On Good Friday each year, Christians remember the most glorious sacrifice and the most horrific murder that ever occurred in human history. Why do we refer to the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Black Friday” and the Friday before Easter as “Good Friday”? Should they be reversed?
It’s the day set aside on the calendar to remember the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of his people and the heinous murder of God’s Son. Why would we celebrate that day as a good day? Many people flow through Good Friday as if it’s a normal day and they give little recognition for the significance of what happened on the day Jesus died. Others celebrate it from a heart of worship. Still others mock the day—calling it cosmic child abuse. Famed atheist Richard Dawkins writes the following:
The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.1 Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London: Bantam Press, 2006), 51
Is God guilty of abusing his Son on the cross? According to Isaiah 53:10, “It pleased the LORD (YHWH) to crush him (Jesus).” Some have stated that the Father was “well pleased” with his Son at Jesus’ baptism (Matt 3:17) only to be vengeful with his Son on the cross just a few years later. How should we answer such critiques? Why was Good Friday a good day? How can the death of Jesus be considered a good thing? Is it cosmic child abuse worthy of laughter or substitutionary atonement worthy of worship?
Good Friday Was Good Because God Is Good
The entire scene of the cross is filled with brutality, blood, insult, shame, and death. That does not exactly sound like a good day, but it was. When we look at Good Friday and all of the events that transpired on that day through the lens of human self-preservation and humane concepts—it’s a horrible day. When we view the events of Good Friday through the lens of God’s justice—things are put into proper perspective. Just the statement, “God is good” is often thrown around so casually that people fail to get the point. By the goodness of God, we don’t mean God gives us good things like a heavenly grandfather figure who is postured to shower us with blessings on demand. God is good and because God is good, he must punish sinners for their sin. This is demanded by the justice of God.
Far too often God is misrepresented by the Christian community as a cosmic bellhop or a “Big Guy in the Sky” who showers all people with salvation regardless of their sin. Still others misrepresent God as a vengeful and hate-filled cosmic being who is always looking to zap people with judgment. God is neither of those caricatures. When we see God issuing love and grace to guilty sinners, it’s based on God’s ability to love which is not disconnected from his necessity to judge. The only way God can offer grace is by the fulfillment of his justice. Without such fulfillment, God would not be good. However, if God judges sinners—he is good. If God saves sinners and satisfies justice by pouring out his wrath upon Jesus—God is good.
God would not be good if he merely bypassed the demands of justice and allowed guilty sinners to slip through the backdoor of heaven. Such underhanded deals are common in this world of sin, but the moment that God offered such a corrupt deal to a guilty sinner is the moment that he would cease to be good. The holy justice of God is pure and righteous and it requires that all sinners will be justly judged for their sins. Therefore, as God is punishing his Son on the cross, we must remember that he was not punishing him for his sin. Instead, Jesus became a substitute and was being punished for the sins of God’s people (every person who would be the recipient of grace through Jesus Christ—every one of God’s elect past, present, and future).
According to 1 Peter 2:24, Jesus took on himself the sins of his people (Matt 1:21) in order that they would receive the righteousness of God. There was a great exchange that took place. The sins of his people were placed upon him and he suffered immensely for them. Guilty sinners come to God by faith and receive the righteousness of God imputed to their account. According to Stephen Nichols, ‘The word imputation comes directly from the Latin. It is an accounting term; it means “to apply to one’s account.’ Expenses are debited and income is credited. The old King James word is ‘reckon.’”2Stephen Nichols, “The Doctrine of Imputation: The Ligonier Statement on Christology” [accessed 3-28-18]
The apostle Paul provides the plain truth of this doctrine in his letter to the church at Corinth as he states, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
Good Friday Was Good Because God Was Satisfied
All through the Genesis account of creation, we see the phrase repeated, “it was good.” God was satisfied with the beauty and purity of his creation that was a reflection of his beauty and creative genius. When sin entered the world (Rom. 5:12)—it was no longer good. God was angry with his creation. The demands of God’s holy law demonstrated the need for God to be satisfied.
God spoke to his creation after the fall and we find his words in Genesis 3. In his words to Satan, he promised that one day the offspring of the woman would crush his head (Gen 3:15). This was a promise of the crushing defeat of Satan by God’s Son, Jesus Christ. However, it must not be overlooked that the promise also pointed to the fact that Satan would bruise his heel—a reference to the affliction that Satan would bring upon Christ. Charles Spurgeon describes it as follows:
That bruised heel is painful enough. Behold our Lord in his human nature sore bruised: he was betrayed, bound, accused, buffeted, scourged, spit upon. He was nailed to the cross; he hung there in thirst and fever, and darkness and desertion. They pierced his hands and his feet; and last, they set his heart abroach, and forthwith there flowed from it both blood and water. Satan by death bruised the heel of the woman’s seed.3Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Serpent’s Sentence” preached from Genesis 3:14-15, September 21, 1890
When Moses was dispatched to the throne of Pharoah to demand the relase of God’s people, he refused. This began a standoff between the most powerful man on planet Earth and the one who created planet Earth—Yahweh. On the eve of the final plague, God promised to judge every home and take the life of their firstborn if the blood of the lamb was not on the doorposts, as God had directed his people. The death angel would visit each home—including the homes of the Israelites and the Egyptians, including the home of Pharaoh.
God commanded his people to offer a sacrifice each year on the Day of Atonement. The blood of the lamb would be offered and sprinkled on the mercy seat by the high priest. All of this blood served as a foreshadowing of the perfect sacrifice offered as the Lamb of God who would one day come and take away the sins of his people throughout the world (John 1:29).
When Isaiah prophesied of the birth of the Prince of Peace (Is 9:6), he was not merely thinking of peace between animals so that the wolf would dwell with the lamb and the young goat would lie down with the leopard (Is 11:6). He was looking beyond to a greater peace—one that would reconcile sinful man with holy God. As Charles Wesley would write so eloquently in his hymn, “Peace on earth, and mercy mild, God and sinners reconciled.”
From birth, all of us are under the wrath of God (Rom 1:18). We have all sinned against God and we are all born into sin as we’re connected to Adam (Ps 51:5). As a result of our sin, we’re considered the enemies of God. It’s by the death of Jesus on the cross as our substitute that we’re reconciled to God. Paul articulated this truth in his letter to the church at Rome as he wrote, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life” (Rom 5:10).
When Jesus died on the cross, Charles Spurgeon said, “It became midnight at midday.” It was a dark day as the very Son of God was brutally killed on the Roman cross. The death of the second Person of the Trinity was a horrible act of rebellion and human depravity. It resembled the act of Satan seeking to dethrone God from the beginning. It was the bruise of his heel as promised in Genesis 3:15. The brutal death of Jesus had all of the marks of twisted human depravity. However, what man intended for evil, God intended for good.
It was on that very day when the heads of the homes in Jerusalem were slaughtering their lamb for Passover in keeping with the command of God instituted when God saved his people from Egypt that Jesus was slaughtered on the cross. Jesus became the propitiation for the sins of his people (1 John 2:1-2). The reason that Good Friday was good is because God was satisfied with the death of his Son in the place of guilty sinners.
When holy wrath was poured out upon Jesus on the cross, he cried out, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”4Mark 15:34 This was a direct quotation from Psalm 22:1. Yet, this moment of affliction was not cosmic child abuse. It was the fulfillment of the just demands of God’s law so that every one of God’s people would be saved.
One glimpse of the cross reveals that no fleshly performance of religion or good deeds could ever satisfy the demands of God’s law. The very best thing that you can offer God is human effort stained by sin. The only way that sinners can be reconciled to God and find peace with God is through the substitutionary death of Jesus and the righteousness of God that is received by faith. This is why sinners come to God with empty hands as we cling to the finished work of Christ alone.
Will you come to God today by faith trusting that what happened on that dark and awful Friday was indeed good?
‘Man of sorrows!’ what a name
For the Son of God who came
Ruined sinners to reclaim!
Hallelujah, what a Savior!5Man of Sorrows – P. P. Bliss: 1875
|1||Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion, (London: Bantam Press, 2006), 51|
|2||Stephen Nichols, “The Doctrine of Imputation: The Ligonier Statement on Christology” [accessed 3-28-18]|
|3||Charles Haddon Spurgeon, “The Serpent’s Sentence” preached from Genesis 3:14-15, September 21, 1890|
|5||Man of Sorrows – P. P. Bliss: 1875|