Good Friday – 2022 LSB #’s 432, 436, 447:19-21
Text – Luke 23:47
Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he praised God, saying, “Certainly this man was innocent!”
EVIL FRIDAY IS ALSO GOOD FRIDAY
Are you ready for change? I’m going to take a bit of a risk this evening. I’m going to take something very familiar & very precious & change its name. I’m going to add something to what we call it, & I’m aware in advance that may sound very odd, very strange to you. It might even sound wrong. But I ask you to bear with me, & I will explain what I mean.
Before I take the risk, recall how we began our Lenten journey this year. The theme came from the OT story of Joseph. After the patriarch Jacob died, Joseph’s brothers were afraid that it was pay-back time. Joseph was powerful, they were not. Joseph could get revenge, & they could not stop him. Oh, & the brothers had sold Joseph into slavery.
But Joseph said to his brothers, “You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, to keep many people alive today.” It was important on Ash Wednesday not to misunderstand what Joseph was saying. He was not saying, “Well, you tried to do evil things, but what you did wasn’t really evil.” No. His brothers sinned & did evil to him.
What God actually did was to use that real evil in a plan much larger than that of Joseph’s brothers. No one could see it at the time. But that’s how God often works.
Now back to the risk. Based on this rich, profound reading from Luke 23, I want to say this to you: Evil Friday is also Good Friday. There’s the risk out in the open. We never refer to that Friday long ago as “Evil Friday.” We always call it “Good Friday.” And let me say that I will continue to call it “Good Friday,” & so should you.
Tonight, however, I want to try & bring out both sides of what Luke tells us. That way,
we can take the world as it still is seriously, & we won’t sugarcoat things. But we can also marvel at our God, the Father of the Lord Jesus, & how He was at work so long ago on that Friday, & how He still is at work in our lives & in our world today, even in Ukraine. Stay with me & ponder this: “Evil Friday is also Good Friday.” The 1st point begins when Luke writes:
“It was now about the 6th hour [about noon], & there was darkness over the whole land until the 9th hour.” We have questions about this, & we can’t answer all of them so we won’t try. But we can be pretty sure of one thing: the darkness is bad! It’s a sign that evil is close at hand.
All the way back in Luke 1, Zechariah, father of the newborn John the Baptizer, was finally able to speak again. He praised the true God & His mercy, “whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high, to give light to those who sit in darkness & in the shadow of death.”
God had begun to work in the world in a new way – His light was already living in the womb of Mary as Zechariah spoke those words. God’s mercy brings sunrise, light in darkness. But at noon on that Friday, there was darkness over the whole land. Less than a day before, as Jesus was arrested by people doing the will of Satan himself, Jesus said to those people:
“This is your hour, & the power of darkness.” Even though we know how the history goes, when we read about the darkness over the whole land, it should be enough to make us tremble. There is a real Satan. There is real evil. Evil is at work that Friday afternoon long ago. There is no question that evil is afoot, out to destroy the Son of God.
“And the curtain of the temple was torn in two.” (Luke 23:45 ESV) Who tore the curtain? God did. God the Father tore the temple curtain. Why in the world would He do that? This temple was dedicated to His worship; sacrifices & forgiveness happened at this temple for every believer who approached!
But now God makes a split ... or we might say, a crack in the temple. Even worse is
coming. Jesus predicted it. Not one stone will be left upon another. Why? Because, as a group, the leading chief priests had lost their way, & have used their power & influence against the person to whom the temple pointed, the person who knew at age twelve that He was to be in His Father’s house.
In their blind ignorance they have hated, & now are trying to do away with, God’s only Son. For that evil, God’s judgment is coming within the span of one generation. This is not about pointing fingers. Would we have been any different? But evil was at work on that Friday; darkness came over the land, & the temple curtain was torn in two.
Jesus entrusted Himself to His Father’s care, & died. But in every way imaginable He did not deserve to die. You deserve to die; I do as well. The wages of sin is death, & we have sinned. Yet, over & over Luke has told us that Jesus is innocent, that He does not deserve this fate, & the centurion will say it yet one more time in the very next verse.
Still, Jesus dies. He dies the death of a criminal, covered with nothing, in dishonor & shame because they’ve taken His clothes & divided them among themselves. Death by crucifixion is an evil death. Darkness had descended. The temple curtain was torn & then a turning point occurs.
A centurion is a Gentile soldier in the army of Rome. He’s in charge of up to 100 men & he’s been watching & listening. Maybe he oversaw the men who fastened Jesus to the cross. We don’t know; Luke only tells us that he was there. We aren’t told what the centurion knew or believed. Like the believing criminal a few verses earlier, we only have what Luke tells us.
What Luke does give is precious & beautiful – this unexpected Gentile believer (for that is what he is) can be like a hinge to help us see that Evil Friday is also Good Friday. He can help us turn a corner of faith & understanding, turn around & see the amazing good that God is doing in the face of evil, in spite of evil, even using the evil so that His good will is done as well. Luke writes, “Now when the centurion saw what had taken place, he glorified God saying, ‘Certainly this man was innocent!’” Pause with me over the words “He glorified God.” Travel with me quickly through the Gospel of Luke to notice others who do the same, who “glorify God.”
On the 1st Christmas, the shepherds returned to their fields glorifying God over all they had seen & heard. Did they get it all? Hardly, but they knew that God was doing something wonderful. When Jesus forgives & heals a paralytic with a word, both the man & the gathered crowd glorified God. They knew Yahweh was at work.
At Nain, the crowd saw Jesus raise a widow’s son back to life, & they glorified God. A woman was crippled & bent over for 18 years & Jesus healed her. What did she do? (You can probably guess by now!) Yes, she glorified God. Ten lepers were healed, but only one, the Samaritan, came running back to Jesus – glorifying God.
All these people saw God at work – it was obvious – & they glorified God because of what they saw – angels & healings & wonderful deeds. The centurion glorified God because he knew that God was at work even in the presence of evil. There in the darkness, faced with cruelty & death, the soldier glorified God.
How much exactly did he know? We can’t be sure. But he did know that the execution of this perfectly innocent man had to be part of the plan of God, so he glorified God. So can we, & so must we. When Jesus breathes His last, that cannot be the end, it can’t be the last thing – not if God is God, not if justice matters.
Evil must not have the last word, which means Jesus’ complete trust in His Father to receive His spirit will not be the last thing. Not if God cares about the world & about sin & about Satan’s wreckage. No! The centurion knew that Jesus was deeply, cosmically, eternally innocent, pure & righteous. The soldier glorified God because more was coming, because good was coming. He may not have known in what form – but good was coming. Today, we know that Evil Friday was also Good Friday because Easter was coming. The centurion helps us to turn the corner even in the darkness & see God at work.
The curtain of the temple was torn in the middle. God is rejecting the former place of sacrifice & forgiveness; it was corrupted by its leaders & their sin, yes it was. But rejecting the temple also means that there is a new place of sacrifice & forgiveness, a new place where God can be present among His people to strengthen & protect & restore.
The new place, the physical location for God’s blessings now will be Jesus – the body of Jesus. He is the new way. His blood is the new covenant, the new place where God is present with His people, with His people now – Jesus, body & soul, true Man & true God. The temple was cracked. Something more was coming. Easter was on the horizon.
Satan meant it for evil, & it was, but God meant it for good, & it was also. God planned to bring men, women & children out of the darkness of Satan’s lies, out of the darkness of their own sins, & into the light of His peace, His acceptance, His fellowship.
Satan did his worst. He waited for the opportune time & it came. He entered Judas & Judas did Satan’s bidding. The authorities were pawns & tools in the hand of the devil. There was darkness all around Jesus, coming against the Lamb of God. But it came against Him & against Him alone. The darkness could not snuff out His compassion:
“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” The darkness could not snatch any believer, no matter how fragile, from Jesus’s mercy: “Today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 ESV) Jesus stood in the gap; He hung where all of us deserve to hang. The darkness came against Jesus alone, but He did not flinch. He took it all & perfectly performed the Father’s plan. Therefore, in faith, Jesus entrusted His spirit to the Father’s hands, knowing that the darkness would give way ... to light. Jesus knew that the darkness would give way to light. Evil at work, but God at work more strongly still. Evil Friday – even more, it was Good Friday. Light & life would return because Easter was on its way.
Luke tells us about Joseph of Arimathea, & the Galilean women who bought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. What they did was very beautiful on that evil day. More beautiful, still, is the fact that their loving efforts were in vain. The tomb where no one had ever yet been laid will become the tomb where no one is lying anymore.
That night long ago was the turning point, the hinge of history. Everything depends on Friday, & on Sunday. Our lives depend on how God took that evil & used it to destroy the power of evil with the new resurrection life of Jesus, the Lord. No darkness of sin or guilt can overcome Christ, & He is for you.
When darkness does come, remember Good Friday, & entrust yourself to Jesus who bore the darkness in your place. When engulfed by confusion & hardship, & you can’t find your way back into God’s presence, remember Good Friday, the torn curtain, & Jesus who is God’s presence now. Turn to Him & to His presence in the Lord’s Supper.
There, hear God’s promises in Jesus. He is God’s presence in the world, & He is for you. If life becomes so hard that it seems like you can’t trust God & have no idea what good He can bring out of evil – lean on Jesus, & let Him trust His Father. Let Jesus glorify God because our Creator is still at work, still creating, even through Putin’s war in Ukraine.
Evil Friday was also Good Friday because Jesus stood against the darkness for you. What a God! And Easter was coming. So we end this evening in hope, & in faith. We will go home & rest as the women did long ago. But we’re not going to prepare spices to anoint a body because we know that it was, & is, & always will be ... Good Friday. They meant it for evil, but God meant it for good – for you, for me, & for the world. In the name of the Father & of the Son & of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Go to dark Gethsemane, all who feel the tempter’s power; your Redeemer’s conflict see, watch with Him one bitter hour; turn not from His griefs away; learn from Jesus Christ to pray. Calvary’s mournful mountain climb; there, adoring at His feet, mark that miracle of time, God’s own sacrifice complete. “It is finished!” hear Him cry; learn from Jesus Christ to die. Early hasten to the tomb where they laid His breathless clay; all is solitude & gloom. Who has taken Him away? Christ is risen! He meets our eyes. Savior, teach us so to rise. Amen. LSB 436:1, 3-4.
Pastor Dean R. Poellet