What Makes Good Friday Good?
Growing up, as Patrick described, we all know about Easter. It is the day of bunnies and chocolate and colored eggs. Good Friday, on the other hand, did not make it as a federal holiday. Only twelve states observe it. Most people have no idea what it’s really about. And if you came as a guest tonight, you may be wondering the same thing.
What is Good Friday, and why is Good Friday good?
Good Friday is the celebration of the last day of Jesus’ earthly life. In biblical times, one day ended and the next began when darkness fell. So Good Friday was officially kicked off around the time of Jesus’ final meal with His disciples. For the last year of His public ministry, on five separate occasions Jesus had told His disciples that He would be dying soon.
Now I had a grandmother who would say this every time I saw her for about fifteen years, to the point that I stopped believing her. But that isn’t what happened when Jesus would say this. Jesus would tell the disciples He was going to die soon and they would either (a) not believe Him, or (b) not understand what He was saying. And so they gather for what Jesus says will be His final meal with them.
As they eat, the final day of Jesus’ earthly life begins. And I can tell you that it was not the meal that made that day good. The meal they ate was a Passover meal, often called a Seder now. It was unleavened bread, some lamb, some wine, probably some olive oil. It was the traditional meal taken to celebrate the Jewish nation’s freedom from slavery, when a spotless lamb would be slain for each household, offered to God, and a portion sent home for the meal.
As they ate, one of the longest days in Jesus’ life began. It began with one of the men whom Jesus had poured His life into and had lived daily with for more than three years. During the meal, Judas excused himself from the meal and headed to the Jewish leaders. He had already negotiated with them for thirty pieces of silver. All that remained was to turn Jesus in.
After he had departed, Jesus spoke with the remainder of his disciples, passing around bread and wine–for them to take, eat and remember it as a sign of His coming sacrifice for their sins. From there, they headed out to the Mount of Olives to the Garden of Gethsemane, an area full of olive trees, where Jesus went to pray.
Late at night, with full stomachs, the disciples fell asleep again and again as they tried to pray. Only Jesus stayed awake, praying and pleading with the Father for more than three hours.
Here only do we ever hear Jesus say, “My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death” (Matthew 26:38). The gospel of Luke records that the extreme stress of this time caused capillaries to burst alongside his sweat glands, as blood and sweat flowed from Him as He prayed. And still the disciples slept, until He roused them as an armed mob approached.
Judas kisses Him, and after a brief exchange, Jesus allows Himself to be led away to the chief priests. It is just after midnight. From 1am to 6am, Jesus bounces from sham trial to sham trial–assaulted, accused and abandoned.
What about this day is good?
It is halfway over at this point, and He’s been betrayed, brought to the lowest point of His life–then abandoned, denied by Peter, falsely accused by many and violently abused. What makes this Good Friday? Around 6am, Jesus is standing in front of Pontius Pilate. Peter has fled with bitter tears. Judas is remorseful and is planning his own death.
Though Pilate can find no fault in Jesus, he can also find no way to release him. After political maneuvering by Pilate over the next four hours, and having endured a scourging, Jesus is then condemned to death. Within the next hour, Jesus has been led through the streets, carrying His own cross until He’s physically unable to. He is stripped, nailed to a cross and hung between two thieves to slowly die.
Crucifixion is a painful form of death by asphyxiation. To gain breath, you must torture yourself until you can take it no longer. As He writhes upon the cross, Jewish leaders and many passersby mock and jeer Him. Jesus prays that God would overlook their foolish taunts and then goes silent.
From 12-3pm, darkness covers the land. And it seems to be at this point that Jesus was most dreading. During this stretch of time, Jesus endured something utterly foreign to Him. The eternal Son was temporarily separated from the Heavenly Father. For three hours, the infinitely glorious Jesus endured all the pain, suffering and wrath of God that would be poured out upon millions of people for an eternity in Hell.
Jesus could speak of His death without anxiety. But even the idea of separation was agony. This anticipation is what led Jesus to sweat blood in the garden. The one who raised Lazarus from the dead and could command angels chose to willingly endure God’s terrible wrath against all your sins and mine.
At 3pm, Jesus declares “It is finished.” And after a final prayer, Jesus breathes no more. And at the moment of His death, an earthquake shakes the region, tombs open up and the heavy curtain which blocks the Holy of Holies is torn from top to bottom. By 4pm, everyone is thinking of the Sabbath. The guards break the legs of the two criminals to hasten their death. For Jesus, they puncture His side to be certain He is dead.
Shortly after, Joseph of Arimathea, a member of the Sanhedrin and secret follower of Jesus, gathers His body and lays it nearby in a tomb he owns. By 7pm, the day has closed. Everyone is home for the Sabbath. Guards are outside the tomb. The disciples are hiding and the Jewish leaders are congratulating themselves for a job well done. And it’s still worth asking . . .
What makes this Friday so good?
If someone celebrated your brother’s death every year and called it a good day, I don’t think you’d like it. So why do we call it Good Friday?
Romans 5 answers that question. “For while we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. 7For one will hardly die for a righteous man; though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 8But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 9Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 10For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life” (Romans 5:6-10).
The day of Jesus’ death was one of the longest, most painful, dreaded and terrible days in Jesus’ entire earthly career. By any account, it was the worst day He would ever have. But for every person who has hoped in Jesus, from Eve until today, this was one of the best days in the history of the world.
Romans 5:6, “While we were still helpless, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly.” Unbelievable! Romans 5:8, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” We call today Good Friday, because this is the day Jesus paid for all of our sins.
Three long hours of furious, violent condemnation by the one to whom Jesus had enjoyed unbroken unity and fellowship since before time began–this staggers my mind. And all the more that–for every person who confesses and repents of their sins, Jesus’ death on that day is applied to their entire life, start to finish.
Even if you were hostile to God, engaged in evil to this very hour–Jesus stands ready to forgive you and reconcile you to the Father,
so that you can enjoy fellowship with Him and joy everlasting,
rather than the fiery condemnation which we all deserve. This is what makes Good Friday great. God is ready to forgive all who put their hope in Jesus’ death alone.
I am praying that you have, or that you do this very night. I know that Jesus has forgiven many of us here tonight. This is why we are gathered here together worshiping tonight, with overwhelming gratitude for His grace to us. We were blind and now we see. We were dead and now we live. We were slaves and now we’re free. Though I don’t deserve it, Jesus suffered in my place so I could be reconciled to the Father.
This is why Good Friday is good . . . because the Father gave His Son to bring many sons and daughters to glory.