A GOOD FRIDAY TENEBRAE SERVICE
INTRODUCTION: Good evening, and welcome to a very special time of worship, a time that will find us focusing upon some of the key characters in the story of Christ’s Passion and the roles that they played that fateful Friday so long ago. As we examine these individuals and groups, we’ll not only be looking at their roles. We’ll also be looking at their sins and seeking to answer the question, How great really was Jesus’ love? How far could and did that love reach and especially how much grace could that love give to a fallen sinner? For that reason, the theme that I’ve chosen for our service this evening is “Glimpses of Grace.”
To set the stage for tonight, though, we want to go back to the night before Jesus was put to death, to that time when he found himself wrestling in the Garden of Gethsemane with all that he knew was about to transpire over the next 18 hours or so. Please listen carefully as our choir takes us to that time in a song entitled “Like a Lamb (Led to the Slaughter).”
CHOIR ANTHEM – “Like a Lamb (Led to the Slaughter)”
SCRIPTURE READING: Matthew 26:47-50
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him. Jesus replied, “Friend, do what you came for.” Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him.
MEDITATION #1: Judas
Have you ever been betrayed by a friend? Have you ever had one whom you trusted and in whom you confided share your deepest and most heartfelt secrets with another person? If you have, then you can get a small feel for what Jesus was going through that night when Judas, one of his chosen twelve, stepped up to him in the Garden of Gethsemane and lightly kissed him on the cheek with what could only be called a kiss of doom. For that kiss singled Jesus out as the one the soldiers were to arrest.
Only later did Judas realize the gravity of what he had done and begin to experience remorse for his actions. But by then it was too late. The ball of Christ’s Passion was rolling with such intensity, such momentum that nothing could stop it. So what did Judas do? Matt. 27:5 says: “He went away and hanged himself.”
Let me ask you a question, my friends. Had Judas taken his remorse one step further to the point of genuine and sincere repentance, do you think Jesus would have forgiven him? There’s no doubt in my mind he would have because notice the glimpse of grace that Jesus gave him when Judas came forward to kiss him in the garden. He called him “friend,” didn’t he? And you know what? No matter what you’ve done in your life, he calls you the same. So we pray:
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, when you walked this earth you were sometimes criticized by the Jewish leaders for being what they called a friend of sinners. We thank you that you were, even to the point of calling Judas your friend at the very moment he betrayed you, for that assures us that you call us your friends as well. May we always cherish your friendship and never turn our back on you as Judas did. In your name we pray. Amen.
HYMN – #57, vv. 1,5 (HS) “Jesus! What a Friend of Sinners”
SCRIPTURE READING: Matthew 26:73-75
After a little while, those standing there went up to Peter and said, “Surely you are one of them, for your accent gives you away.” Then he began to call down curses on himself and he swore to them, “I don’t know the man!” Immediately a rooster crowed. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: “Before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly.
MEDITATION #2 – Peter
Most of us know the story of Peter’s 3-fold denial of Jesus. But what made those denials even worse were the boastful claims Peter had made earlier that night in the upper room when Jesus had warned his disciples that all of them would desert him later that night. Peter could not believe that his Master could say such a thing about him. So he proudly proclaimed that even if all the others would abandon him, he never would. Why he would be willing to go to prison with Jesus. He would even be willing to die for him, if necessary.
But when the challenge came, you know what Peter did. He caved in to the pressure. He turned coward and all his boastful claims evaporated like the morning mist when exposed to the rising sun. In fact, Peter didn’t just deny Jesus, he resorted to cursing and swearing to get his point across to those who were questioning him.
So how about it? Could Jesus forgive something as reprehensible as that? If you know what Paul Harvey would call “the rest of the story,” you know that’s exactly what Jesus did. For several weeks following his resurrection, Jesus offered Peter a glimpse of grace as he met privately with him on the shore of the Sea of Galilee and through a series of three questions in which he asked him, “Simon, do you love me?” he allowed Peter to reverse those three denials and reinstated him as one of his disciples. And Peter was so grateful that he spent the rest of his life serving the One who had shown such amazing grace to such an unworthy sinner. So we pray:
PRAYER: Lord, as difficult as it is, we confess to you the times that we have been like Peter – the times we have failed you, the times we have denied you, the times we have not honored and loved you above all things. Please forgive us, Jesus. Wash us in your cleansing blood. And through the power of your Holy Spirit give us the courage and strength we need to never be ashamed of you again. Amen.
HYMN – #5, vv.1,2,3 (HS) “Amazing Grace”
SCRIPTURE READING: Mark 15:12-14
“What shall I do, then, with the one you call the king of the Jews?” Pilate asked them. “Crucify him!” they shouted. “Why? What crime has he committed?” asked Pilate. But they shouted all the louder, “Crucify him!”
MEDITATION #3 – The crowd
Oh how quickly things can change. Just five days before this Jesus was the crowd favorite. As he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, the people lined the streets of the city. They waved palm branches in the air and placed their cloaks in the road for him to ride on. They shouted their hosannas to him and hailed him as their king.
But when he failed to live up to their expectations that week, it didn’t take much for them to turn against him. And with some prompting from their religious leaders, their shouts of “Hosanna” were turned into cries of “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Now there’s no way that Jesus could have forgiven them for that, is there? There’s no way that he could pardon such fickle faith and shallow commitment, right? Wrong. For just a few days before this Jesus had given another glimpse of grace when he looked over the city that was about to reject him and I’m sure with tears in his eyes he said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” That statement seems to imply that had they been willing, had they been open and receptive to him, he would have been more than happy to forgive them and welcome them into his family. But unfortunately they weren’t. And so we pray:
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, protect us from ever doing what the crowd did to you that day. Though your love and forgiveness were there for the taking, they refused and thus deprived themselves of what every human being so desperately needs. We pray especially for those whose hearts have become hardened and callused toward you. Please break down the walls they have built around themselves and lead them to your waiting and forgiving arms. In your name we pray. Amen.
HYMN – 115, vv.1,3,4 (LW) “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”
SCRIPTURE READING: John 18:37-38
“You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” “What is truth?” Pilate asked.
MEDITATION #4: Pontius Pilate
He’s been listed among the greatest cowards of all time. His name will forever live in infamy for every time we say the Apostles’ Creed we acknowledge his dominant role in the crucifixion of Christ. Granted, he tried to wiggle out of the decision he ultimately handed down. That much we do have to say in his favor. But when push came to shove, the man we know as Pontius Pilate caved in to the demands of the crowd and ordered that the One who called himself the King of the Jews should be executed.
Surely such a man who did such a thing could never be offered grace, right? Wrong. For as Pilate questioned Jesus, I believe Jesus was reaching out to him when he said, “Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Meaning that if Pilate would have just listened to Jesus, he would have heard the truth and found the truth. And as Jesus once put it, that truth would have set him free. Just another glimpse of grace from the grace-filled heart of the Son of God. Unfortunately Pilate never got it. And instead of embracing the perfect embodiment of truth that stood in front of him, Pilate uttered his famous question, “What is truth?” and proceeded to sentence to death the source of all truth. And so we pray:
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, you are just what you claimed to be, the way, the truth, and the life. May we never make the same mistake that Pilate made. But may we instead embrace you as the truth, follow you as the way, and thus receive from you the life that only you can give. We ask this in your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.
HYMN – #283 (LW) “You are the Way; to You Alone”
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 23:33-34
When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals–one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And they divided up his clothes by casting lots.
MEDITATION #5: The soldiers
We don’t know any of their names. We don’t know whether they had families to go home to at after a long day of crucifixions. We don’t know whether they felt even an ounce of compassion for those they pierced with nails. All we know is that they were good at carrying out orders. And that’s exactly what they did the day they were given three men to crucify, two of whom were thieves, the other of whom was some sort of megalomaniac who claimed to be a king. So they did to him what they probably did with every other person they crucified. They treated him roughly. They spoke to him harshly. They mocked him. They jeered at him. They cast lots for his clothes.
Surely the grace of God could never extend to such sinful, sadistic soldiers as these, could it? Oh but it could. For notice the glimpse of grace that came spilling forth in the very first words that Jesus spoke once he was affixed to his cross. Notice, he didn’t pray for himself. He didn’t call for the people to feel sorry for him. He didn’t even speak to his mother first. Instead, he lifted his eyes heavenward and prayed for the very men who had placed him on that cross: “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” And so we pray:
PRAYER: Lord, we admit that at times we find it difficult to forgive those who have wronged us. Help us to find in this glimpse of grace that we’ve just looked at all the motivation and inspiration we need so that in the power of your love we might love those who are difficult to love and truly forgive those who are difficult to forgive. We ask this in your name, Lord Jesus. Amen.
HYMN – #116, vv.1,2,3 (LW) “Stricken, Smitten, and Afflicted”
SCRIPTURE READING: Luke 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
MEDITATION #6: The penitent thief
Now there’s a man with guts. Here he had lived a life of crime, a life of running from God, a life of rebellion against God, and with only a few minutes to live, he has the audacity to ask Jesus to grant him entrance into his heavenly kingdom. How dare he! But you know what, my friends? I can’t find one single instance in the Gospels where somebody came to Jesus looking for grace but went away empty-handed. And nobody exemplifies that better than the penitent thief. For as he finds himself staring into the ever-widening jaws of death, Jesus gives him a glimpse of grace that must have sent waves of comfort coursing through his pain-wracked body. “I tell you the truth,” Jesus said, “today you will be with me in paradise.” We pray:
PRAYER: Lord Jesus, once again we are amazed at your grace, grace that would extend even to a wayward thief in his dying moments. May we never take such grace for granted but instead use it as the impetus to spur us on to a life lived to your honor and glory out of nothing but sheer gratitude and appreciation for all that you’ve done for us and all that you’ve made possible for us. In your name. Amen.
HYMN – #361, vv.1,2,3 (LW) “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”
SCRIPTURE READING: John 3:16
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.”
MEDITATION #7: You and Me
Tonight we’ve seen glimpses of grace being given to the most unlikely, unworthy, and undeserving of sinners: the betraying Judas, the denying Peter, the mocking crowd, the spineless Pilate, the sadistic soldiers, and the penitent thief. Some of them, like Peter and the thief, received that grace by faith and made it their own. Others like Judas, Pilate, and the crowd refused it. Which brings us to a very important question that we need to ask before we draw this service to a close: What about you? Perhaps there have been times in your life when you wondered how God could ever love a sinner like you. After the things you’ve done to hurt him and to hurt others, is it even possible that his grace could reach so far as to touch someone like you? My prayer is that after what you’ve heard here tonight there is no doubt in your mind anymore as to the answer to that question. For yes, it is possible, as Jesus himself states it so clearly in the words of John 3:16 that I just read to you. And I can’t think of any better way to drive that point home to you than by asking you to personalize that well known verse of Scripture for yourself. “For God so loved you that he gave you his one and only Son, so that if you would believe in him, you would not perish, but you would have eternal life.”
PRAYER: Lord, as we draw this service to a close over the next few minutes, we do so with mixed emotions. Our hearts are heavy with sorrow over all that Jesus had to go through for us, but they are also overflowing with joy because of the grace…your grace – your undeserved kindness and favor and love – that flows so freely and so generously to us from the cross. From the bottom of our hearts all we can say is Thank you, thank you, thank you. Amen.
HYMN – 97 (LW)
SLAMMING OF THE BIBLE TO SIGNIFY FULFILLMENT OF PROPHECY
Please listen as our choir closes out our service this evening with a powerful reminder that Jesus died with his arms open wide as if to say to each and every one of us, “I love you.”