Jesus was bludgeoned. He was betrayed, spit on, lied about and nailed to a piece of wood we call the cross. From the physical pain, emotional pain, loss of blood and breath, Jesus died hanging on the cross like a piece of lifeless meat. And today, on Good Friday, Christians are celebrating this all over the world! We are celebrating the fact that the founder of our faith, the One we call Savior, underwent the most horrific kind of torture, rejection, and murder imaginable!
How in the world can Christians consider those dark events that occurred on that Friday 2,000 years ago, good? Why would we annually take time to celebrate the betrayal, humiliation and death of the person we claim to love the most?
Jesus Took the Bullet for Us
The story of the Bible is that, though perfect and sinless, Jesus took the ultimate proverbial bullet for spiritually dead people. The truth is that when Jesus underwent the suffering of the cross and every traumatic event surrounding it, He wasn’t dying for His own sin, but for ours. The Apostle Paul put it this way:
For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8 ESV).
Don’t Call Me that!
Weak, ungodly, sinners - we are the ones for whom Christ went through the dark events we celebrate on Good Friday.
No human being naturally gets excited about being called a weak, ungodly, sinner. In spite of the evidence that exists in our hearts and behavior, we choose to view ourselves as strong, god-like, basically good people who make occasional mistakes. When accused of sin, we have these tiny internal lawyers who come to our defense arguing to get us off the hook.
The Real You
One tactic we use to make it easier to see ourselves as basically good is keeping the focus merely on our outward behavior. Most of us have never physically murdered someone, committed robbery, or cheated on our spouses. And because of the moderate cleanliness of our external or public lives, we find it easy to quiet our consciences when it suggests we’ve done wrong.
The problem is that God isn’t as superficial as we are. He looks at the heart. Trying to help us see our need for Him to die in our place, Jesus points our attention not merely to our external public life, but to the internal private life of the heart.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28 ESV).
Who you are on the inside, is who you really are. Who I am on the inside, is who I really am. The sick and sad truth is that the hater and the murderer have the same heart- it’s just that the murderer lets his heart out in public. The only difference between the guy sizing up his coworker and taking her on a lustful trip to fantasy land in his mind and the guy having a full-blown affair, is one let his heart out in public and the other didn’t. But they both have an adulterer’s heart. This is the human plight. There are no good and bad people; there are only forgiven and un-forgiven people. The difference between forgiven and un-forgiven people is that one has accepted that the events of the first Good Friday were for them, and the other hasn’t.
If our thought and fantasy-lives show us the kind of people we really are, we know that none of us are good people. If God evaluates not just our actions but our emotions, desires, fantasies, goals, dreams and secrets, we are all guilty.
A Good Friday for Bad People
When we accept the bad news and the guilty verdict our hearts shout in the court of God’s justice, suddenly the otherwise gross events of Good Friday become sacred to us. Describing what happened when Jesus died in the place of every sinner who will ever live on the cross, Paul said:
“ For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21 ESV).
As Jesus hung and died on the cross like a guilty criminal, a great exchange was being made possible. God the Father was transferring all of the sin and guilt from every evil thought or action we would commit onto the only sinless Man who has ever lived. It’s as if He took all of our shame and put it into Christ’s spiritual bank account. And when we understand our need for forgiveness and trust that Jesus died sufficiently for our sins, the very righteousness of God is transferred to our spiritual bank account. This means that if you’ve received Jesus as your Savior, whatever you might think you see when you look in the mirror, God says you’re looking at the righteousness of God. Why? It’s because of Jesus’ death on our behalf, nothing more. That’s the gospel.
The gospel is the reason Good Friday is a good day for bad people. But if you haven’t received Christ, the weight of your guilt and shame still rests with you. Who you are on the outside and inside is who you are. If you haven’t yet become a forgiven person today by receiving Christ as your Savior, God still loves you, and the cross we celebrate on Good Friday proves it.