On a dark Friday two thousand years ago, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified. Powerful members of the religious, political, and military communities colluded to strip him naked, mock him publicly, and crucify him. Yet two millennia later, Christians—who believe that Jesus is the Son of God—celebrate that dark day by calling it Good Friday.
Why on earth would Christians refer to this day as “good” Friday?
It’s called Good Friday because even while powerful men were conspiring to kill the Son of God, God himself was acting to save the world from itself, once and for all. Even while the world’s authorities were conspiring to perpetrate history’s greatest evil, God was working to bring about history’s greatest good.
It didn’t have to be this way. After all, God created the world as his good kingdom in which humans could flourish, and in which they would never have to experience evil. Yet, the very first couple, Adam and Eve, decided to seize power for themselves and, in so doing, introduced evil into God’s good kingdom. From that day forward, humanity would live in a world riddled by evil and its consequences.
In the aftermath of Adam and Eve’s mutiny, God promised that he would one day send a Savior who would undo evil. That Savior was Jesus. The Bible says that “God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved” (John 3:17).
But what does Jesus’ crucifixion have to do with him saving the world? In response to that question, here are three things Jesus’ crucifixion accomplished, which together provide a powerful explanation of why Christians call that dark day “Good Friday”:
1. On the cross, Jesus suffered so that we would not have to suffer.
Unlike other religions Christianity teaches that all of us are born with a tendency to sin. Like Adam and Eve, we refuse to recognize God as God and we break his law repeatedly. Because God is the universal King and ultimate Law-giver, our sins are mutinous; they represent an attempt to steal his kingship and replace his laws. The Bible teaches that all of us deserve death as the penalty for our law-breaking.
Yet the Bible also teaches that God loves us and does not want us to suffer the penalty of our sin. For that reason, he took on a human body and came to earth as Jesus. When he did that, he “traded places” with us. He lived the sinless life that we should have lived, and died the death that we deserve to die. He took our guilty record, died for it, and offers us his perfect record in return. That is why the apostle Paul declared that “there is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom 8:1).
2. Through the cross, we can be reconciled to God and each other.
Because of our sins, we alienate ourselves from God and others, but Jesus saves us from our sins in order to mend those relationships. That is why the Bible says, “For it pleased the Father that . . . by Him to reconcile all things to Himself, by Him, whether things on earth or things in heaven, having made peace through the blood of His cross” (Col 1:19-20). In fact, Jesus’ reconciling powers will cause all relational barriers to be torn down, including the barriers of ethnicity and nationality (Rev 5:9-10).
3. Because of the cross and resurrection, we have hope for the future.
The Bible connects Jesus’ crucifixion with his resurrection. After Jesus suffered on the cross, he was buried, but on the third day he rose from the grave! When he rose from the dead, he not only confirmed his divinity but declared that he would return one day to make things right. He will return to disestablish evil, sin, and death from their artificial throne, and establish himself as the true King over a kingdom characterized by justice, peace, and love (Rev 21-22).
Until that day, he leaves us with a two-fold invitation: He invites us, first of all, to embrace him as the Savior that he is, to trust in him alone for our salvation. The Bible teaches that he alone can save (Acts 4:12) and that there is no sinner too bad for him to save (1 Tim 1:15). But he invites us, second of all, to allow his saving power to electrify our lives, turning us into the type of people whose speech and actions are patterned after his.
It does seem odd to refer to anybody’s death as “good.” Yet, God’s good plan is often counterintuitive: As Jesus says, “He who finds his life will lose it, and he who loses his life will find it; “the first are the last and the last are the first” (Mark 10:31); and yes, through the “good” death of God’s Son, humanity can receive true life (Rom 5:10).
Bruce Ashford is the Provost and Dean of Faculty at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, where he also serves as Professor of Theology and Culture. Follow him on Twitter @BruceAshford.