On Good Friday, I preached from Luke 23v32-49. The message was called “What do you see?” It looks at the various people who were involved or saw the crucifixion – and how we see it.
When I survey the wondrous cross on which the Prince of Glory died.
The message was recorded and posted to YouTube and can be viewed here:
My notes are below, if you would prefer to read:
What do you see? (Luke 23:32-49) Good Friday 2020 (10 April 2020)
A great hymn starts with these words, “When I survey the wondrous cross.” To look deeply as God the Son hung on the cross and died in our place.
But it is an important question: what do you see when you look at the cross and the One who died there? How we see the cross and how we see Jesus is massively important. It is the difference between sins forgiven and sins remaining, between knowing God personally and not knowing God, between eternal life and eternal death.
2,000 years ago, as Jesus was crucified, lots of different people saw Him. What did they see? Which one of these people are you like? What do you see?
Just one among many – the soldiers
Although the cross and resurrection are the most important events in history, verse 33 describes in a purely factual way: “they crucified him, and the criminals, one on his right and one on his left.”
These soldiers must have crucified many people over the years. They followed the usual habit of taking the clothes and belongings of the person being crucified and dividing them among themselves (v34). Jesus was nothing special to them. In their eyes, He was just another criminal that needed dealing with.
Jesus Himself indicates this in the way that He prays for them – “Father, forgive for they do not know…”
For many today, even if they accept that Jesus existed, he is just like any other religious person. He’s no different. He is to be laughed at perhaps (v36), but he is basically not seen at all.
Interesting but something of a joke – the crowd
v35: “The people stood by watching.” Also v48: “And all the crowds that had assembled for this spectacle, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts.”
Although the other gospels have the crowd mocking, the real antagonism came from the priests and rulers of the people. The crowd were there for the spectacle – they were there for the show of another execution. Some it seems were amused. Others, it seems, pitied Him (hence the beating of the breasts, a symbol of mourning).
But the crowd were largely indifferent – interested but not moved – “they returned home”. They went on with their lives as if nothing had happened.
Are you living today as if nothing important has happened? Jesus may seem interesting, you might like to talk about Him sometimes, or even go to church or watch sermon videos – but then you move on.
A threat to be eliminated – the rulers and chief priests
v35: “The rulers scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself, if he is the Christ of God, his Chosen One!'”
This mockery is recorded in all the gospels. John even tells us their objection to the sign that said “King of the Jews.” Why? He was a threat. He exposed the emptiness and the corruption of their beliefs and their leadership. He exposed them – the religious leaders – as sinners. They either had to admit their sin and repent, or they had to get rid of Him.
All over the world, Christians are persecuted because the message of Jesus is deeply offensive. He is the way and the truth and the life. He Himself said no-one can come to the Father except through Him. So, He exposes any religious system or culture that says there are many ways to God. He declares that we are sinners who need His salvation. He therefore exposes any religious system that says we can work our way to eternal life. He reveals Himself as the Lord to be obeyed and loved. So, He exposes any system that demands we follow a ruler or a system without question, or a society says there is no real truth. And, He challenges all of us who want to be boss of our own lives.
Disappointment, grief, broken dreams – the women and the disciples
v49 – they stood at a distance. Later, they buried Him. Still later, the disciples on the road to Emmaus expressed confusion, “We had hoped that He was the one to redeem Israel.” (24:21)
Jesus had to rebuke them and the rest of the disciples – the Christ had to suffer and then enter His glory. Many people today look at the cross and they don’t see that. They see that He died for them, but they don’t see the connection – suffering and glory. He said take up your cross and follow me. He said, a servant is not above his Master.
If we don’t see that suffering precedes glory, when things go wrong, we get disappointed. We think that He has somehow let us down. But, He never promised a suffering-free life. I would be a false teacher if I were to say that He did.
I’m not saying the Christian life is miserable, but I am saying that the Christian life at some time or another will involve suffering. And if we don’t see that principle of suffering and glory in the cross, we will be disappointed.
Someone who should just make my life easier – the other robber
V39: “One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “’Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!’”
This is related to the previous point. The other robber just saw someone who He thought should deliver from physical death and take away his immediate suffering. He only saw the need for earthly help and so He missed out on salvation for His soul.
In my many years as a Christian and a pastor, I have heard people say, “What has God done for me? I’ve had this and this and this go wrong.” They only see Him as someone who should make life here and now easier.
Now, I’m not saying He doesn’t. Many of you have experience of prayers that have been so powerfully answered and situations that have been transformed. However, what I am saying – and we need to see from the experience of the thief – that it’s not all He is. He is not only someone to make life easier. He is the Saviour (as we shall see in a moment).
The danger is, if we only see Him as the someone to make life easier, we will not receive Him as Saviour.
A Saviour for eternity – the believing robber
v40-43: The believing criminal sees his sin, sees Jesus as righteous, sees Jesus as King and the One who can save Him eternally, and asks Jesus to save Him not from earthly suffering but from being outside of Christ’s eternal kingdom.
This is what the cross is about. This is what we need to look at when we survey the wondrous cross.
The cross shows us Jesus, but it also shows us our sin – “we are punished justly.” This brings us onto the next person
Sin – the Father
Darkness (v44-45). The other gospels record Jesus crying out “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me.”
This is because of our sin laid upon Him on the cross. Our sin is so vile to the Father, the Holy One, the God of Justice, that He cannot look upon it. As the song says, “The Father turned His face away,” in the sense that the Father turned His favour and fellowship away from His eternal sin and laid on Him our punishment.
Jesus took our sin. Jesus died our death. When we survey the cross, we see our sin, we see our Saviour suffering in our place. We see the cost of our salvation. We see “Love so amazing, so divine.”
Son – the Father
But that’s not the end. V46: “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit.”
He has moved from “my God, my God” to “Father”. That is because sin has been paid for. John records Jesus saying “It is finished.” The work is done. And this is God the Son who has finished His work. The relationship interrupted by our sin, is now restored because our sin is gone.
As we survey the wondrous cross, we don’t just see a man there, we see God the Son – the Prince of Glory, who died for us.
The Son of God – the centurion
Luke’s account simply sees the centurion in v47 praising God and saying that He is innocent. Matthew and Mark share more of what he says, “Truly this was the Son of God.”
When you survey the cross, do you see Him only as the God the Son who died on the cross. Or do you see Him as the Son of God, who died for you? “Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast, save in the death of Christ MY God.”
Or, better, in Galatians 2:20, “The Son of God, who loved ME and gave Himself for ME.”
Do you stand with the believing thief and see yourself as a sinner in need of a Saviour? A Saviour who promises “today (whatever that day will be when you leave this earth) you will be with Me in paradise.” With ME.
Do you stand and gaze in wonder at the Father’s love for you that His Son would become sin for you – take your sin for you – and receive the justice that you deserve?
Do you stand also and rejoice that the work was done in full, it is finished. The Son has completed His work and is now at the right and of the Father in the overwhelming joy of eternal fellowship again – and He is preparing that place for you?
Do you stand with the centurion and worship God and say, “Truly He is the Son of God.” And with Paul, “The Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me.”
Please don’t miss what the cross is all about. Receive Christ as your Saviour if you haven’t already. Ask Him to remember you and save you.
Christians also: let’s see the cross as it really is – where Christ the Saviour, God the Son, died in your place to give you life. And let’s worship and submit. “Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”