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Good Friday A Gospel

John 18:1-19:42

Brent Peterson

“The Hour Has Come” and “Why is Good Friday, Good”

Theology of this Text

This is the Good Friday narrative told through the lens of the Gospel of John. Taking a step back beyond this passage to all of Scripture it is important to reflect on this powerful day in the Church year. This day is called Good Friday, yet, why is this day good? Without delving into the multiplicity of atonement theories, it is always important to let the texts speak. It is noteworthy that our passage in John is not offering an atonement theory, but proclaiming a story that is both tragic and the foundation of Christian faith and discipleship. In fact, perhaps one of the first things we need to do with such a text is not start explaining it away with antiseptic shallow theological platitudes. For many Christians this story of Jesus being crucified all makes sense. We have made it fit our theological system. In doing so we have lost the scandalous nature of the killing and murder of Jesus.

At a basic level I want to suggest that this Friday is not good because the Jews and Romans conspired to kill Jesus. By the way as I read these texts both parties are at work in this killing. Yet beyond simply blaming the Jews and Romans we are to begin to see that all of us are the Jews and Romans. In a very real sense Jesus Christ is dead and we have killed him. All of humanity is culpable as conspirators in this vicious and evil act.

This day is good because Jesus Christ, submitting to the will of the Father not to flee or flight, allowed himself to be killed as an act of love to the Father and to Creation. This day is good because the Father handed over the Son, Jesus Christ to death, wherein God in Christ experienced full victimization of those who have received the blows of sin. This day is good because by the power of the Spirit, the Father and Son were joined in their surrender to both demonstrate and provide a victory over sin and death. This day is good because love triumphed. Love trampled over sin, violence and death, not by violently participating in it, but by absorbing it.

We must invite the church to hear this familiar story again for the first time. We must invite them to hear it in agony and pain. Lent invites us to despair over our sin. Cheap forgiveness becomes toxic and corrupts the life of holiness. We must invite them to see their culpability in it. We must invite them to see how God is present to those who have also been the victims of evil and God did not prevent it. We must invite them to have their understanding of love and power redefined by this act of submission to the hands of sinful humanity. We must let them experience the despair of Jesus’ death. Clearly Easter Sunday is a day of victorious jubilation, but until persons have sat and let the despair of Jesus’ death seep into their bones, the Good News of Easter may ring hollow.

Context of the Text

For the bulk of Christian theology, the death of Jesus is the foundation of the Christian story. As Paul proclaims in 1 Corinthians we preach Christ, crucified. What Paul also reminds us is that this was and must always be seen as a scandal. Too often the cross has been sanitized in a bed or roses thus making it expected, acceptable, and reasonable. Another lurking danger of the Cross is that the story often ignores the Resurrection. While it is crucial that one not jump too quickly to Easter Sunday, it is important that the Resurrection be told and emphasized on Sunday. Certain atonement theories are conceived in ways that the Resurrection is almost insignificant and unnecessary. As Paul affirms, without the Resurrection, the cross is in no way salvific. Or to put it another way, it is only in the scandal of the cross that the joy, hope, and victory of Easter can be encountered.

Another lurking danger is to assume that what happens to Jesus was for Jesus alone. The entire invitation of Lent is not to be a spectator of Jesus, but to become a disciple. The Lenten invitation is a willingness to follow Jesus all the way to the cross. We see in our text the disciples who are trying their best, simply fail, just like us. They sleep, they fight, they flee, but they ultimately fail to follow. Hence this text is also one of confession of ways in which we fall short. Of course the disciples’ failure to follow is not the last word, but again invites the believer into Christ’s further sense of despair and loneliness.

It is also curious when looking at the four Gospels their places of congruity along with their unique perspectives. Along with the main movements of betrayal, arrest, trial, crucifixion, and burial, all the Gospels also speak of the retreat in the garden with the disciples, the arrival of Judas, the demand for Barabbas over Jesus, the casting of lots for Jesus’ clothes and the presence of Joseph of Arimathea.

Yet each Gospel is unique with a particular lens to these events that changed the world. In John’s particular emphasis, Jesus’ suffering is not the center. This hour is about Jesus’ exaltation and glorification. It becomes clear Jesus came to worship and honor the Father by the power of the Spirit. In Christ’s submission to the cross, and not the Roman execution, Jesus has fulfilled all the way to the end of obedience, even unto death. It is also crucial how John connects this “hour” with the full story of death, resurrection, and ascension. This must always be the case. The Good Friday invitation is that we not rush too quickly, but let each part of the drama saturate our souls until we are drenched in its power of love.

Notes on the Text

18:1-12: The Arrest

Our text begins at the conclusion of Jesus priestly prayer in the Garden. Judas is thrust into the scene with Roman guards and Jewish religious officials. It is curious that when the officials and soldiers announce they have come for Jesus, in typical Johannine fashion another “I am” declaration is given. Certainly John is connecting this “I am” with all those found throughout the Gospel.

After a second confirmation, Peter uses the sword to protect Jesus. This is the disciples, in fact all disciples first temptation, to fight. Yet Jesus rebukes Peter and commands he put the sword away. The cup the Father has placed before Christ is that he not attempt to overcome evil and violence with more violence. It is also noteworthy that there is no mention of Malchus’ ear being healed in this Gospel.

18:13-27: Interrogation by Annas

Verse 15 is particularly noteworthy describing Simon Peter who was following Jesus. Of course the text means physically behind, but one can imagine John has in mind not only a following of a physical distance but an attempt to be a disciple/follower in Jesus’ time of need. What is also striking for the Gospel of John is that the “other disciple” gets access into the priest’s courtyard and eventually gets Peter in. Yet quickly Peter was known as a disciple of Jesus, and in this case Peter was nervous that such an identification could bring physical harm to him. It is noteworthy that this periscope is largely bounded by Peter’s denial of being a disciple, which again puts the passage at odds with the narrative of Peter “following” after Jesus.

In John’s account Jesus is fairly verbose in his questioning before Annas, which is unique to the fourth Gospel. Some commentators have noted this meeting had the feel of a police interrogation. At the conclusion of Annas’ interrogation Jesus is sent on to Caiaphas who was the official presiding officer over the Sanhedrin. In John’s Gospel, while Annas is the questioner, Jesus dominates the scene. It is also noteworthy that there is no interrogation by the Sanhedrin in John’s Gospel.

18:28-19:16 The Trial Before Pilate

It is most striking at the beginning of this narrative, the Jews were nervous about their uncleanness and refused to enter the palace because they wanted to eat the Passover. The irony of this is beyond staggering. In their quest to kill the Messiah, they were so focused on laws of cleanliness they could not even see the filth of their hearts that were so thoroughly blinded and deceived. While they were wanting to celebrate Passover, they were plotting the evil execution of the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.

Pilate in this scene again comes off as almost bothered, asking the Jews to take care of this on their own. So Pilate questions Jesus and reports that he found nothing worthy of execution. He also follows a custom of releasing a prisoner at Passover. The mob picks Barabbas over Jesus. After the crown of thorns and flogging, Pilate comes to them again asserting Jesus has done nothing worthy of execution. Of course this did not prevent the flogging. The mob again cries out for Jesus to be crucified. After back and forth Pilate agrees to have Jesus executed.

John 19:16-37 Crucifixion

The soldiers have been given charge of Jesus. Jesus carries his own cross to the place of the skull. The text says simply Jesus was crucified with two others. There is more drama as Pilate orders a sign naming Jesus the King of Jews. Of course many Jews protested. Jesus is not only the King of the Jews, but the King above all Kings.

In verse 25 we have the women named who were present with Jesus all the way to the cross. This “disciple whom Jesus loved” is then given to Mary in a sign of love and now charge to take care of Mary in a way Jesus can no longer.

Verse 31 again highlights the Jewish concern over purity laws. In this case bodies on crosses need to be taken care of before the Sabbath. This did cause one of those crucified with Christ to have his legs broken to expedite the suffocation. However, the irony of Sabbath laws being an area of focus amidst the Messiah, the Lamb of God, being slaughtered in a display of disgrace and shame is no doubt beyond absurd.

When the soldiers come to Jesus they find him already dead, yet to confirm his death they pierce his side and blood and water flowed. Verse 35 is written like an account for a trial, confirming his death and this piercing to take away any doubt.

John 19:38-42 The Burial

A disciple of Jesus, Joseph of Arimathea requests and receives Jesus’ body from Pilate. It is noteworthy that in Verse 38, fear of the Jews motivated this transaction with Pilate to happen in secret. Perhaps even with Sabbath approaching there were those who would not be satisfied even with Jesus’ crucifixion. Along with Joseph is Nicodemus, who we are first introduced to in John 3, asking about being born again. Verse 39 notes that these two men used a mixture of myrrh and aloes in preparing the body for burial. There is no Nativity in John and hence the connection to the gifts of the wise men are not included in this Gospel, but certainly hearing of Myrrh would have caused many to reflect on the gifts given to Mary by these outsiders to celebrate Jesus’ birth. What is also striking is that there is no mention of any of the disciples or women followers of Jesus to prepare this burial. Rather two followers outside the twelve and inner circle care for Jesus’ body. It is likely that all the other disciples were hiding in fear, anguish, and despair. The passage ends with Jesus being laid in a new tomb.

Preaching the Text

This text is simply too much. One could spend several months combing through this story. So the occasion is key. For Good Friday the story carries with it the theological weight. This text rightly ends simply with Jesus in a tomb. With the focus on Jesus’ glorification and exaltation of the Father and not on his suffering, the flogging and crucifixion appear simply as results of Christ’s actions to lay down his life. Even so, John helps to properly narrate that Christ’s actions are the focus and not the evil actions of the Jews and Romans. Yet as was mentioned previously, all must look upon the killing of Jesus and find their own despair and culpability. Lent invites the reader to despair over their own sin, their own mortality, and desperate need for God. It is true that it is Friday, but Sunday is coming. However, for too many Protestants we have rushed to Easter without sitting in the despair of the killing of Jesus. This is not about masochism, but to affirm that Christ does not simply go on a journey for us, but invites us to follow with him into also laying down our lives to