(See the Good Friday cultural resources and the worship unit for wonderful videos.)
Friday, April 22, 2011
Ricky Woods, Guest Lectionary Commentator
Senior Pastor, First Baptist Church-West, Charlotte, NC
Lection – John 19:31-37 and Romans 5:1-9 (New Revised Standard Version)
(v. 31) Since it was the day of Preparation, the Jews did not want the bodies left on the cross during the sabbath, especially because that sabbath was a day of great solemnity. So they asked Pilate to have the legs of the crucified men broken and the bodies removed. (v. 32) Then the soldiers came and broke the legs of the first and of the other who had been crucified with him. (v. 33) But when they came to Jesus and saw that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. (v. 34) Instead, one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once blood and water came out. (v. 35) (He who saw this has testified so that you also may believe. His testimony is true, and he knows that he tells the truth.) (v. 36) These things occurred so that the scripture might be fulfilled, ‘None of his bones shall be broken.’ (v. 37) And again another passage of scripture says, ‘They will look on the one whom they have pierced.’
(v. 1) Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, (v. 2) through whom we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand; and we boast in our hope of sharing the glory of God. (v. 3) And not only that, but we also boast in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, (v. 4) and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, (v. 5) and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
(v. 6) For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (v. 7) Indeed, rarely will anyone die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person someone might actually dare to die. (v. 8) But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us. (v. 9) Much more surely then, now that we have been justified by his blood, will we be saved through him from the wrath of God.
I. Description of the Liturgical Moment
The reading from the Gospel of John tells us of the events surrounding the crucifixion of Jesus as well as those who died with him. The church recognizes today on the liturgical calendar as Good Friday. It is strange that the church would use the term “good” to speak of the day when our Lord died such a cruel death. However, “good” is used to help us understand what the death of Jesus on the cross accomplished. His death paid the sin debt, and, as Paul says in the Roman passage for this Sunday, brought us access to God and peace with God. Calvary is the story of righteous suffering that yields redemption.
The idea of righteous suffering that yields redemption has always been a part of the history of the Church, and it is a history that the black church has embraced. Yes, there are occasions when suffering is necessary when directed at the forces that stand in the way of redemption. Good Friday is not accompanied by a mood of celebration, but it is a day that calls us to deep reflection in the ways God uses suffering to bring redemption.
II. Biblical Interpretation for Preaching and Worship: John 19:31-37 and Romans 5:1-9
Part One: The Contemporary Contexts of the Interpreter
Our world today is filled with suffering, however it is rarely the kind of suffering that leads to redemption. There is a need to reclaim the role of a believing community that is willing to stand up and suffer if necessary for the things they believe to be right, fair, and just. Jesus is willing to pay the full price of commitment believing that his suffering was not in vain. When Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. stood up against the war in Vietnam, many of his allies in the Civil Rights Movement abandoned him, but King was willing to suffer if necessary for what he believed was right. In time, history proved that King was right.
Whereas suffering might be something most of us would rather not have to endure, suffering for redemptive purposes is a hallmark of the Gospel. The Church has been the strongest in history when it was willing to suffer when necessary for the values of Christ and the Bible in which it believed. The Protestant Reformation Movement of the church of which I am an heir came at the hands of a suffering community. All Protestants are better today because of it.
Part Two: Biblical Commentary
This section in the Gospel of John causes the reader to see that the events now occurring are all happening to fulfill what the Scripture had already said. This is one of the few occasions that issues of fulfillment are why certain events happen in the Gospel of John, a motive that is commonly used in Matthew. The point is that these events do not catch God unaware; on Good Friday God is still in control. The powers that believe they are controlling events are actually working with God to fulfill God’s purposes in making redemption possible. It is a part of the mystery of our faith that reveals how those who proclaim no allegiances to God get used by God to accomplish the things that God wants to get done.
Whereas the soldiers do not break a bone of Jesus’ body, one soldier does pierce Jesus in the side, and that mark in the side of Jesus would later become the place that Thomas would lay his hand and have all doubt removed. The point of Good Friday is that even in the darkest moments God is still in control. A sovereign God is free to allow suffering and tragedy to have their moments, for in the words of the palmist, “Weeping may endure for a night….” There are limits on how long suffering and sorrow last, and God is in control of their duration.
Romans 5:1-9 is coupled today with John 19 because here we also find additional evidence (not that more was needed) regarding why this liturgical moment is rightly named Good Friday. F.F. Bruce says, “For ten years before writing the letter (approx. 47–57), Paul had traveled round the territories bordering the Aegean Sea evangelizing. Churches had been planted in the Roman provinces of Galatia, Macedonia, Achaia, and Asia. Paul, considering his task complete, wanted to preach the gospel in Spain….This allowed him to visit Rome on the way, a long-time ambition of his. The letter to the Romans, in part, prepares them and gives reasons for his visit.”1 So, in this part of Romans, the Apostle Paul reminds the churches at Rome that we have gained so much because of the one who was wounded for us.
First, we have peace with God. Sin had eternally placed a chasm between humanity and God, but the suffering Savior bridged the gap. Second, we have access to grace. Without this access (also gained for us by Christ) we would not have peace. Additionally, our continued actions in displeasing God, even after Christ bridged the sin gap, would still leave us destined for damnation, were it not for grace! Perhaps that’s why the songwriter called it “Amazing Grace.” Third, we have hope of sharing in the glory of God; we are so certain of this hope that we can boast about it. We can’t boast that we did anything to earn it, but we can boast that we were loved so much that it was given to us.
But the list of what we have continues; this is, after all, Good Friday. If we so choose, we can even boast in our sufferings, for they yield the traits that make us believers (suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope). While those outside the faith see our suffering as costly and depleting, God’s math is at work. In other words, what others believe subtracts from who we are, what we have, and what we can do, the Faithful know that suffering makes us richer in the things that please God and satisfy our souls. Notably, all of our character building increases our hope, and hope is fuel for every believer. Ours is not a wild, senseless hope; it is hope that does not disappoint! It is Good Friday.
So, when we suffer for Christ, our suffering is never in vain. Come as it may, come when it will, we are still more than conquerors because of the one about whom they prophesied, the one who was paraded before an unjust court and pierced in his side for sinners like us.
There is no denying that we live in a world where people suffer. The challenge for the community of faith is to suffer for the right reasons. Whenever we stand with those on the margins of life, whenever we use our voices to speak up for those whose voices have been muted, we need to be prepared to suffer, to experience some loss in our lives because we have determined to be an instrument of justice in the hands of God. We cannot afford to remain silent in the face of all that is going on in our communities that rob them of any sense of community. Good Friday challenges us not to abandon what we know to be true even when the truth is hard. It’s a Good Friday if we too stand and suffer for the causes of Christ.
The descriptive details of these passages include:
Sounds: The voice of men crying in agony as their legs are broken; weeping loved ones nearby;
Sights: The man piecing a dead body; blood running down the side of Jesus after it is pierced; the crosses upon which the men died; the carts that will carry away their dead bodies; and the crowds that gather to see it all; and
Smells: The smell of death and the smell of fear.
Sounds: Someone dying for a righteous person; believers boasting in their sufferings; and
Sights: People acting with character; believers who are happy that their hope in God will not disappoint them; Christ dying for the weak and the ungodly; the blood of Christ which saves believers; and the wrath of God.
1. Bruce, F.F. The Epistle of Paul to the Romans: An Introduction and Commentary. Tyndale New Testament Commentaries. Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1983. pp.11–12.