Good Friday: Oh, The Suffering Servant!

Good Friday.  The day Christians all over the world celebrate the crucifixion of our Savior, Jesus Christ.  "But why should this be a celebration?" many may ask; "It sounds like an awful and horrific slaughter."  They're right, it was a slaughter--the final, sufficient, and perfect sacrifice to reunite God with his sinful creation that could only be achieved by Jesus.  This we celebrate; however, this is not the totality of our remembrance, gratitude, and celebration.  For if we only had Friday, today would be a mournful funeral-like day of silence. But we have Sunday!  On Sunday, Easter, we will celebrate Jesus' victory over death as he walked out of the tomb, alive!  He is the first of the resurrection that we hope and long for.

Nearly 700 years before Jesus went to the cross, a prophet named Isaiah wrote of this event.  He declared that the Messiah would bring victory over the oppression of death.  The Messiah, standing as the perfect and final passover lamb, was to be a suffering servant.  His book proclaimed something amazing that the world had never seen before nor would ever see again.  Jesus, as the Gospels proclaim, is the Messiah, the Savior that Isaiah was longing for and the fulfillment of the claims made by his book.  

Only hours before going to the cross, Jesus provided his closest disciples with a picture of servanthood.  As they were arguing over who was the greatest among them, Jesus shed his garments and dawned the attire of a lowly servant.  Taking a bowl of water, he then shocked his disciples by washing their dirty feet.  They were flabbergasted!  Peter, initially would have no part of it.  It seems that none of them could bare the thought that Jesus, the King of Kings and Creator of the Universe, would do such a thing.  We still react the exact same way today.

Nearly 2,000 years after Jesus went to the cross, we find Christians engaging in foot-washing services.  They do this in a symbolic effort to understand and demonstrate servanthood and there's really nothing wrong with it.  But if we are to really see this in its proper context we should have house cleaning services where we put on a maid's apron and clean people's homes.  Or maybe we should pick up trash along the highways.  Or make fast-food french fries.  Or pump out overflowing porta-toilets after the state fair.  Who has ever seen a pastor cleaning the hospital bedpan of one of his flock?  Too often, these are the servant jobs we choose not to see. 

Take for example a common experience for many Americans--the office trash can.  We are more than content to believe that our trash magically disappears rather than thinking that a person comes in at night and empties our trash can.  We are fine assuming that once an item has made it into the can, we need not think of it or the many servants who will deal with it again.  Therefore, we are okay filling our garbage cans with half full coffee cups and sodas which drip everywhere when the liner is emptied.  Or we clean out our file cabinets and book shelves, leaving 60 or more pounds of paper in the can which the janitorial servant can hardly lift as she watches the liner rip apart.  Maybe we clean out the break room, filling the 50 gallon can to the brim with outdated mustard and canned goods and two-week old fish tacos and who knows what else, only to create an immovable block of rotten, smelly food and nastiness.  How about stacking all the outdated phone books twice as high as the can itself?  Have you ever tossed something into a liner-less bathroom trash bin that you knew should have had a liner?   Did you give any thought to the guy who would have to pick all of your trash out by hand before he could resupply the missing liner?

If Jesus were to show up and pump out your septic tank, or bus your table, or drive your cab, you (and I), like the disciples having their feet washed, would be flabbergasted.  Yet, Jesus did so much more than these, and his great service required humility beyond words.  Ironically, in his perfect and humble servanthood, he did something we are totally incapable of doing for ourselves--Jesus bore the sins of our transgressions. 

Jesus, the ultimate servant, said that to have salvation we must repent and believe.  He alone dealt with our sin and he did it on the cross.  He served us and yet it seems that too often we don't think about his service with the gratitude that it truly demands--gratitude that goes far beyond words, gratitude that calls us to completely surrender our own lives to him.  This gratitude should compel us to worship the King and Creator who serves his people!

When we fail to embrace Christ's work on the cross for what is it, we go one of three incorrect directions.  First, there are people who simply reject the servant-Jesus all together.  That is, they either reject that Jesus is who he claimed to be or they refuse to see that he is the perfect example of servanthood.  And when they miss the reality that Jesus humbled himself as a servant, they fail to operate in the way that Christ calls his servants.  They become finger-pointers and self-righteous zealots.  The second direction some people go is to the false elevation of service and Jesus' servanthood.  They will either mistakenly see Christ-like service as a way to salvation instead of an act out of the outpouring Christ's life in us, or they will argue that the Christian need not serve his neighbor at all because Jesus is only a servant and in the name of grace we can demand his services.  So they make service their god or they neglect it all together.  And finally, there are those who will willingly alter their view of Jesus' service on the cross in an effort to hide what they view as shameful or embarrassing--their savior humbling himself even unto death.  For example, one twisted view is to argue that the atonement for sin was complete in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The cross meant very little if anything, which greatly overlooks what the Bible has to say about it.  And in altering their view, the cross and Jesus' sacrifice upon it becomes a symbol that offends them rather than compelling them.  They refuse to see it for what it is.  It is like the son who lies to his friends about what his mother does for a living because she is a housekeeper and he is embarrassed.  The question however, is how does this boy view the roof over his head, his snack food, and his video games--all provided by the very thing that embarrasses him? 

So I would like to encourage you this Good Friday to read the Gospel accounts of Christ's crucifixion.  Think about the Suffering Servant.  Dig deep to find words that reflect your gratitude, if you can.  Attend a Good Friday service and worship Jesus with other Christians.  Pray.  Celebrate Jesus.  Honor Jesus.  Be grateful.  Praise your Savior! 

Then on Easter Sunday, celebrate that death was not the end.  No, not at all.  Jesus holds the keys of death so death no longer has a hold on those who belong to Christ Jesus! 

*The painting, "Mary Magdalene weeping" by Pethrus is used by permission and is licensed under a Creative Commons License.