10 Ways to Preach the Good Friday Sermon

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As a pastor, when I encouraged people to attend our Good Friday liturgy, I would say something like this: “On Good Friday, we gather to remember the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth and his death upon the Cross. If you’re wondering whether to attend, I ask you to consider one question. Would you attend the funeral service of Jesus of Nazareth? If so, then you have your answer.”

Honestly, it was not a ploy for guilt and shame. Instead, I was trying to help people understand the purpose of Good Friday.

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But what will you say? If a sermon were ever to humble us and call forth our finest study and preparation, it would be the Good Friday sermon. Here, I offer ten ways—ten ideas—to kickstart your imagination. (When you finish preaching Good Friday, here are 10 Ways for Easter!)

1. Invite a Famous Evangelist

Yes, preacher, it is time to invite a famous evangelist into your pulpit. Many churches have the tradition of reading Matthew, Mark, or Luke’s Passion narrative on Palm Sunday. John’s Passion is usually reserved for Good Friday. Here, the preacher can allow the scriptures to speak for themselves.

Some churches perform the passion narrative with their members in a reader’s theater format. This not only lays a foundation for your sermon but also lends it gravity, even before you begin! But when we read and speak it, it allows the Word of God to penetrate us like a two-edged sword.

As a young boy growing up in a church in southern Arizona, I vividly remember lending my voice to the crowd, crying out, “Crucify him!”. I couldn’t believe I was saying these things. And who was Barabbas, and why did I want him released? By participating in reading God’s Word, I unearthed and accepted a truth about myself that no preacher could have ever touched: I was a sinner in need of salvation.

2. Remember, All Have Sinned

The Roman Empire boasted the grandest and most advanced system of governance the world had ever known, yet it conspired with the Jewish religious institution to condemn an innocent man. The once warm and welcoming throngs swiftly morphed into a mob baying for their brand of justice. Friends fled. Loyal companions betrayed him. Those closest to him denied him. Every aspect of humanity suffered a staggering collapse.

Does this sound familiar? In our era, we grapple with widespread disillusionment in the institutions and agencies we once held in high esteem. Every corporation, organization, or collective appears shrouded in suspicion, often with good reason.

So it was, so it is now, and so it shall ever be.

Despite any pride in our human institutions, achievements, accomplishments, or personal integrity, an indelible streak of sin courses through everything. As Paul echoed in Romans 3, borrowing the words of Psalm 14,

“They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.” (Romans 3:10)

A preacher could end this sermon with a quote from Romans 7:

“Who will save us from this body of death?” (Romans 7:24)

3. What Was In Jesus’ Will?

As we dive into the Gospel text, we often find a quote written by a devoted scholar or writer. As we read it, we recognize that it provides a blueprint for a sermon. Reflect, for a moment, on these words by Matthew Henry:

When Christ died, He left a will in which He gave his soul to the Father, his body to Joseph of Arimathea, his clothes to the soldiers, and his mother to John. But to the disciples, who had left all to follow him, he left not silver or gold, but something far better – his PEACE!

The preacher can draw upon the familiar metaphor of a will—a concept that resonates with everyone—to emphasize the precious legacy Jesus bestowed upon those who walked beside him. This quote could serve as an ideal means to narrate the story of Jesus’ final hours, illuminating the events that transpired and the exceptional gift bequeathed to his disciples.

And, of course, there is more to our faith than just being named in the will. The gift of Peace is ours to accept, receive, and live out; it is mediated by the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives.

4. The Absence of Miracles on Good Friday

That day, the crowd expected a miracle, daring Jesus to step down from the Cross and save Himself and the rest. What are we to make this?

One way to develop your sermon is to consider the astonishing absence of miracles, which we might have anticipated. The angels Jesus could have summoned to his rescue—those who tended to the Lord in the wilderness—kept their distance. The Father, whose voice rang out with clarity and authority at the baptism and Transfiguration, remained silent. The ability to defy nature’s laws by walking on water, transforming water into wine, commanding the wind, waves, and storms, and reversing the course of sickness and death—all these powers were suspended. Even the Lord’s power over the Evil One was diminished.

The miracle of Good Friday is that there were no miracles, save one: Jesus hung there, wholly capable of rescuing Himself and ending his suffering. But he chose not to end his ordeal. Instead, he deliberately relinquished his privileges, power, and position and clung to the Cross until he drew his final breath.

Then, the miracles began.

5. Why Did it Take a Cross?

The preacher can also stand back from the Good Friday story and talk about the implications of the Cross. To Paul, the Cross of Christ was “a stumbling block to the Jews and folly to the Greeks” (1 Corinthians 1:23). Why? Because the Cross shattered their assumptions about the nature of God and the path to salvation. The Jews believed that their strict observance of the law would earn them favor with God, but the Cross revealed that only the sacrificial love of Christ could make them righteous. On the other hand, the Greeks valued wisdom and reason above all else and thus found the idea of a crucified savior absurd and foolish. It was folly.

Yet for Paul, these very stumbling blocks and foolishness were how God accomplished his redemptive plan. By embracing the Cross, we see that God uses the things the world deems insignificant and weak to achieve his purposes.

6. Stations of the Cross

Whenever I have the privilege of leading groups to the Holy Land, I include a walking portion of the “Stations of the Cross” on our journey. This sacred pathway leads us on a powerful pilgrimage, descending deep into the heart of the Old City before ascending, step by step, towards Calvary. Along the way, we encounter a bustling mix of people and cultures, from observant Jews to Muslim shopkeepers and hawkers to spice vendors and souvenir shops. Amidst the crowds, we pause at fourteen stations, each marked by Scripture readings or traditional reflections, offering us a moment to contemplate the significance of each step of our Lord’s final journey.

Walking your people on the Way of the Cross can be a significant experience on Good Friday, even if you never ask them to leave their seats. It will take an hour with a five-minute pause for reflection or comment between each station. And it will be an extraordinary hour.

7. The Seven Last Words

To my mind, there is no better way to focus the congregation on the Cross of Christ than to preach one or some or all of the “Seven Last Words” of Jesus. Each of these “words” opens a universe of understanding about the nature of God, his love for us, the need for a cross, and the ultimate and finished victory he achieved.

  • My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Matthew 27:46, Mark 15:34)
  • Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34)
  • Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43)
  • Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46)
  • Woman, behold your son…Behold your mother” (John 19:26-27)
  • I thirst” (John 19:28)
  • It is finished” (John 19:30)

And if you choose to reflect on the first word from Matthew and Mark, remember that it is also the first verse of Psalm 22. For more on this, see my book, The Psalm on the Cross: A Journey to the Heart of Jesus Through Psalm 22.

8. Finding Then Giving Forgiveness

Paul tells us that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself; thus, He gave us the ministry of reconciliation (2 Corinthians 5:19). This is one of the most potent points for Good Friday. Why? It addresses something that we all suffer from: bitterness and unforgiveness.

We all have people who have hurt us or wounded us. Sadly, some in the church pews are victims of terrible things they cannot forget. How can we forgive what we cannot forget, to quote the title of a best-selling book? Jesus teaches that we need to forgive and that we must forgive. Our relationships with others depend on our ability to forgive, and our relationship with God depends on our ability to forgive.

So, how can we forgive others? The only way to gain the strength and spiritual freedom to forgive others is to embrace the reality that God has forgiven us. We have the power and the freedom to let others off the hook, so to speak, because we have been set free ourselves. There are more than a few parables about this truth, of course. But on the Cross, we see it played out before the crowds. Our Lord looked at his executioners, who had caused so much pain and anguish, and prayed to the Father for their forgiveness.

9. Paradise for a Thief

On Good Friday, it is essential to recognize that there may be individuals in the congregation who have not yet embraced the Christian faith, distanced themselves from the church, or rejected the claims of Jesus altogether. The story of the two thieves crucified alongside Jesus provides a powerful opportunity to present the Gospel with these individuals in mind.

The first thief mocked Jesus, sarcastically challenging Him to perform a miracle and save them all. As a preacher, encourage the congregation to reflect on this man’s character: a thief, outlaw, blasphemer, consumed by anger, isolated, and without hope. Many people may have been in a similar situation, teetering on the edge of cynicism and despair.

In contrast, though also a sinner, the second thief remarkably maintained his faith. He chastised the first man—perhaps his partner in crime—and humbly made a request. He did not demand a miracle or rescue; instead, he asked Jesus to remember him. Despite his numerous sins, the Lord’s mercy was greater than he deserved.

Ultimately, both men died, but only one was made alive.

10. It is Finished

As harrowing as it unfolded in real-time, the events of Holy Week bore a purpose, their roots anchored in the prophecies of the Old Testament. The entrance, capture, agony, and ultimately, the death of Jesus were woven into a divine plan designed to reshape our connection with God. As much as we delight in sermons centered around the teachings, preaching, healing, and miraculous ministry of the Lord, there is no eluding this truth: He was slain by sinners; evil people murdered him, but his life was offered as the flawless and acceptable offering for the sins of the world. Later, John would write:

If anyone sins, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous. He is the propitiation for our sins, not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:1-2).

When Jesus proclaimed, “It is finished,” the meaning of his words reached beyond the end of his life. They fulfilled a prophetic destiny. In other words, he was not just crying out that his earthly life was finished—it was. But he was also saying that the mission of his life was complete. His death was the perfect offering for our sins.

Encouragement for the Good Friday Sermon

In The Cross of Christ, John Stott reminds every preacher:

The Christian community is a community of the cross, for it has been brought into being by the cross, and the focus of its worship is the Lamb once slain, now glorified. So the community of the cross is a community of celebration, a eucharistic community, ceaselessly offering to God through Christ the sacrifice of our praise and thanksgiving. The Christian life is an unending festival. And the festival we keep, now that our Passover Lamb has been sacrificed for us, is a joyful celebration of his sacrifice, together with a spiritual feasting upon it.

Your church and millions of other faith communities will gather this year on Good Friday to consider the Cross of Christ. On the part of the preacher, it will take hours of thought, prayer, preparation, and the illumination of the Holy Spirit to craft a sermon to honor the event and meet the moment. I hope the ten kickstarter ideas here will assist you in your study and preparation and that the Holy Spirit will assist you in your delivery and dedication to the message of the Cross.

Published on

March 22, 2023

Author

David Roseberry

David Roseberry leads the nonprofit ministry, LeaderWorks. He was the founding rector of Christ Church, Plano, Texas, and is the author of many books. He lives in Plano with his wife, Fran.

View more from David Roseberry

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