Prayer: Jesus said, "For I have come down from heaven, not to do my will but the will of Him who sent me (John 6:38). Almighty God by the power of your Holy Spirit incline the hearts of your people so that they may seek always your will for them. Amen.
Jesus became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man. He was baptized by John the Baptist and, filled with the Holy Spirit, he returned to Galilee and began to teach in the synagogues. His troubles started right at the beginning of his ministry when he went to the synagogue in Nazareth and read from the scroll from the prophet Isaiah. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
There was something about this man that the people did not quite understand. Wherever he went, the crowds followed him. Jesus went about teaching. He healed the sick, caused the blind to see, cast out demons, raised the dead, and favored the marginalized. He was questioned and watched closely by those who sought to find fault with him. And this they did. But there was no basis for their accusations-he had no sin.
The observance of Good Friday marks the culmination of the life that was heralded by a star. The people were there at the beginning of the week when Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem amid the waving of palm branches and shouts of "Hosanna! Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord -- the King of Israel!"
They were at the festival of the Passover when Jesus said, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified." That night Jesus shared, for the last time, a meal with the disciples, instituted the Holy Eucharist, and washed the feet of his disciples. The disciples were with him when Jesus went out across the Kidron valley to the Garden of Gethsemane, where Judas betrayed Jesus.
The betrayer brought soldiers and police from the chief priests to arrest Jesus. It was there, overcome with the events of the evening, that Simon Peter drew his sword and struck the slave of the high priest, cutting off his right ear. One can only imagine the thoughts and feelings that Jesus experienced when he said, "Put your sword back into its sheath. Am I not to drink the cup that the Father has given me?" Even knowing the consequences, Jesus chose to obey the Father. He always did.
The soldiers and police arrested Jesus, bound him, and took him away, bringing him first before Annas, and then before Caiphas, the high priest. And it was there that Simon Peter three times denied that he knew Jesus. Finally, Jesus was led away and taken before Pontius Pilate, the governor. He stood accused and yet he uttered not one word in his own defense.
Following a somewhat inept trial, Jesus was sentenced to death. He was flogged and mocked and handed over to the riotous crowd whose cries of, "Crucify him! Crucify him!" denied any reasonableness and sense of justice. This was the purpose for which Jesus had come. This was the reason that he became incarnate from the Virgin Mary and was made man. And as he said to his disciples the night before he died, "it is for this reason that I have come to this hour."
The song of Second Isaiah presents a portrayal of the suffering servant -- God's servant -- who by a perversion of justice was taken away. "He was despised and rejected; he has borne our infirmities and carried our diseases. As suffering servant he was wounded for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. He was oppressed and afflicted. His punishment made us whole, and his bruises healed us."
As he lived and died, Jesus taught greatness in humility, greatness in serving others, and the ultimate sacrifice of self in serving God. When Jesus gave his life on the cross, he drank of the cup that was poured by the Father. After all, it was not his will that mattered. The prayer that Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane spoke to his obedience to God: "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me; yet not my will but yours be done."
There is no human parallel to the cup that led ultimately to the cross. Instead, Judas' betrayal and Peter's denial of Jesus stand in stark juxtaposition to all that Jesus personified.
For thirty pieces of silver, Judas handed over Jesus to the enemy. Fearful for his own life, Simon Peter three times denied knowing the man whom he loved. Another principal figure in the series of events was the governor, Pontius Pilate. Eager to wash his hands of the matter of the condemning of an innocent man, he took the path of least resistance.
The circumstances of the life and death of Christ present several images that parallel life as we all live it today. Injustice, evil, betrayal, violence, and oppression are but a few images that come to mind. They stand opposed to advocacy and prophetic ministry under girded by an unlimited, unconditional, and selfless love that led to self-sacrifice.
Believers are faced with monumental challenges in society and the world today; challenges that put to the test a Christian's convictions of what is just and morally right. Believers are put to the test when they are forced to make unpopular decisions about inequality and violence and oppression.
Jesus' death on the cross was in obedience to the will of the Father, the will that Christians must constantly seek. It is important to be wise as to the challenges, and equally important to be true to one's beliefs.
In his letter to the Ephesians, the apostle Paul provides some wisdom with these memorable words: "Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armor of God so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.... Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace."
We pray in Christ's name. Amen.