We call this day Good Friday, and it is good that we do. This was a day of darkness foreordained by the good pleasure of God, the day on which He determined to do whatever it might take to secure the salvation of the world.
But the fact that it was good and holy in its purpose and intent, and was good for us, as all God’s blessings are, did not prevent it from being hard as sin, and as black as the hearts of the men who condemned Him.
One of the best ways for us to evaluate what kind of day this actually was would be through looking at how Jesus Christ anticipated it. The night of His arrest, He was in an olive grove called Gethsemane, across the Kidron Valley, opposite Jerusalem. The Lord’s submission there to the cup given to Him by His Father is justly famous, but there are a few additional details the gospel writers tell us in the description that will help us to understand our salvation more fully.
Before considering these phrases, remember that Jesus was a man who had spent His entire ministry, over the course of three years, as one who was always in complete control. He was the master of every situation. If a crowd wanted to throw Him off a cliff, He walked through them. If He was asleep in the bottom of a boat, and a tempest arose, He would tell the wind and waves what to do. If a leper came to Him, He would touch the leper and cleanliness would spread to the leper, instead of uncleanness spreading the other way. If He needed to walk across the Sea of Galilee, He would do so. If the chief theological logic choppers of the nation came to trap Him with questions, He deflected all their stratagems easily, as though they were cobwebs in a doorway. If He met a disreputable woman, He knew exactly what to say and do. He could tell people to roll away a stone so that a man who had been dead four days could obey Him and come out. In short, His disciples had never seen Him in over His head. The world had never seen such mastery. Never.
Christ was the final Israel. He was Israel, the obedient Son. And as an obedient Son, all the blessings of Deuteronomy were in the palm of His hand by right. “And it shall come to pass, if thou shalt hearken diligently unto the voice of the Lord thy God, to observe and to do all his commandments which I command thee this day, that the Lord thy God will set thee on high above all nations of the earth: And all these blessings shall come on thee, and overtake thee, if thou shalt hearken unto the voice of the Lord thy God” (Deut. 28:1–2). This was the secret of His mastery. This is the reason all the blessings of God pursued Him wherever He went. This was how He did His miracles—not as God in disguise doing tricks for the children, but rather as a Spirit-empowered Israelite. He had all the authority that flowed from obedience.
But something in the Garden of Gethsemane threatened to undo Him.
Matthew tells us that He was sorrowful [lypeo], and Matthew and Mark both tell us He was very heavy with grief [ademoneo]. Matthew and Mark both tell us He was exceedingly sorrowful [perilypos]. Mark says that He was “sore amazed” [emphobos]. Luke adds the detail that an angel came to strengthen Him, and says that He was in such an agony [agonia] that He manifested signs of a condition we call hematidrosis, a condition where agony or fear causes the cluster of blood vessels around the sweat glands to burst, causing the blood to be secreted with the sweat. And Luke, the physician, tells us that they were great drops of bloody sweat. In short, Jesus, complete master of every possible circumstance, was terrified.
Blend these three accounts together in a paraphrase.
“Then Jesus came with them to a place called Gethsemane, and said to the disciples, “Sit here, while I go a little further to pray. Pray that you don’t enter into temptation.” And He went about a stone’s throw away, taking with Him Peter, as well as James and John, the two sons of Zebedee. And He began to be sorrowful, very heavy with grief, and pressed down with terror. Then He said to them, “My soul is crushed with sorrow, even to the point of death. Stay here, and watch with me.” And Jesus knelt down and prayed, saying, “Father, if You are willing, remove this cup from me; nevertheless not my will, but Yours, be done.” And an angel from heaven appeared to Him, strengthening him. And being in agony, he prayed more earnestly, such that His sweat was like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. And when he rose up from prayer, and came to His disciples, He found them sleeping for sorrow.”
But after the agony of Gethsemane, Jesus is back in control. His submission to God was not only true, but also complete. He was fully composed when the Sanhedrin vents its rage against Him. When He stands before Pilate, bloody and beaten, the situation makes Pilate afraid (John 19:8). After He was nailed to the cross, Jesus gives a repentant thief an exquisite promise of Paradise that day. He remembers to entrust the care of His mother to John.
The one moment when this is not true was the great moment of dereliction, that moment He had been dreading in Gethsemane. Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani. God made the one who knew no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God. The blow finally fell, and when it did Jesus cried out in a holy despair, quoting Scripture, and it is still “my God, my God.”
So Jesus was deserted in that moment, so that you could come home. He was forsaken by His Father, so that you—born forsaken—might be adopted by His Father. Jesus stepped, obediently and willingly, into the abyss of godlessness so that you and I could step, obediently and willingly, into the arms of the Father. He obeyed His Father into the void, so that we could all be summoned out of the void.
Apart from Christ, all of us stagger through this life, our arms full of Godforsakenness. And yet Jesus comes to each of us and says, “Here, let me take that.” And in the event we are now remembering, He gathered up all our Godforsakenness into Himself, and made sure that all of it died and went down to the heart of the earth. We know because He escorted it there personally.
And so this is indeed Good Friday. But let it be remembered that this word good, as wonderful as it is, represents the understatement of the ages.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, amen.