Today is Good Friday. Yesterday I attended a Maundy Thursday service and as the pastor began his welcome and call to worship he touched on the unusual name we give this day – ‘Good Friday’. It seems that what it commemorates is something so brutal that ‘good’ almost feels like the wrong descriptor, and yet we know that for those whose faith is in Christ and his sacrifice on the cross some 2000 years ago, the outcome of Good Friday is most certainly good. Jesus’s death on Good Friday was one of two central defining moments in God’s salvation plan to redeem his people from bondage to sin and death and transferred us into his Kingdom, laying our sin on Jesus, forgiving us by grace through faith in Him and adopting us as His own.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
The pastor said something like “It might seem strange that we call it Good Friday, in fact you might even wonder why we don’t call it Bad Friday…” He went on to explain the good that came from it, which is obviously the most wonderful truth to behold, but it seems to me there are a number of helpful words to use in front of the word ‘Friday’ – words that might help us to approach the commemoration of Jesus’ death with appropriate wonder, awe, grief, humility, joy and thankfulness.
Good Friday is good because Jesus’ sacrifice in taking the death penalty for our sins was God’s will (Isaiah 53:10) and therefore part of his good and perfect plan. Those who call this ‘divine child abuse’ fail to understand the seriousness of sin on the one hand, and the perfect love and unity of the trinity on the other. The Father didn’t force the Son to die. Jesus, the perfect, sinless Son of God, willingly humbled himself and became obedient to death on a cross (Philippians 2). Although it involved incredible evil perpetrated by sinful humans, Good Friday was purposed by God for good. Just as God meant for Joseph’s circumstances in being separated from his family and taken to Egypt to work for not only Joseph’s good, but the good of his family and his nation, so to the death of Jesus, though involving serious sin on the part of those who conspired to kill him, was intended by God for our good and for his glory. Good Friday is good because it restores what was once broken. For those who repent and believe in Jesus, it satisfies the righteous wrath of a holy God and provides the way for us to approach God freely, knowing that Jesus sacrifice was once and for all. There is nothing we can do to earn forgiveness – Jesus has done all that needed to be done on our behalf. His death in our place exchanged the wages of sin (death) that we deserved for eternal life, and that is very good news indeed.
Good Friday sometimes feels like it should be called Bad Friday because of what actually happened. Jesus really suffered. He was really beaten, mocked, spat on, reviled and murdered in the most excruciating way known to man. Though God’s plan was being fulfilled, the Jewish leaders and the Romans who conspired to kill him made sinful choices. People often wrestle with understanding how God’s sovereignty and human responsibility can be compatible. There are many passages in scripture that deal with this topic, not least of which is the explanation of the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart discussed in Romans 9, but it is important to consider the fact that these people were acting in rebellion against God. They preferred their religious institutions and their political system over and above the message of God’s servant king who came to call people to repentance and faith because the kingdom of heaven was at hand. They didn’t want a King of the Jews who was far greater than any earthly king and so they committed heinous acts against this man, Jesus – the God-man, who had done nothing wrong, but who was willing to experience the baddest of the bad in order to save his people.
Good Friday could be called Sad Friday because it deals with real people. The story of Jesus’s death isn’t a fairy-tale. It’s not fiction. It’s a historical event. It involved real people: Jesus, his friends, his family, his followers. There was real suffering. It was a real death and it was, sadly, really necessary, because nothing else could pay the eternal price to make it possible for fallen humanity to be reconciled to God. It’s sad that ever since the Garden of Eden humans have wanted to be their own masters, to question God, to ignore His word and to disobey his law. It’s sad that so many still live in hostility towards God. Many would probably claim to live in indifference toward God, but that is a lie of our pluralistic culture. There is no neutrality. Jesus said whoever is not with Him is against him (Matthew 12:30). There is one Way, one Truth and one Life – one mediator between God and mankind (1 Timothy 2:5) – and it is sad that many ignore the call of the gospel to die to self and to live for Christ – to find their true life in Him. Picture Mary watching her son on the cross, picture Jesus’ disciples the next day, struggling to work out why things had to happen that way and wondering what to do now, picture Jesus dying to pay for your sin and then picture the sin you committed today or yesterday. Jesus died for that. We live in a fallen world and while, as believers, we are in the process of being conformed into the image of Jesus (Romans 8:29), we still sin and so often we don’t even realise or perhaps don’t take it seriously. Perhaps not rushing to Sunday, but instead sitting for a moment in the sadness of Good Friday, is actually very good for us as we consider how we respond to what God has done for us.
Finally, it seems Good Friday could be called Glad Friday. We should be glad that Jesus was willing to go all the way to the cross for us. We should be glad that way back when Adam and Eve fell, God promised that although the serpent would strike the heel of the offspring of the woman, the offspring of the woman would crush the head of the serpent. This promise was fulfilled in Jesus, the ‘second Adam’ or ‘last Adam’ who defeated the power of sin and death once and for all, rescuing us from the bondage to sin which we inherited from the ‘first Adam’. We should be glad that the call of the gospel is so simple, it doesn’t rely on perfectly keeping a complicated law or set of religious ceremonies or rituals (as if we could keep it perfectly – since it was designed to point us to our need for the Saviour). Jesus has paid the price so that all that is required of us is to repent and believe in him and his sacrifice in our place. What we are then called to do is live in light of that. Our response to Good Friday should be one of humility and thankfulness – to be glad in God who has designed us to be in fellowship with Him eternally and has made a way for that to be possible when we were powerless to do so ourselves. Another natural response is to want to keep His commands with the help of the Holy Spirit as we spread the good news, point people to Jesus and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20). We should be glad that God loves us, glad that he calls us and glad that he is with us now and that we can live with him forever because of what Jesus did on Good Friday.
As I look towards the incredible joy of Easter Sunday when we celebrate Jesus’s resurrection and defeat of death, I am thankful for the chance to reflect on the importance of this Good, Bad, Sad and Glad Friday.