Here's the first five pages of what I'm preparing to speak about at our combined Waterloo/Cedar Falls Good Friday services. I don't mind sharing them with you, even if it ruins the surprise a little bit. I hope it tills some of the soil of your heart like it's tilling mine, preparing us to receive the goodness of Good Friday.
Hope to see you there over at the Cedar Falls campus at either 6:30 or 8:30 this Friday.
I came across a story just this week from Time magazine - actually, I caught it on their website as I was going through some of my news links.
And the title of this story just arrested me - in fact, I had to read it twice, just to make sure that I read it right the first time.
Here’s how it read:
“Utah Mother Admits to Killing…”
See. You read even that first part, and you’re already terrified of what is going to come next.
“Utah Mother Admits to Killing… Six Of Her Infant Children.”
“Utah Mother Admits to Killing Six Of Her Infant Children.”
There were a couple of reasons that I had to read that twice - the first being just the appalling nature of what it was describing - so appalling that it was almost unbelievable - unfathomable. But the second reason was this: she admitted to it. She admitted to it?!
And as I read that title, I really wrestled with whether or not I even wanted to click on that link and read the story. Wrestled, because I didn’t want to be any more disturbed than I already was. Wrestled, because I didn’t want to know the details. Wrestled, because I knew that it would be just plain easier to not have to think about that; it’d be easier to just keep on looking at other news stories - stories that are more distant, like the Ukraine, or the market, or how the NBA playoffs are shaping up - and just put that thought and those images from that terrible story out of my mind.
And honestly, I even wrestled with sharing this headline at all with you tonite. Because it’s offensive. Because it might really turn you off. Because it might be a stumbling block to you listening any further.
You might feel like it’s inappropriate. You might cringe because young ears might’ve heard it or young minds might’ve considered it.
You might feel like it’s unnecessary. There’s enough garbage in the world; why talk about it in church? Why think about anything like this on such a holy day?
Well, here’s the reason that I shared this story with you - the story about me seeing this headline, and having to decide whether or not I should click on it and read the rest of the story:
Because, in a lot of ways, you all have a very similar decision to make tonite. You have a similar decision to make.
Tonite is Good Friday. We call it Good Friday because Jesus did something really, really good on this day around 2,000 or so years ago. He died on a cross to pay for the sins of humanity - yours and mine. Good thing. Great thing.
But this really, really good thing is going to make you feel really, really awful. It’s going to make you feel awful - not simply because of how violent it was, and how awful it is to really behold that and consider that.
Not just awful for that reason, but awful for the reason behind it. Awful because of why he had to go there. Awful because it was our fault, not his.
And we don’t like to think about that. I mean, even the best, most devout, most godly of us don’t like to think about. Oh, sure, we’ll say that we believe it. We’ll say that we’re sinners. We’ll say that it was our sin that put him there - and say it as sincerely as we possibly can.
But you wanna know why I don’t think that even the best of us really likes to think about the fact that our own sin put Jesus on that cross? You wanna know why I think that’s true of even the best of us? Because even the best of us hates this thought:
Jesus died even for that woman who killed her kids.
Even for her.
He’d be willing to forgive even her - if she sincerely asked.
His blood would cover the innocent blood that she shed. His cross would break the evil that wrapped up her mind and heart. And his love would change her from the inside out.
Part of us hates that. Part of me hates that. And we hate that because even though we might identify ourselves as sinners, we don’t identify ourselves as sinners who don’t deserve the love that Jesus extended to us at the cross. We don’t put ourselves in the same camp as the worst of us.
We like a Jesus who dies for sinners, but not the real sinners. Because we identify ourselves as sinners - but as deserving sinners.
So no - we don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners - as real sinners - as people who are really deserving of God’s wrath for what we’ve done - just like that woman is deserving of the death penalty for what she’s done. We don’t like to think of ourselves that way: as under a death sentence from God for what we’ve done. It makes us feel awful - more awful that we think we deserve to feel.
But this is Good Friday. You can’t have a cross with a dead Savior without having a reason for it. You can’t identify with what Jesus secured for you there unless you truly identify with your own sin that put him there.
I mean, that’s the decision tonite. Will you click that link? When you see the headline - the headline that reads: “I am a sinner just as deserving of punishment as anyone else” - will you click on that link and read the story? And will you let all of the disturbing thoughts and images that come along with it penetrate your mind and your heart?
And that’s not the only decision that’s going to be hard for us to make tonite - the decision to view ourselves differently. The other decision that we’re going to have to make is this: whether or not we want to view God differently.
Because the picture that Good Friday is going to paint for us isn’t of a God who is this grandfatherly, safe, nice, Santa-like figure up in the sky who just looks the other way at his mischievous children and gives them a present when they might actually deserve a lump of coal.
No. The picture of God that Good Friday paints for us is of a just God - an angry God - a God who is angry at our sin, who hates it and what it does, and who punishes those who do it. Good Friday presents us with a God who doesn’t turn away his wrath.
Good Friday paints a picture of a God who demands blood for blood. He is a God who is out to demand justice from the villain - the villain being sinful humanity. He is a God who collects his debts. He is a God who balances the scales. He’s not the God who simply forgives sin; he’s the God who demands a payment for sin. He’s just.
And we’re not really comfortable with that God, either. I’m not. That God makes me feel unsafe and insecure.
We like the God who forgives sin, but who forgives without really demanding a payment for it. We like the God who is more loving than he is just, rather than a God who is loving because he is just. We want to feel safe with God because he loves us for who we are - not a God who hates us for what we’ve done, and in order to remain true to himself, must punish us for what we’ve done.
And so that’s the other decision that we’re going to be faced with tonite. Not only will we need to decide whether or not to see ourselves differently; but whether or not we’ll see God differently.
Now: after that kind of an introduction, you might be bracing for what’s going to come at you for the next 20 or so minutes. But let me make a promise to you:
If you make these two decisions tonite - if you decide to identify yourself as a sinner - a real sinner - and if you decide see what God really thinks about you in light of that - then I promise you that you will be able to see Jesus and his cross more clearly than you ever have before, AND the love and forgiveness that he extended to you at his cross will sink more deeply into your heart than it ever has before.
That’s the “Good” part of “Good Friday.” It’s a wound, but a wound with a purpose. A wound that’s more like a surgeon’s knife cutting out a tumor than a robber with a knife.