On Good Friday we remember the death of Jesus. But why all the hoopla? Lots of people die. Lots of people died on crosses. Why does the death of Jesus stand out?
Let’s ask Jesus about Good Friday.
Jesus clearly understood the immanence, nature, and significance of his future death.
Early in his ministry Jesus begins to point to his death and its meaning. Comparing his ministry to shepherding, he says to his students, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11). We learn two things here. One, his ministry will include more than just teaching and miracles; it will include his death. And two, his death will be for others.
As the ministry of Jesus progresses, our understanding of his death progresses.
Jesus reveals more about his death when he tells his students, “…The Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). (By the way, the prophets often referred to the coming Messiah as the “Son of Man,” a title Jesus here claims for himself.) The significance of his death is beginning to take shape. We see in this remark his death will be for others in that it will be a ransom for many. The Greek word (lutron) translated “ransom” refers to the price paid for someone’s release, like in the case of slavery. Don’t think of a hostage situation. That’s not the original sense or use of this Greek word. Simply think of purchasing someone’s freedom.
So from Jesus’s above comment we see his death will purchase freedom. But whose freedom, and freedom from what? We get our answer in the final moments before the crucifixion.
Hours before his death, Jesus sits down with his closest students to celebrate the Passover Feast. To fully understand the significance of this moment and the significance of what Jesus is about to say concerning his death, you must have some knowledge of Jewish history and the Passover Feast itself.
Okay, so let’s take a quick moment to explain the Passover…
For four hundred years, the people of Israel were slaves in Egypt. God through Moses and miracles began the process of securing their freedom (Exodus, chapters 1-11). On the eve of their liberation, God enacted one final plague that would break the Egyptian empire. He warned, “I will pass through the land of Egypt that night, and I will strike all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and on all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments…” (Exodus 12:12). But God provided a way to escape this punishment. If the people would mark their doors with the blood of a sacrificed lamb, God said, “when I see the blood, I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you, when I strike the land of Egypt” (Exodus 12:13). The Passover Feast takes its name from this night and remembers this moment of salvation for Israel. So at the Passover Feast, the Jews remember the night God “passed over” them because of the blood of the lamb sacrificed and applied on their behalf.
…Okay, back to the last supper.
At this final meal with Jesus, which happens to be the Passover meal, he takes the traditional cup of wine and says, “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28). What’s he doing? He’s applying the meaning of Passover to his own death. Jesus is saying his death (his blood poured out) will save (ransom) people from their sins, by providing forgiveness. In other words, Jesus is saying “Remember all those passover lambs sacrificed many years ago for the Israelites’ rescue from Egypt? Well, I am the Passover Lamb, the once-and-for-all sacrifice offered to rescue people from the ultimate slaveholder, sin.”
The death of Jesus provides forgiveness, freedom from sin.
Thus, the cross reminds us not of defeat but of victory. Jesus was providing rescue for the world through his death. And just like the original passover, for those who mark their lives with the blood of Christ, that is, for those who claim his sacrifice for themselves, God still passes over them, forgiving their sins.
For this reason, Jesus utters what would otherwise be a strange statement on the cross. Jesus says, “It is finished” (John 19:30). These are precious words to Christians. Why? Because this statement means the point of Jesus’s crucifixion had been accomplished. Salvation had been won. All that Jesus had foretold about the meaning of his death had been completed. And that is very good news.
It’s good news because it means there’s nothing left for us to do. Salvation is NOT dependent on us. Salvation is here, now. It’s not almost done. It’s done. The ransom has been paid once-and-for-all to free us from our bondage to sin. And why does that matter? Because sin keeps us from God. It was humanity’s sin that got us kicked out of Eden, out of the presence of God. So the forgiveness of sins means we get to go Home!!!
Who gets to go home? Anyone who looks to Jesus. Anyone who calls on his name for rescue. Anyone.
And that’s why it’s a good Friday.