Good Friday is marked as the day in which the Church remembers the death of Jesus Christ. All over the globe Christians from many nations and people groups will be gathering to remember one moment in human history, the moment in which Jesus Christ was crucified on a cross. But what is the significance of this event? In an increasingly post-Christian culture like ours it is easy to mark this simply as a “religious” holiday, and forget the deep spiritual work that was accomplished through the cross. But we cannot settle for just a casual observance of Good Friday.
“All of heaven is interested in the cross of Christ, hell afraid of it, while men are the only ones to ignore its meaning.”Oswald Chambers
Paul spells out the meaning of Christ’s death in Romans chapter 3. His argument in the early chapters of this letter is that no matter who you are or where you have come from, no matter what your religious background or cultural heritage may be, each and every one of us are sinful. As Romans 3:23 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” What does this mean? It means that we can look in a thousand directions to try to understand what is wrong with our world but until we look at ourselves we have missed it entirely. We can try to blame politics, or societal structures and systems, or we can even try to blame generations past. But the Bible’s clear and compelling argument is that the very heart of the problems in our world lies with each of us. We are sinful. We have rebelled against a Holy and Good God. This message is not simply that we do sinful things (that is true), but the problem is deeper than that. We do sinful things because we are sinners who’s hearts have been deceived into thinking we can live good lives and build a good society apart from the one true God.
We can only understand Good Friday if we accurately understand our human condition apart from Jesus Christ. Paul says that God is both “Just and Justifier.”
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”Romans 3:23–26, ESV
What a statement. God is just. Oh thank God that God is just! He punishes wrongdoing. He has a justified wrath against people like us who have so clearly broken His commands and chosen what is morally evil over God’s good and pleasing commands. As J.I. Packer says:
“God’s wrath in the Bible is never the capricious, self-indulgent, irritable, morally ignoble thing that human anger so often is. It is, instead, a right and necessary reaction to objective moral evil”(Knowing God, 151)
God is just. But the story does not just end there, for God is also the justifier. God has made a way for sinners like us to be be “justified” before God. God has made a way for sinners like us to be both guilty and not condemned. Paul says that Jesus has been put forth as the propitiation for our sins. A propitiation can be defined as, “the initiative taken by God to effect removal of impediments to a relationship with God’s self (1).” In other words Jesus Christ’s work on the cross and through the resurrection have effectually absorbed the wrath of God that was rightfully ours to receive. On the cross Jesus Christ reveals that God is just as our sin does not go unpunished. And yet on the cross Jesus Christ reveals God’s divine love for us as God allows His Son to take our place underneath His wrath in order that we might be called Sons and Daughters of the King of Kings.
This is the meaning of Good Friday. Jesus gave His life underneath the wrath of God on our behalf, absorbing the just wrath that we deserved, and offering us a powerful way back to the God we had abandoned. There is a new life for those who have placed their faith in Jesus Christ, it is a joy filled new birth that changes everything.
1 Arndt, William, Frederick W. Danker, Walter Bauer, and F. Wilbur Gingrich. A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2000.