Read Matthew 26-27, Mark 14-15, Luke 23, John 18-19
On the Christian calendar, today is the day that is traditionally referred to as Good Friday or Holy Friday in many other countries. This is the day set aside to remember Christ’s crucifixion, yet, the mention of crucifixion seems like anything but “good”! So many bad things happened to Jesus on this day, that the word good seems out of place. So, why is the word good attached to it? To get a fuller understanding and appreciation for why this day is so significant for Christians, we need to look deeper into all that transpired on this day over 2000 years ago!
This day actually begins early in the morning. To be more accurate, Jesus never sleeps. After spending some very intimate time with His disciples in the upper room for the Passover meal last evening, Jesus goes to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. A study of Christ’s life shows that He regularly prayed, but this prayer was different. It was the most heart wrenching prayer He has prayed thus far. In His humanity, He is in mental anguish over what is about to happen. The suffering that He is about to endure is known to Him and He cries out to God:“Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done. … And being in agony he prayed more earnestly; and his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground. (Luke 22:42-44) This cup that Jesus speaks of is the cup of judgement. The physical suffering will be nothing compared to the great agony of having the Father turn His back on Him as He is judged for the sins of all mankind! He knows this is required, but in His humanness He must wrestle for a time with this. A sweet side note found in the gospel of Luke, explains that at the end of this soul racking prayer “there appeared to him an angel from heaven, strengthening him”. (Luke 22:43) This is a comforting glimpse at the work of angels bringing comfort to Him in his time of great need. Yet in the end, of course, He submits to the Father’s will, which is a beautiful example of surrender!
The next event is the betrayal of Judas, as he brings the religious leaders to arrest Jesus. While Judas’ betrayal is expected and even fulfills prophecy, the experience of being betrayed by someone close to you couldn’t have been easy. Besides Judas’ betrayal, He will experience the denial of Peter, one of His closest relationships. When we experience painful relationship situations, let us remember that our Lord understands and knows the pain of betrayal, abandonment and rejection! Also remember that both Judas and Peter suffer as well, Judas bitterly faces the reality of his actions and Peter weeps over the depth of his sinful choices. While Judas’ remorse leads him to hang himself, Peter’s pain leads Him to repentance and ultimately, restoration, showing us that sinful actions will always lead us somewhere. Some people choose to become paralyzed, despondent and miserable as they look at their failures and stay there falling into a deeper hole of bitterness, anger and brokenness, but others, like Peter, allow the experience of failure to lead them to admit their sin and receive the forgiveness that Christ offers!
The events that occur next are a series of informal and “formal” religious trials, three to be exact, but none of these trials follow the standard rules set up by the Jews for a “criminal”. They provide no evidence in Jesus’ favor which would be the regular protocol despite the numerous miracles He has performed in front of them. Instead they twist His words, make up evidence and even flat out lie in order to support their bogus claims against Him. Along with this sham of a trial, they also verbally abuse Him, mock Him, blaspheme against Him and beat Him. They knew He was guilty of nothing, yet they were determined to get rid of Him because of their own pride and self-centeredness. Because they are not allowed to actually execute anyone, they take Jesus to the Roman governor Pontius Pilate and then to Herod. Despite all of their accusations, Pilate finds Jesus innocent as does Herod.
Pilate is interesting because history tells us that he was an evil ruler who regularly showed no mercy to the accused, but according to the gospel writers, he tries to release Jesus, finding nothing worthy of death. This is quite remarkable. A man who wasn’t religious at all is more merciful than those who claim to be religious! Unfortunately, this is sometimes true in our world today, people who claim to be Christians show less mercy to people they dislike than the irreligious! As some who are far from God have said, “I have no problem with Jesus, it is the Christians that I don’t like”. Let’s never be guilty of showing less mercy than the lost world!
Pilate tries to appease the Jewish leaders by ordering Jesus to endure a brutal Roman scourging, but he is unable to convince the Jewish leaders to accept his innocent verdict and in the end succumbs to their demand to have Jesus executed. These corrupt leaders even incite the crowds to cry “crucify him, crucify him” in a frenzied roar thus forcing Pilate to give in. Pilate isn’t innocent of Jesus’ blood, but Jesus himself tells Pilate, “you would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above. Therefore, he who delivered me over to you has the greater sin.” (John 19:11)
The powerful truth that this quote clearly reveals is that Pilate, Herod and the religious leaders had no real power over Jesus’ fate despite what it may seem. In fact, Jesus has already revealed this in an earlier teaching when He told the disciples,” I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again” (John 10:17-18). These leaders will definitely be held accountable, but don’t believe for one moment that they were in control! God allowed all of this to carry out the greatest rescue mission ever!
The climax of this real drama happens next as Jesus goes to the Place of the Skull called Golgotha to be crucified! The gospel writers don’t go into depth about what the crucifixion was like because everyone during that day understood the brutality and torture of a Roman crucifixion. Designed to produce a slow and unimaginably painful death, the crucifixion was one of the most humiliating and horrific forms of execution to ever be used by any civilization. This is what our God endured for us! While on the cross, Jesus speaks very few words, but what He does say is monumental. The most incredible are the words, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do.” On the cross, in incomprehensible pain, Jesus prays for His executioners! He intercedes on their behalf which while this is hard to imagine for us; it is precisely why He is there! He came to die for the sin of ALL mankind! Sin put Him on the cross, but what keeps Him there is LOVE.
The LOVE displayed on the cross this day in 33AD is why this day is called GOOD FRIDAY! You see, justice is a concept we all understand. The Jews knew this. For 1000’s of years they had been offering sacrifices for breaking the laws because sin demands payment. In all cultures through the ages people have created systems for how crimes are paid for. We all know this. When someone breaks a law, a consequence must follow. When someone owes a debt, it must be paid. We all believe that no one should get away with a crime, there must be justice. Sin is the great crime that we have all committed. Sin against a Holy God is a debt that must be paid! The message of the cross is that instead of God demanding us to pay this debt, He does it Himself. He leaves heaven, He humbles Himself to become like us; He gives up the glory of heaven to experience temptation, loneliness, rejection, grief, and unfathomable pain to take our place. Someone has to pay and He willingly does this for us! Is there any greater example of love than this,“That someone lay His life down for his friends”!
Good Friday means that for all of us who accept Christ’s substitutionary death for our sins, we are rescued from the prison of our own sin and are debt free! This is the freedom we really long for, and this is the freedom we have because of Jesus! This is really GOOD NEWS!
The truth is: IT REALLY IS A GOOD, GOOD FRIDAY!