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Reflections on Good Friday

As a psychiatrist I am permitted to observe (and in some ways, participate in) a range of the experiences of my fellow human beings.  People seek out the services of a psychiatrist when the pain of their lives cannot be tolerated alone.  They need relief which may come via physical means (medications) or non-physical means (the realm of psychotherapy).  An integral part of psychotherapy is the relationship between doctor and patient, a 'coming together' in a very personal way in which I am invited into the life of my patient.  Over the years I have shared in a great deal of suffering.  

We all have moments of suffering that seem intolerable and unjust.  Why must I hurt so much?  When will this end?  Where is God?  These questions reverberate deeply within our souls and demand answers.  The presence of evil and pain in this world is very real.  Contrary to what some systems of belief would tell us, suffering is not an illusion.  We all know this in the depths of our souls.  We don't make it up.  We hurt!

Traditional Biblical teaching explains that man is in rebellion from God.  Most world religions acknowledge this but then try to offer a way that we can 'make things right with God' which clearly different from what the Bible tells us.  The New Testament authors describe the redemption of man by God.  This redemption is commemorated today on Good Friday.

God is a God of love but also a God of justice.  We all innately understand this, and inside of us we cry out for justice.  In the movies we rejoice when the hero wrecks havoc on the bad guy, when evil is punished.  This is how we are made.  We know that evil MUST BE PUNISHED.  Movies often focus on the evil that one man does to another.  But what about the evil we perpetrate in our rebellion from God?  What is to be done with it?

Contrary to other religions, Biblical Christianity says that there is nothing that we can do to make things right with God.  We have rebelled and the punishment is death.  In his Letter to the Romans Paul writes For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.  (Rom 6:23)  Without the word 'but' we would have no hope.  That one word, and the phrase that follows, gives us all of the hope that we require.

In the Old Testament the nation of Israel was given instructions for the performing of sacrifices of animals.  We are told that it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins (Heb 10:4) and so even back in the days of Moses the sacrifices were not paying for their sins, but were reminders of the bloody nature of sin.  Even then, they were trusting God in faith that He would forgive their sins.  The price hadn't been paid but they believed God that they would be forgiven.

To reconcile fallen humanity to Himself, God did the unthinkable.  He took on human form.  He lived as we could not live, a perfect sinless life.  Jesus taught his followers, but they believed that He had come to rescue Israel from Roman occupation.  When He was arrested, beaten, and nailed to a Roman cross they were broken men.  They had lost hope.  Why had this happened?

The disciples did not understand that God had prepared the ultimate sacrifice.  A Lamb was to be slain to pay for sin.  But it was not any Lamb, it was the Lamb of God.  As a professor in seminary told me, the entire Bible is really just The Story of the Lamb.

Today we commemorate the death of the Lamb.  Jesus ministry was ushered in by the words of John the Baptist: “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29)  The final words spoken by Jesus on the cross are translated "It is finished."  As He died, the ultimate price for man's rebellion from God was paid.  Once and for all, sin was defeated at the cross.

At that moment none of His followers really understood what was happening.  One of my favorite characters in Scripture is the thief on the cross being crucified next to Jesus as told by Luke:

One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” Luke 23:39-43

This was the first person to really 'get it.'  His eyes had been opened by God to give him understanding of what was actually taking place.  The rest of the disciples would not understand until the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus.

Today few people understand what it is that we are commemorating or why it was necessary.  Jesus said that the path to life was narrow.  May this season be a time when many will come to understand that path and accept the free gift offered through the atonement of Christ on the Cross.

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