Good Friday. A term that unbelievers can’t even begin to comprehend, if they ever bother to look beyond the goodness of having a day off from work some time every Spring. Even then, they have to deal with it falling on different days every year, on a schedule that remains incomprehensible unless one knows how that schedule came to be.
The world sees nothing good about Good Friday beyond that. The devil sees it as a horrible defeat, of course, and the other party in that triumvirate of evil—our own sinful flesh—resists calling it “good” for a variety of reasons. For one, our Old Adam, our unrepentant side, kind of likes the idea of sin and sinning. He would be just fine if we got to wallow in it without anyone having to pay the price, especially us.
For another, in spite of intellectually grasping that Jesus’ death on the cross paid that price and took our sins away, our sinful side dwells in fear that someday, God is going to turn around and say, “Just kidding! I did that just to make you feel guilty about sinning, and to keep you in line. You’re really going to get what you deserve, which is punishment and hell!”
But the other side of us, the part that lives by faith, thinks differently. Or, perhaps more accurately, it doesn’t think at all. It simply trusts. It turns off that tendency to inject our mental calculations and our intellectual rationalizations into our beliefs about God, and simply accepts what He has told us: That Jesus Christ, Son of God yet born of woman, lived a sinless life so He could die as the perfect sacrifice to atone for the sins of all, and then was raised to life again to demonstrate His power over sin, death, and the devil.
That tension, between the doubts and fears of your sinful nature and the confident trust of the new creature you are in Christ crucified, is the reality of the Christian life. It isn’t always going to be comfortable. It isn’t always going to be easy. At times, it’s going to be downright painful, whether physically, emotionally, or spiritually. That’s what tension does, after all—it pulls things, stretches them, re-shapes them, and makes them perform in ways their natural properties sometimes prefer not to perform.
Think about some of the tensions you in live as a Christian for just a moment. One you’ve probably heard about quite frequently is simul iustus et peccator. Simultaneously saint and sinner. Not able to remain sinless, even if our faith is strong and we desire not to sin, which is a rare enough set of circumstances.
How about the “now and not yet” tension of knowing that we are assured of all the blessings God has promised us in Christ, that they are fully ours, yet not fully received?
The certainty of being guaranteed a place at His eternal heavenly banquet, yet having to continue to dwell in a painful, sinful, angry, destructive world—a world that for the most part hates and rejects God and His message of salvation through the cross of Jesus?
Then there’s the mysterious tension of being constantly reminded by that Law of God that we deserve eternal punishment in hell for all our many sins, while knowing that we have been provided His gracious blessings of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life in that promised heaven.
Throughout the letter, the author of Hebrews gives us glimpses of the tensions of the Christian life, often reminding his hearers and readers that many of the giants of the faith experienced these same tensions in their earthly lives, yet remained faithful to their blessed ends. And in that reminder, the author also continues to point those listeners, and us, to Jesus Christ as the only means to address than tension.
To be “in tension” indicates that someone or something is pulled between two or more points; stuck in the middle and feeling it. That’s what we reminded of in the selection from Hebrews we heard as our first lesson just now. Jesus, true God and true man, was placed in the middle for us—our intermediary; our great high priest.
In that tension, Jesus felt the certainty of the Father’s love and had the trust to ask for whatever He needed. He knew that in the fulfillment of His Father’s will, all would be accomplished to the great good. Yet Jesus also felt the pull of Satan’s temptations, the same draw to sin that we feel daily, constantly. Knowing that Jesus faced those challenges and remained sinless, we are encouraged to also approach God the Father’s throne of grace, and to ask for and receive His great mercy.
Jesus prayed, so we pray. Jesus cried out to the Father, loudly and with tears, and He was heard… not because of His divine nature or the perfection or the earnest conduct of His prayers, although both are true of Him. Rather, Jesus was heard by the Father, we are told, because of His reverence—that is, because of His faith. Jesus revered God because He trusted God, to hear Him and to help and support Him.
We indeed have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens. But that’s not all He passed through on your behalf. For you, and on account of your sins and His great love for you in spite of those sins, Christ our Lord went through incarnation… temptation… frustration… flagellation… damnation… isolation…—and finally, expiration. At the end of it all, two of his faithful followers laid his tortured, pierced, and dead body into an excavation. All this, He endured to ensure your salvation.
You may think it’s tough to live as a Christian, facing the tensions and temptations that you do with yourself, with Satan, and with the world. You may even feel tension between you and God sometimes. And, indeed, it may often seem that those tensions are about to pull you this way and that, and stretch you beyond the limits of your ability to withstand them. But you will withstand them; not because you have been drawn between heaven and hell, good and evil, punishment and grace.
Rather, you have been drawn to the font, the pulpit, and the altar, where all these tensions are broken, and with them your brokenness is restored, your wounds healed, your scars erased. Listen again [this day/this night] with fresh ears, as we explore that familiar sacred story of how your salvation was accomplished.
Your great high priest, Jesus Christ, bore all the tensions of heaven and hell for you, stretched across rough lumber, extended and suspended by the nails.
Lamb of God, for sinners wounded,
Sacrifice to cancel guilt!
None shall ever be confounded
Who on Him their hopes have built.
He was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for out iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.