Today is Good Friday. This weekend commemorates and remembers the pivotal moment in all of history. Everything that happened before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ was looking forward to, leading up to and in anticipation of that greatest of sacrifices. Everything that has happened since is in response to it. When humanity fell in the Garden of Eden, God promised an heir who would crush the head of the enemy by offering Himself as a sacrifice, and the entire Mosaic Law and sacrificial system was developed as a foreshadowing of what Jesus would do (Gen 3.15). The perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ in the place of repentant sinners fulfilled the Law and removed from us the burden of making sacrifices, offering us salvation by grace through faith in Him (Eph 2.8-9). Because of His death and resurrection “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8.1).
Much can be said about the intricacies, the beauty and the sorrow of Maundy Thursday leading into Good Friday. (Maundy is a word that was created to summarize the ceremony of washing of feet – and it specifically refers to Jesus serving the disciples by washing their feet before they celebrated the Passover meal that last time. Thus we have a fancy name for the beginning of the final Passover celebration.) Jesus came to the Earth with the purpose of being the final sacrifice for sins. He spoke of it throughout His Earthly ministry, though no one understood. He knew that it was the plan, and He embraced it – “setting His face towards Jerusalem” and the cross (Luke 9.51). He knew of Judas’ betrayal, He knew of the suffering to come, and even with this complete understanding of the plan of God, He begged God for a different way. He was indeed a man of sorrows, and He took the weight of the sins of the world upon His shoulders.
However, He never wavered from His plan, nor lost heart. He went to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover – the holiday of remembrance when God delivered the Hebrew people from Egypt. He was welcomed dramatically on Palm Sunday, with people praising Him while he rode on a donkey. When He and the disciples sat down to celebrate the Passover meal, however, Jesus forever altered the tradition. The Passover meal had been kept in the same way for generations, but Jesus redefined the celebration in His fulfillment of the final and ultimate salvation. He gave new meaning to the elements, namely Himself. We now celebrate the Lord’s Supper – or Communion – in place of the Passover meal because Jesus fulfilled the promise, and we now look to Him. Pastors have been trained to lead congregations through the Lord’s Supper by quoting a passage from Paul’s letter to the Corinthians:
“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, “This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me.” In the same way He took the cup also after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes.”
– 1 Cor 11.23-26
Of all the things that can be observed today, I want to point out that little phrase we have glossed over for years: “On the night in which He was betrayed, He gave thanks.” Jesus had hand chosen twelve men to follow Him and minister alongside of Him for at least three years. They went everywhere together, He taught them, He sent them out and empowered them to defeat demons and heal sicknesses. He loved them. Think about your closest friends from college – how comfortable you were with them, how much you loved them, and how you went through a season of grieving when those years were over. Now amplify that to its extreme. One of those close friends was turned by the religious officials and decided to betray Jesus unto death, for a little bit of money. This was a predetermined part of the plan, and Jesus knew that it was coming. But as He welcomed the men into that room to celebrate and redefine the Passover meal, Judas was already knee deep in his plan.
Jesus washed Judas’ feet. And before He served the Lord’s Supper, this exchange happened:
“As they were eating, He said, ‘Truly I say to you that one of you will betray Me.’ Being deeply grieved, they each one began to say to Him, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’ And He answered, ‘He who dipped his hand with Me in the bowl is the one who will betray Me. The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.’ And Judas, who was betraying Him, said, ‘Surely it is not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus said to him, ‘You have said it yourself.’”
John teaches us that Judas left immediately after dipping his morsel in the bowl with Jesus in order to begin the act of betrayal. Jesus sent him out with these words,
“What you do, do quickly.”
– John 13.27
So we understand that the fulness of Judas’ betrayal began before Jesus broke the bread and served the wine. And yet, though He was being betrayed unto death,
Jesus gave thanks.
We are commanded throughout Scripture to give thanks at all times, to worship and praise God at all times, and to have joy even in suffering and trials. The apostles and early church seem to be un-human in some of the ways the rejoiced: at the plundering of their property, at their imprisonment and torture, at their dispersion and fleeing for their lives… They understood the root of Easter. They grasped the true meaning and they gave thanks. They praised God for the privilege and honor to suffer, just as Jesus suffered. The were thankful through difficulty.
Jesus gave thanks in the very midst of being betrayed unto death. We in the United States have deceived ourselves to believe that suffering is only by the hand of the devil, and Jesus only gives us money, happiness and pleasure. We demonize our circumstances and pray for God to relieve us from those circumstances. We pout, we cry, we get frustrated and we mope. But Jesus recognized that even though He did not want to die, He knew that God’s plan was perfect, He submitted Himself to that plan, and He chose to worship and give thanks.
Today is Good Friday. Jesus was delivered up to death today. He was beaten beyond recognition, His beard was torn out, He had a crown of thorns dug deeply into His scalp, His flesh was ripped to literal shreds with a whip, and He was nailed onto a cross naked. In preparation for that, He gave thanks. Have you given thanks today, for the sacrifice He made? Have you given thanks in the midst of your terrible, no good, very bad day? Are you expecting God to make you happy and comfortable? Or are you choosing to rejoice and be thankful because you have been counted worthy to join in the sufferings of Christ? Let us give thanks.