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What's So Good About Good Friday?

Updated: Apr 3, 2021

When special days like Good Friday and Easter roll around, it feels like we should do something special to mark the moment. Maybe decorate eggs, make a candy-filled basket, gather with family, or just breathe in the beauty as Spring wakes up.

In my family growing up, Easter week included a Jesus movie. I have my favorite versions, but I knew that no matter how happy Bethlehem seemed or how amazing Jesus’ miracles came off in Galilee, we were heading for Jerusalem to watch him die. And watching him die would be awful. The underlying message I understood as a kid and then passed on to my own was, “Since Jesus died for our sins, the least we can do is watch him do it.”

But after a year of pandemic statistics and political shrieking, I find it harder to head out towards the three crosses on the hill. I would much prefer a quiet spot with some upbeat people who remember how to laugh. That would be a great Friday. So why spend a perfectly good Friday reacquainting ourselves with the horrors of Jesus’ last day, and how can things like betrayal, the miscarriage of justice, and human cruelty ever be associated with the word “good?”

The facts are straight forward whether you collect them from church or a history book. Jesus of Nazareth was crucified and died under the order of Pontius Pilate, a Roman political authority in charge of keeping the peace in a region that included Israel. The followers of Jesus point to this moment as the crucial event that changes everything in our relationship with God and creates the possibility of new life for every person.

So, the “good” in Good Friday is not a way of putting a positive spin on a torture story, but a way of treasuring the good things that were made possible on that tragic day. When I make my way to a church pew today or walk the Stations of the Cross, I will have good things on my mind.

For instance, Good Friday demonstrates how good God truly is, and how far He is willing to go to love us. For God so loved the world is a nice phrase to stitch on a soft pillow, but when pronounced from an agonizing cross, suddenly the words blaze with credibility. Jesus will tell stories about loving fathers who give good things to their children and throw parties for rebellious sons who stumble home after failing miserably. The punch line was always “your Father in Heaven loves you even more.”

God’s decision to step out of Heaven, take on human form to live with us and live like us requires an infinite leap. But on this day, God will endure false arrest, face slaps, shocking brutality, insults, and humiliation. At each place, God in human form suffers silently, forgives generously, and passes out invitations to Heaven along the way.

Jesus will say the day before that “greater love has no man than one who lays down his life for his friends (John 15:13). Then on Good Friday, Jesus goes out and does it. We don’t have to wonder about God’s heart any longer. He shows it to us at the cross.

Good Friday not only dramatizes God’s love but demonstrates Jesus’ power. Superheroes display their power with extraordinary physical feats and super-human strength. But as my pastor once taught me, spiritual power is measured not only by what we do, but by what it takes to stop you. On Good Friday, Jesus establishes that all the power of the world could not deter him from his saving mission…not political power, military power, religious power or even the power of death itself. So, when I choose to follow Jesus, I can rest assured that my Leader will do what He promises and will have the last word, no matter how ugly the circumstances appear to be.

In my childhood church, one toe-tapping hymn was always on the Easter song list. Up from the grave He arose with a mighty triumph o’er his foes. He arose the Victor o’er the dark domain, and he lives forever with his saints to reign. On Good Friday, we don't ignore the cruel powers operating in our lives and world. We bring our wounds and worries to Jesus who promises that while “in this world you will have trouble but take heart! I have overcome the world (John 16:33)!”

Another reason we call this day “good” is not because the events of the day are good, but because we find a future beyond our present trials. One theory of atonement or way of understanding how the cross works is the idea that God gets really angry about sin and needs to put a beating on those who sinned against Him. The theory goes that Jesus took our beating for us, and that is why there is so much suffering on this day.

The Bible is full of references that Jesus served as a sacrifice for our sins, but many disagree that Jesus’ physical torment somehow pays a debt that satisfies God’s need for wrath. But one thing is certain. While Jesus may not have taken OUR beating, He certainly modeled how to BEAR one.

In the face of extraordinary injustice and pain, Jesus endured the cross in such a way that even buckled a hardened centurion. After Jesus takes his final gasp, this military leader who excelled at administering death on a battlefield and on a cross, looks up in amazement and says, “Surely this was the Son of God.” Why Jesus died may not have been important to this man, but how Jesus died shook him to his core.

When Jesus was squeezed to the point of breaking, what poured out of him was love, Scripture and prayer. Even during his suffering, Jesus found a clear-eyed purpose that would lead him to shout, “It is finished!” The preacher in Hebrews encourages his embattled congregation to “fix their eyes on Jesus, who endured the cross, despised the shame and sat down at the right hand of God (Hebrews 12:2).”

Jesus models the way to persevere in our worst moments and proves why he is the Good Shepherd who can navigate the “valley of the shadow of death.” That is why people in recovery and people on their death beds turn to Jesus. He knows real pain, but he also knows how to overcome it.

A final reason that Good Friday is really good is that we are included in the benefits that radiate from the cross. We sometimes say that Jesus died for the sins of the world, but it is also true to say that he died for each of us. When Jesus was sentenced to die, he took the place of a convicted revolutionary who had been involved in a riot that resulted in murder. Barabbas went free because Jesus took his place, and every follower of Jesus follows in Barabbas’ footsteps.

Paul personalized the cross in this way. “…the life I now live I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me (Galatians 2;20).” Jesus died for me and by his death I now have a model and power for life. Today is a good day because on this day forgiveness and a fresh start becomes possible for me. Here at the cross, I lay down my burdens, take up my mission, rekindle my love for God, and renew my hope in a good future in God’s care.

You don’t have to watch a Jesus movie to fully celebrate Good Friday. But don’t shy away from visiting the cross of Jesus today. Take your place near the one who took your place. Give thanks for his great love, great power, and great promise that at His cross “the burdens of my soul roll away.”

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