Today is Good Friday. Why is it called that?
From the perspective of a Christian pastor, allow me to explain. Good Friday the day is about Good Friday the event.
On Good Friday the day we remember Jesus Christ’s deaths on a Roman cross. Crucifixion was 1st Century capital punishment, with a twist of torture thrown in for sadistic fun. The Romans invented crucifixion as a cruel show of force intended to terrorize the masses in the countries they occupied.
The New Testament writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke tell us this gruesome act happened on a Friday afternoon.
Good Friday the day points us to Good Friday the event: Jesus died for you. That’s why we call it good. Good for us, bad for him. Good Friday the day celebrates (if you can call it that) the event.
So the real question of Good Friday centers around the phrase that’s become cliche: “Jesus died for you.” What does it mean?
All of our highest moments are stories of heroism and sacrifice born out of love. Sacrificial death moves us like nothing else.
- A Mother covers you her daughter like a human blanket while lost in the winter wilderness, freezing in the act. You are saved.
- A Father jumps into a raging river to save you his son, and perishes. You are rescued.
- Maybe the most moving story in our time starts like this, “On September 11th, a fireman rushed into Tower One…” Your life is spared.
What moves us is not that it happened (because it’s always a tragedy), but why they did it. They did it because they knew it was them or you. Either they would suffer or you would suffer. And they bore the pain.
When we say “Jesus died for you” it means all of that and then some.
If you haven’t seen Mel Gibson’s 2004 gruesome depiction of Jesus’ death via Roman crucifixion, here’s a cursory outline:
- His back was lacerated to the point of hamburger by someone trained to take a human body just to the edge of death without pushing them over.
- A crown of 2″ thorns was shoved on his head in mockery of his claim to a King’s throne.
- All crucifixion victims where literally nailed to the uprights. Long, thick metal spikes were hammered through the wrist bones of each arm and through the tops of the feet.
- To catch a breath (and this was an intentional part of the torture), the victim had to push up on their feet and eventually died of suffocation.
It was a horrific death. Good for us, bad for him.
And it was completely unjust. A sham trial was hastily put together by religious leaders bent on retaining power and position at all costs. The governing political/military leader didn’t want to be bothered and literally washed his hands of the event. Together they whipped the people into a mob frenzy who then shouted for his death, becoming complicit in the charade.
In short, Jesus was murdered by the State and by the Religious Establishment.
If the footage from the body cams were brought out, if the internal memos were printed in the Wall Street Journal, the evidence would show, without controversy, the guilt of the officers and the cover-up of the higher-ups. It was dirty all the way down.
In his pre-emptive press conference outlining and defending their actions, the main religious leader ranted: “It’s better that one man should die for the people than for the whole nation to be destroyed.” (John 11:50)
To add insult to injury, his disciples–who’d learned from and followed him for 3 years, pledging their lifelong faithfulness–ditched and ran.
And he did it for you. He knew it was him or you. Either he suffered or you would. And he chose the pain. Good for us, bad for him.
He bore in his body on the Cross—like that sacrificial Mother, like that protective Father, like that heroic Fireman—the wrath of forces he did not originate; human cruelty, treachery, injustice, hypocrisy, cowardice, sin. And he did it knowing all along it was for you. Out of deep love for you—his beloved son, his beloved daughter—he laid his own life down.
“Very rarely,” the Apostle Paul said, reflecting on the meaning of Jesus’ death, “will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Romans 5:7-9
Good for us, bad for him.