Good Friday is a paradoxical holiday, in that it labels something that is unquestionably horrific and evil as “good.” After all, when we think of the events of Good Friday, we should think about spitting, beating, blood, torture, flesh being ripped and torn, hands and feet being nailed to wood, stabbing, and the most intense physical suffering that a human being can endure. Indeed the Bible says of Jesus: “his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind…” (Isaiah 52.14) In other words, Jesus was beaten so badly that you had seen him you’d have to do a double take just to know that he was, in fact, a human being. To make matters even more undignified and horrible, some believe that when Jesus asked for a drink (John 19.28-30), the soaked sponge that was given to him to suck on was serving double duty from its regular job of being used as toilet paper.
But when we move beyond the physical abuse that Jesus suffered and look toward the spiritual side of this day’s proceedings, things begin to seem even less “good.” One of the thieves that was crucified with Jesus noted that he (the thief) was getting what he deserved: “…we are receiving the due rewards of our deeds.” The shocking part is what he says next: “but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23.41) Not only did Jesus suffer all of the horrible abuse noted above, but he did so as an innocent. He never sinned. He was perfect in thought, word, and deed. He never did anything that would warrant any kind of punishment or discipline, let alone disfigurement and torture.
Good Friday? Really?
Well, maybe we’re misunderstanding the word “good.” Maybe it’s supposed to mean something else in this context. Wikipedia says that the use of the word “good” in regards to this holiday is meant to imply the sense of “pious” or “holy.” It also reports that some Christian traditions use the terms “Holy Friday,” “Great Friday”, or “Black Friday” for their remembrance of this holiday. But considering that “Black Friday” in our culture is a day devoted to materialism and excess, that’s probably not a good choice for us. Similarly, “Great Friday” seems to have as many paradoxical problems as “Good Friday.” But I’m going to stick with “Good Friday,” and I’m going to use a definition of “good” that implies “advantageous” or “beneficial” or even “morally right,” and I’ll tell you why.
If we look to the pages of scripture, the paradox is stripped away and we can begin to understand how something so bad could, in fact, be “good.” In fact, the reality of Jesus’ suffering and death is an occasion for joy for Christians. Not that we take pleasure in his suffering, or that we sadistically enjoy the thought of violence and torture of the innocent – by no means. Instead, we exult in the result of what Jesus accomplished on behalf of those who would believe through his suffering and death. 2 Corinthians 5.21 says: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus took the sins of those who would believe upon himself. That is, all of the times a believer has broken God’s law were transferred from himself to Jesus.
The one who was sinless became sinful; the one who was perfect became corrupt; the one who was pure became vile. Jesus went from never having told a lie, to having told all of the lies of all people who would ever trust in him; Jesus went from never having stolen a thing in his life, to having stolen all things that anyone who would trust in him, had stolen; Jesus went from never having had a lustful thought, to having all of the lustful thoughts of his people placed upon him; Jesus went from never having an angry thought toward anyone else to having the murderous intentions of his people placed upon him. This is how he “became sin” – he took the sins of all those who would believe upon himself.
And the logical result of “being sin” is obvious: punishment. A good judge punishes criminals who have committed crimes, and a good God punishes sinners who have committed sins. To not punish sin would be just as evil as a human judge not punishing a murderer. But in the case of Jesus, he took all the sins of all the people who would ever trust in him, on himself. Therefore it says in Isaiah 53.10 that it “pleased” the Lord to crush him. How could God be pleased about punishing his perfect Son who had the sins of others thrust upon him? Because, in God’s great mercy, this was his divine plan, and the Jesus submitted to it willingly out of love. And since sin must be punished, and since Jesus bore the weight of sin, it was good and right that the punishment fell upon him.
But it doesn’t end there. Jesus didn’t just take sin and die. He also transferred his righteousness – his perfect sinlessness – to all those who would believe in him. So that when a believer stands before God, he sees the righteousness of Christ. And when God looked at Jesus on the cross, he sees the sins of his people. And beyond that, he rose from the dead, demonstrating his power over death and sin. This, my friends, is good news. It is, in fact, the best news.
So should we call Good Friday “good?” Yes, by all means. But with a serious, somber, and sober recognition that it was my sin that brought this holiday about. But we should also celebrate this holiday and rejoice that there is a God who is loving and merciful so as to sacrifice his only Son in my place, and who would give me his righteousness so that I might have eternal life. So call it “Good Friday,” or “Wonderful Friday,” or “Fantastic Friday,” or whatever you want to call it, as long as you know why it’s “good.”