What’s So Good About Good Friday?
When I was growing up, our church congregation had a Good Friday service every year, which always followed a specific liturgy. We always started the Good Friday service together as a church family with a meal we called the “Love Feast,” a name that was derived from the Apostle John’s emphasis in John 13:1 that Jesus loved his own until the very end. In substance, this meal was simple, and followed the rhythm of the Last Supper, the Passover meal that Jesus and the Twelve ate together on the Thursday night that Jesus was betrayed.
As we finished eating, Pastor Bob would begin reading from Scripture, usually from John 13, which led us into a time of foot-washing. As he read John 13:3-7, he emulated the reading by laying aside his jacket, tying a towel around his waist, and filling a large basin with water from a pitcher. We would then proceed to sit in two circles (men and women separated), take off our shoes and socks, and one at a time take turns washing and drying each other’s feet. The awkwardness I felt as a kid about the practice of foot-washing must have appropriately represented the same tension that the Twelve felt at the prospect of having their rabbi wash their feet. Both for them and for us, the practice was outside the realm of the normal, but for different reasons.
After the foot-washing was complete, Pastor Bob preached through the narrative. He walked us through it step by step as if we had been there ourselves, watching it all play out: Jesus’ love for the disciples, the tension in the upper room, the passion as the Lord prayed in the garden, the sting of Judas’ betrayal, the humiliation and mockery in the trials, and ultimately, Jesus’ physical and spiritual suffering on the cross. All of this ending with a bloody, mangled corpse in a dank tomb on Friday evening.
Isn’t This Kind of Heavy?
For a society such as ours that is predominately known for its love of pleasure, leisure, and the active avoidance of the uncomfortable, Good Friday is subversive. For those who observe this holiday, it lays bare our empty pursuits, for it is one of the few moments we force our hearts to pull back the curtain to view the man on the cross and behold the grisly spectacle of the wages of our sin. Paul says in Romans 6:23a “the wages of sin is death.” All Christian doctrine that is right and true teaches us that it was our sin that Jesus bore on the cross. This means that when we behold the man upon the cross, we see an innocent man bearing the punishment we deserve. We see, as it were, a reflection of ourselves hanging there. Us, that should-have-been.
Yes, it is heavy; it’s is supposed to be heavy. We all too often flit through life, flippantly forgetting that the forgiveness of sin was not free. God himself paid a terrible price to secure forgiveness for our rebellion toward him. This can often be a hard and painful truth to accept, and we are predisposed to avoid things that are hard and painful. That is why it’s necessary for us to force ourselves to pause in reflection in front of the cross. On Good Friday we can’t avoid it any longer. We are called to come stand before the cross in humility and acknowledge why Jesus hung there; why his blood spilled out on the ground; why he willingly surrendered himself to a separation from the Father and a rending of his own very essence in a way that we can’t really comprehend. We are called to hear his anguished cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
How Can All This Be Good?
This is heavy. And yet, there is good to be found here. There is good because, despite the injustice, despite the grief and the anguish, despite the unfathomable cost, God’s purpose was accomplished: He destroyed death and he made a way to restore life to his creation.
Death is the great scourge of the fall: physical and spiritual death that damage God’s design for the flourishing life he created for mankind. Most pointedly, it is death that creates separation between God and his beloved image-bearers. So, if death is this great scourge, then why was Jesus forsaken to die on the cross? He was forsaken so that we wouldn’t be. He was crushed for our iniquities, and pierced for our transgressions, in our place, so that we could be restored into the relationship our Creator intended for us from the beginning. Jesus willingly chose this because he loves us deeply. He did this because he loves you deeply.
When we say this is "good," and we call the day of remembrance "Good" Friday, we are confessing that God has accomplished something good through the death of the Savior. The death itself is not good; death never is. The injustice was not good, nor the suffering, nor the betrayal. These things, whether directly or indirectly, were evil. This clearly highlights the miracle that occurs on the cross and in the tomb: that God can accomplish His good purposes despite sin and evil.
Through Jesus’ death, our own death that began in the Garden of Eden can be overcome. Because he died, we can live! Now, we know that physical death has not yet come to an end, as we still experience it all around us as a regular part of human existence. But the part of death that has already been defeated is the sting of death, which is sin (1 Cor. 15:56). This deliverance from the slavery of sin is a kind of down-payment on the full deliverance from death that will occur at the Lord’s second coming. It is only through his death on our behalf that we ourselves can find release from the slavery of sin in our lives. Spurgeon reminds us of this when he says:
“There is no death for sin except in the death of Christ. Stand and look up to his dear wounds, trust in the merit of his blood; love him, love him with a perfect heart, and sin killing will not be difficult.” ( https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-old-man-crucified#flipbook/)
While salvation from sin and death is certainly something worth celebrating, it is only part of God’s total plan of redemption; those who are in Christ are not merely saved from the wages of sin. We are also saved to a restored relationship with God, to participate in the life of Christ’s kingdom. And so, just as we are delivered from sin by Jesus in his death, our blessed hope is that we will also participate with him in his resurrection life. The resurrection is the culmination of God’s redemptive purposes, and therefore the greatest cause for celebration and gratitude in all human history. The resurrection points us to that glorious day when all tears will be wiped away, when there will be no more death, and no more sorrow, and God’s people will worship him freely and fully: the way he deserves to be worshiped.
This hope in Christ’s resurrection is what we will celebrate on Sunday. But before Sunday can come, there must be Friday. It is good and necessary for us to linger here a little while longer to watch the blood drip from the cross, and to ponder the enormity of Jesus’ great love and sacrifice for us. Today, take the time to consider the man on the cross, and to reflect on his sacrifice for our sake. Truly, his sacrifice and love for us are good beyond measure.
“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, ESV)