Fewer and fewer people are doing anything outside of their normal Friday routine today. As the US becomes less bound to the Christian tradition, less of its people recognize that this week is the most important week on the Christian calendar, and that today is known as “Good Friday.”
As a kid, that name boggled my mind. Now that I’m older and wiser, it still boggles my mind. Shouldn’t it be “Good Sunday” and “Really Bad Friday?” Now, before you start going all theological on me, I’m going to ask that you take off your spiritual glasses for a moment, and look at this story like most of the world would. Jesus, the focal point of the Christian faith, is nailed to a cross (don’t gloss over that, just because you’ve heard it a million times–let it sink in for a minute) and he dies.
How can that be “good?” As a kid, well-meaning family members and Sunday School teachers explained to me how it was necessary to satisfy God, to make up for all the bad things I had done, for Jesus to die.
“Why?” young Greg asks.
“Because that’s the way the penalty is paid.”
“So the guy who didn’t do anything wrong had to die to make up for me telling lies and stealing cookies?”
“Who made those rules?”
“Well that’s a dumb rule… But Jesus is dead, and that’s why we call it ‘Good Friday?’ ”
“I think I hear your mother calling you…”
Dead Jesus certainly didn’t seem to make sense to 10-year-old Greg. It didn’t make sense to Peter, James, John, or the rest of Jesus’ followers. In fact, it was so far from logical, let alone “good” that it had to be the worst day of all of their lives.
Today, no one gives a lot of thought to the execution of Jesus on the cross. Christians might acknowledge it when they say “Jesus died for me,” but most don’t think about it any more deeply than they do “2+2=4.” We tend to focus more on the resurrection of Jesus than the death. Non-Christians probably don’t give it much thought at all. Most non-Christians, if they take the time to consider the death of Jesus, are apt to write it off as either myth, or a relatively insignificant historical event that’s been blown way out of proportion by the deception of his early followers.
As Christians, we tend to demonstrate more gratitude to someone who finds and returns our lost wallet (with cash and credit cards intact) than the one who died a horrific death on our behalf. What if Christians showed their gratitude for Jesus’ death by loving others the way Jesus loved those around him during his life?
For non-Christians, its doubly unfortunate in that their disbelief in the historicity of Jesus’ death, or their dismissal of its significance, causes them to not seriously consider a crucial question: What if Jesus really did die on a Roman cross in Jerusalem?
The historicity of Jesus’ death on the cross is one of the most accurately established facts in all of history. Refuting his death as a made up story that was manipulated by his followers into a grand religion has as much credibility as refuting the Apollo moon landings.* And if his death was so significant that the Roman cross went from being a symbol of oppression, torture, and disgrace to the most recognized religious symbol in the world in a few hundred years, perhaps it is worth more consideration, not just from a historical standpoint, but from a personal one as well.
IF the accounts of Jesus’ death are true, if Jesus and his first followers believed he died for a purpose, and that purpose crosses the boundaries of history and includes you and me today–isn’t it worth at least exploring?
And if you believe, as I do, that the event is not only true, but that it occurred for the reasons Jesus said it would, then shouldn’t his willing sacrifice of life for my eternal benefit, cause me to live differently, as he asked?
*I use the analogy of the Apollo program very deliberately. The writings which became the New Testament are strongly established to have been written within the first 50 years after Jesus’ death. Today we would quickly dismiss as insane anyone who claims that the Apollo landings didn’t happen (approximately 50 years ago). There is insurmountable evidence that it happened. In much the same way, the truth of the death (and life) of Jesus of Nazareth is insurmountable, and is only dismissed by those who choose to consider only the evidence which supports their predetermined conclusion.