a Good Friday Sermon from John 19
It would be easy to riff on the name Good Friday, but I don’t want to do that tonight. I want to talk about what’s truly good about Good Friday.
- Good Friday shows us what winning looks like.
- Good Friday shows us the true, long-awaited king.
- Good Friday calls us to believe.
Good Friday is a fitting name, and tonight we will let Pilate be our guide for the start of the tour. He has some things he wants us to see. We start in John 19:5.
Behold the man
In John 19:5, Pilate issues the call: “Behold the man!” (19:5) What are we to see? We started Lent with the call to listen to Jesus so that we could be ready for hard times. Tonight we look at Jesus. Behold the man.
Jesus was beaten, he had a crown of thorns pressed into his scalp, they hit him, he was mocked, he was shamed — “We have no king but Caesar!” — they made holes in his hands with the nails, they used a spear to pierce his side. What good is there to see here?
Well, you know this is no mistake, don’t you? Our Good Friday passage is John 19, but the whole book has been leading up to tonight. Throughout the book, Jesus kept telling people, “My hour has not come, my hour has not come” (7:30; 8:20). And then in chapter 12, after processing into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday, he said, “This is it; my hour has come” (12:23).
And as soon as Jesus says those words, he tells a little parable about winning. He says unless a seed of wheat falls into the dirt and dies, it’s just a seed. But if that seed of wheat dies and is buried, it bears much fruit (12:24). Remember, he said, “No one takes my life from me; I lay it down because I want to” (10:18).
Jesus himself explained all this and do you know how they responded? Many said, “We are right, aren’t we, to say you have a demon?” (10:20) Others said, “Dying? What’s all this seed and wheat and son of man being lifted up talk? That isn’t how we understand the Messiah” (12:34). Jesus’ idea of winning sounds strange today, too.
He was misunderstood from start to finish, but he did it anyway. He said he wanted to do this for his sheep (10:15). He literally said, “I came for this reason” (12:27). This is no L! Jesus won on Good Friday! He came to do this and he did it. This is what we confess! You meant it for evil, you angry mob, but Jesus and the Father and the Holy Spirit did it with one glorious purpose!
This way of living, the Good Friday way, is not just for Jesus. This is the apex of human existence — giving your life in love for those who need love, whether they appreciate it in the moment or not. On Good Friday, no one understood yet. Jesus chose to walk through this painful night alone, for us. Remember the creed:
For us and for our salvation
He came down from heaven …
For our sake he suffered under Pontius Pilate
This is love, and this is what we call a win. Jesus says, “The one who loves his live will lose it … If anyone wants to be my servant, he must follow me” (12:25–26).
I wrote what I wrote
Pilate has something else he wants us to see. In John 19:19, we read,
Pilate also wrote an inscription and put it on the cross. It read, “Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews.” Many of the Jews read this inscription, for the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city, and it was written in Aramaic, in Latin, and in Greek. So the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, “Don’t write, ‘The King of the Jews,’ but rather, ‘This man said, I am King of the Jews.’” Pilate responded, “I wrote what I wrote.”
Good Friday shows us the climax of the whole thing God started doing with Abraham. He didn’t give up on us in Eden. He didn’t give up on us with Noah’s generation. He showed up to one of Noah’s descendants named Abram, and he said I’m going to do something amazing with your family.
Time and time again he came through in impossible scenarios. Abram’s wife couldn’t have kids, but she did. Abram’s family grew to be huge, but they ended up slaves in Egypt. What’d God do? He showed up to a murderer on the run named Moses and told him to take down Egypt.
God parted the Red Sed Sea and led his people to Sinai, where gave them instructions for life. They received the instructions happily. Their spirit was willing, but just like Peter, their flesh was weak. They failed miserably.
God drew near in the tabernacle, but they lost their way, and before you know it we are in the dark ages of the Judges where unspeakable evil is the ebb and flow of everyday life in Israel.
You know what the outcry was during those dark days? We need a king! They got a king, but that didn’t work out too well. Time and time again, their kings failed — and that includes David. Before you know it the nation is split and they end up in exile. Their nation is a haunt for jackals; people walk by and wag their heads. God didn’t give up on them, even then.
He brought them back, and they slowly started to rebuild. Generations come and go, and it’s like, at this point centuries later, all that Bible stuff is just a bunch of stories. It’s all so far in the past — prophets, miracles. Was it even real?
Then John appears in the desert. “The kingdom of God has come near! Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” he cries. And now, here we are with Pilate similarly calling to us, “Behold the man! King of the Jews! I wrote what I wrote!”
You remember Jesus’ last words? It’s finished. What’s finished? The build up of redeeming work that started in Genesis. This night is it. Behold the man, the true king, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!
I know that Jesus struggled to say those words — “It is finished.” — because right after he said them he suffocated and died. I cannot, however, hear those words as words of defeat. Jesus won on Good Friday; he showed us what a true king looks like.
The call to believe
Good Friday is a win, but it is a win full of pain. How are we supposed to respond to that? You might say, if this is winning then I can’t do it. How am I supposed to follow Jesus and live like this?
Well, Pilate is not sufficient to answer these questions. At this point, we must pass the tour off to John. Just after Jesus spoke his last words and died, 19:34–35 says,
But one of the soldiers pierced his side with a spear, and at once there came out blood and water. He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe.
You don’t have to be capable tonight. The call is to believe.
- Believe that this night is no accident.
- Believe that Jesus lived, he suffered, and he died because he wanted to.
- Believe that Jesus did all this for you.
- Believe that Jesus is the long awaited Messiah.
- Believe that just like, after so many years of silence John showed up and called people to repent, this call you hear tonight is God’s call to you. The kingdom of God has drawn near to you! Turn from your disbelief.
- Believe that what we we will celebrate on Sunday is true tonight! He didn’t stay in the grave! He came out!
- Believe that Jesus’s victory over death is your victory over death.
- Believe that he has done what he said he would do. He said he would send us a Helper, and he has.
You don’t have to have the power to do anything expect call out to him for help. The Holy Spirit who brought life to Jesus’ dead body will give you the power to live a life of love. If death and a grave couldn’t keep Jesus dead, your weakness can’t hold him back either. Good Friday shows us that even on the darkest days and nights there is hope.
John says he wrote these words that you might believe. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, we believe; help our unbelief. Christ have mercy.