They had hitched their wagons to a star, and now that star had become a flaming meteor, exploding over their heads and threatening to incinerate them all.
Mere days earlier, this Jesus, this Rabbi who had dazzled the country with his miracles and the authority and wisdom in his teaching, had been welcomed to Jerusalem as a conquering hero and proclaimed “King of Israel.”
Now he had been lifted up on the Roman cross. His life blood dripped from the wounds in his hands and feet, and from the gashes left by the flogging ordered by Pilate. Sweat mixed with blood poured from his head. His muscles twitched and cramped painfully. Over his head was a sign: This is Jesus, King of the Jews.
They had hitched their wagons to a star, and to say they were now shocked and dismayed is barely adequate to describe their thoughts and feelings. The disciples had come to believe that Jesus was the long-promised Messiah. If the Romans could execute the Son of the Living God, did it mean that God had at last turned his back on Israel?
Or, had they merely been fools to have given three years of their lives to this Rabbi who was now dying before their eyes? What did it all mean? What was it all about?
When John the Baptist had been imprisoned, he’d sent his own disciples to ask Jesus to reveal himself: Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting or should we keep looking for someone else? John had asked.
Go back to John and tell him what you have seen and heard—the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised to life, and the Good News is being preached to the poor. And tell him, ‘God blesses those who are not offended by me.’ —Luke 7:22,23, NLT
Those words referred to the Prophet Isaiah’s prediction that a day would come when God would restore his kingdom in Israel, a day when the blind would have their sight restored, when the crippled would leap with joy.
The bubble of that joy had now burst and was bleeding before their eyes.
Even on the cross, Jesus remained Jesus. His thoughts were on those around him.
Seeing his mother weeping before him, he spoke to his disciple John and made him responsible for her well-being. He offered this prayer for his executioners:
Father, forgive these people, because they don’t know what they are doing. —Luke 23:34, NLT
He spoke to the two criminals who were being executed with him and told one:
I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise. —Luke 23:43, NLT
And then it was over.
By this time it was noon, and darkness fell across the whole land until three o’clock. The light from the sun was gone. And suddenly, the thick veil hanging in the Temple was torn apart. Then Jesus shouted, “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” And with those words he breathed his last.
When the captain of the Roman soldiers handling the executions saw what had happened, he praised God and said, “Surely this man was innocent.” And when the crowd that came to see the crucifixion saw all that had happened, they went home in deep sorrow. But Jesus’ friends, including the women who had followed him from Galilee, stood at a distance, watching. —Luke 23:44-49, NLT
That was Good Friday. A day of blood, tears, bewilderment, and the loss of all hope. A dark day with just a glimmer of light: a Son who never lost faith in the love of his sovereign Father, even while suffering and dying for crimes he did not commit.
Christians call this day Good Friday because unseen and unknown to the disciples, to Mary, to all of the assembled crowd, the sovereign and merciful Lord of Heaven and Earth was about to pull a rabbit out of his hat. In the midst of aching sadness, in the cold darkness of a stone tomb where his precious Son’s dead body was cooling and stiffening, God was about to do something breathtaking.
At dawn on the third day, the Author and Creator of life would celebrate the first Easter.