Good Friday: The Cross & Discipleship

By Steve Manskar

Wesleyan leadership good friday 218x300
Descent from the Cross (Rembrant). Public Domain.

Good Friday 2011

Today I pray the words of a great Charles Wesley hymn,

O Love divine, what hast thou done!
The immortal God hath died for me!
The Father’s co-eternal Son
Bore all my sins upon the tree.
Th’immortal God for me hath died:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

In worship today we will read and hear the story of how Jesus was beaten, humiliated, and tortured to death on a Roman cross. At the end of that terrible day his broken bleeding body was taken from the cross and laid in a borrowed tomb.

Today we read, listen, sing, and pray as we reflect upon the meaning of his incomprehensible suffering and death. All the while we know that the events of Good Friday are not the end of Jesus’ story. There’s much more to come. And it is incredible. We know that on the third day, on the first day of the week, when the women went to attend to the beaten and bloodied body of their crucified friend, they found an empty tomb! And later that day, depending upon the gospel account you choose to read, we know that the risen Christ Jesus appeared to his friends.

But our knowledge of the end of the story ought not temper our reflection on the meaning of this day; the day when “the immortal God for me hath died.” We must remember that on this terrible day the Love of God was revealed to the world. This love is revealed in Jesus who took into himself all the evil the world can dish out. He did not retaliate or argue he simply took it all into himself. Jesus took the very worst the world can dish out and in response prayed to his Father on behalf of his torturers and executioners, “Father forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing” (Luke 23:34).

As I contemplate the passion of Jesus the words of Charles Wesley’s hymn rings in my ear, “O Love divine, what hast thou done! The immortal God hath died for me!” How can I go on living as though nothing happened? How can the way I live my life be no different than my atheist or agnostic neighbor? The love revealed in the events of Good Friday demands a radical response!

Charles Wesley says as much in the second stanza of his great hymn:

Is crucified for me and you,
To bring us rebels back to God.
Believe, believe the record true,
Ye all are bought with Jesu’s blood.
Pardon for all flows from his side:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

The depth of this love is unfathomable. It is a mystery that human understand will never comprehend. The only response that is adequate is total, complete surrender to this Love and the One who is its incarnation. In Jesus crucified God gave everything and held nothing back. In Jesus crucified God gave God’s very best so that the world may be set free from the powers of Sin and death. In Jesus crucified and risen we know, and can live in the assurance, that Love wins in the end.

How to respond to such love? Will I join Jesus in his way of crucified love? Will I be one of the spectators who pass by oblivious to his suffering love? Or will I become one of those who inflict more suffering upon him?

Behold him, all ye that pass by,
The bleeding Prince of life and peace!
Come, sinners, see your Savior die,
And say, “Was ever grief like his?”
Come, feel with me his blood applied:
My Lord, my Love, is crucified!

Jesus gave very clear teaching about how to respond to his love, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words, of them the Son of Man will be ashamed when he comes in his glory and the glory of the Father and of the holy angels” (Luke 9:23-26).

The response to the love displayed on cross is a life of obedience to that same Love. It is a life shaped by the cross. It is love defined by the cross. Again, Jesus describes the content of this love in Matthew 22:37-40, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”

This cross-shaped life describes the character of a disciple. Discipleship is the discipline of devoting yourself completely to the way of Jesus, which is the way of crucified love. Discipleship means dying to the way the world would have you live and rising to live the way of Jesus. This day reminds me of those oft quoted words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer:

Costly grace is the gospel which must be sought again and again, the gift which must be asked for, the door at which a man must knock. Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: ‘ye were bought at a price,’ and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.

The cross-shaped life is a lived with, by, and for this costly grace.

However, the church in North America is a purveyor of what Bonhoeffer labels “cheap grace.” It offers discipleship as one option among many. It is reduced to a six or eight week program. A “disciple” is anyone who occasionally attends worship and puts a few dollars in the offering plate. It asks little of its baptized members, and receives little in return. Its mission has become its own survival as an institution. Sin is seldom acknowledged as a problem, if it is mentioned at all. Forgiveness is given without any mention of repentance. The kingdom of God is eclipsed by grandiose belief in human ability to create a just and compassionate society apart from divine righteousness and justice. Jesus is reduced to a comfortable friend who loves us all the time and makes no inconvenient demands upon our time.

Cheap grace is killing the church. It is an offense to the crucified Love of God. I suspect that Jesus looks upon the North American church every day and says to his Father the same words he said on that first Good Friday, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.”

My prayer for this Good Friday is that my church will repent of its addiction to cheap grace, and turn its face once more to follow the crucified and risen Savior of the world, Jesus Christ.