Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal
Good Friday, Gospel Saturday
Volume 6 No. 340 March 24, 2016
What Did Jesus Do For Us on His Last Days on The Earth?

by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Editor-in-Chief, Malankara World

We are going through the holiest days of Christianity - Maundy Thursday to Good Friday thru Easter. Final days of Jesus' Public Ministry. Everything coming to a big climax.

The core faith of Christianity is based on a Savior who defeated death by his resurrection. We have a savior, who came to redeem us by dying for us on the cross, and then defeated death by rising on Easter. No other religion in the world can claim a resurrected savior. In fact, the resurrection is so important that St. Paul said that our faith is in vain if Christ didn't rise from the dead. Let us look at 1Corinthians 15:12-19:

Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty. Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up - if in fact the dead do not rise. For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins! Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.
- 1 Corinthians 15:12-19

No question about it. Resurrection is the central or core faith of Christianity.

Plan for The Redemption of Mankind

Before Jesus rose from dead, he had to complete what he came to do. One thing was very clear. Jesus knew his mission before his birth/incarnation. It was planned when Adam and Eve sinned at Eden. As the cost (wage) of sin is death, this brought the death into this world. God wanted to save the humanity from this death. But, at the same time, God believes in justice. The price of sin has to be paid. If the whole humanity is to be saved, the price is very high and only one person, the son of God, can pay it.

God so loved us, the people who are made in his image, that he was willing to sacrifice his son to redeem us, in spite of the steep sacrifice His son will have to endure. John 3:16 made it clear:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

We see that love displayed on Good Friday on a cross in Calvary about 2000 years ago on Good Friday. What we see on the cross is pure love, pure unconditional love.

Is that the only choice God had? Could He have done it without having to sacrifice His son? Yes, He could. God can do anything. But the problem is that when you start making exceptions, we all know that there is no end to it and we lose the "tooth" of the law. The fact is God hates sin (yes, he loves the repentant sinner). The only way to take care of this, without diluting His laws, was by sacrificing His son. And God loved us so much that he paid the high price for us by sacrificing His son on Calvary.

So, Jesus was incarnated as prophesied by the prophets. God's son became man, with all the things that come with human beings. He had hunger, he had pain, he had emotions, etc. etc. Jesus, being God, could have used his divine powers to live a life of comfort in the world. In fact, Jesus mentioned a few times that His Kingdom hasn't come. But instead of living like a God or high patriarch, Jesus chose to live like an ordinary human being while he was in earth. He showed us by his example and life how to live a sinless life, how to truly care for others, how to love others. Time and time again, Jesus told His disciples that God is love, unconditional love, agape.

Out of love for us, Jesus emptied Himself and became our brother by making us all eligible to become the children of God, and citizens of heaven. He lived amongst us and shared our pain and happiness. He provided us a shoulder to lean on when we go through trials and tribulations. He wept with Mary and Martha when Lazar died; but then he showed his divine power by raising Lazarus. He was filled with compassion and healed people. Above all Jesus taught His disciples what true Christianity is - he told them that Christians have to follow 'servant leadership' - the biggest among them should be the servant and serve others, not the other way around. To illustrate the point, he washed their legs like a slave hours before his capture and crucifixion.

Last Supper - Russian ICON
Last Supper - Russian ICON

On Maundy Thursday, Jesus gave himself to humanity in the Last Supper, when He instituted our Holy Qurbano or the Living Sacrifice. On the very night he was betrayed, he left us a "new commandment" -- "mandatum novum" (Love one another.) (Please read MWJ Issue 339 for more details.) The Maundy Thursday ends with the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane, another example of the display of His humanity.

Good Friday

Consider the Lord's agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Filled with great anguish, Jesus asked his disciples to watch with him, remaining in prayer. But the day was long and they fell asleep. Was he disappointed? Yes. But then we see this happening today also. We, the disciples of today, often remain asleep when Jesus wants us to stay alert and awake. Jesus felt abandoned and alone. This was followed, in the middle of the night, by the arrest and beginning of the painful road to Calvary.

St. Augustine in Letter 55,14,24 added:

Consider now attentively the three holy days of the crucifixion, burial and resurrection of the Lord. From these three mysteries we realize in the present life that of which the cross is symbol, while we realize through faith and hope, that of which the burial and resurrection is symbol.

The living cross - designed by Dr. Jacob Mathew, Malankara World
Cross - No Greater Love

Death on Cross

Today, cross is the symbol of Christianity. We display it everywhere including on churches and as jewelry on our body. But it was not so when Jesus lived in this world. One of the lasting legacies of Good Friday is that cross became aligned with Christianity.

In the first century, the cross was an instrument of torture, a means not simply of death but of ghastly suffering. Historians tell us that the Romans were experts at killing. They had learned well the lessons of previous empires. They knew that to stay in power, you must be ruthless against your enemies, so they became experts in execution and torture. (The crucifixion in ancient Rome can be compared to beheading used by ISIS today. Cruel, unusual and barbaric.)

Dr. Ray Pritchard describes crucifixion in Jesus' time:

Of all the various ways the Romans had of killing people, crucifixion was the worst because it took so long. The whole point of crucifying a man was to expose him publicly, to nail him up in agony, and to do it in such a way that he might live 24 hours or even 48 hours and in rare cases even 72 hours in unimaginable suffering. There are stories of hundreds of people being crucified at one time, of roads where you could see crosses for miles in either direction, where you could hear the multiplied screams of the dying and the wailing of family members who could do nothing to ease the pain.

Romans used this public execution to serve as a deterrent for future criminals. In Middle East these days, they still follow the 'eye for an eye' principle and the punishment is carried out in the middle of the city in plain view of everyone.

Cruel and Unusual

Crucifixion was bloody, brutal, and inhumane. In today's terminology, crucifixion was the ultimate in "cruel and unusual" punishment. Victims were first beaten, then they were stripped and nailed to a cross. Over time the Romans perfected the process so that the criminal would suffer in agony for hours, being forced to raise himself up by placing his weight on the nails in his hands and his feet, every breath a gasp of searing pain. It was torture in its purest form.

Crucified Christ

Jesus has gone through all that on Good Friday. On this day, we reflect on the Christ's death and the mass of pain and evil weighing upon humanity, the hatred and violence which still bloody the earth today. It reminds us that the Lord's passion continues in the suffering of mankind.

If Good Friday is a day full of sadness, it is at the same time the best day on which to reawaken our faith, to strengthen our hope and the courage to carry our cross with humility and trust, abandoning ourselves to God in the certainty of His support and His victory.

This hope is nourished in the great silence of Easter Saturday as we await the resurrection of Jesus. The Church keeps prayerful vigil, like Mary and with Mary, sharing her feelings of pain and of trust in God. We are advised to spend the whole day in an atmosphere of prayer, one favorable to meditation and reconciliation.

And on Good Friday we also wish to direct our gaze to the pierced heart of the Redeemer in whom, as St. Paul writes, "are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Colossians 2:3), more than that, "in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily" (Colossians 2,9), for this reason, the Apostle can affirm his decision "to know nothing ... except Jesus Christ and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 2:2). It is true: The cross reveals "the breadth and length and height and depth" -- the cosmic dimensions, this is the meaning of a love that surpasses all knowledge -- love goes beyond what is known and fills us with "all the fullness of God" (cf. Ephesians 3:18-19).

On Holy Saturday, the Church, united spiritually to Mary, remains in prayer before the sepulcher, where the body of the Son of God lies inert in a state of repose after the creative work of redemption, realized with his death (cf. Hebrews 4:1-13).
- Pope Benedict XVI

A familiar gospel song tells us what Jesus did on Cross for us:

For nothing good have I
Whereby Thy grace to claim;
I'll wash my garments white
In the blood of Calvary's Lamb.

Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.

When Jesus said from that cross in Calvary on Good Friday:

"It is all finished."

He has completed the redemption task he was entrusted to do.

Jesus has paid for it all. He redeemed us from our sins. He made us children of God. He has released us from the bondage of Satan.

Now we can claim our place he has prepared for us in heaven.


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