I began meditating on the cross. Most you know that it is one of my favorite subjects, so my mind is always full of thoughts and ideas. I was thinking of the actual narratives of the cross, the Kidron brook and Jesus stepping over the spilled blood of the Jew’s sacrificial lamb. I thought of the arrest in the garden by hundreds of Jewish soldiers, led by Judas and the Pharisees. I remembered the Roman soldiers who beat Jesus, the four brave women who followed Him up Calvary’s hill, the nails, the seven sayings from the cross and the corpse removed. I reflected for a long time on Jesus’s mother, how she held her son — the Messiah, the true Son of God — in her arms as she realized He had no heartbeat. What would she have been thinking?
And then my mind began thinking about the theology of the cross. The redemptive work — the justification — our sins covered willingly by His death, the substitutionary work of the cross. I reflected on his this one act by the holy Son of God could cover the sins of the world and set free anyone who willingly accepts the gift. This one moment in history makes the “whosoever will” of John 3:16 so true! My mind was so full of the wonder of God exercising His love through His own legal system in order to redeem the unlovely and the unfaithful by allowing the execution of His only beloved Son.
And then God slowed me down. I heard Him ask, as my thoughts still whirled, “What is most important to YOU about this night? What is most important about Good Friday?”
I sat in my office and looked at the cross that my brother gave to me; a cross he acquired during his trip to Gatlinburg, TN. The cross has big nails and is beautiful, yet unsettling when you realize what it represents. I visited the altar in our sanctuary and looked at the beautiful cross on the wall behind our stage — large, sting, solid, beautiful dark wood. And I thought of all the crosses that I have loved over the years. There was one in Romania that was particularly simple, made by students at the camp, consisting of some small limbs bound together by some old twine and placed in the rocks at the base of the stones that we used for a “lectern” at the camp. Feri Basci once commented that it was made with hands of love. I shall never forget that moment with him and with that cross.
I once built a cross of landscape timbers for one of the youth groups, much like the one we use from time to time here on our stage. I strapped it to the top of an old station and wagon and drove to a home on Smith Like, just north of Birmingham, for a retreat. There, on a weekend for which I had fasted for eight days, I watched dozens of youth rededicate their lives to Christ by kneeling at that cross.
I remember a cross that we had for one of my earliest Easter services at Northside on which several men, women and youth nailed red ribbons as a representation of leaving their sins and burdens with Christ.
The cross of timbers at Camp Eunice in Roberta, GA holds some amazing and precious moments for me. Many students have knelt before that cross, year after year, to commit themselves to the one who hung on the cross for their sins.
All of these cross are so special, but they are different from the one on Good Friday — the real Good Friday. All of these crosses are symbols. They are remembrances of the one, true cross.
The cross of Christ was not a symbol. There was a real cross on which Christ died. It really happened. The death of Christ on the cross of Calvary is what we now refer to as “Good Friday.” It is not symbolic. It is real.
So what’s the most important thing to remember about Good Friday? I want you to know that it is real. It really did happen. It is not a legend, myth or a story dreamed up by ancient people with vivid imaginations. The story of the cross recorded in Scriptures is real and the death of Christ is a historical fact. We do not celebrate a symbolic crucified Savior. We celebrate a real Christ who was beaten, bloodied, disfigured and disgraced by mankind. We worship and celebrate a real Savior who hung for six hours and died on the cross to pay for sins that we could never pay for.
It is real and it is always good to spend time reflecting on the cross.
Consider the impact of the recorded gospels:
“And they went out to a place called Golgotha, which means ‘The Place of the Skull.’ The soldiers gave Him wine mixed with bitter gall, but when He had tasted it, He refused to drink it. After they had nailed Him to the cross, the soldiers gambled for His clothes by throwing dice. Then they sat around and kept guard as He hung there.” – Matthew 27:33-27 (New Living Translation)
“Then Pilate turned Jesus over to them to be crucified. So they took Jesus away. Carrying the cross by Himself, He went to the placed called The Place of the Skull (in Hebrew called Golgotha). There they nailed Him to the cross. Two others were crucified with Him, one on either side, with Jesus between them.” John 19:16-19 (NLT)