Here is a piece that I wrote a couple years ago for the newspaper. With Good Friday and Easter Sunday coming up I thought it would be worth sharing again.
English: A 14th-century of Jesus Christ bearing the cross, from the monastery in . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Take a look at your calendar. If you’re wondering why eggs are on sale this week it’s because Easter is just a few days away. In the Christian tradition this is Holy Week, and the day after tomorrow is known as “Good Friday.” Instead of the word “good” I suggest a better adjective to describe that first Good Friday might be the word “bloody.”
It was indeed a day filled with blood, especially if you were a lamb. Long before Christians marked the day as Good Friday Jews knew it as the first day of Passover. This holy day was linked to one of the most significant events in Jewish history. The day was set aside to commemorate the mercy of God shown to those who took him at His word while enslaved in Egypt. God told His servant, Moses, the man chosen to lead Isreal to freedom, to enact a rather strange yet highly symbolic act.
In a final catastrophic sign designed to show the sovereign power of God, the faithful among the Hebrews were to mark their homes with the blood of a slaughtered lamb. That night, death came to the firstborn of every home in Egypt that was not covered by the blood of a lamb. God made provision that, if enacted by faith, would cause His holy judgment to “pass over” those who put their trust in Him.
Fast forward to the final Passover weekend of Jesus’ life, the day we call Good Friday. That night Jesus and his students would share a Passover meal none of them would ever forget. It was a meal filled with symbolism, not only pointing to the days of Moses in Egypt, but one that also pointed forward to a better blood sacrifice that was about to be offered.
In addition to the bloody sacrificial lamb there was also blood at the dinner table (well, not literally.) As Jesus and his friends celebrated their last Passover together a cup of wine was passed and shared. All of this would have seemed perfectly normal until Jesus said to them, “This is my blood” (Matthew 26:28, ESV). Let’s all agree that if we were sitting there, and the cup came to us, we would hope Jesus was speaking metaphorically. Indeed he was, for he went on to say that it was his “blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.”
But that wasn’t the end of Bloody Friday. Jesus had tried repeatedly to explain to his followers what was to happen to him that night. But his words fell on deaf ears. And so, with a criminal’s death sentence just hours away, Jesus did what most of us would do in our hour of darkness–he turned to prayer. Traveling with his disciples, he journeyed to a favorite spot. The New Testament writer, Luke who had a background in medicine, records for us that Jesus prayed with such emotion that it caused his capillaries to burst and “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 24:44, ESV).
Soon Jesus’ prayers were interrupted by the sounds of soldiers. An arrest party came looking for him led by a man he had shared life with for much of the last three years. The arrest led to a trial, the trial led to a beating, the beating led to a verdict, and the verdict led to a cross. That Friday evening Jesus of Nazareth, the one some called “Christ” or “Messiah,” was nailed to an instrument of torture by the Roman killing machine. Blood oozed from the wounds made by the nails. Blood poured from the exposed areas of his flesh, torn about by the flogger’s whip. And after he breathed his last, blood and water poured from his side where a centurion’s spear had punctured his heart.
Good Friday? What’s so good about a night filled with so much blood?
Less than a generation later the Apostle Paul would write words of encouragement to a group of Christians living in the city of Ephesus. Reflecting on the violent death of Jesus Christ he said, “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7, ESV). Good Friday is about good news, what Christians call “the gospel” (which in the language of Jesus’ day meant “good news”). The good news is that Jesus died as a substitute for all who have been alienated by their sin from a holy God. Jesus’ blood was shed to satisfy the justice of God, so men and women like us might be graciously forgiven. It is the cross of Christ that makes Good Friday so good. But the good news gets even better.
Following the crucifixion of Jesus friends of his buried his broken body in a tomb. After the events of Passover had been completed, a small group of women set out on the first day of the week (Sunday) to grieve and to finish preparing Jesus’ unpreserved body. Upon their arrival they were met by an angelic messenger from God announcing that Jesus had been raised from the dead, that the tomb they were visiting was empty, and that the risen Jesus was planning to rejoin his followers. This is what we celebrate on the Sunday Christians call “Easter.” For those who unite themselves with Christ by faith, we believe Jesus not only died the death we deserve to die, but opens the way of eternal life for us by his resurrection.
Good? Even more so.
Worth celebrating? Absolutely.