Holy Week 2016: Friday

I danced on a Friday
when the sky turned black;
it’s hard to dance
with the devil on your back.
They buried my body
and they thought I’d gone,
but I am the Dance,
and I still go on.

[From “Lord of the Dance” by Sydney Carter]

Max Lucado wrote a great book a few years ago called “Six Hours One Friday”. I’ve worn out several copies over the years. There’s a lot of inspiration in the content, but for me tonight I sit thinking just about the title.
Six Hours One Friday.
Six Hours.
You can’t do much in six hours. If I want to drive from my home in Cape Town to see my best friend who lives just outside Johannesburg I can’t do it in six hours. In fact I can’t get half way there.
An average working day is seven or eight hours. At Primary School in England we were in school from 8:30am to 4pm. Secondary school was the same.
But in this six hour window everything changed. The course of Humanity was irreversibly altered by these six hours.
After 2000 years we still mark the day, such was it’s significance. If Thursday was Peter’s day as I wrote yesterday, Friday is very much Jesus’s.
The Pharisees held a rigged trial overnight, twisting the words Jesus had spoken over the previous three years out of context so they could justify murder.
Daylight brought with it the next phase. Jesus is taken before Pilate. Under Roman Law the Pharisees had no legal right to execute Jesus. He had to be convicted by the Romans to be executed. Pilate is uneasy about this young carpenter-turned-teacher in front of him. His wife sends him a message telling him to have nothing to do with the trial. He has the chance to show the greatest mercy in History.
Instead, Pilate the People Pleaser sends Jesus to Herod – grandson of the king who had tried to kill him as an infant. All Herod wants is a performing monkey. Jesus says nothing. Herod sends Him back to Pilate.
Pilate tries to pacify the Pharisee-whipped crowd by ordering Jesus to be whipped. In so doing the chain of events has moved beyond human control. This is the time Jesus was born for. The whipping would cause the stripes Isaiah had spoken of – the ones that we would be healed by. 
But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was crushed for our wickedness [our sin, our injustice, our wrongdoing]; The punishment [required] for our well-being fell on Him, And by His stripes (wounds) we are healed.” (Isaiah 53:5 Amplified)
The wounds of hope Jesus endured were brutal.
My old Classical History teacher, Richard Chapman, was a quiet man but passionate about ancient history. He’d spent close to 70 years studying it and teaching it by the time he retired and could read and write many ancient languages. Speaking to a noisy group of teenagers in ancient Greek or Latin he somehow brought quiet control and in a few of us a passion that had been there was flamed into a white-hot flame.
He told me one Easter about Roman flogging. Firstly, “scourging” which Jesus was sent for was rarely if ever survived. The victims tended to die from blood loss. A scourge whip had several tails of plaited leather with flint or bone flakes, razor sharp, woven into the tails to cause as much damage to the flesh as possible. The tip of the tails was weighted often to allow greater control by the torturer and a more accurate strike rate.
Jesus was whipped until he was unrecognisable as a man.
Think about the damage done to His body for a moment. Most men would not survive this brutal assault, but Jesus still has time left on the clock. Satan thinks he controls the show, but this is now completely in Jesus’s hands, and He surrenders to the Will of His Father.
His torso, arms and legs whipped so the flesh hung ragged from it. Hollywood has done some reasonable versions, Mel Gibson’s “Passion of the Christ” goes furthest in it’s detail, but make-up can’t portray what Jesus would have looked like after the whipping.
By His stripes we are healed. Peter later takes it further in his letter, confirming the whipping is the source, By his stripes we have been healed.
It’s a done deal. And Satan’s plan to destroy Jesus is the final piece Jesus needed to complete the mission – Restoration of relationship between Humankind and God.
CS Lewis in “The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe” says there was a deeper magic from before the dawn of time to which Aslan, the Christ-head of Narnia, is bound. He was there when it was written. In our world, Jesus Himself is the Word of God made Flesh. He is the deeper magic, and if Satan had seen it he would have never stirred up trouble against Him. But Satan was blinded by rage and ambition. Traits he passed on to mankind with the fall.
Today that rage and ambition is manifest in the Middle East by ISIS, Israel by those who would claim to be Jews against the Palestinians with force of arms and in return by smaller terrorist activity. Any Muslim readers can please leave your comments below, but why are you reading a Christian Blog?
The hate has spread to Europe with Paris and now Brussels the scene of the most recent attacks, joining America’s tragedy of 9/11.
Hate is fuelling the decision as to who should be the next Republican candidate for President of America and leader of the previously “Free” world. A recent interview likened the two front runners as having to make a choice between being poisoned or shot. Under the guise of “religious freedom” discrimination is being signed into law restricting rights of the marginalised by society.
How Pharasaic.
Jesus upset the right-wing conservatives of His day by spending time with (in order of distaste as I have been taught – if anyone knows a different order I’d genuinely love to hear it)
  1. Women
  2. Prostitutes
  3. Samaritans
  4. Sinners
  5. Lepers
  6. Romans
  7. Lastly, and most despised: IRS officials – the Tax Collectors. So embedded in Sin they got their own classification.
He likened the Pharisees to Shepherds losing a sheep. We think of this as cute guys sitting in a field watching rather dopey animals eat grass. Pharisees saw them as only slightly better than tax collectors in the grand scheme, and Jesus calls them shepherds. More than that, incompetent shepherds. They can’t even keep track of sheep.
Then He likened them to a woman losing a coin. In this age where *ahem* gender equality reigns (outside Presidential candidates naturally) this was the equivalent of an interviewer telling Donald Trump the he reminds them of a careless old woman who can’t keep track of her cash.
Then he goes to the worst. The forgiving father in the story of the Prodigal Son. Under Jewish Law everything the younger son said to his father at the start was grounds for stoning. By asking for his share of the inheritance he was wishing his father dead. He sold the land he was given within a few days. Such a quick sale was most likely to a gentile and would affect the whole village, yet the father (and the older son) do nothing to stop him. He blows the lot and ends up feeding pigs. Jesus is likening the people of Israel to this son. But He goes further.
When the son enters his right mind he returns home. Returning means certain death. The village would kill him in an instant for what he’s done.
But the father has spent every day watching the horizon, knowing one day this son will return. When he sees him he gathers up his clothing and runs to greet his son. What’s the big deal? we ask. This man must have been a leader in the community. That meant dignity. A dignified man does not run, with the possible exception of being pursued by a wild animal. But he doesn’t care. He runs to his son, places a ring on his finger and restores him to his side leading the household – and by proxy the community. Then to demonstrate this he kills the fatted calf and invites the whole village to witness the restoration of his son.
His mercy and grace are the boy’s salvation.
Jesus’s Mercy and Grace on the Cross are ours.
Pilate still has a choice to make. Somehow this young teacher has survived the scourging. He wants to release Him. The Pharisees instead ask for the release of a known hate-monger and terrorist. They press for Crucifixion for Jesus – a non-Jewish form of execution that could take days and caused immense pain as the major joints are dislocated and the body’s own weight suffocates the victim by causing the lungs to collapse. If you ever get the chance to visit Buckfast Abbey in Devon there is a sculpture of the crucifixion that accurately shows everything except the placing of the nails – you can’t be nailed by the palm of the hand. The nails were driven through the forearm behind the wrist between the radius and ulna bone which then lock round the nail with the weight of the body.
Pilate washes his hands and hands Jesus over to the Pharisees to do with as they please.
Every action has been foretold – spoken into being by the ancient Prophets through the Holy Spirit. Just as Adam was created by words and given life, so was Jesus.
Now the pharisees see Friday night approaching and realise what they’ve done. The Messiah would not have broken bones so they tell the Romans it’s unlawful to execute a man on the Sabbath – the legs must be broken so they will be dead before sunset.
Jesus cries “It is Finished” and dies. Before they can break His legs.
The Roman guard confirms death by stabbing Jesus in the side, probably rupturing His liver and spleen. If He hadn’t been dead already that would do it in minutes. Probably less given the blood-loss Jesus has already suffered.
At that moment the curtain separating the Holy of Holies from the body of the Temple is torn in two from top to bottom. The sky has been black for some time but the “eclipse” ends with an earthquake.
Jesus is dead.
God’s plan is unstoppable now.
And Satan knows it.
He is taken to a borrowed grave site where the Romans at the insistence of the Pharisees post a guard. These “believing unbelievers” have realised that all the Messianic Prophecies except the Resurrection have been fulfilled.
And they know they are in trouble.
The disciples are scattered, they’ve forgotten the words Jesus said to them the previous night through John 14 to 16 reminding them that this must happen.
It’s Friday evening.
But Sunday’s coming…
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