I walked into a room of strangers tonight, alone, a bit uncertain if I was comfortable with even being there, yet it was an opportunity to stop the noise of the week and focus on the most important of events this world has known — the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
The words are so familiar, and when read or heard from the comfort of a padded pew, they don’t seem to sink in. As the minutes went by, between songs, scripture, the taking of communion, the distractions began to wane and the tears began to flow.
Knowing how hard it is to get people to focus, I was grateful when the most important reading was read not once, but twice:
It was now about noon, and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
The centurion, seeing what had happened, praised God and said, “Surely this was a righteous man.” When all the people who had gathered to witness this sight saw what took place, they beat their breasts and went away. But all those who knew him, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching these things.*
I don’t think I’d ever thought about those who beat their breasts and went away. At the sight of Jesus’ death, they must have lost all hope or had a sense of the finality of it all. Yet, there were others — who knew him — yes, those who knew him, just stood at a distance, watching it all, taking it in. The one they knew, they loved, they left all to follow had just breathed his last.
Did they then remember the words of an ancient prophet?
Who has believed our message and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? He grew up before him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.*
Did they believe the message as they walked away from the cross that day? Did they realize he’d been pierced, crushed, punished for their sins?
There is so much talk about guilt these days. People in public and private life are accused of crimes. Some accept blame, others not. Some are guilty, others not. Yet, there is one sentence of guilt that we cannot avoid — the guilt of sin. We’ve all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. Through the cross, he proclaims us “not guilty.” What an amazing release that is to be freed from the weight of the sentence we deserve.
There are two songs which speak to me about this, one was sung tonight in English (“You’re Not Guilty Anymore”), the other is one I love in Arabic (“By His Stripes we are Healed”).
Whether you read this on Good Friday or a normal Tuesday, I pray you will know the joy of being proclaimed “not guilty” by the one who bore your sins out of his love for you.
You’re not guilty any more, or you don’t have to be. Just believe in Jesus.
Grace and Peace
*Luke 23:44-49 (NIV)
*Isaiah 53:1-6 (NIV)