"Why do we call this 'Good' Friday?"
That's what an inquisitive second-grader (named Isaac) asked me once.
It's a sensible question. The day we commemorate as Good Friday, after all, brought multiple tragedies.
Good Friday, which this year falls on April 3, is when Christians all over the world remember the day when Jesus of Nazareth, the One we believe was the Messiah (that is, 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 [Jews and Gentiles] 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.")
God, in His holiness, cannot abide the mere sight of sin and on the cross, Jesus bore the total weight of all human alienation from God, all human distrust of God, and every misdeed, small and large, that's ever been committed or ever will be committed by the whole human race. God the Father simply couldn't look at Jesus on the cross because, utterly sinless though Jesus was, He voluntarily embodied our sin and took our punishment for it there.
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, 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). (Jesus told a parable showing that this was the motive of many who sought His death, here.)
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 unfolded precisely as God wanted them to happen. Jesus came into the world to die for us. That was always the plan.
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 this day 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! It's because of what Jesus did on Good Friday for us, followed by God the Father raising Him from the dead, that you and I can confess our belief in the "forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting." Amen!