Campus life, the five-day work week and easy availability of leisure time coined the phrase TGIF. Thank God, It’s Friday! I can still hear it spoken after the last class Friday afternoon.
For most the phrase isn’t religious. Those who use it probably don’t intend to include God in their weekend — at least not more than an hour or two. TGI Friday is a hasty, tip-of-the-hat thank you to a secular faith in humanity that has persevered the week to party over the weekend.
This TGI Friday attitude isn’t far from the spirit which prevailed around Christ’s crucifixion.
– Pilate resented this intrusion on his scheduled holiday break. He quickly and gladly washed his hands of this troubling Galilean and hoped his vacillation in judgment wouldn’t be wrongly reported to Rome.
– Herod happily received Jesus, hoping to add some excitement to his Jerusalem visit. There was no performance and Herod cast Jesus aside like a useless video disk.
– The Roman soldiers played a mocking game of satire with the King of kings.
– Religious leaders slapped Jesus around like a boxing bag and sighed with relief to hear Pilate’s judgment. “At last this troublemaker will be gone! Thank God when this Friday is over things will get back to normal at the temple.”
– The party spirit flowed to the root of the cross where they gambled for His robe.
– Pedestrians, like spectators at some savage sport, pitched in their share of jests and reviling commentary.
It was a mardi gras celebration before the Passover sabbath — a TGI Friday kind of day.
Nearly two millenia have passed since that Friday above all Fridays. Is the world’s attitude much different? The cross has become the central symbol of the Christian faith but for most this day holds little impact.
One hundred persons of different denominations were asked: Would it have made any difference to your life as you are now living it if Christ had not died on the cross? Forty-five said they didn’t think so. Twenty-five said they thought so but didn’t understand what difference. Twenty said it made all the difference both in what they believe and how they lived. Ten just didn’t know. We still have a TGI Friday attitude toward the cross.
We really prefer a cool detachment toward the cross. Keep it on the steeple. Put a bronze one on the altar. Hang one in the baptistry. At least let it get no closer than a nice piece of jewelry. To really be Christian it can’t be that way. John Stott writes of the cross: “… we are involved. Our sins put Him there. So, far from offering us flattery, the cross undermines our self-righteousness.”1
That’s why we’re uncomfortable with the cross of Christ. It is God’s judgment on the seriousness of sin. We don’t like to think of ourselves as sinners. Other explanations are less offensive: we are influenced by environment or by the failure of parental guidance; we are emotionally maladjusted, uninformed, undevelopd. So get me to a therapist instead of a Savior.
Our Lord God asks us to face Calvary as a sinner.
‘Twas I that shed the sacred blood,
I nailed him to the tree;
I crucified the Christ of God;
I joined the mockery.
Of all that shouting multitude
I feel that 1 am one;
And in that din of voices rude
I recognize my own.
The cross is God’s sword into the heart of selfishness. Sin is deadly serious. Events at Calvary reinforce that reality:
– Jesus refused the stupefying drink offered by the charitable women of Jerusalem. He faced the seriousness of sin in full control.
– That mournful cry, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, which pierced the darkened sky like a lightning bolt welled up from the agonizing depths of one separated from God by sin.
– He shouted in victory, “It is finished.” The battle to liberate us from sin was over.
– For three hours earth wore a shroud, mourning her creator. He died to set the earth free from the bondage of decay to know the glorious liberty of the children of God.
Sin is serious, yet we prefer simpler solutions to atone for our sins: three month suspensions, a slap on the hands, “Step on our toes, preacher!”, some work of penance, the soothing taste of communion.
None of it is adequate without the cross. We cannot avoid the cross. Isaiah foretold why He died:
Surely he took our infirmities and carried our sorrows,
Yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was upon him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
We all, like sheep, have gone astray,
each of turned to his own way;
and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.
“We can stand before (the cross) only with a bowed head and a broken spirit. And there we remain until the Lord Jesus speaks to our hearts His words of pardon and acceptance, and we, gripped by His love and brimful of thanksgiving, go out into the world to live our lives in His service.”2
We dare not relate to the cross of Christ with any TGI Friday attitude. We must incarnate the words we have sung:
My richest gain I count but loss
and pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it Lord, that I should boast
Save in the cross of Christ my God.
All the vain things that charm me most
I sacrifice them to his blood.
There are no chocolate bunnies at the cross. You’ll find no Easter parade there. Only the bloodied, homespun servant’s robe. There’s no prosperity theology at the cross. Jesus offers us sacrifice, selflessness, servanthood. Death that others might live. He says to each of us,
If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.
This is no TGI Friday kind of day. Rather, we join in reverential awe to say, “Thank you, Lord Jesus! Thank you for your death on that Friday above all Fridays. That good Friday that makes all days good. Thank you for dying that I might live. Here is my life.”
1. John R. W. Stott, The Cross of Christ, Downers Grove, Illinois: InterVarsity Press, 1986, p. 12.