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What’s Good About That?

April 19, 2019

They call it “Good Friday.”  Actually, it’s also called “Black Friday,” “Great Friday,” and “Holy Friday” among Christians.  In the Czech Republic, it’s called Big Friday.  If you’re on Jeopardy, and the category is “Christian Holidays,” you’ll be able to buzz in.  You’re welcome.

No matter what you call it, this particular day commemorates something that, when it happened, would most certainly not have been good.

The Jewish religious leaders might have called it good, as in “good riddance.”  They were thrilled that Jesus had been dispatched in the most humiliating fashion possible.  Striped naked (our images of Jesus on the cross always have Him wearing a loin cloth of some kind, but the tradition of crucifixion was that the victim would be stripped naked), beaten beyond recognition, nailed with spikes to a rugged cross piece, hoisted to a crude saddle at the top of an equally rugged standard beam, and then thumped into place, then a spike driven through his feet into the standard.

There He hung, along with two others who had been sentenced to death by crucifixion for their crimes.  On the outskirts of Jerusalem, but not in a secluded location.  This hill that resembled a skull, Golgotha, was on a well-traveled road.  Crucifixions were staged there intentionally.  The Romans believed public executions were good for sending a law-and-order message to its citizens.  The Jewish religious leaders were thrilled that they could send a message to their people in a graphic way: “Blasphemy is a capital offense.”  Never mind they had to manipulate the system to accomplish this.  And by the way, this one you thought was the Promised One is no different than the criminals being killed on either side of him.  He’s just a man.  And this is his end.

For Jesus’ followers, there was nothing good about this day.  Nothing.  Their world was coming apart at the seams.  With Jesus’ last breath, the hopes that had seemed so bright the week before, with crowds cheering and shouting in joy as He rode into Jerusalem on a donkey’s colt, died with Him.

And it wasn’t a dignified death.  There was no honor to it.  If He had been a military commander, dying in battle, even if He had been badly wounded, covered in blood, unrecognizable, a battlefield death would have carried honor.  His followers would have been saddened by his death, but they would have been able to give Him a hero’s funeral and burial.  Criminals who died on crosses didn’t get honorable funerals and burials.  And they didn’t die well, generally.

Death by crucifixion was actually death by asphyxiation.  The crucified were stretched and spiked in such a way that filling their lungs required pushing against the spikes in their feet and pulling against the spikes in their hands (most probably their wrists, which were considered part of the hand).  Full breaths gave way to short, shallow, panting breaths as the pain and fatigue set in.  Eventually, there was nothing left to push and pull against the spikes with.  They died gasping for breath.

If you saw the film, The Passion of the Christ, you have an idea of the graphic horror of Jesus’ death.  It was enough to garner the movie an R rating.  Believe it or not, the film’s depiction was a somewhat sanitized presentation of what actually would have happened.

There was nothing good about that Friday in Jerusalem.  Even the elements seemed to shout this.  Darkness covered the land for three hours in the middle of the day  (from Noon to 3:00).

It took Jesus about 6 hours to die on the cross.  It’s amazing to me that it took this long, considering the physical trauma Jesus had sustained in the hours of the night before and the wee hours of that morning.  Beaten by guards before and after his kangaroo court with the Chief Priest and his cohorts.  Then more beatings at Pilate’s complex.  After the night of beatings, He carried His own crossbeam to the Place of the Skull.  Blood loss, shock, mental and physical fatigue.  And this doesn’t even account for the emotional and spiritual agony.  So deep and so strong was this agony that one of the last things Jesus uttered from the cross was the hoarse and desperate cry, “My God, My God, why have Your forsaken me?”

Finally, He cried out, “It is finished!”   His head dropped one last time to his chest, and His breathing stopped.  It was over.

At the foot of the cross, a handful of His followers, including His mother, a few other women, and a true friend, John, wept.  They were abandoned, lost, devastated.

The curtain in the Temple that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place (or the Holy of Holies), was ripped in two from top to bottom by an unseen hand.  The physical symbol of the “apart-ness” of God’s holiness was no longer intact.  There was no more curtain of separation.

With His last breath, Jesus had pad the debt once-and-for-all to destroy the barrier that had stood between mankind and God from the time Eve ate the fruit, and Adam after her, in the Garden of Eden, and sin entered the world.  The curtain in the Temple had been the symbol of this separation.  Only one man, the High Priest, could go behind the curtain, and he could do this only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, on behalf of the Nation of Israel.  But now this barrier had been destroyed.

The Devil and all of hell danced with glee that Jesus was finally dead and gone.  The plan had worked without flaw.  He had come to a disgraceful end.  Except this was not His end.  It was only the beginning.  On Sunday morning, when Jesus stepped out of the tomb, He proved that His payment was real, that the debt of sin had been paid, that there was no need for a curtain to separate God from humankind.  And this, I think, is the ultimate good.  It is what made the worst Friday in all of human history truly Good.


From → Marriage, Parenting

One Comment
  1. Jerry heetland permalink

    Thank you, Steve. A wonderful commentary and explanation of “good” Friday.

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