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Good News

It was during the dark winter of 1864, Petersburg , Virginia , the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee's generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous General Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebration fires. It  happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built. What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the battle line flames lit up the sky in a celebration of life. No shots fired. No cursing back and forth. No war fought. Only bonfires of light proclaiming good news. 

Good Friday is like that, in the midst of the despair of sin God has caused a great burning light to pierce the darkness and proclaim a celebration of life. The amazing thing is that it not even the life of His Son that He celebrates on Good Friday, it is not some sort of memorial service for Jesus by which we remember His good deeds. No, the celebration of Good Friday that God has in mind is the celebration of your life, the coming into being of your life, the expectation He has of . . .

It was during the dark winter of 1864, Petersburg , Virginia , the Confederate army of Robert E. Lee faced the Union divisions of General Ulysses S. Grant. The war was now three and a half years old and the glorious charge had long since given way to the muck and mud of trench warfare. Late one evening one of Lee's generals, Major General George Pickett, received word that his wife had given birth to a beautiful baby boy. Up and down the line the Southerners began building huge bonfires in celebration of the event. These fires did not go unnoticed in the Northern camps and soon a nervous General Grant sent out a reconnaissance patrol to see what was going on. The scouts returned with the message that Pickett had had a son and these were celebration fires. It  happened that Grant and Pickett had been contemporaries at West Point and knew one another well, so to honor the occasion Grant, too, ordered that bonfires should be built. What a peculiar night it was. For miles on both sides of the battle line flames lit up the sky in a celebration of life. No shots fired. No cursing back and forth. No war fought. Only bonfires of light proclaiming good news. 

Good Friday is like that, in the midst of the despair of sin God has caused a great burning light to pierce the darkness and proclaim a celebration of life. The amazing thing is that it not even the life of His Son that He celebrates on Good Friday, it is not some sort of memorial service for Jesus by which we remember His good deeds. No, the celebration of Good Friday that God has in mind is the celebration of your life, the coming into being of your life, the expectation He has of your life, in His arms, forever. That's the heart of Good Friday. Let me share with you a closing scene of the cross of Christ, the moment when God set ablaze the news of the gospel of Christ. Read with me the passage of Matthew 28:45-50. 

I. The Depths of Darkness Are Met In Christ.      

How dark is dark? I can think of times when we were in the tropics, walking at night, a clouded sky hid all that the moon and stars might have offered for guidance. To go even a short distance was a stumbling experience. That was dark, but there have been times when it was even darker, when I came in from the bright sunlight of a mid-afternoon to a cabin that had no windows, as the door closed there was a darkness deeper than the darkness of night. It wasn't just absence of light, it was the inability of my eye to let what light there was, in. When there has been light and suddenly it is removed, the darkness is the deepest. Look at verse 45, "Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour…". Two questions: What caused the darkness? ; What ended the darkness? 

1.     What caused the darkness?  We could ask ourselves what causes any darkness on the face of the earth…the side of the earth we are on is turned away from the sun or something has come between us and the sun, like an eclipse. It was dark for three hours, this doesn't fit into either of these scenarios, for an eclipse only lasts a few minutes, a total eclipse lasts but a minute. For darkness to overcome the land in the sense of an eclipse, the movement of the planet would have to be suspended for three hours. Is there a third option, did God somehow block the ability of our eyes to receive light as when you come in, out of the light into a dark place? Is this what John meant in 3:19, "And this is the condemnation, that light has come into the world and men loved darkness rather than light for their deeds were evil." Was the impending removal of the Christ from the world as light experienced in these three hours of darkness? 

2.     What ended the darkness? I suppose to answer this we'd have to speculate on what happened during those three hours. Theologically we know that the Father had purposed the cross of Christ from before the world was created. Theologically we know that the cross of Christ was the means whereby the sinless Son of God would have the weight  of mans sin put upon Him and the weight of His righteousness made ready to be put upon all who receive His sacrifice for them. The imputing, or charging to the account of another, is what was taking place. The sin of man was being imputed to Christ, put upon Him. In 2 Corinthians 5:21 it says, "He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him." Is this what was happening during those three hours of darkness, is this why Christ, at the end of that darkness, cried out the words of Psalm 22, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" The lash, the thorn, the spit, the spikes, the spear…these were cruel expressions of ignorant human hatred, yet as vicious as this was, it is immeasurably overshadowed by the effect of the imputation of sin upon the holy Son of God. Did the darkness end because the fullness of man's sin now rested completely upon the body of Jesus Christ? Did the darkness end because of the voice of Jesus, as He cried out for all to hear… "It is finished…" (John19:30). What is it that God had finished as the soul of Christ was yielded up? 

II. The Need of Man and the Pleasures of God Are Satisfied In Christ. 

There is an expression that is used among missionaries in certain parts of the world. Whenever a family had completed their assignment, perhaps having been in the country for over twenty five years and now they were going to leave the mission field permanently, it was said that they were 'going finish'. That is they were not ever returning again to do what they had been doing. What is it that Jesus had finished? In essence what Jesus had finished was the completion of the gospel, the final articles that made up the good news of God for man. I like the way that John Piper expresses this, "…salvation is not good news if it only saves from hell and not for God. Forgiveness is not good news if it only gives relief from guilt and does not open the way to God. Justification is not good news if it only makes us legally acceptable to God but doesn't bring fellowship with God. Redemption is not good news if it only liberates us from bondage but doesn't bring us to God. Adoption is not good news if it only puts us in the Fathers family but not in His arms."('The Passion of Jesus Christ', pg 62) 

What Jesus finished was more than rescue or the resolution of the debt of sin, what He finished was the restoration of relationship that man had originally had with God and which was lost at the inception of sin. How did Adam and Eve move before God in that time when sin had yet to enter? There was the joy of discovery with God, the willing receiving of command from God to work, the experience of God's love and care. Now we confess or agree with God, about sin, then we confess and agree with God about righteousness. We marvel in the righteousness of Christ now inexperienced in our thinking, and actions and nature.     

Not only that, but what Jesus did in this mission of restoration would bring eternal pleasure to the heart of God the Father. There is the pleasure of the Father in His Son, seeing the perfect obedience that only Christ could demonstrate, seeing Him as the Restorer of all creation and the adored Redeemer. There is  the pleasure of God the Father in a righteous mankind, one receptive to His will, one that joys in the unfolding discovery of who He is, a mankind that constantly reflects the wonders of God's glory.           

This is the work of the cross, this is message of Good Friday, this is the gospel of Jesus Christ, the blazing fire of the celebration of life that God has caused to be through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Rev. Spence Laycock pastors at Church of the Open Bible, Ponoka, Alberta, Canada.
www.churchoftheopenbible.ab.ca