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In some ways, Good Friday can be a confusing day. Why would Christians call it a “Good” Friday when it is the day when Jesus was killed? And can we really celebrate his death? Indeed, Good Friday is the day that marks the death of the sinless Son of God at the hands of men created by God, and so it is the darkest day of human history. But it is also the glorious day on which Christ’s perfect sacrifice opened the floodgates of blessings from God: forgiveness, reconciliation, adoption, redemption, and many more.
As we think about Good Friday and how we should approach it, a short text which I find helpful appears in the first Christian sermon ever preached. Immediately after the sending of the Holy Spirit, Peter stands up to address the curious crowd and explain what had happened. Peter begins his sermon by saying the Old Testament had anticipated the “last days”—when God would pour his Spirit on all his people. He then argues that the last days were ushered in by Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. And while talking of Jesus’ death, Peter says: “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men. God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it” (Acts 2:23-24). Allow me to draw your attention to three truths about Jesus’ death from these verses.
1. Jesus’ death was part of God’s plan.
Jesus’ death was not an accident. He wasn’t a victim of cruel circumstances—who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Peter categorically says that Jesus was “delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God.” God planned Jesus’ arrest and suffering and death. God knew exactly what would happen. God was not caught off guard. We see this truth throughout the Bible. In Genesis 3, we read that the seed of the woman would be injured in the process of inflicting defeat on the serpent (vs. 15). In Isaiah 53, we are told that the unthinkable suffering of the Servant of the LORD will be because “It was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief” (vs. 10). And when we read the gospels, we see Jesus repeatedly talking about his impending death (Mk. 8:31; 9:31; 10:33-34). He was very clear that he was heading to Jerusalem to be killed, and in fact he saw this as central to the mission of his life (Mk.10:45).
And so, just like he was not surprised by his own gruesome death, we need not respond to it in shock and grief. Instead, we can draw comfort from the truth that it was part of God’s plan. And we should be in awe of the fact that God would plan our salvation through the death of the perfect Son of God.
2. Jesus’ death was because of human sin.
Even while proclaiming God’s sovereignty over Jesus’ crucifixion, Peter does not overlook the sinfulness of what was done to Jesus on Calvary’s cross. “This Jesus . . . you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” Many in the crowd who were listening to Peter would have been in the crowd which had gathered for the Passover, and which had shouted “Crucify him! Crucify him!” And Peter looks at them and tells them, “You killed Jesus!” They were responsible for his death. They were responsible for condemning an innocent man to death by crucifixion. They were guilty of murder. Judas Iscariot had sinned by betraying Jesus. The High Priests and the Sanhedrin had sinned by falsely accusing Jesus. Pilate had sinned by condemning an innocent man to death. The soldiers had sinned by dishonouring and executing Jesus. And Peter says, the crowd had sinned by asking for him to be killed.
It’s easy for us to shake our heads at that crowd, but the reality is that we would not have done anything different. We would have raised our fists and shouted, “Crucify him!” Jesus died because of the sin of all involved in the events leading up to his death, and Jesus died because of the sin of all those he came to die for. If Peter were to visit our church, he would say, “Jesus died because of your sin!” And so, the cross of Christ should cause us to humble ourselves and confess our sins. Indeed, we confess with hearts full of gratitude that “It was [our] sin which held him there.”1
3. Jesus’ death was not the last word.
Jesus’ death for our sin has made the cross the symbol of Christianity for the last two thousand years, but the reason we can celebrate his crucifixion is that His sinless life and perfect sacrifice were vindicated by the empty tomb on Easter morning. In Peter’s words, “God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” Peter not only tells us that God raised Jesus from the dead, but he also gives a reason to explain how this happened: “Because it was not possible for him to be held by it.” It was impossible for the Incarnate Son of God to be held in captivity by death! It just could not be done! Since Adam and Eve were exiled from the garden of Eden, death has had the last word in every person’s life. But not so for the Son of God who was murdered by sinful men in fulfilment of God’s eternal plan of salvation.
In all the sombre reflection on the cross on Good Friday, let us not forget Jesus’ empty tomb on Easter Sunday. Because death did not have the last word in his life, we can be sure that it will not have the last word in our lives. If we believe in him, death will not be the end of the road for us: we will live (Jn. 11:25). And so, this Good Friday (and every day), as we marvel at God’s plan of salvation, and confess our sins, let us do so with awe, with gratitude, and with hope.
1 “How Deep the Father’s Love for Us”, Stuart Townsend.