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Pastor John R. Harvey D.D.

The Lessons of Good Friday

  • The sufferings and death of Jesus, which Christians commemorate on Good Friday, may seem far removed from our everyday lives. After all, it is almost impossible to imagine that anyone reading this essay will ever be crucified.  (On the other hand, persecution of Christians continues in many parts of the world even today.)  So what can the story of Jesus’s crucifixion, as recorded in the Gospels almost 2,000 years ago, teach us about our own lives?


    One. Physical suffering is part of life.

    Unlike philosophies or belief systems that suggest that suffering is more or less an illusion, Jesus says this from the cross: suffering is real.  As a fully human person, Jesus suffered.  On Good Friday, he was beaten, tortured and then nailed to a cross, the most agonizing way the Roman authorities had devised for capital punishment.  There, according to the Gospels, he hung for three hours. Victims of crucifixion died either from loss of blood or, more commonly, asphyxiation, as the weight of their bodies pulled on their wrists, compressed their lungs and made breathing impossible. Jesus’s life, like any human life, included physical suffering, and an immense amount of it on Good Friday.


    But even before Good Friday, Jesus suffered physically, because he had a human body like yours and mine.  Growing up in the tiny town of Nazareth, and later as an adult traveling throughout Galilee and Judea, Jesus likely had headaches, got the flu, sprained an ankle or two, and perhaps even broke a bone—in an era of lousy sanitation and only the most primitive of “medical” knowledge.  As a fully human person with a fully human body, he suffered physical aches and pains.  Good Friday was not the only day he suffered physically.


    Two.  Emotional suffering is part of life.

    When Christians speak of Jesus’s suffering on Good Friday, they tend to focus on his physical trials.  Many Early Renaissance artists, for example, depicted that agony in gruesome detail, as a way of reminding Christians of what their Savior underwent.  But Jesus’s “Agony on the Cross” included emotional sufferings as well.  In these emotions we can see further intersections with our lives.

    To begin with, Jesus of Nazareth felt a deep sense of abandonment.  How could he not?  All of his disciples had abandoned him before the crucifixion, save for a few faithful women and the Apostle John.  Peter, his closest friend, denied even knowing him.  Moreover, Jesus felt the suffering of betrayal: another close friend, Judas, betrayed him outright.  How that must have weighed on his heart as he hung on the cross.


    Finally, Jesus likely knew the crushing disappointment of seeing his great work seemingly come to an end.  That is, he may have felt like a failure.  While it’s almost impossible to know what was going on in Jesus’s mind on Good Friday (save for the few words he utters before Pontius Pilate and while on the cross) it’s not unreasonable to think that he lamented the end of his public ministry.


    Now, here we enter some complicated theological terrain.  On the one hand, since Jesus had a human consciousness, he would not have known what was going to happen. On the other hand, since he had a fully divine consciousness he would have.

    So, on the one hand, it is possible that Jesus knew that the Resurrection was coming.  (By the way, for anyone who thinks that this “lessens” his suffering, think of being in a dentist’s chair: knowing it will be over soon does not remove the pain.)  In fact, Jesus predicts the Resurrection at various points in the Gospel.  But it is also possible that Jesus the fully human one may have been surprised on Easter Sunday, when he was raised from the dead.


    Thus, as he hung on the cross, Jesus might have mourned the end of his great project—into which he had poured his heart and soul—the end to his hopes for all his followers, the end to all that he tried to do for humanity.  And so he says, “It is finished.”


    Three.  Suffering is not necessarily the result of sin.

    Sometimes it is. If we do something sinful or make immoral decisions that lead to our suffering, we could say that this suffering comes as the result of sin. But most of the time, particularly when it comes to illness and other tragedies, it is assuredly not.  If you still harbor any doubts about that, think about this: Jesus, the sinless one, suffered a great deal. He was not being “punished for his sins.”


    Let us pray, Father, We remember today, the pain and suffering of the cross, and all that Jesus was willing to endure, so we could be set free. He paid the price, such a great sacrifice, to offer us the gift of eternal life.


    Help us never to take for granted this huge gift of love on our behalf. Help us to be reminded of the cost of it all. Forgive us for being too busy, or distracted by other things, for not fully recognizing what you freely given, what you have done for us.

    Thank you, Lord that by your wounds we are healed. Thank you that because of your huge sacrifice we can live free. Thank you that sin and death have been conquered and that your Power is everlasting.


    Thank you that we can say with great hope, “It is finished…” For we know what’s still to come. And death has lost its sting. We praise you for you are making all things new.

    In Jesus’ Name, Amen.