Good Friday – “Fight Like Jesus” review
- Read the overview of the book “Fight Like Jesus” by Jason Porterfield here.
- Read about Palm Sunday here.
- Read about Holy Monday here.
- Read about Holy Tuesday here.
- Read about Holy Wednesday here.
- Read about Maundy Thursday here.
The hammer comes down on Friday. The question is who holds it? Jesus or the Sanhedrin? Jesus or Pilate and Rome? How we read Good Friday says a great deal about what we believe about God. Is God wrathful, desiring the spilling of blood to make up for sin? Or is God so loving that God would suffer the worst that humanity has to offer and still love all of creation in spite of it?
The end of the Gospel is related to the beginning. “…before we consider the events of Good Friday, we’re first going to go back to the start of Jesus’ public ministry, to the day when he publicly declared what his messianic mission would be all about. In response to his announcement, those listening tried to kill him. The incident is recorded in the second half of Luke 4.” (Pg. 143)
And even before that, we’re told about Jesus time in the desert, where Jesus was “tempted by the devil to become the kind of messiah everyone wanted him to be.” (pg. 143). That’s to say a messiah that wields the hammer down on his enemies. A messiah of wrath, in the mold of Judas Maccabees.
Porterfield is hitting the key messages and challenging the common narratives that American Christianity has held onto for a long time – often a misguided narrative.
“If Jesus only came to earth to die for our sins so that we might have life – which is what I was taught in Sunday school – then he didn’t need thirty-three years to accomplish this mission. He didn’t even need a week. Jesus could have incarnated as an adult and then – as Luke 4 reveals – simply delivered a contentious message, infuriated his listeners, and gotten tossed to his death. Mission accomplished. All in ten minutes or less!” (Pg. 146).
And to take this further, Porterfield delivers more: “So if dying for our sins was Jesus’ sole mission, then getting hurled over a cliff would have been an ideal way to die. Jesus would forever be remembered as the perfect, once-and-for-all scapegoat who bore the sins and died in our place. Our hymns would speak of kneeling at the foot of the cliff. We’d have images of dead goats tattooed on our arms. And once a year, our congregations would gather outside to watch our pastors toss stuffed billy goats off the church roof.” (Pg. 147). That’s because “Every year on the Day of Atonement – when the people of Israel collectively made amends for their sins – the high priest would take a goat, lay his hands on its head, and confess all the sins of Israel, thus transferring those sins onto the animal. The scapegoat was then led out of the city and left in the barren wilderness to die. Over time, however, a problem emerged. On more than one occasion, the goat – the very embodiment of Israel’s sins – ventured back into the city…To remedy the situation, a new tradition emerged. From then on, the goat was taken out of the city and killed by being tossed off a cliff.” (Pg. 146-7)
Porterfield offers the key distinction between the events associated with Luke 4, the potential tied to the Day of Atonement, and the events of Holy Week, Passover. “The Day of Atonement is about forgiveness. Passover, on the other hand, is about liberation.:” (Pg. 147).
Now we’re getting somewhere. And we’re hitting on something much deeper. How many of us don’t think we need liberation? How many of us, when we hear the term liberation have a negative reaction to it, coming up with excuses, or spin on the word? How many of us start to label it in order to gut it? How many of us fight against it because the very idea of liberation brought on by God confronts the very things that we identify with and hold dear – the things that keep us in bondage. Things like partisan identity, money, ideology, addiction to being right, misplaced identity from our work, possessions, and more.
Porterfield offers this first lesson for this day – Christlike peacemakers live by a spirit of mercy, never vengeance. “Jesus revealed that his mission would be the opposite of vengeance.” (Pg. 149). Which is why so many wanted to have him killed.
Next Porterfield moves to the trial of Jesus before Pilate. Too often we read the dialogue between Pilate and Jesus without emotion or change in tone. We think the words alone do the dialogue justice. But when we do that, we miss out on much of the meaning. “…Pilate could hardly believe that the pitiful excuse of a man standing before him could ever be guilty of such a charge.” (Pg. 152). Trying reading Pilate’s question “Are you the King of the Jews?” with that kind of tone and see how things change.
Going further, the crowd, along with us, is presented with a choice – what kind of messiah do we want? Jesus, the one of peace, or Barabbas, the insurrectionist who was convicted of murder, a violent revolutionary? He failed, “but at least he had proven his willingness to fight for Israel’s liberation.” (pg. 154).
Lesson #2 from Porterfield is this – To embrace Jesus’ way of making peace, Christlike peacemakers must reject the Barabbas alternative.
“We cannot have it both ways. If we choose the Barabbas way of making peace, we have rejected Jesus. And conversely, to embrace the Jesus way of making peace, we must reject the Barabbas alternative.” (Pg. 155)
And finally, we have the crucifixion, there is so much that can be said about it. I’ll highlight one part from Porterfield’s chapter. While Jesus is on the cross, dying, Mark records Jesus saying “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (15:34). Too often this is seen as God the Father abandoning Jesus because of his sinfulness.
But what if there’s another way of looking at this. Porterfield offers three reasons why we should consider an alternative.
1. God is like Jesus. “Jesus sought out sinners, befriended sinners, even dined with sinners. And when the Pharisees acted as if holy living required one to stay away from sinners, Jesus rebuked them. If our understanding of the cross makes God the Father look like the Pharisees and not like Jesus, then we need to reevaluate our theology.” (Pg. 158).
2. “If God literally abandoned Jesus on the cross, why did Jesus keep talking with him?” (Pg. 158).
3. What if we missed what Jesus was quoting. What Jesus says on the cross is the opening line of Psalm 22. “It’s a hymn that speaks of immense suffering. In it, the psalmist writes of his hands and feet being pierced, his clothes being divided up by his persecutors, and is mouth being dry. By reciting the opening line, Jesus was saying either that this psalm was about him or that he could relate with the agony experienced by the psalmist. Either way, Jesus was identifying with Psalm 22. (Pg. 159).
Let’s get back to the essential question of the day – who wields the hammer on Good Friday? “…Jesus was not the Hammer of God, we chose someone with a proven track record of bringing a hammer down on our enemies (Barabbas), and then we picked up a hammer and we crucified Jesus…God is not like a hammer. We are.” (Pg. 161).
Which leads to Porterfield’s final lesson for the day – Instead of retaliating in kind, Christlike peacemakers break the cycle of violence by forgiving.
And maybe one of the best lines in the entire book comes at the end of this chapter, which I will leave you with today – “The thing about forgiveness, however, is that it has an uncanny ability to create a future when none seems possible.” (Pg. 163).
Tomorrow, we’ll take a look at Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday.