Good Friday was always somewhat of a mystery to me when I was growing up. Why do we remember the day that the Son of God was murdered by labeling it as “Good”? The label and the event seem like polar opposites—this day that we call “Good” is the day that humanity’s wickedness seemed to be at its strongest, when the Creator of the universe was put to death by the very creation he came to save. But I’ve learned to appreciate the irony in the name Good Friday, because the Cross itself is full of irony, and by the grace of God it’s not the end of the story.
When we read through the Gospels, we see that the crucifixion accounts are so much more than what they seem. The Cross never caught Jesus by surprise. Rather, it was what he was heading for all along. Yes, it was the death of the Messiah (only briefly), but it was so much more. It was the initiation of the New Covenant (see Jeremiah 31:31–34 and Ezekiel 36:22–28) and even the coronation of the Messiah as King.
This is the irony of the Cross and of Good Friday. When the Jews and Romans crucified Jesus, they thought that they were conquering a hopeful revolutionary. They mocked him by calling him “King of the Jews,” by dressing him in a purple robe, and by making him a crown of thorns. But while they were mocking, they were actually speaking the truth and crowning him King. When they “lifted him up” on the Cross, they actually set him on his throne to begin his reign.
The chief priests and scribes mocked him by saying, “He saved others; he cannot save himself. Let the Christ, the King of Israel come down now from the cross that we may see and believe” (Mark 15:31b–32a). The beautiful irony of this, though, is that it is precisely by not saving himself that Jesus is even able to save others. Had Jesus saved himself from the Cross on that first Good Friday, it would not have been good at all, and there would have been nothing to see and believe. There would have been no hope for salvation for anyone. But by not saving himself—by being lifted up on a cross to die—he demonstrated that he truly is the Christ, the King of Israel (and the world), and that he brings salvation to all who believe. It is only by shedding his blood on the cross that our sins can be forgiven.
As you remember Good Friday today, I invite you to sit in the tension. Feel the tragedy of the death of Jesus. Thank him for his willing sacrifice for our salvation. But remember that he knew and taught this would happen all along, and he taught that it would not be then end: “And they will mock him and spit on him, and flog him and kill him. And after three days he will rise” (Mark 10:34). Sunday is coming, and with it, Life.