Bruised: A Good Friday Meditation
Many today feel like we are living in a time of intensifying spiritual warfare, and given the media attention provided to terrorism it is not surprising that talk of the “last days” is surfacing around the Church. Whilst these responses may not be biblically sound the approach of Easter holds some important lessons for us in the realm of spiritual conflict (Acts 2:17; Heb 1:2; 1 John 2:18). This came across in a striking way recently when during a prayer meeting a dear friend reported some very disturbing dreams. The most potent involved a giant serpent that had ingested a decapitated body. Whilst connections to Satan and Islamic State are obvious, the foundational background to these symbols are images of tribulation unto death described in the book of Revelation (12:9ff; 13:10; 20:4). I am generally not very emotionally moved by people’s stories, but the impact of my friend’s nightmares was amplified because they were shared in a church filled with artistic impressions of the Stations of the Cross. In every direction there were confronting images of a battered Jesus that might naturally lead us to recoil. Whilst all Christians would confess that the extreme goodness of God expels the threat of evil we often struggle to understand the form in which this goodness is displayed. This teaching attempts to provide a reflection on the nature of Good Friday.
Break His Head
Scholars speak of a protoevangelium or “first gospel” at the beginning of scripture, where the Lord proclaims to Satan; “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.” (Gen 3:15).This prophecy tells of the coming of a child of Eve who, whilst personally wounded in a minor way, will crush the head of the devil. The New Testament understands this oracle to have been fulfilled on our behalf by Jesus; e.g. “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” (1 John 3:8 cf. Heb 2:14-15 etc.). Despite the intimidating power that the thought of decapitation holds over Westerners it is the devil who has been effectively beheaded by the triumphant Christ. When “the accuser of the brothers and sisters” was “cast out of heaven” he was stripped of all authority to condemn us (Col 2:15; Rev 12:10). The heavenly witness to our victory is shameless; “they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony, for they loved not their lives even unto death.” (Rev 12:11). If this superlative and final victory of the saints is so categorical why does there seem to be so much fear gripping so many believers today? Against all our natural dispositions God’s victory flows from our apparent defeat.
Bruised For Us
As I was surrounded by the Stations of the Cross with their highly confronting pictures of the bruising of the face of Jesus I started to pray for insight, for these gruesome images are faithful to the testimony of scripture; “his appearance was so marred, beyond human likeness, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind….he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities” (Isa 52:14; 53:4). The facial pounding which Christ endured at Satan’s hand for us was a sustained attempt to disfigure the image of God. In the eyes of the spectators on the first Good Friday the mangled countenance of Jesus disqualified him from being “the Son of God” (Matt 27:40). For them it was self-evident that God’s favoured Son must be a glorious triumphant figure credentialled by acts of supreme power (Luke 4:1ff). The mind-set of the mocking jeering crowds merely reflected that of the once majestic angelic son of God who fell from grace so long ago (Job 1:6; 2:1). No one who patterns their fallen sonship after the likeness of the Satanic fatherhood can ever understand the goodness of Good Friday (John 8:44; Eph 2:1-3).
Only those who behold the black and blue face of the crucified one with spiritual eyes can see that it was the head of Satan that was being crushed by Jesus in the throes of death (Gen 3:15 cf. 12:7; Matt 26:67). It was the limitless love of a mangled offspring of Eve that pounded the head of the serpent to smithereens. As we meditate upon the cross in the Spirit we see in Christ’s submission to bruising and defacement the final revelation of the unconditional indestructible love of God. Power and glory, as demons and fallen men understand them, cannot reveal to us such love, only the crushing of the fine human form on our behalf we hold near and dear (Rom 5:8). That “God’s beauty embraces what we might call the ugly as well as what we might call the beautiful.” (Barth) is the mystery of the cross. Only a human form that mirrors the voluntary ugliness of the suffering of the cross can overcome the power of the devil. This is the challenge of Good Friday for us today.
Bruised For Him
Praying surrounded by the Stations of the Cross we felt like we were in the Garden of Gethsemane. Like Jesus’ first three friends we were being asked by our humble Lord to “watch and pray that you might not enter into temptation” (Matt 26:38, 41). Theirs was no ordinary temptation, it was the temptation of the last hour, the hour of the betrayer and “the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Jesus first three friends fell away, but he accepted the cup of suffering and forever triumphed over the accuser by the cross (Mark 14:36; Col 2:15). When my friend who had the terrible dream promised aloud to Jesus in prayer that he would follow him whatever the cost I could sense the ongoing defeat of the devil. As my beleaguered brother submitted to bruising in the battle with “rulers and authorities in the heavenly places” he was displaying the wisdom of a son’s submission to a loving Father that enforces the victory of God upon the earth (Eph 3:10). Physical decapitation is for him unlikely, but as his brain is bruised by the attacks of Satan by nightly dreams his faithfulness witnesses that the offspring of the woman is bruising the head of the serpent.
Voluntary bruising for the good of others is a posture that calls us all. This is the power of Good Friday. However, I have a suspicion that for many Christians Good Friday is really Ugly Friday and they are in a hurry to get to the triumph of Easter Sunday. In a world of decapitations, bad dreams and “last days” fears only a meditation on the deeper truth of the cross can bring us into the victory won for us by our crucified-and-risen Lord. His promise is clear, “I want you to be wise as to what is good and innocent as to what is evil. 20 The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet.” (Rom 16:19-20). May he grant us the wisdom to accept the goodness of his bruising, both 2000 years ago and in our own lives, so that we may enjoy the fruit of his victory over every demonic power. Soli Deo Gloria ‘Glory to God Alone’.