Summary: We see three responses to Jesus' death: despair, deliberation from a distance, and conversion. Which group do you most identify with? The cross confronts us with a decision.
Have you ever felt like you’re at a dead end? Like you didn’t really know how to go forward? Maybe you were in a dead-end relationship. Or a dead-end job. Or a dead-end health prognosis. It can be a very hard place to be.
Today we’re going to start at the end. But don’t worry. Next week, we’ll discover a new beginning! Good Friday is all about the end: the end of an innocent life, and thankfully, the end of sin’s hold over us. Easter Sunday, however, is a new beginning: it’s the beginning of eternal life, the beginning of victory over sin, the beginning of a brand new relationship with God. You only have the beginning because of the end. You’ll never fully appreciate Easter until you process what happened on Good Friday. It’s called “GOOD Friday,” not because it was good for Jesus, but because it was good for you and me.
When people look at the cross, they have all kinds of reactions. If you really ponder Jesus’ death, you are faced with a decision: What will I do with this man who lived a perfect life and died a supernatural death? I mean, earthquakes? Temple curtains ripping from top to bottom? Solar eclipses? Something otherworldly happened at Calvary that day, and what does it have to do with me?
C. S. Lewis once said, “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” There is no neutral territory here. If Jesus really did die on a cross and rise again on the third day, then something very important happened that day, that still affects us to this day. So, as we consider our own response, think about the various reactions of those who were present. Which would you most identify with?...
[What does Jesus’ death mean to you?]
1. It meant despair to the crowd
Look at the response of the onlookers, in verse 48: “When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away.” (v. 48)
Beating their breasts was symbolic of terrible hopelessness, extreme mourning. Something had gone very, very wrong. Life had become incredibly unfair for this person. After all, just five days earlier, these same crowds had welcomed him as their Messiah. They dreamed of rescue from Roman rule, of a victorious leader who would give the Romans the boot. And now all their dreams were dashed. Their hopes were crushed. Their hero was villainized. All hope was lost.
Jesus’ death would be a terrible outcome if that was the end of the story. 1 Corinthians 15:19 says, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.” Good Friday would not be very good, if not for Easter Sunday. I have met a lot of folks very angry with God, convinced God has let them down. And my prayer is that they will see there IS hope, that with God, all things are possible, that somehow God’s love for them will shine through me and my love for them. It’s not over until God says it’s over.
The crowd found despair. And those who knew Jesus best? What did they see in his death?
2. It meant deliberation to his followers
Look at their response in verse 49: “But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things” (v. 49).
It strikes me that they were unsure, preferring for their own safety to watch from a distance. They hadn’t given up and gone home in despair, as had the masses. On the other hand, they hadn’t completed trusted God either. They were watching and wondering, waiting and evaluating. Later, the risen Christ would challenge them to believe. But for now, they were standing “at a distance, watching these things.”
In today’s church lingo, we might call them “seekers.” They’re very interested in what God is up to, but they haven’t quite made that faith jump to trust him with their life. You probably know somebody like that. They haven’t rejected the faith; on the other hand, they also haven’t accepted Christ as THEIR Savior. They’re watching, evaluating, checking out the faith, testing the waters, seeing if Jesus really is who he says he is, if God really is real. And they’re watching our lives, to see what our faith has done for us.
The seeker makes me think of the words of John, in John 5:13: “I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may KNOW that you have eternal life.” Notice John calls us to believe BEFORE we know. That’s called “faith.” At some point, we each have to choose: was Jesus a liar, a lunatic, or truly Lord?