Friday, April 10, 2009

Why Do We Call It "Good" Friday?

[I originally wrote and posted this last March 21. But it seems worth repeating on this Good Friday.]

This is what an inquisitive second-grader asked me a few weeks ago.

It's a sensible question. The day we commemorate as Good Friday brought multiple tragedies.

Good Friday, which this year falls on [April 10], is when Christians all over the world remember the day when Jesus of Nazareth, the One we believe was the Messiah (the Christ, God's Anointed King of kings) was crucified.

The Bible says that Jesus' death on a cross resulted from the rejection of the entire world, at least the entire world as known by Jesus' first-century followers: the people of God (the Judeans) and everybody else (the Gentiles), represented by the preeminent power of the day, the Roman Empire.

The prologue to the Gospel of John reminds us that Jesus was more than a human being. He was God enfleshed. Yet the whole world rejected Jesus. "He was in the world," John writes, "and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own [the world He made], and his own people did not accept him." (John 1:10-11)

The day we call Good Friday then, wasn't only tragic because the sinless God and Savior of the world died a horrible death. It was also tragic because a human race in need of salvation rejected God's outstretched hand, spurned the love of God, turned away from God Himself.

But there is an even deeper layer of tragedy to the day. God the Father, the first Person of the Trinity, perfect and sinless, was separated from Jesus in those horrible hours when Jesus hung on the cross. Why? Paul writes in the New Testament, "For our sake he [God the Father] made him [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin..." (Second Corinthians 5:21). Jesus, in spite of His sinlessness, bore the weight of our sin. He embodied the sins of us all, taking our rightful punishment for sin. (Romans 6:23 tells us that "the wages of sin is death.")

There is a reason that Jesus did all this, which I'll address momentarily. But that reality can't in any way erase the awful agony Jesus endured of feeling utterly abandoned by the Father as He died on the cross. No more poignant words have ever been uttered on this planet than those Jesus cried out near the end of His earthly life, "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)

So, if Good Friday remembers that Jesus was rejected by the whole world and abandoned by God the Father, what could possibly be good about it?

That goes back to the reason that Jesus had for going to the cross. You see, the world thought in killing off Jesus, it was done with Him. Some of the more perceptive people who wanted Jesus dead understood that He was God and so thought that in killing Him, they were getting rid of God and God's rightful authority over their lives (our lives, too).

In short, they thought that Good Friday was all about what they did to Jesus. The subject of their sentences about Jesus' crucifixion would have been themselves. "We crucified Jesus," they would claim. Herod, the puppet king of Judea, known to have been a particularly violent, sadistic, and loathsome character, might have said, "I ordered Jesus' abuse. He was under my control." Pilate, the Roman governor, would have told anyone who would listen, "I exercised my power and had Jesus crucified."

But, in fact, the events of Good Friday were precisely what God wanted to happen. Jesus came into the world to die for us.

This is something that the wise men from the East seemed to know even when Jesus was a baby. Among the gifts they brought was myrrh, an aromatic resin used to anoint the dead, hardly a fitting present for a baby when you think about it, a bit like giving a gift certificate from a casket factory at a baby shower.

After He began His ministry, Jesus made it clear that He was intent on going to a cross to His disciples. You may remember what happened the first time Jesus talked about this:
...Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This must never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.” (Matthew 16:21-23)
In the night before His crucifixion, Jesus was brought to Pilate for questioning. But Jesus refused to answer. That resulted in this exchange between the two of them:
Pilate therefore said to him, “Do you refuse to speak to me? Do you not know that I have power to release you, and power to crucify you?” Jesus answered him, “You would have no power over me unless it had been given you from above... (John 19:10-11)
Jesus says of His life:
No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. (John 10:18)
We call it Good Friday because on the first one some two-thousand years ago, Jesus fulfilled God's plan. He took our punishment for sin and later, rose from death so that all who repent of sin and entrust their lives to Him will live forever.

So, the wages of sin is death, "but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23)

Good Friday is good because, just as it was the route through which Jesus moved to Easter, it's also the route through which all who believe in Him share in His Easter victory!

[Thanks to Hugh Hewitt for linking to this post.]


Roscoe Washington said...

Good post. I was not able to go to church tonight and was looking for something good to read this evening. Thanks for posting it.

Mark Daniels said...

Thanks for your kind words.

Have a wonderful Easter.


kevin said...

Thank you for your really made me think about the meaning of Easter and about our proclaiming the Good News of the gospel.

“The One we believe…” What “we believe” has nothing to do with the TRUTH. Jesus either is or is not the Messiah. He either is or is not Christ. He either is or is not God’s Anointed Kings of Kings. Jesus IS the Son of God, the Messiah, the King of Kings not because we humans/Christians "believe,” but because it is the truth.

Humbly I submit an alternative:

Good Friday is the day when Jesus, the Messiah, the King of Kings was crucified.

How could this day be “Good?”

What good could there be from the Son of God being hung on a cross?

Jesus died on the cross because “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”(John 3:16)

But the world did not believe in him… The Gospel of John tells us that "He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own [the world He made], and His own people did not accept Him." (John 1:10-11)

We –humanity- rejected Him. We rejected God. And Jesus paid the price of that rejection.

There. On the cross. Alone. Jesus –the Son of God paid the price of our rejection. On that cross, crucified for all to see, our rejection separated Jesus from God, from His Father. And in that separation Jesus - the Son - cried out: "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46)

This is the tragedy of Good Friday.

And if the story ended here it would be a tragedy. But it does not end there. Instead the story only begins. Because in that separation Jesus assumed all of our sins, He assumed all of the things that separate from God, and in that separation He cried out “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”

Think about that.

Think about that. For at the moment of His greatest pain –at his moment of greatest separation -Jesus – the Son of God - cried out “Forgive them.” Forgive them.

And God forgave us.

And this is what makes "Good Friday" Good.