On a Hill Far Away
Pocket Full of Easter
Journey to The Cross
On a Hill Far Away
Good Friday is the day that Christians mourn the brutal death of Jesus Christ. Other names for it are Holy Friday, Sorrowful Friday, or Long Friday. We don’t know the origin of the word “Good.” Some say the original name was God’s Friday and over the years, it morphed into Good Friday. Regardless of the origin of the words, Good Friday is the day Christians keep as the anniversary of the death of Christ.
Why do Christians feel such sorrow over an event that happened over two thousand years ago? Why do we grieve so when we know the end of the story – that Jesus overcame death just 3 days later? Why does the cross break our hearts when we know it was God’s plan for salvation? Is it the brutality of the death or that the death was so unfair? For many, the grief is real because the cross demonstrates the human capacity for evil. Perhaps the biggest reason the grief is so fresh and deep for each new generation is that when we finally stop fighting it and give in to the meaning of the cross, we accept our own crucifixion.
Read Galatians 2:20-21.
I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. NASU
• Imagine the pain and terror of the cross.
• Now imagine yourself crucified with Jesus.
• Feel the pain of the beatings and the nails, as you die to self.
• Give up yourself to the Christ who gave up Himself for you.
• Ask Jesus for the willingness to be crucified with Him.
• Ask Jesus to show you the parts of self to which you still cling.
• Tell God your joys, fears, and needs. Praise Him in everything.
• Pray for knowledge of God’s will for you today and the power to carry that out.
• Ask the Holy Spirit to interpret the scriptures you are about to read.
Morning Bible Study
The horror story of the crucifixion began in the early morning after the Passover, just a few days after crowds hailed Jesus as “King of the Jews.” Vindictive jealous men who called themselves “Men of God” treated Jesus like a common criminal by binding Him and taking Him away. Read Matthew 27:1-2.
Early in the morning, all the chief priests and the elders of the people came to the decision to put Jesus to death. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate, the governor. NIV
• What had the Chief Priests and the Elders already decided to do?
• Who did they take Jesus to?
When questioned, Jesus didn’t defend Himself. Instead, He pleaded guilty. Read Matthew 27:11.
Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
"Yes, it is as you say," Jesus replied. NIV
• How would you have responded if you had been in Jesus’ place?
• How did Jesus answer the governor?
Ironically, Roman citizens were listening to God better than God’s chosen people. Read Matthew 27:19.
While Pilate was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent him this message: "Don't have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of him." NIV
• How did God warn Pilate?
Pilate must have believed God’s message to his wife because he tried to reason with the people. He learned that you could not reason with the unreasonable. Read 27:22-24.
"What shall I do, then, with Jesus who is called Christ?" Pilate asked.
They all answered, "Crucify him!"
"Why? What crime has he committed?" asked Pilate.
But they shouted all the louder, "Crucify him!"
When Pilate saw that he was getting nowhere, but that instead an uproar was starting, he took water and washed his hands in front of the crowd. "I am innocent of this man's blood," he said. "It is your responsibility!" NIV
• How did Pilate try to reason with the people?
• Did Pilate think Jesus was guilty?
• Do you think Pilate was really innocent of Jesus’ blood?
Pilate had an impossible choice to make. If he released Jesus, the mob would have been in an uproar, creating more violence. If he killed Jesus, he killed an innocent man. Some consider what Pilate did next as cowardly. Others have said he did the only thing he could do or that “destiny” controlled him. Possibly Pilate was trying to shame the people into doing the right thing by washing his hands in the matter. Read the response of the people in Matthew 27:25.
All the people answered, "Let his blood be on us and on our children!" NIV
• Do you think it is significant that the people were so sure they were doing the right thing that they were even willing to put Jesus’ blood on the heads of their innocent children?
• Think back on history. How do you think their children suffered from their blood lust?
Whatever Pilate’s motives were, he gave in to the pressure of the crowd. It wasn’t enough to kill Jesus. They also humiliated and tortured Him. Read Matthew 27:27-31.
Then the governor's soldiers took Jesus into the Praetorium and gathered the whole company of soldiers around him. They stripped him and put a scarlet robe on him, and then twisted together a crown of thorns and set it on his head. They put a staff in his right hand and knelt in front of him and mocked him. "Hail, king of the Jews!" they said. They spit on him, and took the staff and struck him on the head again and again. After they had mocked him, they took off the robe and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him away to crucify him. NIV
• How many different ways was Jesus mocked?
As horrible as the day was, it is important to understand that this was part of a master plan, predicted centuries ago. Read John 19:23-24
When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them, with the undergarment remaining. This garment was seamless, woven in one piece from top to bottom.
"Let's not tear it," they said to one another. "Let's decide by lot who will get it." This happened that the scripture might be fulfilled which said, "They divided my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing." NIV
• What was the purpose of the soldiers casting lots for Jesus’ clothing.
God planned and predicted the details. It was common to break the legs of criminals hanging on the cross but read John 19:33-34.
But when they came to Jesus and found that he was already dead, they did not break his legs. Instead, one of the soldiers pierced Jesus' side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water. NIV
• Where Jesus’ legs broken?
• What happened to Jesus instead of the traditional broken bones?
God is in control even in our darkest moments, even when it seems as if He is not. Read the ancient Psalms, written centuries before the crucifixion. Jesus’ humiliation and nail scared hands and feet were prophesized. God even told us that Jesus’ bones would not be broken.
They have pierced my hands and my feet. I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me. They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing. NIV
• What were the prophesies?
Jesus didn’t rise from the dead until 3 days later but God immediately demonstrated His power over the earth and death. Read Matthew 27:50-54.
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
The earth shook and the rocks split.
The tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, "Surely he was the Son of God!" NIV
• What happened in the temple?
• What happened on earth?
• How did God demonstrate His power over death?
• How did God’s power witness to the world?
So what was the point of everything? Gradually many realized the horror of what they had done and took responsibility for it. When Judas realized it, the burden of his guilt understandably caused him to commit suicide. When others realized it, they were “cut to the heart” and asked in a panic, “What shall we do?” Read Acts 2:36-39.
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?"
Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. NIV
• How did the people feel about their guilt?
• What did the people ask Peter?
• What did Peter reply?
God took our darkest moment, our greatest sin, and turned it into an opportunity for grace. On a hill far away, God demonstrated humanity’s capacity for evil. We’ve seen this potential for evil repeated, century after century, by acts like genocide, the Holocaust, and terrorism. We continue to be surprised by our own capacity for sin as we find ourselves doing things we wish we weren’t doing. Without grace, the burden of evil is too great to bear.
If God could forgive people who tortured, humiliated, and murdered His son, then anything we do can be forgiven. Not only are we forgiven, we receive a great gift – the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. If Jesus, fully human, could endure the agony of the cross, we can face anything this world offers. Because of the cross, our eternity with the God who shook the earth and opened the graves begins now.
One of the top ten most popular hymns of all time is The Old Rugged Cross. It was composed in 1913 by Rev. George Bennard, a Methodist minister. Like the origin of many of our great hymns, Rev. Bennard wrote it when he was suffering. As Rev. Bennard dealt with his own pain, he began to understand the suffering of the cross.
While Rev. Bennard wrote over 300 hymns, none became as famous as the simple hymn that was the foundation of his testimony. He sold the rights to this hymn for a mere $500. He didn’t get rich from this famous hymn but he did spend the rest of his ministry known as the composer. He preached, evangelized, lead revivals, and often sang duets of the Old Rugged Cross with his wife.
The message of the hymn has always been controversial. At a time when beautifully jeweled crosses decorated the walls of churches and cathedrals, Rev. Bennard saw the cross as a rugged, splintered piece of wood covered in gore. Some considered his words irreverent. Still others accused Rev. Bennard of worshipping the cross instead of Jesus because of the words, “I will cling to the old rugged cross.” I have never struggled with the message of the hymn because I understand what he meant.
Like Rev. Bennard, we struggle with our feelings about the cross. It represents suffering and shame and yet we love it so much that we hang it in our churches and wear it as jewelry around our neck. Hanging by red string attached to the rear view mirror of Happy is a simple brown wooden cross that reminds me that I must be crucified with Christ.
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
The cross holds such a wondrous attraction for us that we return to it repeatedly, fighting our own crucifixion. I remember a time in my late twenties when God convicted me about my motives for apparent Godly actions. While I had trouble taking care of myself, I prided myself on what I did for others. I spent money we didn’t have giving bridal and baby showers for anyone who had a need. I cooked food for families of the sick and dying. When I realized my motives were to please the world instead of being a servant, I was bereft. I remember telling someone, “If I let go of that part of myself, I don’t know what will be left.” As I allowed that part of myself to be crucified with Christ, I wondered how I would ever feel good about myself again. When I see that cross hanging from my rear view mirror, I cling to it because it reminds me of the joy of dying to self and living for Christ.
So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.
We love the cross because we love the person whose blood stained it. We see beyond the gore to the beauty and wonder of the sacrifice. We revel in our joy as we allow the blood from the cross to sanctify us.
O that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For ‘twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
The trophies of this world, to which we try to cling, become meaningless as our view of life becomes an eternal one. Like Rev. George Bennard, we’ll cling to the old rugged cross, knowing we’ll one day exchange it for a crown.