Paul Boulter writes: I wonder if you’ve ever wondered why Good Friday is called Good Friday? We’re used to the name, of course, but on reflection it’s a bit curious. We usually call things good which are happy and uplifting. But with Good Friday, how can someone being brutally murdered be considered good?
Thinking back, I could imagine the day the slave trade was abolished being described as good. Or maybe the ending of the Second World War, or the day the Berlin Wall came down. But the day that Jesus died seems a bit more puzzling. Calling it Black Friday might help, but that might get a bit confused with the shopping blitz we seem to have imported from America before Christmas…
So why do we call Good Friday good? What’s going on here?
The truth is, it all depends on your perspective. It’s perfectly possible for two people to have a completely different attitude to the same event.
Recently I read about a Japanese film from 1950 called Rashomon. I’m not an aficionado of Japanese films, I must confess…but it grabbed my attention. The film tells the story of a Samurai who has been murdered, but the four people closely involved with the murdered man all tell completely different stories about what happened. Each of them has a different perspective, and all of them seem to be mutually contradictory.
The way we view life depends on our perspective. And it’s the same with the story of Good Friday.
On the face of it, Jesus’ death seems to be a tragic waste. He had so much potential in such a short life. We’ve heard of his amazing teaching about turning the other cheek, loving our enemies, and his strident criticisms of the religious authorities of the day. Crowds flocked to hear his words, and to see his miracles.
The blind could see, the lame could walk and lepers were cleansed. And when someone with such awesome power as this was arrested, put on trial and killed, Jesus’ followers were distraught. You can be pretty sure the disciples weren’t calling it Good Friday.
But Jesus’ own perspective was completely different. Jesus seems to be a victim, overpowered by the cruel and merciless Romans. But the story he tells about himself couldn’t be more different. When he’s talking to his followers, he knows exactly what is going to happen.
Jesus says that he is God in human form. He claimed authority to heal diseases, walk on water, and even to forgive people’s sins. His words and actions showed he was no ordinary person. But in these final days of his life, he give us a window into the heart of God. This isn’t a God who stays far off, removed from the pain and brokenness of the world. This is a God who comes down to be part of this world, and offers us the solution to our deepest needs.
This is the reason today is called Good Friday. This is the reason why a brutal execution of an innocent man can be celebrated hundreds, thousands of years later. This is the reason it can be called Good.
During his ministry, Jesus told people that their biggest problem was not out there in the world. The problem isn’t with other people and what they do to us, as it’s easy to believe. Our biggest problem is not other people, but ourselves, he said.
It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, Jesus said, but the sick. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance. The problem is our heart, Jesus says, and the choices we all make.
The great Russian writer Alexander Solzhenitsyn was imprisoned by the Soviets because of his criticism of Communist ideology. He was incarcerated in impossibly harsh labour camps, but in his book “the gulag archipelago” he described the reality of human evil:
“If only there were evil people somewhere committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
This is the problem that Jesus spoke about. We are the problem, and by ourselves we cannot provide the answer, no matter how hard we try. We may have the iPhone, wifi, and keyhole surgery, but we haven’t even come close to a solution for the human heart.
The good news is that Jesus didn’t leave us in this mess. When Jesus spoke of giving his life as a ransom for many, he talked of setting us free. Setting us free from the guilt, the shame and the brokenness which separates us from God and the people around us. He did this through that death on the cross we heard described so vividly. Jesus died in our place, on our behalf.
Recently, an Islamist gunman took hostages in a supermarket in Southern France after shooting two people dead. He made demands of the French Government, and in the negotiation all but one of the hostages were released. A policeman, Arnaud Beltrame, a practising Catholic, offered to be handed over to the gunman in exchange for the final hostage. The hostage was released, but Beltrame was stabbed and shot, and died shortly afterwards.
That policeman’s act of unbelievable heroism set that one hostage free. His selfless act was beautiful and yet tragic. This is but a small picture of what Jesus did for us. Dying in our place, on our behalf, to set us free from our sin and guilt.
The bible says he took our sins upon himself, because of his great love for us. And as a result, we can know forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. We don’t have to live in condemnation, guilt and shame. God has done for us what we could never have done for ourselves.
This is why Good Friday is called good. By his sacrifice on our behalf, Jesus offers us the best news we could ever hear. But it doesn’t just come automatically. It’s something we need to take hold of, for ourselves. Jesus gives us the invitation to step into this new life of forgiveness, healing and reconciliation. But he won’t force us to accept. We need to make that choice ourselves, and ask him to come into our lives.
You can pray this prayer now - and then do join us for our next Alpha course, where you can explore, question and freely discuss all aspects of Jesus and his life:
Lord Jesus, I want to know you personally. I’m sorry for going my own way rather than your way. Thank for dying on the cross to forgive my sins. Please send your Holy Spirit to fill me now, and make me the person you want me to be.