How Good Friday Bears Good Fruit in Our Lives
Today is Good Friday, that day recognized by the Christian church in remembrance of our Lord’s death on the cross the Friday before he was raised from the dead. During the Protestant Reformation of the sixteenth century, many Reformed churches continued to celebrate this day on the church calendar, gathering together for worship to hear the gospel proclaimed.
The great Italian reformer Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) once preached a Good Friday sermon from Philippians 2.5-11. In that message, Vermigli not only exposited, explaining how the humiliation and suffering of Christ has saved us from the judgement of God, but also how that same work of Christ is now transforming us into servants after the pattern of our Lord.
Vermigli says that, through our union with Christ, our lives are becoming cruciform. “All things we suffer are relics of Christ.” Through our suffering, God is making us more like Christ. And yet, our suffering cannot be compared to what Jesus underwent. This should encourage us. “When compared to his sufferings, they are nothing. If sickness and labor are compared to thorns and nails, they are nothing. If you are forced to do what you prefer not to do or stop doing what you would like to do, it is nothing if you compare who was bound and dragged back and forth. If you are lashed by insults, how does it compare with the mockery of Christ? Was he not counted among the wicked? You have to resist passionate desires; but Christ’s flesh was wounded, lacerated, and beaten. They pursue you with hatred; see Christ who prays for those crucifying him. Heavy burdens are imposed on you; see Christ sweating in the Garden…Just as kingfishers enjoy tranquility in midwinter, so you will be happy amidst your troubles, if you have pondered these things.”
Happy? Maybe that’s an overstatement. But we can certainly learn to be more content in our trials as we look to Christ. Vermigli’s point is well taken, and biblical. What have we really suffered in comparison to what Christ voluntarily suffered in our place and for our sake? Who among us has, like Christ, drained the cup of God’s wrath against evil? Which of us has been willing to be wronged by others – even to the point of torture and death – so that those who were our enemies would receive the forgiveness of sins and eternal life? Indeed it is his suffering for us that makes Good Friday so good.
Yet, it is because of what Christ achieved through his obedient suffering that we are now being changed into those who are willing to serve others and forgive those who have sinned against us. The power of Christ’s cross is at work in us by the Spirit, transforming proud and selfish sinners to be humble servants who seek healing and reconciliation of relationships within the Body of Christ. Here, Vermigli pulls no punches:
“You think you are strong because you want to use that strength to oppress others so that you may be carried about. Would it not be better that you should support and carry the weak? ‘But he hates me.’ Then be reconciled with him. You look for a limb when something cut off from the body; you immediately race to the doctor for him to rejoin it to the rest of the body. Why do you not do the same thing for your brother? He is sick; you want to leave him with his sickness. His love grows cold; then rekindle him with your love…You look down upon him, whom Christ loved so much that he would die for him, even though he was Christ’s enemy. Now he has Christ for his head, for his clothing, for his table, for his spouse, for his light, for his life. If you hate him, you are like Cain. How can you stand before God? You are harder than stone, darker than hell, if you do not take on yourself this servitude which Christ took up for you, so that you may be of the same mind toward your neighbor and hold him in the same regard.”
The goodness of Good Friday does not stop at our sins being cancelled on account of Christ’s suffering, nor at the righteousness we have received by faith alone. It includes the power of the gospel at work in our lives, so that we begin to do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility counting others more significant than ourselves (Phil 2.3). Only the gospel can do that. Only the message of the cross can cause proud and stubborn sinners to look not only to their own interests, but also to the interests of others (Phil 2.4).
This Good Friday, let us look to Christ for our salvation – to his life, his death and resurrection! And let us look to him as the One in whose path of humility and suffering we are to joyfully follow, since he has given us everything. Let us apply to our lives the words Vermigli preached in conclusion to his Good Friday sermon:
“God shows how highly he values us, and in return our love for him is kindled in us. Through the cross the justice of God is satisfied; God, who otherwise would be angry because of our sins, is at peace with us and justice is given for free. Through the cross all examples of good living are manifested. Christ has drawn all things to himself; he is remembered in the sacraments and is grasped by faith. Through the cross hell is destroyed…Being stirred by this, let us approach Christ and offer ourselves willingly to suffer what he will wish. Since Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same mind. Especially since he, as is said in the letter to the Hebrews, suffered such contradiction for sinners. Let Peter again say, ‘Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example that you should follow in his steps.’”