Good Friday | Dr. Chip Bennett
Dr. Chip Bennett
I want to first thank everybody for coming out on a Friday evening to remember, to process, and to contemplate the events of this day. I sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, mean this with everything within me. I appreciate everyone who comes to Good Friday services. I realize that some of you all may be new, newer, or maybe even first-time guests here at Grace, and I want to extend a warm welcome to you on behalf of myself, the staff, and the church. It always means so much to me when we have new guests, and I want to make sure that you know from me that I am really glad you're here.
I hope you, if you're new or newer, and anyone else here, will make sure to be back to one of our six Easter services. I’m of the persuasion that Easter is not fully comprehended apart from the suffering of Good Friday, but I also want us to all experience the glory of the resurrection at our Easter services. Again, I just want to extend to you that I hope you will attend one of them.
Before we get into some reflections on Good Friday, I want to make sure that everyone knows that Good Friday services are quite a departure from normal Grace Community Church services. First, I do not teach the way that I normally do, but I actually type out my text. I do this primarily because the nature of this service creates a very sobering time for me, and typing out my words is my way of taking time to reflect on what the Lord experienced on this day, and it allows me to contemplate the suffering He endured. Second, I dress up. I don't feel like I have to, and please don't try to get accustomed to it because, as Sunday is coming, so are my jeans. But it is a way for me to also take some time, even with the way I dress, to honor and reflect what this day means to me, and what this day means to us. Third, I try to make sure that we remember what today actually was; the day that our Lord was beaten, ridiculed, crowned with thorns, and, ultimately, crucified. Today is a day of suffering, and we must embrace what that means for us, both theologically and in application to our lives as believers.
Many people often ask, “Why is this called ‘Good Friday?’”You can look that up for yourself, and you'll see what we all know. There really isn't a consensus on how we got the term “Good Friday.” What I can tell you is this: What was a terrible day for the Lord was a very good day for us. His suffering allowed our salvation, His beating allowed for our healing, and His tears promised to eventually wipe ours away. Good Friday represents the suffering part of the rhythm of Grace. The rhythm of Grace includes both suffering and glory. The Christian life is one of suffering and glory. Unfortunately, many Christians have done their best to inoculate themselves against any suffering. In doing so, they actually bifurcate the Gospel. Paul was very clear to the church in Philippi that he wanted to know Jesus. He wanted to know Jesus in the power of His resurrection and in the fellowship of His sufferings. It's always tempting to desire only glory, but our faith will never be understood completely without suffering.
See, without the cross, there would not be — in fact, there could not be — a resurrection. Without death and resurrection, sin would not be atoned for, and death would not have been conquered. Good Friday is part of a chain of events that changed the world, and the suffering is required for the glory to come. The recurring temptation when presenting the Gospel is to try and downplay the suffering of Jesus or do away with it all together. In fact, during the temptation of Jesus, Satan himself tried to convince Jesus to take His Messiahship by spectacular display rather than following God's plan. That temptation to avoid suffering will always buffet the church and try to make it into a place desiring only glory and, somehow, forgetting the cross.
The great reformer, Martin Luther, referred to this perennially debated issue. He called it a temptation of desiring a theology of glory instead of a theology of the cross. Remember, the Apostle Paul reminds us that if we boast in anything, it should be in the cross of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Nobody likes suffering. If given a choice, we all would choose to avoid it at all costs. Who would desire suffering when a pain-free life might be a possibility? But in embracing a life that tries to be suffering-free, is it possible that we could be missing huge opportunities for God to work in our lives? I think so, and I think that Good Friday is a vivid reminder of that. See, as Christians, we don't seek suffering, but we embrace that it is integral to our faith. We don't run from it either because we know that without it, we cannot be conformed to the image of Christ.
Every generation, the Church will find new ways to present the Gospel, but there are certain anchors in presenting the Gospel that cannot be lost, and Good Friday is one of those anchors. A church that does not discuss and teach the rhythm of grace — both suffering and glory — does a disservice to the believers. It does not prepare believers for the world we live in. It creates unbalanced Christianity. I am committed, as your pastor, to teaching the whole counsel of the Word of God, and developing mature, healthy, and capable believers who are rooted, grounded, and being conformed to our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
This evening, I'd like to focus our attention on a very difficult passage. It's the words of Jesus found in Luke 22:42.
Jesus says, “‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’”
The passage is challenging. It really forces us to contemplate many things. The words are moving and they're profound. They show the humanity of Jesus in the face of suffering, but they also point to the fact that following God is not, ultimately, a matter of our will, but his. I, personally, find it deeply touching, and even reassuring, that in some human way, in a way beyond my understanding, the Savior of the world, in His humanity, desired an easier path in the garden. I can relate to that. I'm sure you can, too. If the path could be easier, who wouldn't want to take that path? That's what makes this statement from Jesus so vividly human, but so spiritually inspiring. He relates to you and me in the aversion to suffering, but, at the same time, shows us to trust God despite it.
But what would compel you and me to endure hardship and suffering? It's one thing to have a nice line out of the Gospel of Luke that we listen to, but is there any reason? Are there any benefits? Is it even possible that that could be the case? Well, I think the answer to that is yes. Otherwise, Jesus would not have shown us this way on Good Friday. I also want to make a note here. I want you to listen to me. Nobody would have written something like this passage if they would've wanted to make up a faith for people to follow. It's almost absurd, at one level. Please forgive me. I'm not being, in any way, sacrilegious. I'm just being honest, as a human being. Basically, Luke, what you're telling us is that Jesus is God in the flesh, and God Himself is having second thoughts about doing what God should do. This just shows me, it shows you, how authentically real and honest the biblical writers are. It also reminds us that our faith will always remain, at some level, a mystery.
Paul says, “Great is the mystery of godliness,” but I can tell you something. There’s a reassuring nature to that, and an honesty to it. The more I read Scripture, the more I realize how there is no way this is simply a book that was written just by people because we want to make things make sense, we want things to be neat and tidy, and, unfortunately, in so many ways, Scripture isn't neat and tidy because God doesn't call us to knowledge, He calls us to faith, and He calls us to follow.
We know that we all live in a very uncertain time. We live in a world of chaos. We live in a world that is changing in so many ways, and some of us aren't quite sure exactly where it's going. Is it maybe even the wrong direction? Well, I'm going to tell you something. We need to be equipped for difficult, we need to be equipped for challenges, and we need to be able to hold onto our faith and hope if and when times come that challenge. To be prepared, I think we need to look at some of the reasons for suffering, trials, and difficulties in light of what we remember here, this evening.
First of all, suffering never comes to us, as believers, apart from the providence and purpose of God. Key word: “As believers.” If you tell your friend at work who's not a believer, “Don't worry, God's working all things,” that's not what Scripture says. Scripture says that God's working all things together for those of us who love Him and are the called according to His purpose. Suffering, trials, and difficulties never come to us, as believers, apart from the providence and purpose of God. As hard as this concept is to understand, it is, without question, biblical. Our faith is mysterious. There are complexities and questions that may never be answered this side of eternity, but full comprehension of all that God is is not the bedrock of what we do, as Christians. Faith is. Following is. Trusting is. Paul told the Corinthian church that he only saw through a glass dimly. I can assure you that we do, too. Just because something doesn't make sense to us right now doesn't mean that it ultimately can't or that it ultimately won't. Our faith is in the One who is holy, righteous, and just, and having answers isn't the prerequisite for following Jesus. Faith is. And if our faith is in the God who spoke the world into existence, we must believe He is at work even in suffering.
The passage that I'm going to reflect on here, for a moment, that I've reflected on many times — some of you may remember this, or you may not, but I'm convinced that if I repeat some things every once in a while, maybe that will get in there. But it shows the providence, it shows the purpose of God, and it reveals His incredible concern and care for His people. It's found in the same Gospel that we're looking at. It's just 22 verses before. It’s in Luke 2:41-46. The family of Jesus has traveled to Jerusalem for Passover. They traveled in caravans, back then. They didn't just travel as a few people. They’d have been robbed, beaten, probably killed, and everything stolen. They traveled in groups. This vision of just Mary and Joseph traveling together is something we create. It's not the way they traveled. It's not anywhere indicative of the first century in any way, shape, or form. They traveled in caravans. So, here they are, going to Jerusalem, and now they're leaving. When they left, the entire family would be sort of accounted for. They knew that everybody was paying attention to everybody. So, there was a trust that you didn't have to necessarily look for every person because everybody in the family was looking out for everybody in the caravan. This large group sets out for home. What nobody knew was that Jesus didn't go with them. He had stayed in Jerusalem. For us, we struggle, going, “How in the world could they not know?” because we don't understand the way the first century was. They usually traveled in caravans and, oftentimes, it was men on one side, women on the other, and maybe Mary thought Joseph had Jesus, and Joseph thought Mary had Jesus. In other words, it wasn't that they were not good parents, it's just the way the culture was. But nobody realized that He wasn't in that group, and they were already a day's journey into the trip when His parents realized He wasn't with the group. So, of course, you can imagine a frantic search goes on. Where is Jesus? You can imagine, “Oh, great. We’ve lost the one child we have who God gave to us miraculously.”
Well, it takes another day to get back to Jerusalem. You can imagine, “Is He okay? Did someone take Him? Is He alive?”
I’m sure all of these questions raced through Mary's head.
“I've lost my son.”
We're told — not coincidentally, I might add — that on the third day — one day traveling, one day realizing He’s not there, and one day back — we're told that on the third day, they found Jesus. One day journey, the next day realizing He wasn't there, and one day back. So, on the third day, Jesus is found. Do you think Mary suffered during those three days? Of course she did. Did she have some thoughts that probably just weren't full of hope and joy, but full of fear and anxiety? Probably. Did her stomach find itself in knots? Maybe. Why would the Lord let this happen? What's going on? Well, don't you see the goodness of the Lord and what He’s done for Mary? He is preparing her, in advance, for a day when she will actually lose Jesus for real. But on the third day, she will find Him again. Her suffering is preparing her for glory. God knows exactly what He’s doing, although Mary probably had no idea how profound the events of those days were as she was going through them.
Listen to me. Embrace the hand of providence in your life, as a believer, in the midst of suffering, and trust that God is working all things for good for those of us who love Him and are the called according to His purpose. He is working whether we see it or not.
Second, suffering starts, and helps continue, our detachment from this world. Do you want to remove a tree from the ground? The earth around it needs to be loosened up, and the tree pulled up from the roots. Suffering helps us to realize this world, in its present condition, is not our home. It points us, or at least should point us, to our real home, which is the heavenly city.
While no suffering is enjoyable at the present time, it is working in us things that maybe, sometimes, we don't even recognize. Scripture admonishes us to love not the world. Now, that doesn't mean that we can't love the beautiful creation that God has given to us. That doesn't mean that you can't go to Siesta Key, see the beach and love it, or see the water, or go to the mountains and see the mountains. That's not what it's talking about. It says that we can't fall in love, and shouldn't fall in love, with the present order. We're looking for something else. We believe something better is on its way. This present world is giving way to a new reality. In suffering, we are reminded that this world is not our home, and it will never satisfy you and me.
As C.S. Lewis once penned, “If I find in myself desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Third, how we endure and embrace suffering can be a strong testimony to unbelievers. One of the most overlooked passages, and, in my opinion, contextually rich passages, in regards to suffering is 1 Peter 3:15. In this passage, we're told to be able to give a defense for the hope that is within us. This passage is typically used slightly out of context, I might add, as justification for knowing a lot about Scripture and/or philosophy and/or apologetics in order to answer difficult questions that may come to us about God and our faith. The context, actually, demands a little different interpretation. I have several friends who do apologetics for a living, and we usually, at dinner, at one point, will go into this passage, and I tell them that they're using it wrong. They don't listen to me, but neither do, sometimes, 3,000 other people.
Anyway, Peter says, in 1 Peter 3:14, which is the verse before it — which is important, when you're reading the Bible, to know what's coming before.
He says, “But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled,”
And then 1 Peter 3:15: “…but [now] in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you.”
What Peter's saying is that when we suffer, the way we suffer can create an atmosphere for unbelievers to ask what hope we have that would give us the attitude we have while suffering. People should ask us what is going on in us by the way they see us embrace difficulties, trials, problems, and suffering because one of the greatest testimonies we have to the reality of Christ's resurrection, that this world is not all that there is, is the way that we face the difficulties, trials, and sufferings in this life.
Fourth, although God may not always remove difficulties, problems, and sufferings from our lives, He will provide us strength in the midst of these things. One of the more intimate portraits and scenes in the garden on Good Friday, which is recorded right after the text that I read about Jesus asking if the cup could be removed, “but nevertheless, Your will be done,” — in the next Luke 22:43, Luke says that there appeared to Him an angel from heaven, strengthening Him.
I think this gestures to you and me that God will sustain us in the midst of difficulty, trial, and suffering. Suffering, although a part of following Christ, will be sustained by the providential hand of God. And let me tell you something, that is good news for you and me on Good Friday. We may face the fire, but He will be in the fire with us.
Last, I spent almost a whole pastorate, here at Grace — I’ve probably quoted this passage more than any other passage that I've quoted. It comes out of Romans 8:18.
Paul says, “For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is going to be revealed to us.”
My fifth point is that suffering eventually gives way to glory. That's why I always say, “The best is yet to come.”
Jesus didn't suffer for no reason. He didn't die and stay in the grave. He rose. His suffering gave way to glory. Listen to me, if you're a child of God, whatever suffering, trials, and difficulties that you go through in this life, whether in this life or in the life to come, your suffering will eventually give way to glory. These lessons, although not easy for us, are integral to our growth and service to the Lord. We know that Sunday's coming, but that's not the only reason we rejoice. We rejoice because we know that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed. Listen to me. This is important because when you're reading Romans — and go home and read it. Read it this evening. Start off in Romans 8:1 and it'll tell you there's no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. You can take that to the bank, and you can say, like Kennedy said, that you are clean because there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ. But as you read through the passage, you're going to come to Romans 8:18, and it's going to tell you that the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared with the glory that's going to be revealed. Then it's going to tell you, “And by the way, just so that you know, the world itself is groaning for that day when suffering gives way to glory.”
The whole creation is going, “We can't wait for God to put things back together.”
In fact, Paul goes on to say that the Spirit of God, which resides within the believer, is actually praying inside of us, in the sufferings of this world, with groanings that cannot be uttered. Then he pens this passage: “We know something. We know that in all things,” — what are the “all things?” The “all things” are contextual. The “all things” are the sufferings of this present time.
He says, “We know that in all things,” — in all the difficulties, in all the trials, in all the problems — “God, for the believer, for those who love Him and are the called according to His purpose, is working all things together for your good.”
“For those the ones whom he foreknew he also predestined […]. And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”
What is going to separate you from the love of God in Christ Jesus? Nothing. So, let's revisit the words found in Luke 22:42.
“‘Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done.’”
As believers, we're reminded in this passage that following Jesus ultimately means we embrace His will, not our own, even in the face of suffering. That being said, we must remember that suffering, for the Christian, is never random, never pointless, and never futile because God is at work. Suffering, for the believer, is always followed by glory. That's why we can face whatever life throws at us, and we can proclaim, “Whatever my lot, thou has taught me to say, ‘It is well, it is well with my soul.’”
It may be Friday, it may be dark, it may be cold, but God is at work because, in just a few short days, suffering will give way to glory. And that rhythm is our rhythm. It may be Friday, but listen to me, Sunday is coming.