Good Friday As Good News, Part IV
To give you a refresher on the first few blogs in the series, before starting on part four, here’s what I emphasized:
1 – The cross was a very ugly symbol of power, oppression, and torture much like a lynching noose, an electric chair, a water board, or a gas chamber. We do not do justice to Jesus, to God, nor to the power of evil and the power of love if we do not let the cross be the horrendous event that it was. It was not a beautiful wall decoration, necklace, or glass window, it was a hangman’s lynching noose. But, if we face the horrendous nature of the cross, we can grasp the Good News as well.
2 – Neither Jesus in the Garden, nor Jesus’ disciples, understood fully why the cross was necessary as a means of God unleashing God’s love more fully than ever before. Jesus asked God “If possible let this cup pass,” and the disciples totally lost hope at the crucifixion – “We used to hope that he was the Messiah.” The risen Jesus now saw that it was necessary and an event of honor (Luke 24:26), but still the disciples wrestled with what this all meant, and the book of Matthew ends with the phrase “but some still doubted” (Matthew 28:17). If these pioneers of the faith found the cross difficult to understand, we should not hesitate to ask God to give us the blessings and benefits that God has unleashed through Jesus’ faithfulness even if we do not fully understand necessity of the process. And, this is certainly Good News for those of us honest enough to acknowledge how little we fully understand.
3 – The New Testament is very clear that the Cross is on both God’s part and on God’s Son Jesus’ part an act of chesed (stubborn, committed love) for the world. Never did the New Testament writers speak of Jesus buying off an angry God, but rather of Jesus faithfully at all cost cooperating with his Loving Father in providing a way of redemption for all of us humans. And, the victory of God’s love over human injustice and death is certainly Good News!
As I mentioned, the New Testament writers saw the meanings of the cross very much like a prism that with many facets all of which focus on God and God’s Son Jesus, but then reflect various aspects of God’s great creative and saving work in the world. One of the meanings, one facet of this prism, one that is a bit less emphasized in the New Testament writings than some others, but one that has become a major part the modern analysis of the world is the experience of futility and meaninglessness.
ANOTHER MEANING of the CROSS – GOD ADDRESSES THE HUMAN EXPERIENCE of FUTILITY, VANITY, and MEANINGLESSNESS
Some philosophical and artistic expression of the past century has increasingly focused on the human experience of life and history as futile, vain, and meaningless. This theme is found in many movies, songs, raps, and paintings, as well as in the literature and plays written by various existentialists and post-moderns.
However, the theme was not discovered in the 20th and 21st centuries. It was in fact addressed powerfully in the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes which begins “Futility of futilies; all is futile” also well translated as “vanity of vanities; all is vain” or “Meaninglessness of meaninglessnesses; all is meaningless.” Of course, the Biblical writers also speak of human life as a gift fraught with meaning, but they never deny the existence of the abyss of meaninglessness and futility that also surrounds us in both natural history and human history.
The New Testament writers believed that Jesus fully entered into the human experience of futility, and that he is God’s way of overcoming this abyss of futility from inside human life and history.
Here are some passages that address the human experience of the tension between meaning and meaninglessness in the light of the cross. Can this be Good News?
18 I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; 20 for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; 23 and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. 26 Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27 And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God. 28 We know that all things work together toward good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn within a large family. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called; and those whom he called he also justified; and those whom he justified he also glorified.
Although this passage is ultimately a call to hopeful expectation, it is an acknowledgement that we often experience both nature and daily living as so futile that we do not even know how to express our prayers in words, but only with the sighs of those burdened by the futility around us and sometimes within us as well. Mark 8:12 tells us that Jesus sometimes experienced this “What can you do but sigh” sense of futility in dealing with others, and Mark 14:33-34 tell us that Jesus was experiencing this overwhelming sense of being on the edge of the abyss as he prayed in the garden just before he was arrested and executed.
1 Peter 1:18-19
18 For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the futile (empty, meaningless) way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of the Messiah, a lamb without blemish or defect.
Peter witnesses to his personal experience of what God accomplished through Jesus’ faithfulness. Peter believed that even as Jesus faced and experienced torture and execution because he was seen as a danger to the state and to his church, God was waging a direct assault upon the experience of futility and meaninglessness we humans often experience in the face of the injustices and brokenness of our cultures and our religions.
1 Corinthians 15:14-19
14 And if the Messiah has not been raised, our preaching is useless (futile, vain, meaningless) and so is your faith. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised the Messiah from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then the Messiah has not been raised either. 17 And if the Messiah has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in the Messiah are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in the Messiah, we are to be pitied more than all others.
Many Christians today (usually affluent Westerners) claim that even if Jesus did not die for our sins and God did not raise Jesus from death; still Christianity is a “good religion.” Apparently, some Christians in the 1st century faith community of Corinth held this same view. Paul’s personal experience of human history, of his own sincere failures, and of churches such as the one at Corinth was in major contrast with this view. Paul was certain that if God was not redeeming humanity through Jesus’ execution and resurrection, then everything we call “Christianity” was futile, meaningless, and useless. If God left Jesus in the grave, the main message of Jesus’ life is that no matter how good and faithful you are, it is all futile, because injustice, evil, and brute power always wins in the end. That is the abyss over which all of life and history hang. And, it is directly into the face of that abyss that God creates meaning for human history and life that exceeds our wildest imagination.
Yes, Good Friday is certainly Good News when life and love prove more lasting and more powerful than futility and meaninglessness!
As always, if you have any thoughts, comments, or questions about this post, or if there is another topic you would like me to explore in a future post, please leave a comment. I always enjoy your questions and thoughts. / Ron