The season of Easter is the highlight of the year in the church calendar. It is the climax of the gospel accounts, and the pivotal point of human history. The events recorded in all four gospels surrounding the final days of Jesus’ life on earth plumb the depths of human despair and ascend the highest heights of eternal hope.
Let’s join the story part way through, on what we call Good Friday. Jesus has been betrayed and arrested. He has been dragged before the Jewish religious leaders for an illegal trial founded on trumped up charges. In response to the accusations laid against him Jesus gives only minimal answers. Frustrated, the Jewish authorities take Jesus before Pilate who cannot find any reason for issuing a death penalty. He has Jesus flogged and hopes that this will be enough to placate the Jews. Unsatisfied by this the rulers and the high priests continue to pressurise Pilate who ends up releasing Barabbas, a murderer and insurrectionist, and reluctantly sentences Jesus to death by crucifixion.
Already battered and beaten, mocked and abused, Jesus is forced to carry a heavy cross out of the city and up the hill called Calvary. The route is lined by townspeople and visitors to Jerusalem sneering and jeering as Jesus stumbles under the weight of his heavy load. At the top of the hill Jesus is stripped naked and manhandled onto the rough wooden cross. Long nails are driven through his hands and feet and a crown of thorns is forced onto his brow before the cross is raised and dropped into its socket with a sickening thud. His body is surrounded by flies attracted to the fresh blood oozing from his wounds. The soldiers beneath the cross draw lots for his clothing as slowly life ebbs from him. Finally, moments before his death, Jesus cries ‘It is finished!’ and then he breaths his last.
What can possibly be considered Good about the events that day? When acts of similar barbarity are practiced in our day and age there is justified outrage from human rights activists. Yet billions of Christians all around the world celebrate, yes celebrate, Christ’s death despite its graphic brutality and call it good! Why?
Two reasons. Firstly, we understand that Jesus has died in our place, taking the punishment we all deserve. We are all guilty of falling short of God’s perfect standard and so deserve eternal punishment. Innocent Jesus is our substitute and dies an excruciating death so that we don’t have to. However, if that had been the end of the matter, if the story finished with Christ’s death on the cross we might conclude that he was the unfortunate victim of a miscarriage of justice. But the second reason we can celebrate that Friday as Good is because Sunday is coming! On the third day Jesus is raised to life demonstrating God’s victory over death, giving us assurance that sin can be forgiven and providing a foretaste of the eternal resurrected life that awaits all of Jesus’ followers.
Has Sunday come for you? Please get in touch if you would like to know more.