The "Good" in Good Friday
Many holidays bear a name that on the surface clearly communicates the occasion of celebration or remembrance. In the secular realm, we think of “Independence Day” or “Thanksgiving.” In the religious, we think of “Christmas” and “Passover.” Other names (Halloween? Easter?) are not apparent in their meaning.
And then there is “Good Friday.” Of all holidays, none seems a greater misnomer. When the person unacquainted with this day inquires as to the occasion, he is told, “This is the day Jesus was crucified.” How can he be anything other than utterly confused or horrified? What sort of people would call the death of an innocent man like Jesus good?
We can be assured that on this day the disciples of Christ saw nothing good in it. They had spent the past three years of their life following their beloved Teacher across the Jewish countryside. When Jesus asked them who they thought he was, Peter crystallized an answer for the disciples when he declared, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”[I] As James and John were with Jesus, they came to him vying for top tier positions in the anticipated Kingdom. Their Teacher told them they didn’t know what they were asking and challenged, “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink?”[ii] They said they could and Jesus said they would.
They didn’t imagine the cup would be a cross. As they stood at the foot of the cross, gazing up at their torn teacher, wearing thorns as a crown, crudely heralded as king by a forlorn plaque of scrap wood, how could they not feel like fools?
It felt like Foolish Friday.
The apostle Paul has said, “Jews demand signs and Greeks look for wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles.”[iii] What’s interesting is that Paul is ready to call Friday truly foolish if Friday is all we have. Paul says, “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins [...] If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.”[iv] There’s nothing good to be seen when we’re stuck on Friday. Death and Sin remain. Jesus is Gone.
We only come to see the good in Friday on Sunday. We only come to understand Christ’s crucifixion when he walks out of the tomb. Apparent tragedy is shown to be the grounds of triumph. Our questions are answered.
“Why did Jesus willingly go to the cross?”– So that by joining himself to our chastisement, the chastisement for human sin, he might respond with perfect obedience, making himself that priceless ransom, a true atonement sacrifice that cleanses us from guilt and sin.[v]
“Why must he die?”– So that the power of sin in the flesh might be put to death, making way for the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit.[vi]
“Again, why must he die?”– So that the curse of death might be conquered, so that our bodies and all of creation would receive the promise of new creation in his resurrection.[vii]
The promise of Sunday makes Friday good. It assures us that both sin and death will be conquered. It guarantees that Christ’s resurrection will be followed by his ascension, that we will have a High Priest in heaven interceding for us, presenting himself to the Father as that finally sufficient atonement sacrifice. It confirms that there will be forgiveness for sins and resurrection life to come.
Whatever the Greeks might think, there is nothing truly foolish about Friday. The wisdom of God revealed on Sunday renders a different judgment. Friday was good, is good, and should always be remembered and celebrated as “Good Friday.”
When we remember that Friday is good, we remind ourselves that the incomprehensibility of our present suffering will be made clear in the end. God’s plan of redemption realized its means of victory on Resurrection Sunday, but it did not reach its end. The Church, with all her members, is the Body of Christ. In being joined to Christ, we have been given salvation, but we have also been brought into God’s redemptive mission and invited into Christ’s suffering. Jesus makes clear what this entails: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”[viii] When Jesus takes on the cross, he does not remove our cross to bear. When he submits to drinking the cup of the cross, we remember a cup awaits James, John, and all those who would follow him.
Our Gospel commission has called us into a recapitulation of Christ’s life. Because of Christ’s death and resurrection, we are assured that the suffering that marks our lives will not be for nothing. We will not be left in the grave. This leads Paul to conclude 1 Corinthians 15 in this way:
“Therefore, my dear brothers and sisters, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain.”[ix]
We might not understand every reason for the trials that we presently endure, but Good Friday reminds us that God has a plan afoot in all of our Fridays. The Good News in Christ is that Sunday is coming!
[i]Matthew 16:16 NIV
[ii]Matthew 20:22-23; see also Mark 10:38-39
[iii]1 Corinthians 1:22-23 NIV
[iv]1 Corinthians 15:17,19 NIV
[v]Isaiah 53:5 ESV; Romans 5:18-19; Hebrew 10:5-10 ESV; Hebrew 5:1, 7-10 ESV
[vi]Hebrew 9:15-17 ESV; Romans 7:1-6 ESV; Romans 8:3-4, 8-9
[vii]Romans 8:11 ESV; 1 Corithinians 15:20-21, 53-57 ESV
[viii]Matthew 16:24 NIV; see also Mark 8:34 NIV; Luke 9:23 NIV
[ix]1 Corithians 15:58 NIV