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NO GREATER LOVE
 
No greater love can a man show than to give his life for those whom he loves. On that first Good Friday, Jesus Christ and two robbers were led by the Roman officer and soldiers to the place where criminals were executed. They passed though the narrow streets of Jerusalem, went out of the town, and climbed a hill facing the Holy City, Jerusalem. The three men condemned to death carried on their shoulders the wooden beam that would be fixed to a tree trunk to make up the cross on which they were going to die. When they reached the place of execution, called Calvary, the soldiers stripped the condemned of their clothes and proceeded to nail them to the crosses.
 
Christ Prays for His Executioners
 
As they hammered nails into his hands and feet, Christ prayed: “Father, forgive them for they do not know what it is they are doing.” He had told his disciples: “love your enemies, do good to those who do you harm, pray for those who persecute you.” Now he practiced his teaching in a heroic manner, even finding some excuse, not so much for the soldiers who merely carry out orders, as for the Jewish rulers who have refused to acknowledge his claim to be the Son of God, and out of jealousy have falsely accused him before the Roman governor of inciting people to rebellion
Death of Jesus Christ was his own free choice
The Jewish rulers, insulted him whilst he hung on the cross, saying; “He called himself the Son of God. If he is really the Son of God, let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him.” Christ who had proved his power over sickness and over the forces of nature and who had brought back to life several dead persons, could certainly have come down from the cross. But he accepted death on his own will, offering his life as a sacrifice for the sins of mankind.
He could have escaped this death without difficulty. He knew that one of his disciples, Judas, would deliver him to the Jews for thirty pieces of silver, and He did not prevent him. Jesus knew also that if he went to pray that evening at his customary place they would come to arrest him. But Jesus  had said that the purpose of his coming into the world was to offer his life as a sacrifice for sins of all peoples  Consequently he did not evade death, even the painful death of the cross, when it was proposed to him: rather he came forward to meet it.
The First Fruits of His Sacrifice
His sacrifice began to bear fruit immediately. One of the robbers crucified at his side, turned to him requesting: “Lord, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” Jesus answered him: “I promise you, this very day you shall be with me in paradise.” Jesus had depicted the depth of God’s mercy towards the repentant sinner in the parable of the prodigal son. This young man had claimed his share of inheritance from his father, left the house and gone abroad to spend his fortune in bad company. When he had thus wasted his assets, a famine assailed the country and the young man was forced by hunger to return home. To his great astonishment, he saw his father running forward to greet him and forgive him in spite of his blunder and ungratefulness.
Now Jesus acts the part of the Father of the Prodigal Son. He receives with open arms the robber who begs him for pardon, who at the end of his sinful life has the good sense to turn towards his Lord and utter a confident request: “Lord, remember me when you come into your  kingdom.” Without waiting for a moment Jesus promises him that he will obtain soon a greater bliss than he could ever have expected – “Today you shall be with me in paradise.” The robber was the first of a long line of sinners who could turn to the crucified Lord and beg him to forgive a life of sin.
The Greatest Proof of Love
  After hanging on the cross for about three hours, Jesus cried with a loud voice; “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit,” then He bowed his head and breathed his last. Christ, after solemnly affirming that he was both man and God, had laid down his mortal life. He had offered to his Father a sacrifice for the sins of all people, whether they know him or not, whether they believed in him or not. Remission of sins was obtained in him, and through him, as the mediator between God and man, Now all could go to their Father because of the loving obedience of Jesus to the will of his Father for the salvation of mankind.
Till the end of the world the cross would remain as an inspiration, a consolation and the source of redemption. The cross would be a source of consolation for sufferers, who could look up to it at their moments of distress, of sorrow and of loneliness. They have an assurance that Jesus would understand them, for He had emptied to the dregs the cup
of human suffering. The cross of Christ ushered into the world a new standard of love. It was no more sufficient to give of one’s time, money or sympathy. Love now exacted the complete gift of self as Christ has given.
Watch at the Tomb
At about three o’clock in the after noon Christ expired. The Roman officer in charge of the execution, thrust his lance into the heart of Jesus so that no doubt might remain as to his death. Blood and  water flowed from His side – He was dead.
Suddenly the earth shivered; rocks were spit. Impressed by the earth-quake accompanying the death of Christ, the officer in charge of his execution,  professed and exclaimed: “No doubt, but He was the Son of God!”
Some disciples took down the body of Jesus from the cross, washed it, wrapped it in linen clothes and buried it in a tomb at the outskirts of Jerusalem. The tomb cut out of the rock, had been prepared by a rich disciple, one of the Councilors for his own use; and none had ever been buried there. The opening of the tomb was closed with a large stone, not easy to move.
But the Jewish rulers who had obtained the condemnation of Jesus remembered His promise to rise again from the dead. They expressed to Pilate, the Roman governor, their fear that some disciples might come at night to steal the body. Pilate gave them soldiers to guard the tomb. They sealed the entrance of it and posted  guards to watch the tomb day and night.
A Dead Man Returns to Life
  On Friday night and during the whole of Saturday nothing happened. But early on Sunday morning, the Easter Sunday, there was a commotion: the soldiers fell to the ground as if struck by lightening and when they dared to look up again the tomb was open and empty. The soldiers returned to the Jewish priests and reported what had happened.
At dawn a few women devoted to Christ came to the tomb to mourn. To their great astonishment, they saw two angels in shining garments at the tomb, who told them: “You have come to look for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He is not here; He has risen as He told you. Come and see the place where the Lord was laid.” The women then returned in all haste to tell Peter and the other disciples.
In the evening of the same day as the disciples were gathered in a room, the doors bolted for fear that the Jews might arrest them on account of their connection with Jesus, all of a sudden their Master stood in their
midst. They felt frightened at first sight, not knowing how he had come in. But Jesus reassured them, saying: “Pease be with you,” Then he showed them his hands and his side. The disciples rejoiced at the sight of their Lord; they touched him and talked to him. Then he ate with them to convince them that he was really alive.
The incredible had happened. What no man had ever done, Jesus had achieved. He was back to life and the disciples experienced the greatest joy in their life at the presence of their Master. The death of Jesus on the cross was not a failure and a defeat, but a victory and the beginning of a glorious life. Every year, Good Friday reminds us of the love and sacrifice of Christ. And Easter Sunday brings in the Good News of the his Glorious Resurrection.

— Courtesy: Institue for Home Study, Pune

 

(For a more vivid eye-witness report on Good Friday, please read the Gospels of  Mathew 1/26-28/20, Mark 1/14-20/16, Luke 1/22-24/53 and John 1/17-21/25, the close disciples and the evangelists).

 
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