Good Friday and The Hill of Sacrifice
Just a year earlier, Jesus had experienced the mountain of splendor, the Mount of Transfiguration, with a glimpse of eternity in the worship of the Son of God. He had descended the mountain of splendor that He might now ascend the Hill of Sacrifice.
But how could this happen to the Son of Man? Was it a tragic misfortune, or an accident of history?
No, for the ascent up that hill was the very purpose of His life. He had said so Himself. He had come, He said, not “to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”
Evidently, the climax of His service was His sacrifice. And it was not simply the end of His mortal life. It was much more the goal of His life. It was not the end of the story, but the theme of the story.
For you see, His death is the primary theme of the Scriptures. Throughout the Old Testament, His death was both foreshadowed and foretold.
The major theme of the Old Testament revelation is that “guilt is covered through sacrifice.” And consequently, the only approach to God is through sacrifice, because guilt separates a person from God.
Because God loved you and me so much, He sent His Son to go to the Hill of Sacrifice. But first, came the Night of Conspiracy!
The Night of Conspiracy
In that night of Jesus’ betrayal and arrest, the religious officials had questioned Jesus harshly. Jesus answered honestly that He was the Christ sent by God. This only infuriated them more and intensified their clamor for His death. For that, however, they would have to wait until morning.
But all through the night, the men who held Him in custody subjected Him to humiliation. They beat Him, spit on Him, and mocked His claim to be the Christ. And when the morning came, they handed Him over to the civil authorities who did have the right of execution.
The Day of Injustice
On that day, even though Pilate could see that the desire for Jesus’ execution was out of envy and not to see justice take place,--yet, he did not wish to stand in the way of the mob. And though Pilate had sought Jesus’ release in the beginning, he gave in to the relentless pressure in the end.
Jesus would be crucified. Already He had been scourged. The lethal whip with pieces of rock and metal in its leather strips had torn His back to shreds. But that was not enough to satisfy those drunk with hatred. Jesus must be crucified.
So up the Hill of Sacrifice they pushed Him. The cross block was on His back, and a wreath of thorns was thrust on His head. And all around Him was the crowd, . . . howling, barking, and growling like animals. And even then, He persevered up the hill, surrounded by inhuman creatures intent on His death. He did not yell or curse back,--He did not struggle to get away.
At last, they came to the place of execution. Many had likely seen crucifixion personally. Those who had not seen had undoubtedly heard of it. They knew of the procedure.
First, the hands of the victim were either bound or nailed to the crossbeams. He was then hoisted up and affixed to the upright, and then the feet were nailed. His body weight would have torn his hands from the wood, except that he sat astride a wooden block in the center of the upright. This also prevented a quick death by suffocation from an inability to raise up oneself for breath. So, the wooden seat did not ease the pain, but prolonged it.
It has been written of crucifixion: “A death by crucifixion seems to include all that pain and death can have of the horrible,--dizziness, cramp, thirst, starvation, sleeplessness, traumatic fever, shame, horror of anticipation,--all intensified just up to the point at which they could be endured at all, but all stopping just short of the point which would give the sufferer—the relief of unconsciousness.”
For the first century executions were much different than modern ones, for they sought an agonizing torture which completely humiliated its victim.
While on the cross, Jesus spoke seven times. Shortly after His third saying, the sky began to strangely darken. In a short time, mid-day, became twilight and twilight became midnight, and a supernatural darkness had fallen upon them all.
The crowd became quiet and began to disperse.
Something strange and fearful was happening. One could feel it all around them. But what was it? Some looked to the sky for an answer, and others to those around them. But then a horrible cry came from the central cross. “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” And in this cry, they had their answer.
The darkness Jesus had resisted had engulfed Him. Not the darkness of the sky, but the darkness of sin. And the darkness of the sky had simply foreshadowed it.
Punishment for the sins of others was falling upon Christ. And the punishment for sin was separation from God,--first through spiritual death and secondly through physical death. Christ would soon taste the second, but now experienced the first. And when He did, His cry of agony shot through the darkness like a thunderbolt.
Christ was suffering in our place, and our penalty was separation from God forever. But this One who was suffering was also God, and His suffering was infinite in worth those hours upon the cross. So when that time was over, the thirst, darkness, and pain ended too. The work He had come to do had been done. The gift of life was fully purchased.
A great work had been accomplished. Then John tells us, “He bowed His head and gave up His spirit.” His work was now over, and upon the wooden pillow of the cross, He laid His head and rested from His work.
But why did He do it? He did it for you! Christ did for you, what you could never do for yourself!
Sandwiched between the horror of crucifixion and the glory of resurrection, . . . between the sorrow of Friday and the celebration of Sunday is “the Silence of Saturday.” A day when Scripture and even the Angels are silent. A day for those first Christ Followers when they might have felt that even God was silent, either not concerned with their pain and struggles or unable to do anything about it. It is Saturday, with its silence and all its struggles, . . . but Sunday’s coming!