It’s Good Friday.
There’s a tsunami of meaning in those three words.
Maybe for you it’s just TGIF.
I get it. Honestly, I grew up hearing the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but for years it made no connection with my soul. If I’m honest the celebration (if you can call it that) of Good Friday has been odd to me at best and often it’s been an offense. Tim Keller said something I heard the other day to the effect of, “The cross of Christ is offensive in all sorts of ways, and if you haven’t felt it, if you haven’t ever struggled with it, I don’t think you get it...” That has been the case with me. Until recent years, I haven’t really stopped to face the ugliness and offense at the center of the Christian message: that Christ was crucified for our sins.
Years of questioning from dear loved ones who don’t believe has caused me to look that horrific, bloody, crucified, historic Jesus I love in the face and wrestle with the offense of the Christian doctrine of substitutionary atonement (Christ dying in our place for our sins).
I am a believer. But I understand unbelief. Unbelievers I love have caused me to examine what it is I say I believe on holidays like Christmas and Easter and Good Friday. And I’m very glad they have. I’m a slow-to-believe believer in Christ. The wonder and horror of what Christ endured and did for me, specifically, and for all who would believe in him, is palpably meaningful to me now more than ever. But I’m thick-headed and slow to get it. I’m sure the meaning of Christ’s substitutionary death will increasingly become more real for me since it is infinitely full of truth and life. Increasingly, substitutionary atonement is no longer two big, seminary-graduate words only to be heard from a pulpit. Substitutionary atonement is the bloody door through which I enter an eternity of grace upon undeserved grace!
But I digress.
I want to try to explain at least a cupful of my thoughts regarding Good Friday as I stand under the Niagra Falls of Christ’s substitutionary death for those who believe in him.
There is much to capture in thinking on what it means that Christ died in my place and satisfied the just requirement of God for me so that I will never experience rejection from the God who made me to know him as Father and friend. As I say, It’s like trying to stand under Niagra Falls with a tiny tea cup to grab a drink of water. But here I go.
It’s Offensive Because We’re Evil
Good Friday is about how we have perverted the glory of God and how he makes his glory known rightly again.
The thought that people are basically good and if we just modify “bad” behaviors we would all be happy and the world would be a better place is lost on me. I’ve had a 2 year old. I’ve lied so I could look good to another liar. I’ve been abandoned and objectified as a woman. And I’ve watched the news and cared for people broken by the evil in others.
We modify “bad” behaviors not because we’re basically good, but because like Imagine Dragons said, “No matter what we breed, we still are made of greed.” If we’re honest, we know inside us is a drive to make ourselves the center of life at the expense of others. It’s an insidious evil that seems to lie dormant, but peeks out it’s ugly head and beats its little brother so it can have the ball, or abandons it’s family so it can have a better life… or a thousand other birthed-evils that come out of our hearts. We have laws, and behavior modification techniques and self-help books, and therapists and jails and multiple forms of restraint and training in our lives because we are trying to tame the beast. Not because we’re all angels at heart that trip up every now and then.
And all the horror that comes out of us is not just horrible because of what we do to each other. It’s horrible because we were not random, chance products of evolutionary process. If that’s all we are then there would be no reason to call anything we do right or wrong. It would be simply part of the process of evolution: survival of the fittest. But we know we do evil things and we recognize evil in others because we are made to do good. To be good. To be godly. To reflect the glory of God in our lives like living testimonies to the universe and each other. Our human lives are to be like works of art that display the beauty and wonder of the One who made us. The evil in us is so evil because is a perversion of the image of God in us.
When I look at the cross of Christ and the horrors of his crucifixion and think about the why behind it- Why would God do that to save us? I realize, at least in part, that the reason the cross of Christ is so offensive and horrific is because billions of people (including me) have perverted the glory of God with our lives and made God out to be a liar and a murderer and a self-centered leech with a message that says, “Your life for mine!” The cross of Christ is justice. It’s a making right the message that has been wrongly proclaimed from sinful humanity. The cross of Christ says God is worth my life. God is truth. God is just. God is life. God gives life. God’s message is, “My life for yours!” The cross of Christ is a historical entrance of God into humanity saying, “This is what you all have done to me. This is the bloody truth about the evil that is in you that perverts the truth about who I am and who you are. I am bloodied and broken and bruised by your evils. You were made to glorify me, but you have defamed me. And I bear it because I am God and I give my life for you!“
On the cross Christ is taking the truth that, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” in his own body. His bloody, broken flesh on that cross is the embodiment of our perversion of God’s glory. He became our sin.
I know that’s not all the cross of Christ says. But it’s a few drops. It’s enough to cause me to hate my sin and love my sin-bearing Savior.
All Real Love Is Substitutionary Sacrifice
Good Friday is about what love really is and what only God can do.
In that same talk, where I heard Tim Keller say that if we haven’t really struggled with the offense of the cross of Christ we probably don’t really get what it means, I also heard him say something that captured a few more drops of the cascades of truth pouring from the side of my pierced and broken Lord. He said, “All love. All real love is a substitutionary sacrifice. ‘My life for yours’. Heart of the universe...” It’s true. It’s a truth we can all recognize. We all know it when we see substitutionary sacrifice. When a parent gives up their agenda for the day to tend to a child in need. When a soldier dies to keep an enemy from taking freedom and life from another. When a firefighter rushes into a burning building to rescue a trapped man. All of these and so many other examples speak of the universal truth that real love is “My life for yours. I’ll die, I’ll sacrifice, I’ll serve to make your life better, easier, richer.” Evil is, “Your life for mine. How can you die, how can you sacrifice, how can you serve to make my life better, easier, richer?”
But even though we see this truth in our lives, none of our little displays of the true message substitutionary sacrificial love can save our fellow man from the righteous judgement of God on the evil we all carry around inside.
There’s a line in an ancient Hebrew Psalm in the Bible that says, “Truly no man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.” (Psalm 49:7-9)
It’s the truth. We all display little imperfect examples of the universal truth of substitutionary sacrifice, but none of us can be an atoning substitute for another human being. The only person who could ever pay the costly ransom required to love an evil human being and give them a life that lives forever in friendship and intimate relationship with God is God. I might die a little so that my son can live more. But only the God-Man Christ Jesus can die so that my son can live forever!
So there’s my little tea cup of truth. It’s just a drop from a fountain that flows abundantly with truth and life. Christ died bearing the evil I have lived out which has perverted the truth about God. And Christ did this for me because only he can give God’s life for mine so that I might live forever!
Maybe this Good Friday you can sip and taste with me and see that the Jesus who died so horrifically for our sins this day in history about 2000 years ago, he is good.