by Dr. Arthur Paul Boers
Any way you look at it, there’s so little to admire or even to consider good about Good Friday. Most of the people involved in the Gospel accounts of the events of this day are not admirable. They are despicable.
It is not bad enough that the political and religious leaders crucify Jesus or that the crowd becomes a mob and turns on him. But one of Jesus’ own disciples denies him and another betrays him. Yet in truth most of the disciples effectively deny and betray Jesus in their fearful abandonment.
The Good Friday story is deliberately structured to remind us that we are all sinners. It shows us that on our own, even when we try to do our best, sooner or later we mess up. If left to ourselves, we are lost, and our brokenness swallows all our attempts to be faithful and good.
Judgment Easy to Spot
William Willimon says, “The cross, for us, gathers up compassion and judgment.” Now that judgment characteristic is easy to spot. In the Good Friday story, not one of us can point a finger at anyone; we are all implicated. The only innocent here is Jesus, and the rest of us stand judged.
For just as all conspired toward, collaborated with, or contributed to the crucifixion of Jesus, we know that there are no innocents among us today. We are all guilty of conspiracy, collaboration, and contribution. We are all guilty of aiding and abetting in the crucifixion of the Son of God, whether intentionally or not.
But, you ask, “Not me! I would never do such a thing!” Like Peter, we believe only others could. But the Gospel accounts are harsher and more realistic. If the disciples who listened to Jesus every day for three years, the ones who knew him most intimately would deny, betray, and abandon Jesus, what makes you think we would do otherwise?
William Stringfellow reminds us,
The gospels are redundant in verifying one reality—one might also say, the versatility—of the skepticism of the disciples about Jesus as Lord. The disciples show a similar misunderstanding of Christ’s kingdom when the assorted claims and disputes among them concerning honor and status surface, as when they argue [over] which of them is the greatest . . . or as when the sons of Zebedee, James and John, seek the places beside Jesus in glory…. Their hearing does not seem to be clarified during Holy Week, though Jesus’ utterances are no longer guarded…. Throughout their whole experience with Jesus, in Holy Week as well as earlier, the disciples are found misconstruing his authority, or doubting it, or, sometimes, opposing it.
Without exaggeration, Stringfellow labels the disciples obtuse, apprehensive, hysterical, and skeptical. And we are no different. This is the strange message of Good Friday—the judgment of this day.
We object to this judgment because we did not plant that traitor’s kiss on Jesus’ cheek, hammer nails into his hand, or even fall asleep in the garden. But most of us have betrayed someone who trusted us, hurt or abused someone who was vulnerable, neglected to show mercy, and failed to give love.
More Than Judgment
There is judgment here aplenty in this day that we strangely label “Good” Friday. But mercy and compassion ultimately triumph. And here-in, strangely, we find the reason that his day is called “good.” It’s because we are not left alone. Jesus walks and works with.
Jesus takes on our worst: our sins, brokenness, betrayals, and denials. Jesus bears them to the cross and carries them to death. And somehow Jesus redeems us. Through his suffering, death, and resurrection, Jesus rewrites history and turns around the course of the world, reconciling us to God and to each other. Even our worst, the slaying of God’s chosen, is turned to God’s best—the saving of humanity.
Thus even on this worst of all days we can trust that God is at work and nothing will separate us from God’s love. Paul proclaims in Romans 8:
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword?…. No, in all these things are we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Gerrit Scott Dawson writes,
God took on the responsibility of caring for the pain of the world by entering it in Jesus. Rather than turn away in exasperation to leave us in the chaos we created, God waded right into [our] mess. Jesus was not insulated from the people around him; he walked among us, he was vulnerable . . . . It is as if [Jesus] said, “I go before you. I will undergo all you suffer and have experienced. None of your life will be foreign to me. You will know always that wherever you have been, I have been also.
The goodness we attribute to Good Friday is not goodness because of events that happened or because of people who behaved so well. It is because the name of Jesus Christ lives on. His name, his word, and his life continue. Here is the reason that we call this day “good.”
Arthur Paul Boers, DMin, has been a pastor since 1985. He is the author of several books, including The Way is Made by Walking: A Pilgrimage along the Camino de Santiago (InterVarsity) and Servants and Fools: A Biblical Theology of Leadership (Abingdon). He taught pastoral theology at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary and leadership at Tyndale Seminary. He and his wife have been married for 37 years and are the parents of two adults. He lives in southern Ontario. This article was previously published in the Gospel Herald.