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Good Friday Surprises

Friday, March 21, 2008

Good Friday Surprises
by Leith Anderson

Even on his way to die, Jesus did the unpredictable.

It was a day of surprises, the day Jesus was killed. Luke recounts eyewitness accounts of that fateful day. In each case, there is an element of surprise.

It was a surprise for Simon. He was from North Africa, and to be in Jerusalem for the Passover was a dream come true. But a surprising thing happened. Jesus stumbled under the weight ofthe cross, right in front of him.

Roman soldiers could draft anyone into their service with thetouch of a spear blade. Simon was the closest person, so hewas forced to pick up the cross and carry it, a humiliating task.

Mark recounts the same story but adds another detail - Simon was the father of Alexander and Rufus. It's unusual for a father to be identified by his children, unless the children are quite famous. By the time Mark's Gospel was circulated, two of the most famous Christians in all of the empire must have been Alexander and Rufus.

In Romans 16:13, Rufus is described as the son of a woman whom the apostle Paul considered his surrogate mother. Put the pieces together and it's obvious that when Simon returned home, he told his wife about Christ and the crucifixion. She became a godly woman and an influence to Paul. Simon told his sons what he had witnessed, and they became two of the greatest believers in the first-century church. The surprising embarrassment Simon endured that day turned out to be a great good for Simon and his family.

Don't Weep for Me

As Jesus made his way to Golgotha, a group of women followed him, crying and mourning. In all probability they had never met Jesus; they were professional mourners who dared to come out when men were crucified.

They always carried a liquid narcotic to help take the edge off the excruciating pain that accompanied crucifixion. These were women who had made this journey often. But this time, something unexpected happened.

Jesus turned and expressed sympathy for them: "Don't weep for me; weep for yourselves and your children" (Luke 23:28). He anticipated a difficult future for them and their children.

I don't think they knew Jesus or they would have quickly realized that this was just like him. His concern wasn't about his own pain, but he focused quickly and clearly upon the problems and pain that others face.

Unforgettable Last Words

The Roman soldiers - Jesus' executioners - had crucified many men by nailing them to wooden crosses. As the dying men would scream and suffer, the soldiers would sit at the feet of the crosses and play games-desensitized to the incessant curses and pleas. They prided themselves on being people not caught by surprise. Yet never before had any one of them heard what Jesus said.

Soon after his hands and feet were nailed to the cross, and it was lifted into place, Jesus prayed audibly for his executioners, "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing" (Luke 23:34).

It was enough to shock the toughest veteran. So it's no wonder that when the centurion made his final inspection after Jesus'death, he said "Surely this was a righteous man" (Luke 23:47).

The forgiveness of Jesus was a surprise then, but it is still a surprise today. I'm surprised by his forgiveness. He knows our worst sins so well, yet Jesus' heart still seeks to forgive.

A Gasp and Celebration

On the day Christ died, the angels must have been struck speechless at God's sacrifice. But perhaps even more amazing to them was the conversation between Christ and a common criminal (Luke 23:42, 43).

For the condemned thief on the cross, time was running out. Regardless of what he had done before, in the end, he did fear God. He realized that his judgment after death would be totally determined by God.

Like the convict on the far side who insulted Jesus (Luke23:39), this man must have come to the cross with knowledge of Jesus. He understood Jesus was no criminal. Even more important, he must have realized Jesus was God's Son who was headed back home to the paradise from which he had come.

Believing this, the thief decided to make one last request. He asked Jesus to save him when he arrived back in heaven. What an interesting contrast between the criminal who mocked Jesus to save him physically and this man who sought Jesus to save him spiritually.

Of course, Jesus said yes. He was being crucified for this very purpose - to save sinners and to promise heaven to all those who ask.

Two thousand years later, the invitation still stands.

Copyright © 1997
by the author or Christianity Today International/Today's Christian magazine (formerly Christian Reader).

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