‘The Day the World Changed’

Good Friday
John 19:16b-42

There is no escaping the brutality of the crucifixion. There is no way to read today’s text without a shudder. The Romans were efficient at putting people to death is ways that were very public and excruciatingly painful. And that is the kind of death Jesus willingly accepted. For us.

And his mother was there. Did you pick that up. We almost read past it, as if she is just part of the background, but the woman God chose to bring Jesus physically into this world, to feed him, nurse him, rear him; is there to watch him die in agony. There is nothing pretty or beautiful about this story. And John doesn’t hold back. He was there too. The only of the disciples who was not in hiding. And he wants the reader to know and feel what happened.

It is a relief when Jesus says the words, ‘It is finished.’  We want it to be over. Surely he has suffered enough. His mother has suffered enough. The thieves beside him have suffered enough. The reader has suffered enough. Then finally Jesus says, ‘It is enough. It is finished.’ He has done what he came to do. And he bows his head and dies.

But we are not done yet. John has more to tell. The legs of the thieves on either side of Jesus are broken. This would have been done with a large mallet, so that they can no longer push themselves up against the nails through their feet to get air into their lungs. This will hasten their death, suffocating them. This happened, John tells us, because the authorities do not want the inconvenience of people still being tortured to death when the holy day of Passover is about to begin.

It was after all, as John tells us, the Day of Preparation. That was the day before the Passover in which lambs were sacrificed in preparation for the Passover meal.

The alert reader will recall that at the beginning of John’s Gospel, John the Baptist pointed to Jesus and proclaimed: ‘Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!’ Jesus even goes before the high priest, for every sacrificial lamb had to be approved spotless by a priest, and he is approved for death – approved by the high priest Annas himself, the one who said it is better for one man to die for the whole people.

And now here Jesus is, the Lamb of God, being sacrificed for us all.

But what we are hearing, what we are seeing, is in stark contrast with the beautiful songs we often sing about the ‘Lamb of God.’ The brutality of it all is relentless. So after Jesus says, ‘It is finished,’ the thieves’ legs are broken, each thief, one leg at a time. Then the soldiers come to Jesus and find he is already dead. But even in death the brutality continues. A spear is thrust into his side – just to be certain.

And Mary is still there. It is difficult to fathom the courage and love it must have taken for Mary to stay there with her son to the very end. But she did.

And that’s the story of Good Friday. And there is nothing pretty about it. But somehow, through this brutal death, through the pain Jesus endured, something shifted. The world changed. The world became somehow less brutal, and more filled with hope.

Something shifted. The world changed through that horrendous death.

And the change begins to be seen almost immediately.

We spot it first in what seems to be a minor post-script to the account of Jesus’ horrendous death. John tells us about two members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council that conspired to send Jesus to Pilate and to his death, two men who muttered only mild questions about the rightness of what the council was doing, two men at whose hearts Jesus’ message had long tugged. But they were too fearful to speak up. John tells us that now, when all is lost, they find the courage to publicly come out as followers of Jesus.

Something has changed. There has been a shift in reality.

The disciples you will recall, with the notable exception of John and a few of the women, are in hiding. Everyone is feeling the bitter sting of defeat. No one is any longer expecting Jesus to overthrow the Romans or to usher in any kind of kingdom. And then, of all times, Joseph of Arimathea and Nicodemus step forward.


Yes, Nicodemus.

You remember him. He showed up early in John’s Gospel, at night when he would not be seen, asking Jesus questions. It was Nicodemus to whom Jesus explained that ‘God so loved the world that he sent is only son, that everyone who believes in him would have eternal life.’ It was Nicodemus to whom Jesus said a person must be ‘born again’ or ‘born from above.’

It was Nicodemus, who when the Sanhedrin first began to plot against Jesus, meekly suggested a person should not be judged without a hearing. And he was mocked with a suggestion that he, too, was a Galilean, and a follower of Jeus (7:50-52). And Nicodemus went quiet and remained quiet.

Until Jesus was crucified.

And Joseph of Arimathea. He was wealthy. He was a member of the ruling council. He was important enough to go straight to Pilate, the Roman governor, and ask for the body of Jesus.

Jesus is dead. The disciples are in hiding. The movement is over. All hope is lost. Then two secret followers with everything to lose come forward, when there was no hope. Jospeh provides his own tomb. And Nicodemus comes with a hundred pounds of ointments and spices to prepare the body.

They came forward when there was nothing to gain and everything to lose. And they did not so quietly or meekly, but in a big way. They went straight to Pilate. They took ownership of Jesus’ body. They put in in one of their own tombs, in a prominent place. They brought an expensive excess of ointments and spices to anoint the body, that it would have taken much effort for the two of them to carry to the tomb. It was a very public, very bold and very dangerous identification with Jesus.

So what happened? Why did they suddenly act.

Something had shifted. The world had changed. And two powerful men with everything to lose suddenly throw caution to the wind.

It was starting.

It would be a long dark Saturday before Sunday morning finally came. Before the disciples and the whole world would began to understand the enormity of what had occurred that Friday afternoon.

But the death of Jesus had already changed everything. And in the surprising action and courage of Joseph and Nicodemus we see the shift already beginning. We see the cracks in the walls of darkness, fear and despair appearing.

Jesus freely went to the cross. He allowed himself to be put to death in one of the most brutal ways imaginable.

We still cringe when we read the story.

But somehow, in the midst of the brutality, the pain, the suffering – the world changed.

God himself in the person of Jesus Christ had not only come to live among us, as John tells us at the beginning of his story, but now God in the person of Jesus has embraced human pain and suffering, dying at human hands, dying among us and for us.

God freely suffered with us and for us. God felt our pain, literally.

And in the midst of darkness, darkness itself cracked. The light of Christ breaks in – and the world changed.

Those at the cross felt it. Joseph and Nicodemus felt it. And soon, the whole world would begin to hear the news. One man’s brutal death had shifted our reality. One man’s painful execution had changed everything.

And here we are, two thousand years later, on Good Friday, still contemplating the depth of what happened on the cross, and how it changed the world – and how it continued to chance each of us.


Pastor Mark Worthing.
Port Macquarie.