Contemplations on Good Friday
By Shery Abdelmalek
The ultimate day that defines Christianity. God could have come in all His glory. He could have showed us the extent of His might. But where would that leave us? Ashamed. Unworthy. Hopeless. Instead, He came as the Son of a Carpenter, a role model, a teacher, the very definition of love. To guide us by example. The events of Good Friday are the last messages of hope and love God gave us before His return to His eternal Kingdom. “He shed tears not only from His eyes but every pore in His Body in such abundance that they appeared as great drops of blood, as proof of His great love for you… It was love that made the Cross more desirable than the throne of glory. [He] embraced it with longing, just as a Bridegroom embraces his bride, for in the Cross is your eternal life.” – Fr Manasseh Youhanna.
Jesus had spent 33 years righting the wrongs of the Jews. He has told them of their hypocrisy, He showed them that love is not confined to the law of Moses, yet in the first hour of Good Friday, He does not speak a word. Just as the prophecy of Isaiah (53:7) said, “He was oppressed and afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; he was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth.” Jesus did not stand before Pilate as a criminal, He stood as a sacrifice. He willingly offered Himself for the sins of the world. It was at this that caused Pilate to marvel, Jesus was no criminal. Jesus could defend Himself. Pilate knew this. When questioning our Christ, surely Pilate had heard of Jesus and knew the beauty of His wisdom. Surely he knew that in His silence was greater wisdom than he could comprehend. If this were not the case, he would not have sent Him to Herod.
Pilate and Herod struggled to find cause to put Christ to death, yet the Jews continued to conspire. The Jews may have mocked Christ for healing on the Sabbath, for cleansing the Temple, for raising the dead, for casting out demons, yet to eliminate the stumbling block of Love that was Christ’s coming, they began to break the Law of Moses. Their complaint against Christ was a matter of religion, it had no place being dealt by any governor.
What accusation could you present against the One who was holy and without blemish? The Jews resorted to blasphemy. They deemed Him worthy of death is accordance with Leviticus 24:16 that reads, “One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer” (Leviticus 24:16). Anyone who has been to grade 1 Sunday school knows that Christ was not stoned. Where in the law is crucifixion stated as the punishment for blasphemy? Where in the law does it say it is okay to crucify for any sin? The Jews needed Pilate to rule in favour of crucifixion because they could not. The Pharisees were too holy to crucify Christ, the law had to find Him guilty.
Even if crucifixion was deemed tangible, whose idea was it to scourge Him before His crucifixion? The scourge was made from pleated bulls hide, knotted on the end with a piece of bone inserted into each knot. Many died from the scourging alone. He was beaten and bruised, “from the sole of the foot even to the head, There is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores” (Isaiah 1:6). They placed a crown of thorns on His Head to mock Him further. Thorns were pushed violently down onto His Holy Head, causing blood to gush down His Face. They pierced His Holy Head for no reason, Pilate had not allowed for it, nor the Jews used it in the past. “If a single thorn can make a young person or woman cry in agony, or send a wild beast of prey howling and darting through the forest, how can we perceive the enormity of pain You endured, My Lord?” (Fr Manasseh Youhanna).
This was could not be about blasphemy, this was about pride. The Pharisees – the ones that knew and understood the Law – were meant to be God’s favourites. They knew so much about God, they thought they were almost God. They had no sin, no need for a Saviour. But now Christ comes, and He chooses the lepers, the blind, the mute, the lame to reveals His glory to.
Why did the Jews fight so hard? They were afraid of change. Change is the very reason why each and every one of us is here today. The ways of the old man need to be put to death. The sins and all that holds us down to this earth, need to be left at the foot of the Cross. Before your very conception, Christ would come down and die for your sins. All that is left is for us all to leave our sins behind and be resurrected with Christ. That brings us to the sixth hour. We can’t be like the Pharisees that proclaim greatness to the people yet despite a tax collector who cries for mercy. We are all in search of mercy. On this day is the time to empty ourselves. Just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4).
Pilate decided to release one prisoner as was customary on the feast day. He gave the people the choice of Barabbas or Jesus Christ. He picked the worst of criminals, deserving of death according to Roman law, in hope that Jesus would be set free. The people chose Barabbas having been stirred by the Pharisees. How could the Pharisees be so blinded by pride to allow a criminal back into the community? Moreover, how many times do we choose Barabbas over Christ? How many times do we neglect Christ because He’s not “cool” enough, because the sin is too hard to stop, because it is too much effort to fight? “How should we who died to sin live any longer in it?” (Romans 6:2). Be sober minded and fight to remain with Christ. Pour out in repentance on this day so that you are raised with Christ. To live in Christ is to live free. The devil may persuade us to remain the same because the spiritual life is a battle. “You’re okay.” These are all lies. “Do you think that only the children of God experience hardships, but those who suffer least are the believers. Their cross is fleeting, light-bearing and fruitful, for they bear it in this life only. After death, they will have rest from all their afflictions, and God will wipe every tear from their eyes (Rev 7:17)” (Fr Manasseh Youhanna).
Today, on the Cross, is your incentive to fight. Today, nothing can separate us from the Love of God. It is finished. “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).
Christ suffered alone on this day so that we would never have to endure any tribulation alone again. We look to St John the Beloved because he stood at the foot of the Cross, but where was he when Christ fell under the weight of the Cross as He carried it up Golgotha? Jesus knows the height of human suffering, not to belittle our suffering, but so that we know there is no One better to turn to in times of need. “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Heb 4:15-16).
At the ninth hour, Christ speaks His final words upon the Cross and fulfils all prophecies. “Jesus has become a surety of a better covenant” (Hebrews 7:22). When it comes to our purpose and the meaning of life, we cannot look past Christ in His final moments. As He breathes His last, He forgives His torments in the very moments they mock Him. He offers paradise to the thief on the right hand as soon as he repents. He remembers His mother and ensures she is taken care of by His disciple, John the Beloved. He cries out to God so that we know where to turn at the first sign of distress. He fulfils the final prophecies before breathing His last. As we look on the events of today, let us remember His suffering, let us beg to share in His suffering and rejoice in our salvation.
“The excellence of the benefit of sitting at the foot of the cross. We merit this if we live a life of faith and godliness, for he who lives tarnished by guilt and heedless of repentance is unqualified to stand before the cross of Christ, which is the ladder of salvation. Standing before the cross indicates a feeling of the need for help of the crucified One. Those who have regretted their sins and have crucified the body along with their passions and desires, derive from their presence before the cross, strength to resist the devil who will flee from them (Js 4:7) because at the cross they see the one of God victorious over the powers of evil.” – Fr Manasseh Youhanna