Growing up in a Christian home, I remember thinking that the Friday before Easter was misnamed. What was “good,” I wondered, about the day the Son of God was nailed to a Roman cross and left to die?
I have come to realize that while that day was a horribly humiliating and painful one for Jesus, it was a fantastic one for me – and for everyone who chooses to put their faith in Him.
The crucifixion is just one part in the trifecta that God accomplished in order to set us free from the deadly grip of sin (the resurrection and the ascension being the other essential components). But it was the first in the three-act rescue operation and is without question, the most difficult to comprehend.
Beyond the physical and emotional distress, the wounds, the blood, the terrible instrument of torture that was crucifixion, the question remains: Why would Someone commit such an extreme act of sacrifice for us?
I’m not alone in struggling with this question or in wondering why it had to happen in the first place. C.S. Lewis dealt with these issues at length in his book, “Mere Christianity.” In one section, he discusses various theories that try to answer the “why” of Good Friday.
The one most people have heard is about our being let off because Christ volunteered to bear a punishment instead of us. Now on the face of it, that is a very silly theory. If God was prepared to let us off, why on earth did He not do so? And what possible point could there be in punishing an innocent person instead? On the other hand, if you think of a debt, there is plenty of point in a person who has some assets paying it on behalf of someone who has not. Or if you take the ‘paying the penalty,’ not in the sense of being punished, but in the more general sense of ‘footing the bill,” then, of course, it is a matter of common experience that, when one person got himself into a hole, the trouble of getting him out usually falls on a kind friend.
The part about a “kind friend” being the answer to our troubles is profound. It is always a friend or a family member, a spouse, a parent… who bails us out – or at least, attempts to – when we are in a situation we cannot get out of through our own abilities and resources. The motivation for this help, which Lewis eludes to but doesn’t mention by name is, of course, love.
Love answers the question of why Good Friday happened.
Paul explains it like this: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).
While the love of a friend or family member might be strong enough to cause them to come to our aid, the idea of taking someone else’s punishment, of actually dying for them… This can only be described as extraordinary love. God’s love, as demonstrated in Christ’s death on that cross, was that kind of love. It was unexpected, unreserved, unrestricted and undeserved.
Jesus said that the greatest form or act of love was “to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” But who among us possesses that kind of love? Only God Himself.
Perhaps a better name for this annual opportunity to reflect on the crucifixion of Christ would be “Undeserved Friday” or “Extraordinary Love Friday.” But I suppose that’s all wrapped up in the word “good.” It really was a good day for all of us. The best Friday ever.