The Feast Comes First!
Today we hear a lot about ‘divine child abuse.’ That’s what some people call Good Friday, when Jesus died in our place on the cruel cross, taking upon himself his Father’s judgment on our evil lives. Isn’t it a lot better to think of it this way, they say, that God just loves us so much that he makes everything better for us through Jesus? Do Easter without Good Friday.
Besides the Bible that makes it crystal clear that Jesus knew what he was doing when Friday came, there is the truly remarkable book by Dane Ortlund, GENTLE AND LOWLY: THE HEART OF CHRIST FOR SINNERS AND SUFFERERS, that brings us the genuine Jesus, the one gentle with us sinners. Hear how he says it: “the heart of Christ not only heals our feelings of rejection with his embrace, and not only corrects our sense of his harshness with a view of his gentleness, and not only changes our assumption of his aloofness into an awareness of his sympathy with us, but it also heals our aloneness with his sheer companionship” (p. 118).
The Nehemiah story tells it that way. God’s people are home again, back from exile. They have the city walls up again and their ruined homes restored. Then what? “And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. [Nehemiah 8: 9 – 12]
Of course we weep when we understand our God’s calling to us, ‘love the Lord with ALL YOUR HEART, and you neighbor as yourself.’ There are too many clunky idols in our hearts that get in the way of making room for Jesus, aren’t there? Why not weep about that, or even grumble about the Lord’s child abuse? But no, on this holy day, ‘eat the fat and drink sweet wine’ with ‘great rejoicing!’ Since ‘the joy of the Lord is your strength,’ knowing deep down that my awesome God sent his Beloved Son to die for me! Good Friday is Good, all the way from Heaven down to us.
Here’s one little hint for how you can ‘drink sweet wine:’ when you pray, do ‘in Jesus’ name’ at the beginning. ‘O Lord, I know I don’t ever deserve to be in your holy presence, but I claim the blessed promise your Beloved Son gave me, that whatever I ask in his name he will give me. So now I ask you to be close to me in your kindness and take all I ask of you for your own Glory. Now I pray:’
That’s really how it is, Good Friday comes first, and it’s totally Good, so much love from Jesus who had to cry out, ‘my God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ We know why and Jesus does too, right now. We are united with Jesus and with him in all our Father’s, Son’s and
Spirit’s love, as we look ahead to Good tomorrow.