I was well into my thirties the first time I cried over the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
Throughout my life, I had listened to hundreds of sermons about Christ’s death. I had read about it extensively, had even understood that His sacrifice happened not only for the world in general, but for me personally.
Yet it wasn’t until noon on a Good Friday that I wept over it.
The breakdown happened at a very small service in the dimly lit sanctuary of our country church. Fewer than a dozen people were in the room. We sat in chairs circling a large wooden cross, which was laying on the floor. Nails and hammers were strewn about.
The pastor gave a short message, read from the Gospels, and then asked each of us to pick up a nail and pound it into the wooden cross. I moved down from the chair, obediently dropped to my knees, picked up a nail between my fingers, and touched the end, feeling its sharpness. I picked up a hammer, set my nail in place, and pounded it into the wood.
I think we were supposed to do just one nail per person, but I couldn’t stop. I picked up another and another and another after that. I couldn’t stop pounding in nails, and I couldn’t stop counting the cost of it all. Thoughts came flipbook style in my brain, reminding me of my past, my present, and my probable future of sin. I saw the sin of my youth, poor choices, misplaced desires, selfish intentions. I saw my apathy, my disinterest in the pain of others, my side-switching heart that had betrayed Christ time and again.
In a moment, I was the thief on the cross, crying out to Jesus with a shaking voice, “Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom.” He looked upon me with love, and I burst into tears.
The service wasn’t over, but I dropped the hammer to the floor and walked out of the circle, out of the sanctuary, out of the church, wild with grief, as every set of eyes followed me out the door, maybe wondering, “What in the world just happened to Jennifer?”
Or maybe they knew I had just experienced a new depth of Christ’s love for me.
I walked across the highway that separates our white-steepled church from the cemetery. I leaned on the graveyard fence, staring out at rows of headstones. So much sorrow, so much death. Yet, the sun shone so brightly overhead that I had to squint. Robins chirped in the trees, annoying me with their cheerful songs. I wanted to shout to them, “Stop, just stop! Don’t you realize that Jesus suffered an unthinkable death?”
I didn’t say that. But I did ask myself this: Where is the “good” in Good Friday, God? Why so much pain? Why couldn’t there be another way?”
The tears and the questions birthed something in me. In that moment, my soul was being awakened to my great need for Jesus, not just once, but every single day.
I don’t like to gaze upon a cross and see a man hanging in pain while paying the debt I couldn’t pay. But I must.
All these years later, I wonder if we all need to weep at cemetery fences during Holy Week. I wonder if we all need to pound nails into wooden crosses and come to terms with the necessity of Christ’s death. I used to wear a t-shirt with the words, “I am the wretch the song refers to,” and maybe I need that reminder a little more often than I think I do.
These days, we all hear a lot of inspiring messages about finding our purpose, recapturing our peace, reclaiming our joy, or making time for rest and self-care. On and on it goes. And I believe all of those messages are vital.
But what about our sin? Why don’t we talk about sin, our very own sin, more than we do?
When we don’t see the gravity of our sin, we don’t really see our need for Jesus. Until my own Good Friday moment, I had missed my own wretchedness. And candidly, I still do. I get caught up in living my comfortable life, giving God a daily list of demands and hoping He’ll come through for me.
I wonder, today, if we need a little bit more Good Friday in all our days. Not that we ought to crucify ourselves — or each other — over and over again. Jesus died once and for all, and yes, He overcame the grave, crushing the enemy forevermore.
But when we gaze upon the cross, it sweetens the victory found in an empty tomb. It insulates us from watering down the Good News into some sort of prosperity gospel that tells believers that a life in Christ leads to comfort and success. God didn’t promise easy lives. He calls us to the pain of sacrifice that demands something of us. He calls us to take up crosses and follow Him.
On Sunday, we will celebrate Easter. But before we do, let’s look upon the Friday hill from which a red-stained sacrifice flows fresh.
Let’s see it for what it is — a full payment for a debt we owed but simply couldn’t pay. He loves us that much.
And that’s what puts the “good” in Good Friday.
This article was written by Jennifer Dukes Lee and first appeared on (in)courage in 2021.
Very powerful and much needed reminder that while my sins are forgiven, I can’t take for granted what Jesus did.
Such power and truth conveyed in your message and your vulnerability in sharing your Good Friday experience. Thank you! I just downloaded James Tissot’s painting depicting what Jesus saw from the cross. What a powerful perspective and all good for remembering the Good in Good Friday.
Kristen R says
Yes and amen! I love the story of how the tangible, physical act of using a nails and hammer hit home to your heart the truth and the depth of what Jesus did for us.
Kathy Francescon says
One of the most poignant and beautiful posts I have ever read. You took me there, as if I were the one hammering the nails into the Cross. The word “Sin” has almost become an obsolete word in society today. No one wants to offend and so many excuses are used to skim over the darkness that is taking over. If only those that scorn and mock could see Jesus and the horrible death He endured…if they could be the ones that nailed Him to the Cross, would they realize He was dying them? Oh sweet Jesus, I know what sin is, and I know You died for me. Oh sinful world, Jesus died for all of us.
Bev Rihtarchik says
Sunday school felt boards didn’t do justice to the lessons on Christ’s crucifixion. It wasn’t until I saw the movie “The Passion of Christ” (by Mel Gibson) on the big screen, in the movie theatre, that the depth of Jesus’s sacrifice touched my heart. I was seated in one of the very first rows and it forced me to look up at Jesus — beaten within an inch of his life, blood streaming down, his head bowed as if He was looking down upon me — then it truly touched my soul that Jesus did this specifically for me. It was personal. I remember sobbing uncontrollably in my seat. From then on, I have seen Good Friday in a much different way. Jesus had to die, so horribly, to pay the penalty for my sins so I can live in freedom forever. Thank you for this poignant reminder of what today is all about.
K Ann Guinn says
Twyla Franz says
Thank you for inviting us into this rich, unforgettable experience, Jennifer! You described it in a way that makes it feel like we were there too.
He loves us so. With a wild, unstoppable love that collides with our pain and shame and try-hard efforts and leaves us bare-souled, humbled, undeservedly cherished. I ran headlong into this love just days ago, the Rick Pino refrain “Your love is like an ocean” drawing me further from the shore. The saltwater swelled higher, sometimes lifting me, sometimes crashing over me. I was intoxicated, love-drunk on the waves. Because He loves us so.
Yes! Thank you for sharing this personal experience. I will be watching “The Passion of the Christ” today as a painful but important reminder of Jesus’ sacrifice for us to appreciate the Resurrection even more, all because His love for us was greater than the pain.
Roger D. Williams says
Powerful and timely article! Will definitely share!
K Ann Guinn says
I am with our friend above who never cried about the crucifixion until viewing the Passion of the Christ movie. It stayed with me that Easter and hopefully beyond. It’s not fun to watch, but perhaps it’s time to view it again to refresh my memory.
We also have a Stations of the Cross set up at church to experience tonight. They did it for the first time last year, and it was also powerful. It’s self-paced, you visit several stations that have different parts of the Easter story, and it makes it so much more real; everything from lifting the heavy bag of coins with which Jesus was betrayed, to hearing the crowds yell, “crucify him” (through headphones), and nailing our sins to a wooden cross, much as you’ve described.
Thanks be to God for his unspeakable gift.
Bev Rihtarchik says
Thank you for sharing about the stations of the cross.
Dawn Ferguson-Little says
No acting all was the real cross our Lord died on because he loved us all so much. We can watch a movie tell the story and how well it was told the story of the Passion of the Christ. But not were near as it would have been when our Lord went for all mankind with the pain and suffering. What greater love was that. So as we could have our sins forgiven. This were we need to teach story of the cross and teach it to if you have kids not to young. I don’t have any. Of why our Lord went to Calvary. So as we all could have our sins forgiven and have a relationship with our Lord. Then live as his word the Bible says while on earth. So the unsaved can see the Love of our Lord in us and want what we have. That is to live for him and ask him into their hearts too. So as when we leave this earth we will know we are going to Glory to be with him for ever. Now no better thing could we ask for. When we read the word of God us that are saved. It says in John 3 v 16 “For God So Loved The Word He Gave His Only Begotten Son That Whosoever Believeth In Him Shall Have Ever Lasting Life.” I say Amen to that. That is why we have Good Friday to remember why our Lord went to Clavary as I said. Thank you for this wonderful message. Love Dawn Ferguson-Little xx
Donna Dorsey says
What a beautiful yet heart wrenching message. Wow. Written with your whole heart and soul. Thank you for that reminder. I cried as I read it because I am right there with you. Thank you.
Louise Bell says
Yes, Kathy, you are sooo right! NOOne wants to offend anyone anymore, so we are all supposed to just “live and let live” and never talk about sin. But, it is SOOo right in front of us everyday and we have Jesus to thank for dying to take away our “punishment” for them!.. Hope you have a Blessed Easter! …P.S. I have NEVER replied to any of these “posts” , but yours just resonated with me!
Louise Bell says
Sorry, Dawn, this reply was SUPPOSED to go to Kathy!
This touched my heart. I am head of the ladies ministries at our small church in Josephine. Our annual ladies event is April 22nd. I always do a devotional with our committee the day we decorate. I have it planned already but after reading this I feel God’s leading to use your message. Our theme is Mary, Cradle to Cross and we plan to have a wooden cradle on one side of the platform and a large wooden cross on the other side as our decor. Each committee member is writing scripture on 6 ‘ long kraft paper in a scroll format which will be hung as the backdrop. Rita Sweatt is our speaker who first session will portray Mary’s Story. We have 120 women registered and a waiting list of 6. I even checked with our fire department for the top safe number our small church could accommodate. It was at that time I increased registration from 100 to 120. Reading about you pounding nails into the cross brought me to tears and I immediately felt this was what our committee needs to do in preparation for our event. This will take place Thursday, April 20th. I would appreciate your prayers then and for the ladies attending the 22nd. Thank you for sharing this message. Teresa Dukes Denney
Beth Williams says
It’s hard to visualize & truly realize what Good Friday is about until you see it face to face. My old church had communion each Sunday. One meditation talked about all our sins & how they were nailed to the cross. Made me cry ugly. It took me many years to understand the truth of Jesus. Seeing Him as my beloved Father who left the splendor of Heaven to come down to broken Earth to die a horrible death just.for.me!! WOW!! I get that little Jennifer in the church. It finally hit you what Jesus did for you!!~~ Sometimes we need visuals like that to make it clear in our hearts, minds & souls.