The Moment of Truth

On April 4, the University of Kansas men’s basketball team won the NCAA Division 1 tournament. The whole Jayhawks season—hours of training and playing, wining game after game to make the tournament, and then five straight wins against the strongest teams—all of it came down to this last game. Lose, and all their work and success would dissolve in an instant. Their goal was victory, not second place. Unfortunately for KU, the Jayhawks were down by 15 points at half-time. No team in the history of the tournament had ever overcome such a deficit. The second half of that game therefore became a moment of truth: The Jayhawks would need to vastly outplay their UNC opponents for the remaining 20 minutes in order to secure victory and vindicate their season. And that is exactly what they did.

Good Friday, the day that Jesus died on the cross, was Jesus’ moment of truth. He came to do what no one had done before; what no one, in fact, could do. Nonetheless, he had to do it if he wanted to be victorious. All his hard work and all the suffering he had thus far endured would have been for nothing if he failed at this critical, yet extremely grueling moment.

When we think of Jesus’ suffering, we naturally think about Good Friday and the suffering he endured on the cross. However, we should not neglect the fact that he suffered, as the Heidelberg Catechism points out, “all the time that he lived on earth (LD 15).” This, of course, is not to say that he was in pain throughout his life or that he suffered one trial after another or that he never experienced good times. But it is to say that he gave up the glories of heaven to dwell among us in this present evil age. Accordingly, he would have suffered the common infirmities, frustrations, and difficulties of this life. He would have seen his friends and relatives suffer and die. He would have been sinned against, suffering the consequences of those sins in both body and soul.

Moreover, he would have had, as the Christ, a huge target on his back throughout his life. Satan, the lion-like devourer, was singularly focused on attacking Jesus. That is why Joseph had to flee Egypt with his young family, why Jesus was severely tempted by Satan in the wilderness, and why he was often tempted by his own well-meaning disciples. It’s why his own people tried to force him to be their king, why they attempted to stone him, and why, in the end, he was betrayed, arrested, put on trial, abused, mocked, crucified, and died.

Jesus suffered. He suffered uniquely throughout his whole life. But it was his suffering at the end, during the last week of his life on earth, and in particular the crucifixion on Good Friday that was of monumental importance. Jesus said: “…for this purpose I have come to this hour (John 12:27).”  “This hour,” which primarily refers to his death, was, therefore, the goal from day one. Jesus was born to die. Like a championship game, this was his moment of truth.

Jesus wasn’t coerced to die on the cross. Unlike John the Baptist, who didn’t want to die but was powerless to stop his own execution, Jesus laid down his life on his own accord. No one took it from him; he willingly and purposely chose to be nailed to the cross. Indeed, the Gospel of John emphasizes this point. The only reason Jesus was betrayed, arrested, condemned, and crucified was because he allowed his enemies to do these things to him. From start to finish, Jesus was in complete control of the situation. He could have called upon his Father to send twelve legions of angels to save him—but instead he surrendered himself so that he might save us from our sins, set us free from Satan’s kingdom of darkness, and grant us eternal life. He deliberately laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:15).

Furthermore, Jesus’ sacrifice was not some ill-fated tragedy. A father may lay his life down for his son to save him from drowning in a lake. This sacrifice, while heroic, is still terribly sad; the son is now without his father, and the father is without his son. Death has torn them apart. Death, however, did not tear Jesus from his sheep. As the good shepherd, Jesus laid down his life so that he might take it up again. He had authority to lay it down and he had authority to take it up again (John 10:17-18). Good Friday wasn’t the end of the story. Sunday was coming; Jesus rose from the dead to eternal life so that we might have eternal life in him and with him. The shepherd and the sheep enjoy life and life abundantly together.

But for that to happen, Jesus had to go to the cross. There was no other way. The Son of Man must be lifted up in order to cast out the prince of this world and draw all people to himself (John 12:31-32). It wouldn’t be easy. Jesus said, “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? Father save me from this hour? (John 12:27)” Similarly, in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus said that his soul was very sorrowful, even to death. The cup Jesus had to drink was so unbearable that he was deeply troubled by it beforehand and even begged his Father to find another way.

Jesus, it should be pointed out, was not merely troubled at the prospect of death or even at the physical pain of the cross. After all, Jesus wasn’t the first or last person to die or even be crucified. Indeed, many people have suffered more physical pain and for a longer time than Jesus. What was so terrifying to Jesus was that he was going to have bear the full extent of God’s wrath for our sins. He was going to have to become a curse for us (Gal. 3:13), and he who knew no sin was going to have to be made sin for our sake (2 Cor. 5:21).

It is hard for us to understand the torment that was unleashed on Jesus because we haven’t experienced it, and because of Jesus, we won’t have to. Nevertheless, we learn from the Gospels that it must have been absolutely horrifying. And yet, what did Jesus do? Did he falter? Did he fall apart at this most critical moment? Did he say, “I’m sorry, I really wanted to do it, but I just can’t.”


He said, “But for this purpose I have come to his hour. Father, glorify your name.” All throughout his life, Jesus’ meat and drink had been to do the Father’s will, and that remained true even when he was faced with the overwhelming obstacle of being cursed for our sins. No wonder Paul said that Jesus humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.

How do you react when you see someone do the extraordinary? Jayhawk fans jumped for joy when their team overcame the huge half-time deficit to win the championship game. But what Jesus has done is beyond extraordinary: He has conquered sin, death, and the ruler of this world; he has established the kingdom of God and ushered in the new age. If fans can cheer for their team, how much more ought we to sing:

“Give thanks to the LORD,

call upon his name,

make known his deeds among the peoples,

proclaim that his name is exalted.

Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously;

let this be made known in all the earth.

Shout, and sing for joy, O inhabitant of Zion,

for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.”

(Isa. 12:4-6)

Patrick Ramsey (@dprmsy) is pastor of Nashua Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Edinburg, Pennsylvania. He has written and contributed to numerous books and periodicals, including A Portrait of Christ, An Analysis of Herman Witsius's The Economy of the Covenants, and Samuel Rutherford: An Introduction to his Theology. He and his wife Rachel have five sons. 

Related Links

"Three Mistakes to Avoid in Good Friday Preaching" by Derek Rishmawy

"Good Friday: Christ our Great High Priest" by William Boekestein

"Keeping 'Christ's Descent Into Hell'" by Mark Jones

The Heart of the Cross by James Boice and Philip Ryken

Redemption Accomplished and Applied (PCRT '19), with D.A. Carson, Kevin DeYoung, and Richard Phillips