Have you ever wondered why Christians refer to the Friday before Easter as Good Friday? I never quite understood that myself growing up as a kid even though I went to church and heard the Easter story every year.
Think about the Easter story as a movie. The good part is at the end, when Jesus comes out of the tomb, resurrected! It seems to me that Friday is bad, at least if you’re looking at Jesus as a hero figure. On Friday, he’s dead. How is that good?
To answer that, I want to first ask a different question. Why did Jesus have to die? To put it another way, what was the purpose of Jesus’s death?
It’s an honest question, really. If Jesus is God, as he claimed, why couldn’t he just declare sins to forgiven?
I’ve posed this question to many people over the years as I’ve engaged in conversations about Jesus and some people respond that Jesus’s death is an example to us.
I suppose that could be true, but how exactly is it an example?
Well, you might respond by pointing to the verse where Jesus says, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV)
Yes, it’s true that Jesus’s death does demonstrate the depth of his love for us. But what does that do for us?
Some people have responded to that question (Why did Jesus have to die?) by saying that Jesus’s death was a sacrifice?
Agreed. But what does it mean that he was a sacrifice? In what way was it a sacrifice?
The simple answer to “Why did Jesus have to die?” is that God’s justice required it.
Romans 6:23 says that “the wages of sin is death.” Since the penalty of sin is death, the only way Jesus could pay for our sin was to die. He couldn’t just declare sin to be paid for because death is required.
I often share this illustration with people when talking about the importance of Jesus’s death on the cross….
In New Testament times, when a person committed a crime, the authorities would throw the offender in the dungeon until he made restitution or until his sentence was completed.
On the door of his cell they would list the crimes that he had committed. When he had completed his sentence or paid for his crime, they took the list and wrote ‘tetelestai’ across it, which in greek means “it is finished”, or “paid in full”.
The person would then use this document as a receipt that those specific crimes had been paid for. He could not be accused of those crimes again.
We are separated from God because of the debt that we owe because of our sin. Our sin must be paid for.
Now think about the Easter story again. Jesus is arrested, tried and crucified. The last words Jesus uttered before dying were, “it is finished” (tetelestai).
Here’s what Paul said to the Colossians about the importance of Jesus’s death:
He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. (Colossians 2:13-14)
The picture here is that Jesus had a written list of all of your sins and all of my sins and he nailed that list of all of our iniquities to the cross. Just before he died, he uttered “it is finished”, meaning that sin had been “paid in full”.
It’s as if Jesus, in his last dying breath was taking a big rubber stamp to that list and stamping it “PAID” so that we would know that sin was paid for and therefore forgiveness could be granted.
So when you think of the full Easter story, it doesn’t appear that Friday is good. It seems rather bad, if you are looking from the perspective of Jesus as the hero.
But if you realize what Jesus meant to accomplish, the redemption of mankind, the forgiveness of sins – through that lens, it’s clear that Good Friday is indeed good. Actually, it’s rather GREAT for us! Sin is paid for. We are forgiven!
Good Friday is indeed GOOD! And, that’s not even the end of the story….