are the first two members of Christ’s new family, the Christian Church. Jesus had promised to His followers who lose their family members in this life because of Him, He will provide them with Christian siblings. “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now and in this age, houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children…and in the age to come, eternal life (Mark 10:29-30).”
Our Lord will now love Mary through John’s love for her and He will show His love for John through Mary. Relationships with fellow Christians have often been deeper than with members of one’s own family. Jesus brings His blessings to us also through our fellow Church members. “We do not live for ourselves only, and we do not die for ourselves only. If we live, it is for the Lord that we live, and if we die, it is for the Lord that we die. So whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord. For Christ died and rose to life in order to be the Lord of the living and of the dead (Romans 14:7-9).” The abundant life Jesus offers us is life together with our fellow Christians, where Christians encourage, serve, comfort and are devoted to each other. Our ties with our fellow Christians are so good because they continue forever beyond death.
Our Lord’s next word from the cross—“I thirst!”—is the shortest of His seven words, and the most thoroughly human. I’m sure you can recall a time when you were desperately thirsty and know how desperately you longed for your thirst to be quenched. Jesus now acknowledges His own suffering. In doing so He comes closest to us as a fellow human being. Thirst was one of the worst agonies of crucifixion. Those about to die often asked for a drink just before they passed away. Jesus’ plea is something even a child in need of a drink in the middle of the night can understand.
Jesus became one of us in every way so that He can make us one with Him. When we suffer today, Jesus can sympathise with us, knowing first hand what it’s like to suffer. The soldier who gave Jesus a drink showed him the only act of kindness Jesus received on the Cross. Today we meet Jesus’ thirst by satisfying the thirsty around us: “I was thirsty and you gave me to drink …Inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these my brothers or sisters, you have done it to me.”
The drink Jesus received revived Him enough so He could utter His cry of victory: “It is finished!” “It is finished” means that Christ’s sacrifice for us is complete. Christ has won the victory over sin, death and the devil. Receipts from that time have been found with these words written across them, meaning the account has been PAID IN FULL. Jesus has paid in full the debts created by our sins. We can add nothing to our salvation, except to thank and praise Jesus forever for all He has done for us. Love at its best defeated evil at its worst. God’s masterpiece is now complete. Christ’s Cross is His victory for us, and Easter is the revelation of that victory. The events of Good Friday are permanently effective for all time. The Cross sanctifies our pain and sorrow so that it can bring blessings into the lives of others. The Cross of Christ enables all who love God to suffer in hope, knowing that “all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28).”
In a chapel in Europe hangs a painting of Christ on the Cross with the words printed under it: “All this I did for you. What have you done for me?” One summer afternoon, the Count of Zinzendorf entered the chapel and was immediately drawn to the painting. He saw love in the pierced hands, love in the bleeding brow, love in the wounded side. Then he read the caption below. Sobbing and weeping, he gave his life to Jesus, whose love had not only saved his soul, but also conquered his heart. The Count of Zinzendorf wrote our hymn “Jesus, your blood and righteousness / my beauty are, my glorious dress”, and spent the rest of his life telling others about the love of Christ revealed so fully on the Cross.
“Love so amazing, so divine / demands my soul, my life, my all.” Amen.