Join me, if you will, to witness an event that occurred on a Friday afternoon nearly 2000 years ago. The location is just outside the city of Jerusalem. The city is enclosed by a wall. Outside the city wall, is a small hill, in the  shape of a skull. On top of the hill is a crowd milling around. The crowd seems to be more like a mob, under the control of a power that it does not understand.

In the center of the crowd stands a wooden structure, two pieces of wood nailed together in the form of a cross. A man is fixed to the cross. Above him is a sign nailed to the cross that proclaims him to be a king.

Lets move in closer to observe the man. On his head is mesh of long thorns, shaped in the form of a crown. The mesh has been beaten down onto the mans head. The thorns are like sharp spikes, and from where they have pierced his scalp, blood flows from his hair and onto his face. It’s not a pretty sight. The man’s back has been beaten into a pulp by a whip with metal prongs or stones attached at the end. His outstretched hands and feet have been nailed to the cross. The man struggles to breathe – every breath is an ordeal as he has to push down on his feet to grab a  gasp of air. He is a picture of intense human suffering.

The crowd does not seem to be satisfied that he has suffered enough. They mock at him, they curse him, they insult him. But the man does not respond to their cursing with more cursing. In fact, it seems that all he has is love for them. At one point he asks his Father to forgive them.

How could this happen? Here we have a man who has not been found guilty, but who does not resent the fact that he is being unjustly punished. The sign declares him king, yet they insult Him. The man is meek, he does not respond to insult with insult, yet the crowd wants more. In cases of such mindless brutality, such cruelty, such suffering, we often ask the question, Where is God in all of this? How could he allow this to happen? Well, in many cases we would be hard pressed to see the hand of God. But not in this situation. You see, God was present right there in the middle of the crowd, in the person of the man on the cross, Jesus Christ.

Why was he on the cross? Because he loved us. In John 3:16 we read, God so loved the world that  he gave His only begotten Son. God loved us, so he sent His son to die for us. But you may ask, what  is the point? After all, he could have done a number of other things, like eradicate all human suffering to show his love. Why? He died on the cross to offer us a choice.

As we go through life, we make choices all the time. Some are trivial – what to eat for breakfast. Some choices stay with us for life, like career and marriage choices. And then there are life and death choices. At the cross, we are offered a life and death choice that will stay with us for eternity.

But where is the choice at the cross? Lets go back to the crucifixion. Jesus is crucified, but he is not crucified alone. On either side of him is a cross, and on these crosses hang two men, not innocent like Jesus but criminals who are being punished according to the law of the land. Initially it appears
that these two men join the crowd in insulting Jesus, but something happens to one of them. His eyes seem to be opened as he realizes who Jesus really is, and that he has a choice. And then something happens that changes this doomed man’s destiny forever.

Let’s read from the Bible, from book of Luke Chapter 23:39-43

So we see here that a choice that would last for eternity was made. We have two men. Both men faced the cross, both men saw Jesus. Both men were guilty. One man realized there was a choice being offered to him, made the choice to trust in Jesus and received a promise of eternal life.

But you may ask, what has all of this to do with me? After all, this happened nearly two thousand years ago. And I am certainly not a criminal. I have not killed anyone, I haven’t robbed a bank, haven’t mugged anyone, haven’t even cheated on a test. Well that may
be the way that you see it, but in God’s eyes, all of us just as sinful and guilty as those two criminals. In Romans 3:23 it says, all of us have sinned and come short of the glory of God.

You see, our idea of holiness and righteous living does not come close to matching God’s perfection. We think murder is a crime, but in God’s eyes, if we hate a person, it is just as if we had murdered him. If we are envious or jealous of someone for what they possess, it is as if we had stolen it. When we consider how we think, and how we cannot control how we think, and put that against God’s standards for holiness, we begin to see that no matter how well-behaved we are, we are far below what is required of us, and are just as guilty as those two criminals. It is in our nature to be this way.

But so what? Are there any consequences? Yes, there are.

When God created the world we live in, he based it on certain moral and spiritual laws, just as he based it on physical laws. All of us know of the physical laws. For example the law of gravity says that two bodies are attracted to each other in direct proportion to the product of their masses. The universe operates on this law, and I cannot defy it. For example, if I were to decide to break the
law of gravity and go to the top of the Bank of America building (the tallest in Atlanta) and jump off, and try by sheer willpower
not to fall to the ground, what would happen? Most likely, what happens to everything that falls off the building – I would fall to the ground. I would not break the law of gravity, I would only break myself on the law of gravity. It is a law, and as part of this universe I am subject to it.

There is a spiritual law too – it’s called the law of sin and death. It states simply the soul that sins shall die. My soul is the innermost part of my being, where my intentions and desires are generated, and the Bible says that it is destined to eternal death and separation from God.

And just like I cannot break the law of gravity by willpower, I cannot break the law of sin and death by willpower either. No matter how strong my will, no matter how hard I try, no matter the deeds I do and the pilgrimages I make, I cannot save my own soul. In fact, God looks on my struggles for righteousness as just filthy rags – incapable of covering me and exposing me just as I am
to Him. I am condemned to suffer the consequences of my sin, unless I make the choice.

Earlier I referred to a John 3:16 – but I did not complete it. Here is the whole verse. For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son that whosoever believes on him should not perish but have eternal life. So that is the meaning of the crucifixion – we cannot save ourselves,

Only God can save us, and in order for him to save us, we must make the choice, just like that thief on the cross, to see him as Lord and saviour. It is only by believing in Him that I am free from the consequences of the spiritual law of sin and death.

In Romans 8:1 we read, there is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.

So that is the message of Good Friday. Is it relevant today, to me personally? Absolutely. I may not have been there that day, I may not have been the thief, I may not have been in the crowd, but I was there in spirit, because as he suffered and died on the cross that day, he did it for me and for each one of us.

The question is, just like that criminal who believed and was saved, have we made the choice to believe in Him? There is no better time than now to make it.

The story does not end with Good Friday. Death could not entrap the Lord Jesus. Jesus rose again from the grave. we call His resurrection Easter. And if Good Friday revealed the plan of God, Easter reveals the power of God. Earlier I made a reference to another spiritual law, the law of the Spirit of life. This law makes a promise to those of us who trust in Jesus – that we will be empowered by God Himself to live closer and closer to Him, talk with Him as a child would talk to his father, share our burdens and problems with Him as would share them with a friend, and as we surrender to his guidance, to have our minds transformed into one that is closer and closer to the mind of Christ. I cannot be like Christ unless I first surrender to Him. I would like to close by reading a few more verses from Romans 8:1-7.

An old spiritual song goes like this:

Were you there when they crucified my Lord
Were you there when they crucified my Lord
O, Sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when they crucified my Lord.

Were you there when He rose up from the tomb
Were you there when He rose up from the tomb
O, sometimes it causes me to tremble, tremble, tremble
Were you there when He rose up from the tomb

I would like to draw your attention to the questions being asked.

  • The first questions in the hymn is  – Were you there when they crucified my Lord ?

Of course we were not there physically, but because Jesus died for all mankind through all time, we were responsible for His death. We were there in spirit.

  • The last question in the songs asks – Were you there when He rose up from the grave ?

The answer to this question depends on whether or not we have made the choice to believe in what Jesus did for us. Our prayer is that we will all be able to answer that question as Yes – we have believed in Jesus and we are experiencing the power of His resurrection in our lives, that we longer we live on our own, but Christ lives in us.