For Good Friday, Timothy “TA” Ateek teaches through 2 Corinthians 5:21 and encourages us to remember the reason for the cross, the reality of the cross, and the result of the cross.
Good Friday 2023
New Year’s Thoughts | Psalm 71
The reason we are able to call the day that Jesus died “Good Friday” is because we know that the cross is not the end of the story. Yet it is still good to remember the cross and what it means. There are three things to remember about the cross:
As I was preparing for today, I was just thinking about the fact that there are some movies I can watch over and over again, and they are so great I still feel the tension when the tension comes. I still want the plot to change so that that tension doesn't come. Or when someone makes a sacrifice of their life for the salvation of others, it still gets me. I still appear to have something in my eye.
I know we have people of all ages here. For some of you younger people who have seen Avengers: Endgame, that's one of those movies for me. When it seems like Thanos has won, that there is nowhere else to go, that all hope is gone, I feel that tension. I still feel it. I still wonder if it's all going to work out even though I've seen the end. So, even when Iron Man snaps and it changes everything, in that moment, it can still bring me to tears because the sacrifice is so significant, so compelling, so awe-inspiring.
I think about what our hope is for today, and I would say it is that. As we come to another Good Friday… We do this every year, and the tendency is to just say, "Yes, it's one more time where we remember what Christ accomplished on the cross." Yet here's the reality. The reason we are able to call this Friday good or the reason we're able to sing a song, which we just sang… I don't know if you know the name of it, but the name of the last song we sang is "The Wonderful Cross."
How can we call the cross wonderful? It's because we know that even when it seems like it's the end, it's not the end. Even when it seems like all hope is lost, it isn't. We know how the story plays out, yet it is good and right for us to step into this moment on Good Friday and feel the tension of the story, that God who took on flesh bore the weight of all of our sins, and he gave his life. He endured the wrath of God.
The wrath of God was poured out upon the Son of God for your sins and mine. The goal of today is that we would allow ourselves, once again, to feel that tension and to sit in awe of the reality of the sacrifice that was made for you and me. So, here's what I want to do for a short time today. I want to invite you to remember the cross. There are three things I want to invite you to remember.
First, I want to invite you to remember the reason for the cross. Why did Jesus go to the cross? Secondly, I want you to remember the reality of the cross. Then, finally, I want us to remember the result of the cross. I want to do it by looking at just one verse in the Bible. It is my favorite verse in the Bible in terms of unpacking the gospel. It's 2 Corinthians 5:21. We're only looking at one verse, and we're going to break it down piece by piece, part by part. Again, it's my favorite verse in the Scriptures in terms of a verse that really unpacks for us what has been accomplished regarding our salvation.
The reason for the cross has to do with "for our sake." For whose sake? For your sake. For my sake. For the sake of a sinful world. Let's just remember the fact that the cross was God acting on behalf of the world that had rejected him. The cross exists for our sake. As I was prepping, I could not get past those three words. Those three words, as I prepared, developed a new significance for me. I want to invite you into that.
Especially for the kids in the room, I want you to imagine (and, adults, if you want to play along, you definitely can) we have the best drone that has ever been made. What if we walked outside today and put that drone into the air? Just imagine that drone going up high enough to where now you can see the entire city of Dallas from end to end. The building of Watermark doesn't look that big anymore. Right? Because you can see the entire city.
Now take that drone up all the way to where you can see the entire state of Texas from one end to the next. Now the building of Watermark is practically microscopic. Now take that drone all the way up to where you can see the entire United States at one time. The building of Watermark and everyone in it can't even be seen anymore. Now take that drone up all the way into outer space where you can see the entire earth at once.
With that in mind, listen to the words of Isaiah 40:22. Isaiah the prophet says this: "He [God] sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its people are like grasshoppers. He stretches out the heavens like a canopy, and spreads them out like a tent to live in." As the prophet Isaiah is writing this, he's drawing a contrast between God and humanity. God is a cosmic King, and what is humanity? We are just eight billion grasshoppers.
Here's the reality. If you and I were confronted with eight billion grasshoppers, what would we conclude? "There's a plague." It's more than a nuisance; it's a plague. What the Scriptures would say is God is a cosmic King, and we here on earth are grasshoppers. We are meant to feel the significance of God and the insignificance of our existence. But that's not all. We're not just grasshoppers. Isaiah 53:6 says, "All we like sheep…" The imagery changes from grasshoppers now to sheep.
"All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way…" Now in this image, God isn't the cosmic King; he's the Good Shepherd. And who are we? We are the sheep that have wandered away from the shepherd. The shepherd is there to lead us, and we've insisted on going our own way. But we're not just grasshoppers. We're not just the sheep that have gone astray. Ephesians 2:1-3 says this:
"And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind."
So, we're not only grasshoppers or wandering sheep. According to the apostle Paul, we are dead men and women walking. We are physically alive but spiritually dead. We're not bad, meaning, we just need to start being good. We're dead, which means we are incapable of doing anything that would be pleasing to God.
We're not just dead. The text says we're children of wrath. If that wasn't bad enough, then you look at what Paul tells us in Romans 5:10. As he starts it out, he says, "For if while we were [God's] enemies…" So, if you put it all together, when you look at Scripture, what's the picture of humanity? We're insignificant grasshoppers. We're wandering sheep. We are dead men and women walking. We're children of wrath. We are enemies of God.
Yet Paul starts 2 Corinthians 5:21 with "For our sake…" For the sake of the insignificant grasshoppers, for the sake of the wandering sheep, for the sake of the dead men and women, for the sake of the children of wrath, for the sake of the enemies of God. That doesn't compute. It doesn't make sense.
That's why Paul makes this argument in Romans 5:7-8: "Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person…" That's a pretty rare thing for someone to be like, "You know what? I'll die for this person who is a righteous person." "…though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But…" This situation is different from that. "…God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
Do you feel that? "For our sake." If that just rolls right past you, if that bounces right off you, then the question is…Have you grown so callous to it or does something not truly believe that you're an insignificant grasshopper? Something in you is being told by the world, "No, you are significant" or "Your wandering as a sheep isn't that bad." Or to say you can do nothing to please God, something deep down in you is like, "Yeah, but I could." Or the phrase enemy of God feels a little too strong.
No. "For our sake." For your sake. For my sake. The cross of Jesus Christ is a demonstration of God's love toward us. It was God acting on behalf of a humanity that had rejected him. This is incredible news, because questions about God's goodness come to die at the cross of Jesus Christ. When people call into question if God is really good, those questions about God's goodness come to die at the cross of Jesus Christ. Why? Because of three words: for our sake.
God looked at a people in a world that had rejected him, yet he moved on our behalf. A pastor friend of mine, Gregg Matte, says, "Even if God never gave us another thing, he has already given us too much." Even if God never gave us another thing, he has already given us too much, because he operated for our sake. But in order for us to behold the beauty of the cross, we have to grasp the severity of our sin. Remember the reason for the cross. It was for our sake.
That's why Acts 2:23 says, "…this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men." It was God's definite plan for Jesus to be put to death. Octavius Winslow, a pastor from England in the 1800s, said this: "Who delivered up Jesus to die?" Good question. "Not Judas, for money; not Pilate, for fear; not the Jews, for envy—but the Father for love." That's who delivered Jesus up. The Father delivered up his Son for love.
Isaiah 53:10 puts it this way: "Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him; he has put him to grief…" Do you see that? It was God the Father's will to crush his Son, which is amazing to think about, because when we see Jesus praying in the garden of Gethsemane on the night he is betrayed and arrested, he's saying, "Not my will, but your will be done." As we find Jesus in the garden, he is saying "Yes" to God's will to crush him. It was all according to God's sovereign plan.
This is so important. It's good for us to have sober thinking to remember that if left to our own, there is no way. There is no hope. I deserved hell. You deserved hell. I deserved eternal separation from God. You deserved eternal separation from God. There was no way. There was no hope. Yet God created a plan, and God executed the plan to satisfy his wrath toward sin and make his enemies his children. Do you see that?
God developed the plan. That's God the Father. But God executed the plan in the person of Jesus Christ. Only God could create the plan, and only God could execute the plan that would satisfy his wrath for sin and make a way for his enemies to become his children. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…"
This is the reality of the cross. The reality of the cross is on that cross, Jesus, who knew no sin, the sinless, eternal Son of God who took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, became sin. Now what does that mean? Does it mean Jesus became sinful? Certainly not. I think John MacArthur explains it perfectly. Here's how he explains it: "God treated [Jesus on the cross] as if he had personally committed every sin ever committed by every person who would ever believe." The prophet Isaiah explains it like this in chapter 53, verses 5-6:
"But he [Jesus] was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all."
Let's just remember the reality of the cross. For our sake, Jesus was betrayed by one of his closest friends, but that wasn't the worst part. For our sake, Jesus was denied three times by one of his closest friends and deserted by the rest, but that wasn't the worst part. For our sake, Jesus was flogged, most likely 39 times, with a cat-o'-nine-tails, but again, that wasn't the worst part. For our sake, Jesus endured soldiers twisting together a crown of thorns and forcing it into his scalp, but again, that wasn't the worst part.
For our sake, Jesus had to carry a cross that was probably about 110 pounds on his back that was torn up from his flogging, but again, that wasn't the worst part. For our sake, Jesus had metal stakes driven through his wrists and ankles, but again, that wasn't the worst part. For our sake, Jesus hung on the cross like a criminal for six hours, pushing up on the nails in his ankles, rubbing his torn-up back along a wooden cross, just so he wouldn't suffocate, but again, that wasn't the worst part.
For our sake, Jesus experienced the fullest extent of God's hatred for sin. That was the worst part. See, countless people experienced the excruciating pain of Roman crucifixion, and countless people will experience the wrath of God for their sin because they go all of their lives rejecting Jesus' provision, but only Jesus…
Jesus is the only one in all of history who will ever know the crushing weight of the sins of the world being put on him, and only Jesus Christ will know the weight and the pain and the torment of the wrath of God being poured out upon him and experiencing the fullest extent of God's hatred for sin, as the wrath of God was poured out on him and he was crushed for your sin and mine.
John Stott, in his famous work The Cross of Christ, says, "At the cross in holy love God through Christ paid the full penalty of our disobedience himself." Do you see that? On the cross, Christ paid the full penalty. The full penalty for your sin, the full penalty for my sin, the full penalty for anyone who would put their trust in Christ was paid by Jesus Christ. It all fell to him. The one who knew no sin, the perfect, eternal Son of God, who left heaven and came to earth in the person of Jesus, endured the wrath of God for our sake. That's the reality of the cross. Remember the reality of the cross.
This is what people call the Great Exchange. The Great Exchange is God's righteousness to us and our sin to him. Let's just say that together. "God's righteousness to us; our sin to him." That's the Great Exchange. When Jesus went to the cross, all of our sin went to him so that, through faith in Jesus Christ, all of Christ's righteousness could come to us.
This is what distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. Every other religion says, "Here's what you need to do to be good enough for God." Christianity says, "There's nothing you can do to be good enough for God, yet Jesus Christ has come, and he has been good enough for you. He has come to make you right with God." Every other religion says, "Here's what you need to do to get to God." Christianity says, "You can't get to God, and because you can't get to God, God has come to you in the person of Jesus Christ."
He went to the cross and bore our sins so that anyone who would put their trust in him could experience the great exchange: his righteousness to us, our sin to him. A pastor friend, Dan Dumas, puts it something like this: "What we are talking about is God crushing his sinless Son so that sinful enemies could become sanctified sons and daughters." This is why we can call this Friday good, and this is why we can call the cross wonderful.
You know, I started by saying there are some movies that, every time I watch them, I feel the tension. I feel the sacrifice. Yet there are other shows my wife and I can watch, and we'll turn them on because we know they're easy to turn off. We can turn them on, and we can let them play in the background because we've seen them so many times we no longer have to really see it. Our enjoyment has, in some way, been capped.
May it never be with the cross of Christ. This Good Friday, may we roll the tape back. May we remember the reason for the cross. May we remember the reality of the cross. "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…" And may we remember the result of the cross. "…so that in him [in Jesus] we might become the righteousness of God." Let's pray together.
Here's what I want to ask you to do. I want to give you a moment right now to respond in prayer. If you're here today, right here, on your lunch hour, and you do not have a relationship with Jesus Christ; if you have, for the first time in your life, understood the beauty of the cross… You've seen the severity of your sin, and you've seen for the first time your need for a Savior, that without Jesus there is no hope.
If you want to begin a relationship with Jesus Christ right now, then I want to invite you, in the quietness of your own heart… There is no magic prayer to pray. There is no rabbit's-foot prayer to pray, but I just want to invite you, even now, to do business with the Lord and tell him what you want to be true. You can invite him into your life right now.
Just say, "Lord Jesus, would you come into my life today?" Just say, "Thank you, Jesus, that you died on the cross for me. Thank you that you rose from the dead for me." Just say, "Lord Jesus, would you come into my life? Would you forgive me of all of my sins, and would you begin to lead me in a new life with you as my Savior and my King?"
If you're here today, and you've known Jesus for a long time, then I want to invite you in this moment to confess any sin that needs to be confessed, any sin that is in your life right now that needs to be confessed. Maybe you're being reminded of the severity of your sin, that it was your sin that nailed him to the cross. This is a moment for you to do business with the Lord, to confess that sin, to invite his forgiveness into your life, for you to experience his grace. Even in this moment, on your lunch hour, take a moment. Just confess any sin that needs to be confessed.
Then I want to invite you to say, "Thank you." Thank God for the cross. As you remember the reason, the reality, and the result, thank him for something, something that you heard in the message or that we sang in the songs that renewed your heart or your mind to the reality and the beauty of the cross. Whatever it was, whatever you heard, whatever you needed to hear, for whatever reason God brought you here today, would you just say, "Thank you" to him for some aspect of the cross?
Lord Jesus, we thank you. We thank you for the cross. Father, I thank you. It feels weird to pray, yet I thank you that it was your will to crush the Son, and I thank you, Son, Jesus Christ, that you lived surrendered to the Father's will and went to the cross voluntarily. You were not a victim, Lord Jesus; you were a volunteer. You went voluntarily to the cross for our sake. I thank you that you died. I thank you that you were buried. We will celebrate…Sunday is coming…that you rose from the dead, but for now, we remember. And, Holy Spirit, would you do a work in our hearts so that the cross truly is meaningful to us today, we pray. In Jesus' name, amen.