Updated: Apr 19, 2022
What’s so Good?
What is so good about Good Friday?
Whether you've read the Passion of our Lord once, or today is the hundredth time, it is hard on face value to see why this is called Good Friday. It appears as if nothing good has happened.
There is betrayal and desertion, there is a coward of a leader who caves in to a mob’s demand for an unjust verdict of an innocent man; there is merciless violence and derision, and ultimately there is murder.
What is so good about Good Friday?
For the curious onlookers who happened to walk outside the city gate as they went from one errand to another that Friday afternoon in Jerusalem, they may not have even stopped to get a good look at the three men hanging on their respective crosses.
The general feeling was that whoever had the misfortune of being nailed to a Roman cross had it coming to them. They were bad dudes, enemies of the state, and it’s better to go about your business than mourn for the poor saps who got caught, and were now being shamefully executed in broad daylight.
If any of those busy bystanders took a moment to look a little closer at the man on the middle cross, they may have recognized him as the fiery rabbi who had been creating a lot of drama over the past week, but even that was questionable. His face would have been so disfigured, so beaten in by the Roman soldiers, that the only way you would know it was him was from the wooden sign they had posted above him that read: “King of the Jews.”
A bitter, bitter irony. No Jewish king would suffer like this. God’s Anointed would be crucifying the Romans not be crucified by the Romans, they thought.
And so for many folks in Jerusalem on that first Good Friday, it was just another day, and another failed leader getting what was coming to him.
The Heart of the Gospel
And you would think that such a bitter moment, one filled with so much pain and violence in the life of the Messiah would be quickly brushed away by those writing his life story, since we all know how this story ends. But for all four of the Gospel writers, the climactic moment in each of their accounts is (quite strangely) this moment.
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John uniquely crafted their narratives in such a way that made the crucifixion the very heart of their message; every parable Jesus told, every miracle he performed built towards this very moment, and for the Gospel writers, everything after the cross would be interpreted through this moment.
The Apostle Paul agreed. He told the church in Corinth, “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). Really? That’s Paul’s message? Jesus and his brutal death?
The answer is yes, and Paul even claimed that this was a stumbling block for the religious and foolishness to the secular of his own day and time. But the cross of Christ stands alone. It is the very heart and soul of the Good News.
But it is not as if Jesus was the only person ever to die by such a horrific method. Thousands upon thousands were crucified by the Romans, but only one crucified man is known by name in the history books: Jesus of Nazareth.
The early Christians began to piece together that Jesus’ death was like no other death; that his death had significance that far exceeded what those onlookers in Jerusalem saw as they hastily went about their daily lives that Friday.
These early believers, like Mathew, Mark and Paul, claimed that something was happening on our behalf while Jesus writhed in pain. They claimed that in fact Jesus was taking the full force of Sin upon himself—all of humanity’s Sin that had ever been committed in the past and would be committed in the future was directed at Jesus in that moment on Golgotha.
Paul explained it to the Corinthian congregation this way, “For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Jesus, the perfect man, the sinless man, took on himself the cosmic powers of Sin, Death, and the Devil, and for the first and only time Jesus was “sin who knew no sin.”
Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, “God let himself be pushed out of the world on to the cross.”
And it is in this moment of willingly being pushed onto a cross and taking on Sin, once and for all, that Jesus experiences the most painful, gut-wrenching, moment of his life: that moment of being forsaken by God the Father.
Theologians through the ages have wrestled with this idea of Jesus forsaken on the cross. How can God forsake God? How can the Father through the Spirit turn his back on the Son? Aren’t they three but one?
It is a complex topic, but we need to only scratch the surface to see why this may help us answer why Good Friday can be called “Good.”
Cry of Dereliction
The answer lies in what we call the “Cry of Dereliction.” When Jesus cries out, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me?” He is not only quoting Psalm 22, but he means what he says. He is the only one who has ever said that, and it actually be true. We may feel like we are forsaken by God, but God is still with us.
Jesus, on the other hand, was forsaken in that moment because he took on the full force of Sin and the judgment that accompanied that, and God the Father, who is infinitely perfect, had to turn away from Jesus in that moment. The perfect relationship of the Father and Son was broken. As one writer put it, “Jesus drank the dregs of abandonment and despair on the Cross” (Undoing 150).
But let’s be clear, the Father wasn’t sending the Son to die, kicking and screaming, the Trinity did this together. The three persons of the Trinity were united that this action on the cross must be done. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were participating in the threefold giving of themselves for our salvation when the Son was nailed to the cross (based on T. F. Torrance Crucifixion 101).
This just shows us how serious Sin is—how dire our situation is if we are left to our own devices. This is not simply about how we tell a lie here or there, or speed on our way to church.
This isn’t about just small misdeeds that we commit, but the great Power of Sin that enslaves us, and no matter how hard we try on our own, we cannot be freed from it. The power of Sin, Death, and the Devil are that strong, that serious that only God—the very Creator of the entire Universe—could possibly make right what we had made so wrong. God alone would take on these cosmic forces through death on a cross.
The cross alone is not special, it is simply the instrument that Jesus uses to redeem the whole world. It is God on the cross that makes the cross significant.
And so, here’s the point: Jesus took on the judgment of Sin, was judged and forsaken, so that you and I wouldn’t have to be. That’s where the second half of Paul’s words comes in, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him WE might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
It is in this moment of self-sacrifice, of laying down his life not only for his friends, but also his enemies, that the power of Sin and Death are judged and ultimately conquered. He became Sin, in order that we would not be enslaved to it any longer; that in fact, we might become the righteousness of God.
So what is so good about Good Friday? As Fleming Rutledge has said, “It is in the crucifixion that the nature of God is truly revealed” (Crucifixion 44). God shows us, his people, that he is good, that at the very heart of the Trinity is sacrificial and unconditional love; that God himself will go to the ends of life and the depths of the grave so that we might be redeemed, made whole, and made his forever.
We are shown from the first day of creation, to this moment on Calvary that he loves us; that everything God does is rooted in his deep and abiding love for us.
It is a Good Friday because that’s not just any man on the cross, but love incarnate dying for us and for the whole world. Love, sacrificial love, and not death, has the final word. And that, my brothers and sisters is truly good.
Good Friday. John 18-19. The Crucifixion F. Rutledge. The Undoing of Death F. Rutledge. Pic here.