top of page

What's "Good" about Good Friday?

It seems a strange name for a day that, for Christians, commemorates the execution of a good man in a manner that was anything but “good.” Nearly 2000 years ago, on the Friday of the Jewish Passover feast, a Jew named Jesus, from the town of Nazareth, was crucified by the Romans. It happened all the time. The Romans occupied Judea, the ancient Jewish homeland, and the Jews resented that. There were uprisings by troublemakers and at best a tenuous grip on the “Roman Peace” in that region. Crucifixion, arguably the most degrading, agonising and atrocious method of execution ever devised, was routinely used to do away with miscreants. But not just any miscreants. If you were a Roman citizen, you had rights of appeal and if you were executed it was usually by the sword. Not so for slaves and peasants and Jews in some far-flung outpost of the Empire. If you were in that category, you were beaten within an inch of your life, then nailed to a wooden stake with a cross-beam, arms outstretched, legs scrunched up. Every agonising breath required you to pull yourself up, increasing the load on the impaled flesh. You might hang there for days, breath after terrible breath, as the crowd watched on in macabre fascination. Naked, bleeding, assailed by unimaginable thirst, burning in the sun. Until you could breathe no more. Then you suffocated. The crucified could hang there for days before succumbing, but if that was inconvenient for your executioners, because they had a long weekend coming up, they would smash your leg bones (John 19:30–33). That would hasten your suffocation because you couldn’t push yourself up any more.

No, crucifixion was anything but good. It was brutally evil. And when it happened to a good man, a perfect man, in fact the only man who never sinned, it was positively obscene. Yet early Christians were known to worship this crucified man, and they were mocked for it. The picture for this blog is actually from a piece of ancient graffiti mocking the Chritsians’ worship of a crucified “criminal.”Through the ages, we Christians have worn symbols of this monstrous tool of execution, the cross, on our clothes and around our necks. We place it on the highest steeples and on the walls of our places of worship. It has even ended up on the buns that people eat on Good Friday at the start of a good, long weekend.

Why? What is it about the utterly ignominious death of the founder of our ancient religion that makes the cross so precious to Christians? It seems as inappropriate a symbol as a guillotine or an electric chair. That’s how preposterous it would have seemed in the Roman era. In fact, the cross took a little while to be adopted as the definitive Christian symbol, because for the first few centuries crucifixion was still a regular occurrence, along the roadsides and on the hills of the Empire.

The importance of the cross for Christians is the heart of the counter-cultural gospel, the foolish, paradoxical Gospel. Because, out of this most shameful and horrific death, came life. You see, the cross is empty now, and so is Jesus’ tomb. We celebrate his death, but we celebrate his resurrection even more. The two are inseparable. Not just because, miraculously, Jesus didn’t stay dead but it all worked out for him in the end, but because what he accomplished means that those who belong to him won’t stay dead either, and it will all work out for good in the end, too.

Jesus did not have to die, in the worldly sense. He could have simply preached about loving our neighbour and loving God and doing good. He could have kept a low profile and never raised the ire of the religious establishment or come onto the Romans’ radar. Yet he deliberately set in motion the train of events that led to his execution. In fact, he well knew exactly what his destiny was, right from the start. He told his disciples, "See, we are going up to Jerusalem. And the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and scribes, and they will condemn him to death and deliver him over to the Gentiles to be mocked and flogged and crucified, and he will be raised on the third day" (Matthew 20:18–19). Why did Jesus willingly do this? Was he crazy? Did he see his destiny as a martyr to some cause? Read the words and actions of Jesus in any one of the Gospel accounts and you will never get the impression he was insane. He knew exactly what he was doing, and was just as confident of returning to life as he was of being delivered to death. No, he willingly went to this most shocking death because our desperate state called for desperate measures. Jesus did this for us, for you and for me. He explained to his disciples; "the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matthew 20:28). He had earlier told Nicodemus the reason, in that famous passage, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

It all comes down to sin. The sin that is responsible for all suffering and death in the world. The rebellion within every human being that rejects the ways and authority of God and seeks to live for our own selfish benefits. Humanity has reaped the awful consequences of neglecting its Creator. God would have been within his rights, his justice, to simply discard humanity, like a piece of pottery that turned out all wrong and was good for nothing. But God didn’t do that, because not only is he perfectly just, but he is perfectly loving and merciful. But how could he reconcile the two? How could he be perfectly just and rightfully condemn guilty humanity, yet not mete out the punishment we deserve? The answer is genius, and it is awesome and humbling. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son... to give his life as a ransom for many.

Now, God is not some brutal tyrant of a deity that needs to be appeased by blood sacrifice. No, the blood sacrifices of animals that he required of his ancient Jewish people under the laws he gave them were merely pointing forward to the perfect sacrifice of his Son. The book of Hebrews explains how the rituals of the Jewish Law were imperfect foreshadowings of the perfect work of Jesus. “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins... we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:4–10). The ancient prophet Isaiah, writing in the 8th century BC, predicted that God would send a Servant to take the sins of humanity upon himself and bear the punishment for them.

“Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned — every one — to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:4–6).

Jesus, God’s Servant, who had no sin of his own requiring punishment, took all our sins to the cross. He was crucified, suffered and died for our sins. The apostle Peter makes it clear that Isaiah was talking about Jesus. “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed” (1Peter 2:24 ). The apostle Paul wrote, Jesus “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).

So, was Jesus just some random good man, empowered by God’s Spirit to do good and not sin, chosen to be the one sacrificed in our place? If so, how is that fair? How is that in any way “just”? Here is the genius of the cross; Jesus Christ was indeed fully human. He could in every respect represent humanity; he was “the Son of Man.” He was tempted in every way we are, but never sinned, he overcame sin in the very flesh in which it normally reigned (Hebrews 2:14–17). But he was also the Son of God, which means he was God himself, made flesh in the person of Jesus Christ (John 1:1–2 & 14; Romans 9:5). God himself stepped in to do what we could not do for ourselves. God himself took on humanity, suffered and died on our behalf. God didn’t need a sacrifice in order to love us; he gave the most precious sacrifice of all because he loved us. God so loved the world that he gave his only Son.

Any person who acknowledges their sinful inadequacy and regrets their willful rejection of God and all the suffering and nastiness they have caused and acknowledges their need for forgiveness, desiring to turn form their sin, can be forgiven. Acknowledge you are a sinner, acknowledge you can’t save yourself by anything you do. Repent (the word means turn around) and ask God that your sins be counted destroyed on the cross. That is how we are forgiven, by putting our faith and trust in Jesus, who died to take away our sins. He will do that; and he will keep doing that for all who trust him as their saviour.

“[God] does not deal with us according to our sins, nor repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us. As a father shows compassion to his children, so the LORD shows compassion to those who fear him.”(Psalm 103:10–13).

If we associate ourselves with Jesus, the Son of God, we take on his righteousness in place of our filthy sins; we become God’s children and experience the overwhelming love of our Father. He looks at us and doesn’t see our rebellion any more, he sees the perfection of his own Son. But there’s more. It doesn’t stop at a good life now. God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. Just as the grave could not hold Jesus Christ, so the grave will not hold those who belong to Christ (Romans 6:4–9). God the Father raised his Son from death on Easter Sunday, never to die again. And he will raise us up to and we will live the truly good life for eternity, the life for which we were designed by the God who made us and who loves us.

Why not accept the free gift of forgiveness and life that comes through the cross of the Son of God, and have a truly Good Friday?

Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page