The Story of Good Friday

The city was in turmoil! People were afraid. Children were whimpering. Never had there been a day like this before. Darkness had covered the land for three hours and it was still the middle of the day. No birds were singing. Nature was deathly silent. People couldn’t understand what was going on. Some questioned if this might be the end of the world as spoken of by Amos the prophet, “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:8)

The evening sacrifice was about to begin and the high priest started to perform his daily duty in spite of the darkness and strange circumstances surrounding him. Just as the Passover lamb had been prepared the day before for each household to celebrate the Passover, today a Passover lamb would also be sacrificed just for the priests.

The priest laid an umblemished male lamb on the alter and laid his hands on it. People huddled together before the altar and prayed the eighteen benedictions as they did every morning and evening. This time as the people prayed, four of the benedictions resonated in their minds. They prayed for their redemption, for their sins to be forgiven, that the Messiah would soon come, and for the resurrection of the dead. As soon as they finished, the high priest raised his knife and plunged it into the innocent lamb and the blood poured out of the sacrifice. And so it was, a sacrifice of blood being shed for the sins of the people.

It was strangely silent and suddenly people heard a lone distant voice crying out from the direction of Golgotha. As the echo of that voice faded, there was a low rumbling coming from the depths of the earth. It increased in intensity until the entire earth quaked! It felt like God Himself was shaking the earth! People screamed and ran! Some fell to their knees. Families huddled together. The earth began moving in waves like the sea in a storm. Statues and walls tumbled to the ground. Everything was being shaken, but mostly the souls of the people in the city!

Suddenly there was a loud crash coming from the Temple. And then, after what seemed like an eternity the shaking stopped. A priest came out of the temple and stood on the steps and shouted to the people that the veil in the temple before the Most Holy Place had been torn in half from the top to the bottom. People were dumbstruck in amazement. What was going on? Was this the end of world?

Then out of the chaos and confusion in the streets walked a man whose face was set like a flint to do God’s will. He had just come from the direction of that voice and where the crucifixion of two thieves and Jesus of Nazareth was taking place.

Everybody knew him. He was a kind man and respected by the Romans, the Jews and the common people, for though he was one of the richest men in the country, he was also known for using his wealth to help others. When people saw him, he had a calming effect on them. He had no fear. The darkness began to fade and light returned. The sun broke through the dark, dark clouds.

When he was told that the veil in the Temple had been torn from the top to the bottom, he understood what happened, and it only increased his resolve. He knew what he had to do and turned towards the direction of the Praetorium.

He boldly walked up the steps and asked to see Pontius Pilate. The guards prevented him for a moment but Pilate, who was standing on the veranda overseeing the damage done by the earthquake, saw who it was.  He commanded the guards to let him in. These men knew each other and respected one another.

The bold man said that he wanted to have the body of Jesus of Nazareth so he could give him a proper burial. Pilate was surprised to hear that Jesus was already dead and sent a servant to get the centurion overseeing the crucifixion to find out if it was so.

While they waited for the centurion to come, the two men talked about the tragic events earlier in the day and the night before. Pilate knew this man was on the Sanhedrin and was surprised that he seemed to care about Jesus. He asked him why he wanted so desperately to condemn this innocent man and how could he condone this wicked deed? The man was ashamed to admit that he was on the Sanhedrim and though he was a disciple of Jesus, he was one in secret. He had been afraid to admit that he believed in Jesus because he loved the opinions of men more than the opinions of God. That confession stuck like a knife in Pilate’s heart. It convicted him of what he too had done.

Then, the bold man said he had been sleeping during the night and didn’t even know that secret trials had been called. He discovered all this had happened while he slept.

So, Pilate told him of the trials of Jesus that were held illegally at night with Annas, then Caiaphus. At dawn the Sanhedrin met and proclaimed Jesus guilty and brought Jesus to him and demanded he be crucified. He explained how he questioned Jesus and told them that he found no fault in him and that he had done nothing worthy of death. He then sent Jesus to Herod and though he mocked him, he found him not guilty. He told how his own wife had a dream about Jesus and pleaded with him to have nothing to do with him.

But the Jews were insistent that Jesus be crucified. They threatened to tell Caesar that he was protecting a traitor. He had never seen people so insanely bloodthirsty. Pilate told how he let the people decide and gave them a choice of which criminal he should release. He thought for sure the common people would choose to release Jesus, because he remembered that it was only a few days before, the people were shouting Hosannas to him as he rode into the city on a donkey. He’d let them decide.

But it was early in the morning and most people were at home. And there were voices in the crowd that morning that incited the people into a mob-like frenzy and they shouted that they wanted Barabbas released and Jesus to be crucified. He said he was shocked that they chose Barabbas so he had Jesus scourged hoping that would placate their blood lust. But when they saw Jesus with the crown of thorns on his head, they had no pity but shouted even louder to crucify him. Pilate took out a bowl and washed his hands of any responsibility for the death of this innocent man and then turned him over to his soldiers to be crucified.

Pilate had finished telling the story and he felt like he had just given a confession. At that moment the centurion came into the room and affirmed that Jesus was indeeded dead. He told them they were going to break his legs but discovered he had already died just before the terrible earthquake. The Centurion then repeated in amazement what he said at the cross, “Surely this man was the son of God”. Then he said that they were ready to take the bodies down and throw them into the common grave they had dug.

Pilate knew that this was exactly what the Jews wanted to happen to Jesus’ body so the people would quickly forget about him. He remembered how he wrote on the sign. “Jesus King of the Jews” just to annoy them. Perhaps this could be an opportunity to irritate them even further. He told the centurion to give Jesus’ body to this man standing before him because he had a tomb ready to bury him properly.

As the centurion left, the man thanked Pilate and quickly left. Pilate was still deeply troubled but had some satisfaction in knowing that he had finally done the right thing.

The kind gentleman had to work quickly for there were less than a couple of hours of sunlight left before the Sabbath began, when they would have to be finished with their task.

As he left the Praetorium, he saw his friend Nicodemus standing outside and told him that he had been given Jesus’ body and would bury him in his own tomb. He asked Nicodemus if he could help and buy some myrrh and aloes for the burial and he would try to find a linen cloth to bury him in. They agreed that they would meet at Golgotha at the cross as quickly as possible.

It is amazing how quickly he found a shop open in the city on Passover and after the earthquake. As he entered the shop he asked for the finest Egyptian linen money could buy so he could bury his friend. The shopkeeper told him that, in the back, they had some Egyptian linen that was so finely woven, only kings and nobility could afford it. He told her that was exactly what he wanted. She expressed her condolences on the death of his loved one, and he told her it was for Jesus, the man who was just crucified. She was perplexed as to why he would want such expensive linen to bury a criminal? He boldly proclaimed that this Jesus wasn’t a criminal but was the Messiah who died for his and her sins. He was amazed at how bold he was. He felt so free he didn’t care what anybody thought. He was going to proclaim Christ to everybody he met!

He gathered the linen and willingly paid the enormous price. He loved Jesus and this extravagance was only natural to give someone you loved so much. At the cross, he saw Nicodemus and his servants struggling to carry all of the spices they had purchased for the burial. Nicodemus had bought a hundred pounds of myrrh and aloes, enough to bury 200 men! Nicodemus saw the fine linen that had been purchased and that it was fit for the burial of a king, and he was pleased.

They saw the mother of Jesus holding her son’s body as if to prevent the Roman’s from taking it and casting it to the dogs. The gentleman gently bent down and softly told her that Pilate had given the body to him and that he could place the body in his own tomb which had just been carved out of the rock cliff nearby. The centurion talked to the Roman soldiers and affirmed what he said was true and they turned and left.

He asked her if he could take the body and bring it to his tomb. He was able to point out his tomb to her because they could see it from Golgotha.  She gave the body of her son to the two men and they carefully prepared it to be transported. They understood that if they touched a dead body, they would be considered unclean for seven days and could not participate in the priest’s Passover feast nor any of the festivities. But they no longer cared, nor did it mean very much to them any more. This was far more important than the Passover. And then it dawned on them that Jesus’ sacrifice of His life was the fulfillment of the Passover! They were performing the true Passover for the blood of Jesus had been placed on the doorposts of their hearts and the angel of death would forever pass over them!

They quickly arrived at the tomb and started preparing the body. They placed the body on the bench in the tomb and began to wrap it in the linen cloth. They didn’t have time to clean the body properly. As they wrapped, they quickly placed large amounts of spices in the folds. They saw Jesus’ mother and Mary Magdalen standing in the garden outside the tomb watching. They had to move fast for it was almost sundown, but they were assured that the women would come after the Sabbath and do a proper job cleaning and preparing the body.

Just as the sun began to set on the horizon, they stepped out of the tomb and removed the brace holding the great stone. It easily rolled down the groove cut in the rock and covered the entrance of the tomb. They hastily filled in the remaining cracks with mud and stones and walked back to their homes, just as the sun went under the horizon.

This man did not know what his future might be, but he was not at all frightened. He felt freer than he ever felt before in his life. God used him at the exact time to fulfill the part of God’s plan that only he could do. Not only did God change this man’s heart from being a timid, secret disciple of Jesus, but God used him to fulfill the ancient prophecy that Isaiah had written over 600 years earlier, “He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death” (Isaiah 53:9).

The grave that Jesus was assigned with the wicked, was the mass grave dug by the Romans to throw in the bodies of Jesus and the two criminals crucified with him. But instead, Jesus was with the rich in his death. It was highly unlikely that these two circumstances would ever be united in the same person, unless Joseph of Arimathea claimed the body of Jesus and placed it in his own tomb.

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