Sometimes you get a perfect Good Friday, the kind that starts off rainy and slightly dark and then evening rolls along with the amber rays of the setting sun illuminating the tops of trees and turning the beautiful sky pink then purple. It’s a day like today that has me thinking (it’s hard not to) about the depths of Good Friday.
It’s easy to just post “Jesus died for me and for you,” on Twitter and have that be the end of my thought. …but there’s more. What’s going on here? What’s Good Friday all about?
Our church has been reading John through Lent now, and even before then, and my mind is saturated with John’s description of Jesus’ life and purpose. I think John gives us a strong clue in the words of John the Baptist in John 1:19 – Pay attention: He is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. Before this verse we hear an intriguing and slightly cryptic description of Jesus as the logos or Word of God. That’s a loaded phrase for another day. We also see a new dawn in the current of John’s writing. Something new is about to take place and we’re piqued, curious as to what God is up to and what the writer John is trying to tell us.
Again, John the Baptist says, “Pay attention – The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” It’s here we see just how God plans to make this new thing, the substance and sum of John’s Gospel story, turn out. We’re finding ourselves re-entering the imagery of a Jewish Passover where a sacrificial lamb was given for the “passing over” of a family. After the lamb was sacrificed, blood smeared on the door posts as a flag of intent, that family would begin a new journey out of Egypt (and all the philosophies and gods there) into a life of learning what God alone as God, or the God Who Simply IS, means for them and what a life with him looks like.
Again, ”Pay attention – The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.”
A section of John’s Gospel that I just have not been able to get out of my mind is chapter 14. In particular, this section:
14 d“Let not your hearts be troubled.eBelieve in God;1 believe also in me. 2 Infmy Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that gI go to prepare a place for you?2 3 And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you hto myself, that iwhere I am you may be also. 4 And you know the way to where I am going.”35 jThomas said to him, “Lord, kwe do not know where you are going. How can we know the way?”6 Jesus said to him, “I am lthe way, and mthe truth, and nthe life. No one comes to the Father except through me. 7 oIf you had known me, you would have pknown my Father also.4 From now on you do know him and qhave seen him.” (ESV)
Rooms… Going… Place for you… Where I am you may also be… What is Jesus talking about here? I’ve learned by reading John’s Gospel that the whole Gospel is permeated with a Passover undertone – everything is about the Lamb and God setting his people free because of that simple lamb. Freedom and life are redefined. Life with God himself is shown as a new availability, un-hindered by some kind of performance act or whatever else on our part to catch God’s attention. We, like the blind man in the Gospel are simply approached by the Lord and new life begins to take it’s course.
Back to the words above.
Rooms. Jesus, the Lamb of God, is the connection point between God and humanity. Like the Passover Lamb who’s blood marked those who would walk out into the desert and re-learn a way of life permeated by God’s freedom and calling, we have been and are being set free by the blood of the lamb. No longer experiencing barriers between ourselves and God, we’re called to live into a new plain of existence – a way of truth and life that Jesus himself models. In so many ways, Jesus’ entire being is what sets us free – his blood atones for sin (like the sacrificial lambs) and his essence of life is what we imitate in order to actualize or live out the freedom God has declared to us. Rooms? Rooms are places to dwell. It’s a simple way of saying, “You’ll be with God, under his protection, and in his complete care. You’ll learn the ways of the house, the way of real life, abundant life, and your previous self-destructive and rebellious ways are going to change into peace-filled, love-filled rhythms of life that learn to see others not as resources or objects to dominate or correct but as real people” (and other things like this).
Going to prepare a place for you. Jesus is going to open the place up, make it possible to get into these rooms. Here, Jesus is talking about heading to the cross, I believe. His preparation for us is to pave the way, to remove the barriers that we see and that God himself sees. This barrier is summarized in the word Sin. Jesus’ death on a cross atones for our sin, like the lambs sacrificed in the Old Testament who as they were sacrificed had the hands of the sinner upon their heads, symbolically transferring the sinners sin to the lamb, marking a new beginning through a promise of God (pointing to Jesus).
What about sin? I think it’s easier and warm-fuzzier if we just let God seem like a kind, grandfatherly person in some 4th or 5th dimension who respond to our prayers by saying, “Oh Benjamin… it’s ok. Don’t let your ugly sin and deviation from life and truth and peace and love get you down or make you sad. It’s ok. Just dust off your knees and keep trying, (guffah, guffah).” Instead, I think I have to face this God who is as much mysterious and unknown as he is known and loving. And, somehow, those traits don’t cancel out – that he’s loving to an infinite degree but also strangely mysterious and somewhat unpredictable. That said, in the Old Testament as well as the New (read Acts), we see a side of God who takes serious issue with our sin and deviation from his way and desire for us (which is an eternal quality and quantity of life). God’s desire is for us to live! So, when we rebel and destroy life, ourselves and others, and strike back against God in pride or ignorance, with either action or inaction, God takes issue with that. Again, his desire for us is life, not death. In taking issue, God stands out and says I’m going to do something about this deviation and destruction and self-centered stupidity that you’re mired in. I’m going to destroy it. If you become so inter-tangled in this sin that you can’t tell yourself from the mire you’re grimed in, then the destruction of sin (or non life) is going to rip you apart.
Why does God do this? I think it’s easy to post that he just a just God and wants to even the scales. But I think it’s deeper. I think it lies in God’s desire to fill all creation with life and that life comes only through the connection or re-connection back to God as the source of life. Anything else is a deviation and distortion. So, the destruction of sin is the cultivation of a field for new life. It’s not just to eliminate sin, it’s to fill something with new life. A barren field is useless; the intent is for it to grow something. It is not God’s desire to throw things away but to make room for the way of the Lord, or in essence, cultivate the field for the seeds of life.
I think we can sense this within ourselves, this desire for life, wholeness, God. It’s perhaps vague at first and then it’d given definition as we read Scriptures or are read by the Scriptures.
Back to sin.
Any one of us knows we’re in the mire. Even now, as a “saved” person, still in the mire. So, why doesn’t God just pick me up and destroy me and get me out of the way of his new creation? I mean, many times the patterns I express and impose on this world are destructive and down right stupid and counter to the ways of God (as I look back in hindsight). Why doesn’t God pluck me up and rub me between his fingers until I turn to a fine dust and drift away? The answer is displayed in Jesus’ own words and desire: That where I am going you may be also.
Where’s this? Jesus answers the question: Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” The locale is the Presence of the Father. It’s more of a state of being than a location, really. It’s a relational phrase. Again, it’s made possible by Jesus’ preparation for us – the cross.
Some here have stated that what Jesus means by “where I am going you may be also” is that as Jesus is headed to the cross he means we too are headed to the cross and that this is the end-goal of the Christian faith. In this place in Scripture, I think Jesus teaches us otherwise. I know, elsewhere in Scripture we hear about taking up our cross and following Jesus. I know that to be the command as well as invitation of discipleship. However, I think we’re talking about two things at this moment. The destination of discipleship is not the cross – the cross is a means of following. By means, I mean first and foremost that the cross is an instrument of submission. (Those of us who will feel a continuous need to be right and have the last word will have a hard time with this…) By submission, it foremost deals with individual will and having my own way. As a disciple, learning the Jesus way is a way of dying to self gratification and rising to a new way of life that sees God and other right alongside ourselves, none at the exclusion of the other.
Second, by submission to the way of Jesus, the culture around us that is permeated with an undercurrent of Pride (which in essence if self-as-god and supreme commander – all decisions are made on the premise of what the self can get out of it) doesn’t want to have something of anti-Pride running rampant and so then chooses to kill it, remove it from the social setting, so that business as usual might resume. Here, the cross is an instrument of capital punishment for rebels who have chosen Jesus rather than the empire of self. As a disciple, our association with Jesus and True Love will often nail us to the trees in our society.
Third, the cross is an instrument of mortification. Things die on it. That said, our old selves will find themselves nailed to the tree with the old Jesus and our new selves will find new life with the new Jesus. (cf. Romans 6). This is an obvious metaphoric use of the word Cross.
Returning to Point:
The goal of Jesus is to reunite us to the Father and begin in a new way a new Exodus from the Egypt of our existence. The preparation is in the preparation of the lamb to be sacrificed and in our preparation to leave Egypt. The cross, in Jesus’ own words, were the place of his abandonment by the Father as Jesus himself took on the sin of all humanity as he was nailed to the tree. He died as the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He died for you. He died for me. He died to reveal to us that there is no longer barrier between ourselves and God. He died in place of me and you – instead of me being ground up and blown to the wind, God placed my sin upon Jesus and said in essence, Benjamin, this is what you deserve but you did not receive. I have placed what you should have received upon my son, the Lamb. Instead of death and removal from life, I call you to now to be alive in Christ just as I have raised him from the dead. Now, let me put Jesus’ life within you and his ways within you. May I clothe you with all he is in order that you might truly learn how to live as he is alive.
In summary, Good Friday Theology takes us to Jesus, the Lamb of God, and Jesus takes us to the Presence of God. God desires for us to know himself and life and to be fully alive is to be fully capable and expressive in love. Loving God and loving others is the essence of being alive, but this happens only after we’re set free by the Blood of the Lamb on the wilderness journey toward the fulfilled Kingdom of God which is and yet is not quite yet. Like our ancestors in the faith, we have to learn how to live with God alone as the source of life. This for us, as for our ancestors, is set in motion by God’s intervention centered on a Lamb.