Good Friday and the curse of cancer

Cancer has been front and centre this last week. Relay for Life on the weekend, with cancer survivors and carers, and the memory of loved ones now gone. Surgery today for our niece to remove any traces of melanoma. A funeral this morning for my friend’s mum, who lost her brief battle with lung cancer. Not long before there was Tony Grieg, and then Peter Harvey, and there have been so many others. Mums and dads, grandparents, cousins, uncles, children, bosses, neighbours, colleagues, passing acquaintances. Cancer is a cancer on our world. It invades our lives. It breaks our hearts.

Next Friday is Good Friday. A strange day, when we remember a man dying. In fact, I remember two men dying on this day. On Good Friday 2007 – it was the 6th April – I lost a good friend. He was only 29 years of age. He’d only been married for two years. We’d go to the gym together. He was my neighbour. He stood in the rain and helped us bury our family pet. He’d encourage me with stories – all true. He was my brother in Christ. Cancer took hold of my friend and it didn’t let go. I’d conducted his wedding and, soon after, I conducted his funeral.

It’s not right that a parent should have to view the death of their child.
It’s not right that a wife should lose a husband after only 2 years of marriage.
It’s not right that a man shouldn’t live to see his 30th birthday.

It’s not right. God knows it’s not right. I wondered, after my friend’s passing, if we’d be able to look on Good Friday as good ever again. How could it be good when every Easter we’d be reminded of the death of our friend, or husband, or son?

crossWe need to reflect on the death of the other man. He’s the reason we call it Good Friday. Jesus, who wasn’t much older than my friend. Jesus, who never married. Jesus, whose mother looked on in anguish at his death. Not a good Friday for Jesus. Nailed on a wooden cross. Between two criminals. Publicly ridiculed. Despised and rejected. Forsaken by his followers. Crying out, Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani? My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

The worst of Fridays. The brutal execution of an innocent man. A genuinely good man. A just and merciful, compassionate and courageous man. But even more, this man Jesus was the Son of God, the Messiah, the Lord, and the Saviour. He was Immanuel, God with us. The death of Jesus was no accident. God wasn’t ambushed by the might of the Jews or Romans. There was a plan, a costly plan, a purpose to the death of Jesus. Something that would turn the worst of Fridays into the best day ever.

God had promised this day, centuries before, through the prophet Isaiah:

The servant grew up before God—a scrawny seedling,
a scrubby plant in a parched field.
There was nothing attractive about him,
nothing to cause us to take a second look.
He was looked down on and passed over,
a man who suffered, who knew pain firsthand.
One look at him and people turned away.
We looked down on him, thought he was scum.
But the fact is, it was our pains he carried—
our disfigurements, all the things wrong with us.
We thought he brought it on himself,
that God was punishing him for his own failures.
But it was our sins that did that to him,
that ripped and tore and crushed him—our sins!
He took the punishment, and that made us whole.
Through his bruises we get healed.
We’re all like sheep who’ve wandered off and gotten lost.
We’ve all done our own thing, gone our own way.
And God has piled all our sins, everything we’ve done wrong,
on him, on him. (Isaiah 53:2-6 The Message)

On that first Good Friday, Jesus took our sin upon himself and he bore the punishment. He paid the price. He won our forgiveness, our freedom, our life with God. As Jesus hung on that cross, it should’ve been me… and you. Jesus, the Righteous One, took the judgment we deserve. He endured it, himself, so that we don’t have to.

It’s because of that first Good Friday, that we can look on the day my friend died as a very good day. My friend knew the forgiveness of sins that comes through Jesus. He trusted Jesus, not only in his life, but unto death. He knew the significance of Good Friday and the sure hope of Resurrection Sunday. As I saw the lifeless body of my friend in the hospital on Good Friday, I recognised that he was no longer there. He’d already departed. He was now with his Saviour. Death no longer had hold on him. Cancer did not have the final word. That word belonged to Jesus.

Making the most of the cross

The second sermon I ever gave was a cracker. People told me! It was logical, engaging and humorous. I succeeded in explaining, illustrating and applying the Bible in a way that captivated the listeners. My girlfriend (now wife) even started to believe that I might have some hope of becoming a preacher! But, it’s time for public confession. I basically pinched the whole talk, idea for idea, point for point, from John Chapman.

I don’t think I was the first to do this, and I’m certain that I wasn’t the last. You see, I’d looked over the Bible passage again and again, and I couldn’t see any way to make it clearer than Chappo. So why not simply copy his talk?

Chappo’s passionate desire for people to understand the truth, and his confidence in the Bible to reveal it, came through so clearly in his preaching. He still has this same passion and confidence, and it comes across in his recent book, Making the most of the Cross. How many people are still writing books after their 80th birthdays, and dedicating them to their friends in the retirement home? Well, at least one! And I thank him for it!

This book takes us to the very core of the Christian message – the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Everything stands or falls on these events. Without them, there is no Christianity. If Jesus didn’t die, or if he died and remains dead, then there is no real hope for humanity, either in life or in death. This is no take it or leave it topic. It’s worth investigating seriously, whether we’re a child or an octogenarian. But don’t leave it until you’re 80 if you’re not already there!

There are two main sections in Making the most of the Cross. The first explores the significance of the death of the Lord Jesus. The second considers the facts and meaning of the resurrection. You could tackle the book in two parts, but the real benefits will come from going even more slowly and considering the many different aspects and implications of these events.

The death of Jesus has been described as a jewel with many facets. Each facet gives us a different window into the significance of the cross and its profound implications for us. All facets need to be seen so that we don’t underestimate or skew the meaning of the cross. For example, Chappo helps us to see that…

  1. Jesus’ death brings salvation
  2. Jesus’ death is a substitute
  3. Jesus’ death is a ransom
  4. Jesus’ death turns away God’s anger
  5. Jesus’ death brings the defeat of Satan
  6. In Jesus’ death, the just God justifies sinners freely
  7. Jesus’ death is the unifying force in the Christian community
  8. Jesus’ death brings forgiveness and cleansing

John Chapman grounds every chapter of his book in the text of the Bible. The Gospel accounts are the primary evidence for what happened to Jesus, and how Jesus understood what was happening. The rest of the New Testament supports this, giving additional insight into their meaning. Sometimes the Old Testament is quoted to assist us in understanding a particular background to Jesus’ death or resurrection. In fact, reading this book helps us to see more of how the whole Bible is focused on Jesus and only makes sense in the light of what he has done.

Given the brevity of this book, there is much more that could be said about the significance of the cross. But, this book provides a very good primer. If you are keen to take things deeper then let me recommend The Cross of Christ by John Stott, The Atonement by Leon Morris, and Where Wrath and Mercy Meet edited by David Peterson, among others.

To claim that Jesus was raised from the dead and is alive today, 2000 years later, is nothing short of extraordinary. What is more, Christianity stands or falls on the truth of this claim. It’s not an optional accessory. It’s the heart and soul of it all! Chappo outlines briefly the evidence for the resurrection, including the empty tomb, the eyewitnesses, the amazing transformation of the disciples, and their lasting impact on others (even to this day). But he doesn’t stop here. He goes on to highlight the significance of Jesus being raised, how the resurrection vindicates Jesus in his death, reveals him to be God’s appointed eternal ruler, the judge of all people, the pioneer of life beyond the grave, the pattern of resurrection to come, and the very real hope for you and me that death is not the end.

One thing that impressed and encouraged me about Making the most of the Cross is the suggested prayer, usually just a sentence or two, printed at the end of each chapter. This gives the book a personal edge that encouraged me to relate to God and not simply fill my head with ideas and information. The death and resurrection of Jesus is life-transforming. It has changed my life forever. But the truth is, I need to keep being reminded of these things. Perhaps you do too! I found these words ringing true…

Sometimes the circumstances of life may cause us to wonder if God has forgotten us. Everything seems to be going wrong. But the death of Jesus is above our circumstances. Nothing can take away the fact that Christ died for us. No matter what happens to you or to me, the death of the Lord Jesus says, “I love you”. Nothing can change that. Be in no doubt that God loves you. Jesus’ death remains as a beacon of God’s eternal love for us. (p14)