On this Friday morning I sit at the airport waiting for my Easter trip to New Jersey. Everything looks so normal. People drink Starbuck’s coffee and check their text messages. Families shepherd their little children and hope to board early. People keep their two bags within arm’s reach. The airport version of CNN tells the news of a Walmart employee getting fired for some strange reason and the abused United airline traveler’s lawyers position for a hefty payout. The day looks normal for travelers and workers alike.
But today is not a normal Friday. Today is THAT Friday – the Friday when everything changed.
Change presents challenges. Universities offer degrees in change management. Laws of physics as well as family systems theory remind us that natural forces resist change. Cool words like equilibrium and homeostasis provide labels for this phenomenon. Unchecked change would bring everything we know to a state of complete chaos.
But on Good Friday we remember everything did change. Chaos still comes with the cross.
Perhaps you have heard people introduce a new dish, art form or music genre by saying, “You will either really like it, or you will hate it.” The cross had the same effect. Luke 23 demonstrates the way the cross clarifies what is on the inside of a person. While Pilot tried to escape responsibility of Jesus’ trial, he became good friends with his old enemy Herod by rejecting Jesus. Most of the crowd who had paraded for Jesus a few days before now asked for Barabbas’ release. Since Jesus would not be their kind of king, they would prefer an anarchist and murderer. Soldiers mocked the rival Jewish king who could be put to death so easily.
The two thieves demonstrate the dividing nature of the cross. One malefactor ridiculed Jesus and betrayed the evil of his heart. The other felon somehow observed the difference between himself and Jesus. He deserved to die – Jesus did not. In fact, no one else in the chapter confesses Jesus is still king and will inherit His kingdom very soon. The spiritually sensitive outcast asked to be remembered when Jesus achieved His goal.
Some of Jesus’ old crowd still followed in an anticipatory funeral procession. They wept for Jesus. The condemned Savior suggested they weep for themselves. Society’s response to Jesus, a righteous man, demonstrated they too would be mistreated. A few of those devote followers from Galilee would continue to follow even after Jesus’ admonition. Perhaps Simon had blood transfer to his robe when the soldiers conscripted him to carry the cross, but these few faithful believers might have stayed close enough to have the blood splatter on them. They would even follow Joseph, the minority counselor who voted for acquittal, to observe where Jesus’ body would rest. They went home to prepare more spices to worship Jesus once the Sabbath had past.
The heavens mourned, and the earth quaked. Darkness fell, and the veil ripped. That Friday changed everything.
Luke 23 does not provide a Hollywood worthy script. The agony of Christ does not get enough attention for blood thirsty movie goers. Luke limits descriptions of Jesus’ pain to just a few sentences. He prefers to capture the impact of the cross on others. After all, could anyone really describe the horror of that day? Perhaps the three-hour total eclipse alone could tell the magnitude of what happened.
Luke did illuminate Jesus’ response to those around Him. Not only did He invite the thief to stay by His side forever, He interceded on behalf of those who carried out the government’s order and mob’s will. They may have ridiculed and gambled for His garments, but He would spend his remaining agonizing breaths in pray for them.
When He could hold on no longer, Jesus commended His spirit to the Father’s hands.
That Friday changed everything.
My words seem so insignificant compared to Your sacrifice. You despised the shame and endured Your cross for the joy set before You. “Thank you” may be appropriate for a birthday gift or a meal in a friend’s home, but the words fall short today.
Forgive me for the times I have so abruptly changed from joyfully following You to angrily thinking or feeling that You were not acting very king-like. I too often see my own scowl, frown, fear, or disappointment in the mob. You only walked with them for three years or so; this summer I celebrate 50 years of Your Spirit abiding in me. Have mercy I pray.
Remind me again how that Friday changed everything. Remind me of the ways the cross separates people based on what they are on the inside. I have often stayed on the right side of the cross. Please consume anything that would pull me away from Your side. Surely the cross still has the power to invite thieves into Your eternal presence. I find too much thievery in me. Too often I have tried to use Your gifts for myself rather than to help serve others like You taught us to do.
While You still welcome thieves I want to be transformed into the kind of disciple those ladies represented. I want to follow always. I want to observe where You are always. I want to worship always. I want to find rest even in challenging moments as they did. Dear Lord, make this Friday the day that changes me.
Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.
In Jesus’ Name,
Thank you for walking with me through Luke 23. My devotions today are not worthy to be compared with the Crucifixion story, but I feel welcomed in the reality of this Friday none the less. Perhaps you find areas in your life that fall on both sides of the cross divide as I did today. I pray you have the strength to cry out with the rest of us thieves. The cross can make a difference in us today. The cross calls us, (re)claims us, and commissions us to live out the coming resurrection.