I love Fridays. We all do. It's the end of the work week, and the start of the weekend. For many of us, it's a party night. But not today, if you're a Christian. Today is a different kind of Friday. We call it Good Friday. But it's more than that. It's the best Friday of all.
I did my best yesterday to give Dinner With Friends a positive, friendly spin. But there's no way I can do that today. This is the day that Jesus was tried before Pilate, scourged and crucified.
I've recognized from the beginning that there are many non-Christians who read this blog. As I said very early on in this process, I want this journal to be accessible to everyone, whether you believe or not. I realize that I have people of all religious stripes here, and some with no religion at all. I love you all the same. I even have a practicing Buddhist who reads all of my posts. She is very precious to me. Often, when I think of how to word things, I have her in mind, as well as several of my other friends who don't share my beliefs. It's very important to me that you have some grasp of what I believe in a way that makes some sense to you.
All week, I've talked about Jesus having to endure what he did because it was the only way to save us. Because of the people I've just mentioned, I feel like I need to explain why. This may sound ridiculous to you if you don't believe, as any religious construct does to an outsider. The Bible itself says that the message of the cross is foolishness to the unbeliever. (1 Corinthians 1:18) But I want to try to explain it, because if we don't understand why Jesus had to do this, there's no point in looking so intently at this horrible tragedy.
So here is the bumper sticker version of what I believe, from the beginning. In fact, before the beginning. All of this comes from the Bible.
Before God created the universe, he created the angels to serve him. His highest creation, and his most loved archangel was Lucifer, whose name means bringer of light. But Lucifer became jealous of God. He wanted to take God's place on the throne, so he betrayed God and led a rebellion against him. God cast Lucifer out of Heaven, along with his minions, the angels whom he had persuaded to join his rebellion. Lucifer became Satan. Hell was created for them, not for us.
Sometime after this, God created the universe and all life. Actually, life is part of the universe. Everything is, except Eternity. Here is one area where the Biblical view differs from some other belief systems. Many philosophies hold that the universe is everything, including God. Many believe that "The Universe" is some kind of conscious entity, but that's not what Christians believe. We believe that the universe is God's creation, not God himself. Just to define our terms, when I talk about the universe, I mean all creation. I mean the dimension of time and space, matter and energy. In Eternity, none of these exist. Well, maybe energy, but not physical energy. Not radiation.
I could go on like that all day. Just ask my wife. As usual, I digress.
Once there were people on earth, Satan's one goal was to drag as many of us down with him as he could. He's unleashed a lot of evil in the world. Every world religion and philosophy recognizes the reality of evil. Just watch the news. You see it every day. Most of that evil has come through people. Satan has been doing a pretty good job of dragging us down.
But God would not allow that. For reasons I can't explain, God found it necessary to become a human being, and die at the hands of evil men in order to keep us out of hell. God had nothing to gain by doing this. He doesn't need us. But he loves us so much, he couldn't let Satan have his way with us. So he sacrificed himself to keep that from happening. That's what Christians believe Jesus was doing this day. That's why he had to endure what he did.
You can read my post on Matthew's account of the scourging and crucifixion of Jesus here. I think it's the best and most complete of all my blog posts on this subject, and it has links to the others. I'm not going to talk about all of the horrendous injuries that Jesus experienced on that day here, but I go into great detail about that in my Bible Blog. If you're a believer, and you haven't really faced or understood the medical details of Jesus' suffering, I think it's important that you do so. You'll appreciate his sacrifice for us a lot more if you do.
I only want to focus on two aspects of Jesus' crucifixion today; how Jesus died, and his exchange with the two criminals who were crucified with him.
About his scourging, also called flogging, I will only say this. Scourging was so severe in the Roman Empire, many victims died from scourging alone. And it appears that Jesus received a more severe flogging than usual, yet he survived it in a weakened state, having not slept for at least 24 hours, and having had no food or water since his last dinner with his friends the night before.
The next six paragraphs are copied directly from my Bible Blog post on the death of Jesus in Matthew.
I have stated in other posts on the death of Jesus (as have many others) that no one took Jesus’ life from him, that he was in control of when and how he died. This is an elegant thought, but unsupported by scripture. There is medical evidence in the gospels to indicate exactly what caused Jesus’ death.
The traditional images that we see of Jesus carrying his cross are wrong. The condemned did not carry the entire cross, which would have weighed upwards of 800 pounds. It’s not physically possible to drag a piece of wood that heavy for that long, especially after having been flogged. Instead, the uprights of the crosses were left in the ground, and the condemned had to carry the crossbeam, which was tied to their arms, across the backs of their shoulders. They typically weighed from 75-150 pounds.
John says that Jesus did carry his cross at least some of the way (John 19:17), so scholars have long assumed that Jesus fell somewhere along the way, from exhaustion, the weight of the crossbar, or both. That’s why the soldiers forced Simon of Cyrene to carry it the rest of the way. If Jesus did fall with the crosspiece strapped across his back, the only way to fall is forward. With his arms tied to the crosspiece, Jesus had no way to break his fall. He hit the cobblestone pavement of the Via Dolorosa on his chest and face, with a 75-150 pound weight on his back. This probably bruised his heart, which would cause an aneurism. This is probably what ultimately caused his death.
An aneurism is a weak spot, like a balloon, which would have expanded and filled with blood with every heartbeat. The physical exertion of crucifixion is extreme, and that, along with the significant blood loss from the scourging he had endured, forced Jesus’ heart to beat faster and faster to try to keep up. His heart grew weaker by the minute.
At the moment of his death, Jesus called out with a loud voice. (Luke 23:46) In his weakened state, he should not have been able to shout at all. Most victims of crucifixion were exhausted or unconscious when they died. They died of suffocation, and when you’re suffocating, you can’t cry out. So Jesus did not die of asphyxiation. He was lucid and able to cry out right up until the moment of his death. The most likely explanation is that the aneurism on his heart finally ruptured, and his heart burst within his chest. Jesus would have been able to feel this coming on, like a heart attack. Many people (and animals, for that matter) know when they are about to die, and it seems that Jesus knew that death was imminent for him. So he said, “It is accomplished.” He had paid the debt for our sin. The Greek word Jesus used literally means paid in full.
When Jesus’ heart ruptured, the pericardial sac around his heart filled with blood. That membrane is normally filled with clear fluid, which protects the heart. John 19:34 says that one of the Roman soldiers there pierced Jesus’ side with a spear to make sure he was dead, and blood and water flowed out. That means that the spear pierced the pericardial sac, and blood from his heart, followed by the pericardial fluid, which resembles water, flowed out in a stream, under pressure. The only way blood and water flow out of a wound like that is if Jesus’ heart burst within his chest. Jesus literally died of a broken heart.
Keep in mind that, as I said earlier, I, along with every Christian, believe that Jesus was God in human form. That means he had the power to stop this at any time. But he chose not to, because he had to do whatever he could to save us.
But before he died, Jesus had a conversation with one of the men who was crucified along with him. I believe that they were cohorts of Barabbas, an insurrectionist, who Pilate released instead of Jesus. In fact, I believe that the cross on which Jesus was crucified was intended for Barabbas.
One of these men took part in the insults that were hurled at Jesus on the cross. He wanted to know why Jesus didn't get them out of this mess if he was supposed to be the Messiah King.
But the other had a different attitude. He didn't lash out with blame. He didn't expect Jesus to rescue them. In fact, he recognized that he was getting what he deserved. He rebuked his companion, saying that, while the charges against them were valid, Jesus had done nothing wrong. He asked Jesus to remember him when Jesus came into his kingdom.
Think about that. There they were, hanging on crosses, dying, and this criminal still believed Jesus would become king. That's more faith than any of Jesus' disciples had at that moment. They thought their dreams of glory had been shattered, and were hiding in fear for their lives.
All this week I've been trying to identify with Jesus' week. Guess who I identify with in this story? When my life was threatened, I'm glad I didn't react with anger and selfishness, like the one man did. I didn't ask "Why me?" I didn't think I was getting what I deserved, except maybe for the fact that I had skipped my PSA test the previous year, and hadn't bothered to check what normal range was for PSA. I do bear some responsibility for that.
But my reaction was more like the second man. I don't expect Jesus to get me out of this. Many are praying for my healing, but I am not. I just want to be a part of Jesus' kingdom, whatever that means, whether I live or die. Because if I die, then I really live.
Because Jesus didn't die of a broken heart on this day for no good reason. It wasn't because the Romans wanted to get rid of another troublemaker. The whole thing was orchestrated by God from the foundation of the world. He had to do it, not only to save us from hell, but so that we could be with him for eternity. He loves us so much that he wants us to be with him forever. That's why today is the best Friday of all.