This Friday marks one of the most tragic and triumphant moments in human history. On a hill shaped like a skull, the Son of God hung on a cross between two thieves. Satan surely thought he was witnessing God’s greatest defeat, but he was witnessing his own ultimate destruction and the possibility for those dead in trespasses in sin to come alive now and forever.
Jesus died that we may live. He paid the price and shouldered the entire load of all our sins. This day is referred to as “Good Friday,” but, my friends, this day was truly “better than good,” as Zig Ziglar says. Jesus, the mediator between God and man, made it possible for us to experience abundant life now and eternal life forever.
As Jesus looked out from the cross at the very ones who had spit in His face, forced a crown of thorns on His head, twisted His beard and ripped it out, scourged Him with 39 lashes and drove the spikes into His hands, He prayed, “Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”1
How could such merciful words come from one who was experiencing the most painful form of death? Because He knew the truth: They did not know what they were doing. The god of this world had blinded the eyes of the unbelievers and they were held captive by Satan’s power. Jesus prayed forgiveness on their behalf.
I was also there, as one to whom He offered forgiveness. All of us were there and our sins contributed to every aspect of His death. He accepted the wages of sin, which He never earned, that we might receive the forgiveness of our sins, which we never deserved. It is grace! It is mercy! It is God and His love revealed through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Max Lucado shared this truth concerning Jesus: “Christ lived the life we could not live and took the punishment we could not take to offer the hope we cannot resist.” May God help us to pray with the same compassion and mercy toward who are in bondage to the prevailing power of darkness in our world.
Shortly after I accepted Christ as a teenager, I heard a message on the crucifixion. I was deeply moved by Jesus’ ability to forgive those who hurt Him so severely. I was also moved with an overwhelming sense of compassion when I heard how Jesus was treated when He requested water. He simply said, “I thirst.2 Those gathered around at the foot of the cross responded in cruel fashion to one of the only personal requests Jesus ever made. They took a vinegar- and gall-soaked sponge, lifting it on a pole, and thrust it past His parched lips into His dry mouth.
As a boy, tears welled up in my eyes as I thought how awful that act was. I remember thinking, “I wouldn’t have done that to Him! I would have given Him water! I wish I could have helped Jesus!”
As I now look over nearly 50 years in my journey, I realize I have been giving water to Jesus all over the world. As a matter of fact, I have had the joy of offering life-giving spiritual water to the millions of people who responded and drank deeply of the water of life by trusting Christ. Betty and I have also traveled to some of the harshest regions in the world and drilled water wells with the assistance of caring friends, quenching the physical thirst of millions of people. We have experienced the reality of what Jesus said in one of His last messages on this earth: “I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink.” His disciples asked, “When did we do this?” He responded, “When you did it to the least of these, you did it to me.”3
I am so thankful for that merciful moment when Jesus died 2,000 years ago. It was because of this gift that we can experience the greatest gift: life itself. On Sunday, people around the world will celebrate the glorious resurrection of Christ on that first Easter morning. As the song says, “Up from the grave He arose.” And because of His resurrection, we can experience the triumphant life He freely offers.
It is my prayer that this will be more than the celebration of the crucifixion and resurrection. I’m praying this weekend will be the beginning of new life, with all things new in Him. Through faith in Jesus, we can experience the power of the resurrected Lord living in us. He offers forgiveness and the opportunity to live in fullness and fruitfulness for the rest of our lives.
In my early years of ministry, I read the story of a remarkable experience with Christ. Years ago, there was a pastor famous for always preaching Jesus. Every message centered on His person. A well-known poet and atheist came to visit the respected minister. The conversation went like this:
“Sir, I understand you preach about Jesus.”
“Yes, He is the center of my messages.”
“May I tell you my story about Jesus?” the poet/atheist asked.
“Of course,” the pastor answered.
“I was an enemy of God. I was a foe of the church and a critic of Jesus Christ. I hated the very thought of God, and I would not allow my wife or children to attend church if I could possibly prevent it. One day I was sitting at my desk writing and heard a commotion downstairs, out front. I ran down the stairs, out the front door and down the steps. As I approached the street, I saw a bent, bloody bicycle.
“I shouted to someone standing beside the street, ‘Whose bicycle is that?’ They answered quickly, ‘It’s your boy’s bicycle.’ I asked, ‘Where is my boy?’ Someone shouted, ‘They just took him away to the hospital. He was hurt very badly!’
“I rushed inside and began to call the nearest hospitals. I found where a boy had just been brought in. I rushed to the emergency room and was led to the bedside of my son, who was terribly injured. As I looked down into his eyes, brushed his hair away and heard him say, ‘Daddy, I’ve been hurt real bad. I’m going to die!’
“I responded, ‘No, son, you won’t die!’
“He said, ‘Yes, Daddy, I’m going to die!’
“‘Oh no, son.’
“‘Daddy, would you pray with me?’
“I said, ‘Son, don’t ask me to do that.’
“He said, ‘Please pray.’
“I answered, ‘I don’t know how. I’ve never prayed.’
“My son continued, ‘Daddy, one day I went to church, and I went to Sunday School when you didn’t know about it. While I was there, my Sunday School teacher told me that Jesus loved me and that if I ever got hurt or needed help, I could pray. She said Jesus would answer me and told me He is the best friend a boy could ever have. I prayed with her and Jesus heard me and He’s with me. Daddy, , I’m almost glad to go.’
“I said, ‘Son, you’re not going anywhere. You’re going to be all right.’
“He said, ‘No, Daddy. I’m going to die. But it’s okay. Please pray with me.’
“I repeated, ‘Son, I don’t know how to pray.’
“‘I’ll tell you what the Sunday school teacher told me to say,’ my son said, ‘and you say it after me. Please, Daddy.’
“Slowly, I bowed my stubborn head and listened as my son said, ‘Our Father, which art in heaven.’ Then I said it.
“‘Hallowed be Thy name.’ I said it.
“‘Thy kingdom come.’ I said it.
“‘Thy will be done!’ I could not say it. ‘Please, Daddy. Say that–that’s it! Please, Daddy!’
“I opened my lips and uttered, ‘Thy will be done.’
“Suddenly, little fingers fell limp in my hand. His eyes were set, lips were stilled. My son was gone, but miracle of all miracles, the Jesus who went away with my son stayed in my heart: Lord and Savior throughout the ages. That’s my story about Jesus.”
My dear reader, Jesus is the way. He is alive. Forgiveness and life are available because He died that we might live. He conquered death and is alive to live in us. May we, with yielded hearts and open minds, pray, “Thy will be done.”
1 Luke 23:34
2 John 19:28
3 Matthew 25:42-5