Good Friday sermons aren’t always easy to sit through. They’re even tougher to preach. Never have I been more moved or more likely to squirm in my seat in church than on Good Friday. Perhaps that’s because they invite us to sit in the midnight passages of Scripture, caught up with suffering, death, and the purposes of God. For many of us, it is a trial to read Good Friday texts and still see God as good.
Might I suggest that the careful use of historical Christian doctrine can help?
Take Isaiah 53’s shadowy prophecy of the Suffering Servant. In its own context, mystery lies thick around the Servant. A disturbing portrait of travail and torment mystifies and perplexes, even as it enthralls. In the earlier Songs of the Servant in Isaiah, he is clearly a communal figure for Israel in exile. But in this chapter, the communal figure becomes a concrete individual—an enigmatic and tragic one. Despised and rejected by men, oppressed and led away to death by his enemies, he seems among men the most to be pitied.
The worst of his lot lies not in the abuse by his enemies, or even the rejection of his friends—it is his treatment by God that is most unnerving. Even though he was innocent and there was no “deceit in his mouth,” it seems “it was the Lord’s will to crush him” in order to make “his life an offering for sin” and bring about the salvation of many (Isa. 53:10).
But how could it serve the purposes of Israel’s God to see this righteous one crushed? What does it tell us about the way God treats his servants, his elect? These are truly dark sayings. A gleam of light begins to shine, though, not only when we recognize their fulfillment in Jesus, the ...1