It was a day unlike any the world has ever known, and unlike any it will ever know again.
Holiness and blasphemy, innocence and evil, brutality and majesty, betrayal and forgiveness, violence and victory, all played out on the day we call Good Friday.
Our reading of the crucifixion accounts in scripture can take far less than 30 minutes. Movies like the Passion of the Christ, so difficult to watch, take us in and out of the experience in less than two hours, all in the comfort of our homes.
But what was the real Good Friday like, and why did it ever happen?
Scriptures are silent on many basic details of the actual day. We know, from Peter’s denials while warming himself at the fire, that the early morning hours of the day were chilling to the bone. We know darkness fell over the land during the final three hours Jesus hung on the cross. We know at His death an earthquake split rocks, opened tombs, and tore the veil of the temple in two, significantly, from top to bottom. But many additional details are simply not known. Even today, scholars debate where the crucifixion site is actually located outside Jerusalem.
But here is what we do know – since the fall of man and our separation from God, we were all in need of someone to pay a sin debt we could never pay on our own. He had to be without sin. He had to fulfill the scriptures. He had to be obedient to the will of His Father. He had to be Jesus.
And so, on the first Good Friday, this perfect Lamb of God was betrayed, falsely accused, slapped, beaten, spit upon, and paraded around in a mocking scarlet robe and a twisted crown of thorns that pierced into his skull. He was stripped of his clothes and His back was shredded by a Roman scourging, the likes of which many others did not survive.
He then stood on display, a target for anger and abuse, while many of those who just days earlier cried “Hosanna”, now shouted “Crucify”.
And then came the cross.
With splinters from the rough wood needling every nerve of his back, suffering from horrific thirst and loss of blood, he bore the cross as far as He could, until finally a bystander was forced to carry it the rest of the way. In every agonizing step, at every collapse into the dirt, we were on His mind.
There was no ceremony at the Place of the Skull, no respite from the suffering, no sympathy from the soldiers expertly trained to kill. With violent efficiency, executioners nailed His hands and feet to the cross, and the One without sin was lifted up for all to see.
Here was the King of Kings, the long-awaited Savior, the hope of the world, coronated with humiliation, showered with laughter, enduring the pain. And we were still on His mind.
It was from the cross that He forgave a condemned man. It was from the cross that He commanded John to care for His brokenhearted mother, whose eyes surely met His as He struggled for breath. How deep, how unfathomable a pain this must have been. Then came a loathsome sense of isolation, for the first time, between the Father and the Son, and He cried, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Then it happened, on that first Good Friday, when the punishment for every lie, every theft, every act of hatred, every murder, every mockery, every doubt, every injustice, every indiscretion small and great, every sin we can imagine, was paid for in full, by the only One who could ever pay a price so high.
It was finished. His mission was accomplished. The great chasm between God and man was now bridged for all who will place their trust in Him. Three days later, in a shattering exclamation of His power over death, He walked forth from an empty tomb that never had any chance to contain Him.
People question whether human life has any real value. I will forever point to the cross, and the price the Creator of all life paid for all who will believe, and say without doubt, yes, we all matter to Him.
All of human history before the cross pointed to a day when the price needed to be paid. All of human history after the cross looks back and asks: what we will now do, each of us, with this Jesus of Nazareth?
Life will go on today like any normal Friday. There will be traffic. There will be bills to pay. There will be work to be done. There will be decisions about how our weekends will be spent. And it will be so easy to just forget about what today means, really means, for all eternity.
May we all calm our hearts, step away from our busy lives, and think deeply on the cross.
Good Friday. It was a day unlike any the world has ever known, and unlike any it will ever know again.
May you and your family have a blessed Easter.