Have you ever wondered how Good Friday got its name? You would think the day we set aside to remember Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross would get a less cheerful designation, but I believe there’s a good reason why Good Friday’s name continues to stand the test of time.
Many scholars point to the fact that “good” used to have a definition much closer to that of “holy,” but the original meaning doesn’t translate very well in today’s English vocabulary. So why don’t we change the name?
Ultimately, it’s because everything that happened on the first Good Friday showed the full extent of Jesus’ love for us.
John’s Gospel begins like Genesis 1 and ends with a hint at what would come in Revelation. It’s a mini-Bible in one Gospel with the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, who appears in the first chapter to invite his disciples to “come and see.” Those are words of invitation—not only to them but to us. Jesus wants us to “come and see” who he is, to see his love, and to see how far that love will lead him.
Everything Jesus did was an act of love, but it was all leading up to the day of his death when he would demonstrate the full extent of his love.
It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end. — John 13:1
The Goodness of Good Friday
Good Friday is good in spite of the brutality of Jesus’ death on the cross. It’s good in spite of the betrayal of Judas and the cowardly desertion of his disciples. It’s good in spite of the miscarriage of justice, the corruption of the Jewish leaders and the practical self-serving decision of Pontius Pilate.
Jesus is what’s good about Good Friday. He showed us that his love has no limits, and that his love is determined to break down all barriers between him and us.
When the Roman soldiers and temple guards came to arrest Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, he immediately identified himself as the one they were looking for and said, “Since I am the one you want, let these others go.” Even as Simon Peter drew a sword to keep them from taking his Lord away, Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its sheath. Shall I not drink from the cup the Father has given me?” (John 18:3-11)
It’s clear that Jesus wasn’t taken by force; He gave himself intentionally. Like he told Peter to sheath his sword, Jesus sheathed his own power and refused to save himself. We must never make the mistake of thinking Jesus was taken by force. He could have destroyed all those who came to arrest him, but he didn’t. And as he allowed himself to be arrested, his only terms were that his disciples would be allowed to go free.
“Since I am the one you want, let these men go.”
Do you hear his love in those words? This picture of love and mercy toward his disciples is a powerful image of the same love he demonstrates for us on the cross. Jesus loves us more than he loves himself. He gives himself so we can be spared, and he surrenders himself so that we can we can be released from sin and restored to our Father.
From the Garden he goes to the high priest and then to Pontius Pilate before being turned over to the soldiers.
“The soldiers twisted together a crown of thorns and put it on his head. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they struck him in the face. — John 19:2-3
Even in moments of humiliation and suffering, Jesus is majestic in his love. As he emerged into the view of the crowd wearing his a purple robe and crown of thorns, he silently endured the the chief priests and their officials chanting, “Crucify! Crucify!” (John 19:6)
He’s awesome in this moment of humiliation because he’s doing it voluntarily. Jesus said the Good Shepherd would die to protect his sheep, and that’s exactly what he’s doing. We’re helpless to protect ourselves from the evil one, but when our Shepherd King goes to his death he throws himself in front of us and protects us. He does it because he loves us more than he loves himself.
“Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.”
And this is it, this is the full extent of his love:
“So the soldiers took charge of Jesus. Carrying his own cross, he went out to the place of the Skull (which in Aramaic is called Golgotha). Here they crucified him, and with him two others — one on each side and Jesus in the middle.— John 19:17-18
What do we do with a love like this?
We hear from a lot of listeners and readers who wonder if God loves them. They’re looking for evidence of his love in their own circumstances. But when we do that, we’re looking in the wrong place—Jesus demonstrates his love for me and for you personally on the cross. He died for YOU. Take it personally. Take it the way Paul did in Galatians 2:20 where he said, “I live by faith in the one who loved me and gave himself for me.”
Rose Marie Miller is a good friend of mine who who heard the message of the cross many times but never took it personally for herself. The wife of a pastor, she knew the gospel backwards and forwards, but it never got past the surface of her heart. She worked hard, she tried her best, and she couldn’t really see her need for this sacrifice. And if you don’t see that you’re a sinner, then you won’t be able to see the love of Jesus. Sadly, that was Rose Marie.
Until one Sunday, as she was sitting in a worship service half-listening to her husband preach, it came time for communion. Her husband raised the loaf of french bread and broke it with a loud crack saying, “This is my body broken for you.” And at that moment, she finally saw it—the spear of the soldiers was piercing and breaking the Body of Christ for her sins. Jesus was suffering this terrible death for her sins. She took it personally—Jesus died for me. Later she would say, “It was like a fire entered my heart, burning away at my intense self-centered moralism.”
The love of Jesus is meant to break our hearts. We look at the cross and we see our sin and the punishment our sins deserve. Whether they are flagrant sins of the flesh or the hard-hearted, self-righteous sins of a Pharisee, Jesus is there in our place, taking on the consequences of our sins and dying so that we can be spared.
The cross humbles us and captures us and binds us to Jesus. That’s what it’s meant to do. And that is what’s so good about Good Friday.
About the Author
As the leader of the Haven Ministries, Charles Morris is always thinking of ways to lead Christians and non-Christians to Christ—hence the familiar slogan, “Telling the great story … it’s all about Jesus.” A former secular journalist, Charles has worked for United Press International, and as a press secretary for two former U.S. senators. He and his wife, Janet, have authored several books, including Missing Jesus. Charles’ latest book is Fleeing ISIS, Finding Jesus: The Real Story of God At Work.
Most of the thoughts above are taken from broadcasts of Haven Today. Corum Hughes serves as the editor of this blog and coordinator for Haven’s digital content. A graduate of Moody Bible Institute, Corum lives in Boise, ID with his wife Molly.