Along with other members of the 1:11 ministry team, I had the privilege of sharing at my home church for Good Friday. Below are some of the thoughts I shared and the music we used.
It happened over three thousand years ago, and we’re still telling the story today.
Three thousand years ago, life was cheap.
Three thousand years ago, a slave was just a talented animal—someone you could use any way you wanted to, the powerful ruling the weak. And that was how people thought it should be.
Three thousand years ago, gods were many, with the heads of jackals and falcons or the bodies of cobras and crocodiles. In Egypt—one of the world’s most ancient civilization—they worshipped the sun and the darkness, the gods of the Nile River, and the king of Egypt himself.
That king had a whole nation of slaves—a nation named after their forefather, “Israel.” God himself had named their father—changed his name from Jacob, which meant “deceiver,” to Israel, which means “a prince with God.” God had made them promises—to multiply them, as many as the stars and the sand, and to bring them into a land of their own.
They were the people God loved.
And now they were living as slaves in a nation, and the god-king had begun a systematic genocide by throwing their newborn sons into the Nile.
They had not heard from their god in a long time. But they cried out—“Deliver us!”
In answer to their prayer, God came to Moses in the burning bush. “I have seen the affliction of my people, and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”
The story has been told in every synagogue and every Sunday school for thousands of years. Piece by piece, God dismantled the powers of Egypt. He darkened the sun. He turned the Nile to blood. And he taught the king of Egypt—and the whole world with him—that he was not a god.
The final rescue came in a strange symbol. The night before they left Egypt forever, the people of Israel killed a lamb and marked their doorposts with its blood. The top. And side—to side.
They were the people God loved. And he displayed his power and delivered them into freedom. He made a covenant—a marriage—with them.
But in the centuries that followed, the people of Israel—the prince with God—proved that they could not be free. Their hearts were enslaved—
Enslaved to idolatry, as they worshiped other gods.
Enslaved to sin, as they broke God’s commandments.
Enslaved to lust, and greed, and bitterness, and anger, and envy, and hate, and rebellion, and pride.
Slaves to going their own way.
Spiritual slaves, Israel physically came under the power of tyrant after tyrant. Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, and finally Rome.
And all the time, the worshipers of God every year sacrificed a lamb and remembered that they were once freed from slavery and death by the blood of a lamb on their doorposts. They ate a meal to commemorate that night and called it “the Passover.”
They were the people God still loved.
How far will love go to set the captives free?
On a day we call Palm Sunday, Jesus rode into the city of Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover—the memory of deliverance from slavery. As he entered the city, the people cried out a prayer:
The word is Hebrew.
It’s a cry for help—it means, “Save us!”
And it’s a cry of praise—it means “Salvation has come!”
There’s a traditional Jewish song that’s still sung on Passover. It’s called “Dayenu.” The word means “it would have been enough for us.” The song goes through the many incredible things God did—Sending the plagues. Parting the Red Sea. Feeding his people with manna. And proclaims “It would have been enough for us”—the generosity of God gave more than anyone could reasonably expect.
But his generosity wasn’t finished. He displayed it again when he rode into Jerusalem on that donkey.
The gospel of Luke describes the scene: “And when he was come near, the whole multitude began to rejoice and praise God with a loud voice for all the mighty works that they had seen; saying, Blessed be the King that cometh in the name of the Lord: peace in heaven, and glory in the highest!”
But you know the story—in less than a week, the crowd changed, its cries of welcome turning to “Crucify!”
Slaves in heart—unwilling to change masters.
But how far will love go to set the captives free?
What if the captives are holding hammer and nails? What if they’re screaming for your death?
The chief priests and Pharisees sent armed soldiers to arrest Jesus in a garden in the middle of the night. And as the Son of God submitted to the force of man, he said unto them, “This is your hour, and the power of darkness.”
The following day, the blood of the Lamb dripped down the doorposts of humanity. He hung above, his arms stretched from side—to side.
How far will love go?
We will—sometimes—take love to the limits of our strength.
Caught up in our passion for someone else, for our children or our families, we might put all of our effort into getting them out of Egypt. We might take on the gods of the dark. We might hear that cry: “Lord, save! Deliver us!” And with a vision of freedom, we would gladly put all our energy into answering it.
God did that.
Any sane person would say that was enough. No more required.
But it wasn’t enough for him.
Sheer power—brute force—couldn’t break the chains of sin. Israel was rebelling against God before they’d been out of Egypt for mere hours.
Slaves on the inside.
How far will love go?
If you’ve ever tried to set someone free, you know—sometimes it takes more than just doing something for them. Sometimes it takes giving yourself. It takes coming.
So Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.
But then? If you are with them, if you enter into their suffering, if you teach them and you help them and you heal them and you give your days and your nights and your sleep and your every waking minute to them and they still scream “Crucify” at the end of the day?
We reach our limit.
We can’t go any farther.
We step away and let them stay in chains.
We’re only human, after all.
But Jesus—Jesus didn’t know you should give up.
He crossed a boundary we can’t.
He still wanted Israel—his prince.
And beyond the borders of the Promised Land, God saw a world still suffering. Enslaved to sin and to oppression.
“I have seen the affliction of my people and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters; I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them.”
Isaiah prophesied of a day when a Son of David would be lifted up like a banner, and all of the nations would come to him to find rest. To find freedom. Jesus told his followers, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all people to myself.”
The apostle Paul wrote, “Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
How far will God’s love go?
With his arms wide open, Jesus delivered us from slavery.
With his blood covering us, Jesus released us from the power and consequences of our own sin.
With his arms wide open, Jesus forced death to pass over us. Over me and you.
With his executioners still standing around mocking, he said a fierce, glad “Father, forgive them!”
The night before they left Egypt, the people of Israel feasted on the lamb that was killed to cover them. Using that picture, Jesus invited his people to eat and drink of him—to find our life in him. To enter into the most intimate relationship possible.
With a God who has shown us exactly how far love will go . . . to set the captives free.
In Revelation 5, John saw a vision of thousands upon thousands of angels singing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation.”
This is Good Friday. It’s a day when people from nearly every tribe and language and people and nation remember how far love went for them. It’s a day we remember that death came to Jesus and passed over us; that he opened his arms and exposed his heart to the worst cruelty so that we would experience fullness of joy, that he allowed himself to be taken captive and crucified so that we would be set free and resurrected.
It’s amazing that we can get used to this—that we can take it for granted. The fact that this really happened should leave us breathless and totally overcome.
Hosanna. Salvation has come.