Some days are more significant than others.
A personal development teacher says your two most important days are the day you were born and the day you find out why! I've often questioned that in my mind. In world history there are the days that mark significant events like terrorist attacks ( 9/11, 7/7, 26/11) or more positively the end of war, or the independence of nations.
Good Friday commemorates a day that literally changed the world.
There are some surprising truths that lie behind this day.
What are they and why is it called a 'Good' Friday? As a child I went to secular British schools in the 1970s and 1980s. I often wondered what was good about this Friday, but no one seemed to know and so I concluded it must be good because it was a public holiday! How wrong I was!
The message of Good Friday is that there is a God out there who identifies with and feels our pain. Jesus came to the world to face death and ultimate pain.
But why did Jesus have to die such a terrible death? The cross is such a well-known religious symbol, but 2000 years ago it was a gruesome tool of Roman power and torture. In our day and time the cross is a sanitised emblem used in religious contexts and worn around the necks of many people. But in those days the cross brought images of terror and fear. We get the word "excurciating" from the word 'crux' that means cross. To use the word cross in Roman culture 2000 years ago would be as offensive as using a 4 letter swear word in public today. You never used the word in polite company. And now the cross has become one of the most recognised and loved symbols in the world.
The other surprising fact around Good Friday is that there is more emphasis in the Bible on the death of Jesus Christ than there is on his birth. In one sense Easter is far more important than Christmas.
But why did Jesus have to die such a horrible death at such a young age?
The Bible teaches that this world, our lives and our relationships are all spoilt. Yes we do live in a beautiful world and there are some great people around. But all of us live with some degree of regret or pain or lack of fulfilment. Some of it is our own fault; some of it the fault of others and some of it is undeserved. The word the Bible uses to explain this is the word sin. Sin is about wanting to be in charge of our own lives.
A helpful definition of sin that I came across from my children, and spells out the letters of the word, is:
Shove off God! (Literally get out of my life, God).
I am the boss of my life
No! to God's way.
We see the consequences of that everywhere. (You can read more about avoiding God here.)
2000 years after Jesus' death the world continues to be full of selfishness, greed, jealously, envy and pride - just look at today's news headlines and you can easily see that.
But the problem is not just out there. It starts in our hearts. The truth is all of us have done, said and thought things which have spoilt our lives and often hurt others too. Before God, the good things we try to do, our good karma, becomes like dirty and filthy rags. We can look decent and respectable on the outside, but God sees our heart.
That is why when we really understand the meaning of Good Friday we have good news that is worth celebrating and sharing with others.
Normally we celebrate someone's birth and not their death. The reason we celebrate Jesus' death is that through his death, the Bible teaches, we are made right with God. That is an amazing truth that has comforted, challenged and even terrified millions of people over the centuries.
In the New Testament (Acts 10: 39-43), one of Jesus' disciples called Peter explained it this way to a Roman solider called Cornelius:
‘We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen – by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’
That is radical news! Radical 2000 years ago and radical today.
The disciple Peter who said those words was one of Jesus' closest friends. He was there watching when Jesus was horrifically nailed to a cross and left to die. At that moment he did not understand why Jesus had to die, but later he did and explained it to that Roman solider by saying:
'..everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.'
As we said earlier, sin separates us from God and stops us from knowing Him. It stops us from being friends with God and ultimately sin leads to death.
So why is Good Friday 'good'?
It's because as Jesus died all the sins of the world were put on him. The Bible teaches that he took all of our sin onto himself, taking the punishment we deserve. He died in our place as our rescuer, so that we can be forgiven. And the message of Easter is that Good Friday is not the end. After 3 days God brought Jesus back to life. Peter was an eyewitness of this. Later on he was one of those who ate and drank with Jesus after he rose from death. Jesus was not some kind of ghost. Peter could touch him, talk with him and even eat a meal with Jesus. The message of Easter is that Jesus is now alive forever more. And He is alive today.
We started by saying some days are more significant than others.
Good Friday is a day that changed the world and holds the key to understanding the purpose of our entire lives. Maybe that personal development teacher was right after all!
What are your thoughts about the message of Easter and Good Friday?
Is this something new to you or something you have known for years? How can the message of Good Friday be good news for you today?
Please feel free to share your thoughts and comments below.