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Good Friday, Cycle B (2015)

A vulnerable God struggles to overcome our sin.

The texts and the Day prod preachers to sermons on our Sin, the Atonement, and Justification, all extolling God’s love and overcoming of evil.


Psalm 22
The Psalm is a lament prayer for delivery from mortal illness, attributed to David. The superscript’s designation to the Leader according to The Deer of the Dawn is probably a set of instructions to the music leader in The Temple about the melody to be used.

The Psalm begins with a cry for help and defense from forsakenness (vv.1-2), quoted by Jesus on The Cross (Mark 15:34). This suggests that the Psalm can be read as applying to Jesus’ Passion, an especially appropriate reading since this is labeled one of the Psalms traditionally attributed to David, Jesus’ ancestor through Joseph’s lineage. Other references foreshadowing The Crucifixion are provided, such as the experience of being scorned, despised and mocked (vv.6-7), being forsaken (v.11), as well as being poured out like water [mayim] as enriched by evil-doers (vv.14-16) and clothes being divided (v.18). The Psalmist also confesses that God has kept Israel and him safe since birth and that Elohim has been his God since then, a remembrance inspiring the Psalmist’s prayer (vv.3-5,9-10).

A prayer for healing follows, pleading for Yahweh’s Presence and deliverance (vv.19-21). He concludes with a vow of the sick one to offer a formal thanksgiving in The Temple on recovery (vv.22, 25). (Or it is also possible that the Psalmist has received a response from God, and the rest of the Psalm is a song of joyful praise in gratitude for deliverance.) The hymn to be sung follows (vv.23-31). Reference to fear [yare] of the Lord (v.23) does not connote being terrified by God, but is just a term for worship and obedience to Him, and the comment that God did not to hide His face (v.24) is a Hebraic phrase for “remaining in relationship” with us. Among this hymn’s other references to praising God include acclamation and affirmation of His hearing cries of the afflicted [ani] (v.24), His caring for the poor/afflicted (v.26), as well as the praise God will receive from the whole earth and the nations (vv.27-28), the dead (v.29), and from posterity (vv.30-31). This praise could be applied to the God Who raised Jesus.

Application: Several possibilities for sermons emerge from this text. Read Prophetically it affords opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ sufferings for us and how these events were all planned by God in advance (Atonement). We are reminded that God is truly vulnerable, for He suffered and died for us. Another possibility is to remind hearers that this is truly Good Friday, that God overcomes all the suffering Jesus endured, all the suffering in our lives, that His conquest of sickness and evil and suffering is evident in His dominion of the word as well as in His care for the poor and the praise rendered Him by the dead and posterity (Justification By Grace, Social Ethics, and Providence).


Isaiah 52:13 — 53-12
This Lesson is derived from Second Isaiah, the second of three distinct literary traditions that comprise the Book and were edited into one after the Hebrew people had returned from Exile in Babylon in the second half of the 6th century BC. This Lesson, then, does not seem to have been written by the historical Prophet to Judah for whom the Book is named. Rather, it was likely generated soon after the conquest of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587-586 BC. It is a portion of the Book of Consolation, a series of eschatological prophecies. This particular text is the so-called Fourth Servant Song. We have previously noted that there is much dispute about the identity of the Servant in these songs (42:1-4; 49:1-6: 50:1-6; 52:13- -53:12). Historically the Church has claimed the referent of these texts is to an individual (the Messiah, and specifically to Jesus). But many scholars understand them to refer to the role the nation of Israel would play in propagating God’s Mission.

The first 10 verses of Chapter 53 are a congregational reflection on the Servant [ebed]. Other verses in Chapter 52 and the last 2 of Chapter 53 purport to be God’s Word.

This Lesson is a song of God’s exalting His disfigured Servant, how He will be exalted (52:13-15; 53:12b). Although in its historical context the song is intended to depict Israel’s restoration, several passages (see below) can be read canonically (in relation to the New Testament and commemoration of this day) as prefiguring Christ’s Atoning Work. The Servant is said not to have a desirable appearance (not a form of majesty)(53:2). He was despised [bazah] and rejected [chadel] (53:3). He is said to bear our infirmities and was wounded for our transgressions. He took the punishment that made us whole (53:4,5). He was oppressed and afflicted, like a lamb [seh] led to slaughter (53:7). His death is said to have been a perversion of justice (53:8). Reference to the Servant’s tomb/grave [qeber] being with one who is rich (and wicked) is most suggestive of Jesus’ burial in the tomb of the rich man Joseph of Arimethea (53:9; cf. John 19:38-42; Matthew 27:57). Yet it is noted that it was the Will of the Lord to crush the Servant; it was an offering for sin (53:10). For the righteous [tsaddiq] Servant makes many righteous [justifies many -- tsadaq], bearing away [nasa] the sins of many (53:11-12).

Application: Read Prophetically (identifying the Suffering Servant with Christ), sermons on this text can proclaim that we put Christ on the Cross with our sin. Like the Psalm of the Day this text also affords opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ sufferings for us (Atonement). We can remind ourselves of God’s vulnerability, how Christ came to us with no desirable appearance. The dynamics involved in Justification By Grace (God bearing away our sins) are also possible sermon themes. We should keep in mind if the sermon moves in this direction that the concept of righteousness (and justification) in the Old Testament is not to imply faultless conformity to a moral norm, but to living in right relationship with God (Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology, Vol.1, pp.370-371).


Hebrews 10:16-25
The Book is an anonymous treatise which, given its argument for the superiority of Christ’s Sacrifice to those of Levitical priests, was likely written prior to the destruction of The Jerusalem Temple in 70 AD. Remarks in 2:3-4 suggest it was written by a member of a generation of Christians after the Apostles. Modern scholars are inclined to regard the Book as a sermon, perhaps modified after it was delivered to include travel plans, greetings, and a closing (13:20-25). The Christians addressed are thought to have been in danger of falling away from their confession (3:1; 4:14; 10:23). They had endured persecution (10:32-36).

In this text, after a brief citation from Jeremiah (31:33-34) concerning the New Covenant ushered in by Christ the High Priest, with new laws written on the faithful’s hearts and minds (vv.16-18), exhortations to the faithful are offered. Forgiveness of sin and writing the Lord’s laws [nomos] on the hearts [kardia] and minds [dianoia] of the people, giving them forgiveness [aphesis], are said to be the essence of the New Covenant (vv.16-18). Reference is then made to the Blood of Jesus giving confidence [parrhesia] to enter the sanctuary [the Presence of God] through the curtain (which is said to refer to His flesh) (vv.19-20). In accord with the Book’s agenda, Jesus is said to be a great priest [hierus megus] (v.21). As a result, the faithful can approach a public confession in full assurance [plerophoria, full conviction], for their hearts are clear from an evil conscience [suneidesis, a knowing with oneself] and so may hold fast in hope (vv.22-23).

The text then calls for those addressed to provoke [paroxusmos, literally excite] each other to love and good deeds (v.24). The author would have the faithful not neglect meeting together (unlike some who do not) for the Day [hemera] of the Lord (the End Time) is approaching (v.25). This eschatological orientation had been anticipated by the Hebrew Prophets (Isaiah 2:12; Joel 1:15; 3:14; Amos 5:18; 8:9).

Application: The Lesson offers opportunities to proclaim the direct access we now have to God as a result of Christ’s High-Priestly Sacrifice (Atonement and Justification By Grace). But consideration might also be given to the implications for living the Christian life that this intimate contact with God might offer to the faithful (Sanctification). We might also highlight the Eschatological character of lives lived in spontaneous love and Christian fellowship.


John 18:1 — 19:42
We continue to examine the newest account of the Passion, a Gospel, which as we have noted, was probably not written by the Apostle John but by a disciple of his seeking to present a spiritual Gospel which places a strong emphasis on Christ’s divinity. Though by no means a majority in the guild, a handful of scholars hold out for the likelihood of the Gospel being based on eye-witness testimony (Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses, pp.423ff.). The account reports that following His High Priestly Prayer (ch.17), Jesus and the Disciples reportedly journey across the Kidron Valley, between Jerusalem and the Mount of Olives (18:1). Judas leads Roman soldiers, Temple police, and Pharisees to arrest Him (18:2-3). (Of the four Gospels only John mentions a role for Roman soldiers in the arrest.) Jesus asks them, though He already omnisciently knows the answer, whom they seek and when His Name is mentioned He uses a phrase suggestive of His identification with God (with the Name Yahweh), claiming “I am He” [ego eimi] (Exodus 3:14; Isaiah 43:10-11,25). John’s version of Jesus regularly identified Himself this way (8:12; 12:46; 14:6; 15:1,5). With this identification of Himself, Jesus’ arresters fall to the ground in honor of the Name (18:4-8a). He urges that His followers be released in order to fulfill earlier prophecies that He would lose no one (18:8b-9; cf. 6:39; 17:12).

Jesus stops Peter from taking arms to free Him (though Peter did cut off the ear of one of the High Priest’s men [vv.18:10-11]). He is brought by soldiers (the “officer” in most English translations refers to the commander of the Roman cohort) before Annas, the father-in-law of the High Priest Caiaphas, who had advised that it would be better to have Jesus killed as representative of the people of Israel than to have the people and The Temple attacked by Roman authorities (18:13-14). Meanwhile Peter seems to have denied Jesus outside the gate of the High Priest’s courtyard. Another Disciple known by the High Priest enters the courtyard with Jesus (18:15-18). Unlike the other Gospels where Jesus first sees the Sanhedrin (on John’s account He had already been judged by this body [11:47-53]), Jesus simply is judged by the High Priest Annas. In the interrogation Jesus claims that all know or have heard His teaching (18:19-21). He is struck for insubordination and sent to Caiaphas for formal trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin (the official Jewish court made up of seventy priests, scribes, and elders, presided over by the High Priest) (18:22-24), but as noted, we never receive a report of such a trial. Meanwhile Peter denies Jesus again after being accused of being a follower by a relative of the one whom he had injured defending Jesus (18:25-27).

Jesus is brought to Roman Governor Pontius Pilate. Jews do not enter headquarters lest they become unclean for Passover by interaction with Gentiles (18:28). Pilate tries to have the Jews punish Jesus themselves, but they note that they are not permitted to inflict capital punishment. (18:29-32). In response to Pilate’s questions Jesus noted that His Kingdom [basileia] is not of [ek, literally “out of”] the world and that His followers are not defending Him (18:33-36). (John’s Jesus does not emphasize the Kingdom of God as much as other Gospels, so these references to Jesus’ Kingship may be the result of John’s dependence on Mark and other Gospels or a way to assert the divinity of Jesus as this Gospel aims to emphasize. Yet in John’s version of the trial, John emphasizes more than the other Gospels the political accusation that Jesus claims to be king.) After more exchanges with Jesus, during which Jesus claims to have come into the world to testify to the truth [aletheia], Pilate surmises that Jesus has claimed to be a king, but failed to comment on the truth of His testimony. He then offers Jesus’ release to the Jews, but the crowd prefers the release of Barabbas the bandit/robber [lestes, a Greek term sometimes identified with political revolutionaries] (18:37-40).

Pilate then has Jesus flogged and mocked by clothing Him in purple robes which were king-like attire. (Flogging in the Roman Empire was generally reserved for those sentenced to death.) Others mockingly call Him king of the Jews [Basileus ton Ioudaion] (19:1-3). His wearing a purple robe symbolized royalty. Pilate claims to find no case against Jesus regarding alleged political insurrection, but chief priests and police call for His crucifixion, contending He should die for he has claimed to be Son of God (19:4-7). After this exchange Pilate is fearful. (While the translation says “more fearful”, the Greek term mallon, might be translated as “rather” so as to be best translated “rather fearful.”) Jesus refused to answer further questions (19:8-9). Angered, Pilate threatens Jesus with the power he has over Him, but Jesus responds that Pilate’s power depends on God. The one who handed Jesus over is said to be guilty of greater sin (19:10-11). Pilate then tries to release Jesus, but Jews claim He is the enemy of the Emperor. Pilate finally announces Jesus as King of Jews, asks if He should be crucified, and then hands Jesus to the crowd at noon (19:12-16). Jewish custom was to slaughter Passover lambs on the day of preparation at Noon for the Festival.

Jesus carries The Cross to Golgotha (Aramaic for “skull”). He is crucified between two others, with an inscription on The Cross [stauros], “Jesus of Nazareth, the king of the Jews” (Iesus ho Nadzoraios ho Basileus ton Ioudaion, not precisely the same wording as in the other Gospel accounts [cf. Luke 23:38; Mark 15:26]) (19:17-20). Chief priests try to have the inscription changed to make clear that Jesus only claimed to be King of the Jews. Pilate refuses (19:21-22). At the Crucifixion Jesus’ clothes are divided by soldiers and they cast lots for His tunic, fulfilling Psalms 22:18 (19:23-24). In the presence of his mother, her sister Mary of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene, Jesus speaks to the Disciple he loved (identity uncer- tain, though in the tradition it is said that this is John) to care for His mother (19:25-27). Knowing the end is near Jesus sought to fulfill Scripture (Psalm 69:21) by receiving sour wine on a hyssop (a shrub whose branches are too short for this purpose, but is used at the Passover) in response to His thirst (19:28-29; cf. Exodus 12:22). He then proclaims it is finished/completed [tetelestai] and dies (19:30).

Because the Sabbath (and with it the first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, an ancient Spring festival) would dawn in the morning and Jews did not allow bodies to be left on a cross, Pilate ordered the legs of the crucified broken (19:31-32). No need to do that in Jesus’ case for He was already dead; instead His side was pierced. Eyewitness testimony is claimed regarding His death (19:33-35). Scripture is thereby fulfilled, with reference to not breaking the bones of God’s Chosen (as Passover sacrifices cannot have bones broken, as per Exodus 12:46) (19:36). Jesus being pierced is said to fulfill Zechariah 12:10 and its claim that the one pierced will be mourned at the end (19:37).

Joseph of Arimethea, a secret disciple of Jesus, gets permission from Pilate to take His Body. With a leader of the Pharisees, Nicodemus (see 3:1-15), they embalm the Body and lay it in a tomb. (Only in this Gospel does Nicodemus play such a role.) Reference to the 100 pounds of embalming material Nicodemus is said to have brought for the task is really about seventy-five pounds in modern Western weight measures (19:38-42).

Application: The Lesson’s length affords several alternatives noted when the text was considered on Good Friday last year. Sermons might start by helping the faithful see themselves and their sins in the actions surrounding Jesus on the way to The Cross. From that perspective the love and grace of God are all the sweeter and more compelling for everyday life (Justification and Sanctification). The question of what truth is, posed in the dialogue with Pilate, could also be explored (the truth being that Jesus in the Messiah). The apparent affirmation by Jesus of divinity (see the use of the phrase “I am” described above) opens the way for a sermon regarding why it is important for Him to be divine if His Word on The Cross is to save us, for only God can save us (Christology). His reference to His Kingdom being not of the world opens the door to sermons explaining the healthy tensions between church and state (Social Ethics). Finally the Atonement itself could be proclaimed and explained, how it involves not only Jesus’ sacrifice to God but also His conquest of the forces of evil operating in this story.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen