What is so good about this Friday? Why call it good?
Good Friday is a remembering and celebration of Jesus’ death on a Roman cross. Hardly seems worthy of celebration, 2000 years later or at any time really. Understanding why it is even conceivable to call it a celebration or good requires understanding what its purpose was.
The crucifixion of Jesus comes at the end of an approximately 30 year life and 3 year ministry for Jesus. In his time on earth he had healed the sick, cast out demons, and preached that the kingdom of God was at hand. In light of his coming he called on people to repent, or turn away from their sin, and call on God.
Jesus Predicts His own Death
What may seem strange at first is that Jesus also predicted and told those around him that he would be killed. He made this explicit upon Peter’s declaration that Jesus is the Messiah (Matt. 16:13ff. & parallels). Matthew’s text says that “from then on Jesus began to explain to his disciples that it was necessary for him to go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes and be killed, and to rise on the third day” (Matt. 16:21).
That Peter and the disciples didn’t understand what Jesus exactly meant or how it could be so is clear from how Peter responds. He takes him aside and rebukes him, saying that it will never happen to him! (Matt. 16:22) Twice more the Gospel writer tells us that Jesus predicted his death but everyone was slow to understand its import. No one had a category for a crucified Messiah. They thought that the Messiah would establish his kingly reign on earth at that time.
But in God’s plan was a different sort of first coming for the Messiah. Instead of reigning victoriously in a clear earthly sense, he would come as a lamb, slaughtered and offered up to God. In Exodus we read of the last plague placed on the Egyptians, the killing of the firstborns. Whoever did not have the blood of a slaughtered lamb on their door posts would find their firstborn killed by morning on a set day. The blood of the slaughtered lamb acted as a sacrifice in place of those who deserved the death. The Passover then became a yearly celebration to celebrate when God passed over those who had faith in him as evidenced by their slaughtering the lamb and placing its blood on the doorposts.
The shedding of blood would continue to be required to atone for the peoples’ sins, but this could never make perfect those who wish to worship God; “it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb. 10:1, 4). But Jesus’ sacrifice was once-for-all, the second person of the Trinity, himself one with God, laid down his life as a ransom for us.
Who Deserved to Die?
The answer to this question is simple. You and I deserved to die (Rom. 3:23). Our sin requires a just punishment and Jesus stood in our place. We can now turn from our sin by acknowledging it before God and accept Jesus through whom we are justified, or made right with God. Our fundamental problem is that we are not right with God. Jesus makes us right with God.
This is the victory. It is victory over sin and death. And Easter Sunday or Resurrection Sunday is where the story finds its culmination.