Good Friday.

Dear CTK Nampa Family,

Today is Good Friday, the day we reflect on Jesus’ crucifixion in anticipation of his resurrection on Sunday. Years ago, I went to the movie theater and watched the movie, “The Passion of the Christ”. Growing up as a missionary kid and in church, I had seen several film depictions of Jesus and the Gospels, but nothing ever affected me like this movie–particularly the scenes of the crucifixion. Maybe it was the time of life for me, or maybe it was just a well done film, either way I was overwhelmed with the palpable sensation of watching someone I loved dearly suffering and then dying. It brought the personal element of my relationship with Jesus into sharp focus.

While it is important that we understand the extent to which Jesus suffered and the absolute horror of his death, there are other facets of this Holy Week that are also worth noting. There is one thread of the story that has intrigued me over the last several years. It has to do with the two criminals crucified with Jesus. Luke describes the crucifixion by painting a picture of Jesus, nailed to a cross with two criminals crucified on his right and his left. 

Not only does this give us a vivid picture of the scene on Golgotha, it brings up an interesting possibility as to what Luke is saying between the lines. So much of telling the story of Jesus (at least 30 years later for all four accounts) was peppered with the hindsight reflection of the authors on what Jesus had done and what it meant to them after the fact. You all know how much I like to look at the larger narrative around Bible stories, so consider this:

In Mark chapter 10, he tells us about Jesus, on his way to Jerusalem (think, Palm Sunday–Triumphal Entry) with his disciples. The disciples are bewildered at everything that is happening and the people following behind them are terrified of what is coming. At one point, Jesus pulls the disciples aside and explains that he will be betrayed, sentenced to death, mocked, spit on, flogged and killed–then rise again three days later. 

In response, James and John do the oddest thing. They approach Jesus together and ask him if, “when he sits on his glorious throne”, he would give them places of honor (and authority) on his left and right sides. Jesus’ response? “You don’t know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of suffering I am about to drink?”–Mark 10:38 They assure him they are up to the challenge.

Jesus continues, “…I have no right to say who will sit on my right or my left. God has prepared those places for the ones he has chosen.”. None of the Gospel accounts say this explicitly, but I can’t help but wonder if there might be some connection to the place where this all ends up–Golgotha. Jesus was beaten, humiliated and nailed to a cross. Two criminals who knew they deserved the death sentence, were hoisted up on their crosses with Jesus. One on his left. One on his right.

Jesus taught his disciples over and over that, in his kingdom, the first would be last. He showed them that Kingdom leaders were to be the servants of all. He forgave and healed the unclean and was often accused of partying with notorious sinners. Now, at the time of his death, the places of honor–sharing in his suffering and death–were two rightfully condemned criminals. One of them was even mocking as they all died together. The other was invited by Jesus into an afterlife he described as paradise!

I don’t know for sure if the Gospel writers made this connection as they were putting their Jesus stories to papyrus. Even so, I think it would be just like Jesus to deny James and John of their pretentious request of worldly only to breathe his dying breath in the company of the least deserving of places of honor.

Beginning today, we get three days to consider where we stand in relation to the suffering Savior. Will we spend our days looking for proof of God’s favor, or pouting because we think he is withholding favor we deserve? At the center of Jesus’ message was the idea that the greatest in his kingdom would be “betrayed, sentenced to death, mocked, spit on, flogged and killed”. The good news in this is our suffering, pain, brokenness and sin are where we find God’s favor. Knowing what we deserve and being brought to our knees by our circumstances and sin turns out to be the closest we can get to being at Jesus’ side. 

It may take me three days to contemplate and set aside the ways I try to get God’s attention with all the good things I do “for him”. I guess a successful Easter story for me would be to wake up Sunday morning having embraced my unworthiness of God’s favor, prepared to be embraced by his grace, forgiveness and hope. 

Happy Easter,

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