“What is good about Good Friday?” A student once asked me this question in class. I made an absolute mess of the answer. I couldn’t put into words what I wanted to say. And the student looked at me unconvincingly after I gave him a long, rambling and shambolic answer. I think he actually felt sorry for me. And for a teacher, there is nothing worse!
You may have often heard the phrase “Jesus died for you!” Do you know what this means? Or would you reply using comedian Dave Allen’s quip “You can’t blame me, I wasn’t even there!!” For many years, I struggled to understand what this phrase meant – I knew in my head that Jesus had died for my sins but I couldn’t figure out how it all worked. I wasn’t alive when he died two thousand years ago so what difference was it supposed to make to my life? The answer, I discovered, told me why this Friday was called good. And it’s not simply about going to heaven. Yes, heaven is a part of the bigger picture but this day is as much about who we are and what we do on earth as it is about going to heaven. So why did Jesus die for me and you? This was my discovery…
God doesn’t need me. Or you. Are you shocked by this? Disappointed? Don’t stop reading…stay with me. God really doesn’t need us and that is good news. Why? God didn’t create this universe out of need or because God was “lonely” – God created us completely out of love. Out of pure generous life-giving love. It was God’s absolute pleasure to do so. God created us for relationship; to love God and to love others. In other words, to reflect God back to everyone and everything around us. This is our purpose in life – to be the bearers of God’s image of love. In the home, in the office, in the gym, in the clubs on a weekend, in music and in art. Everywhere and in everything.
Sin is a word that we don’t often hear today. Perhaps it is seen as an out of date expression. The problem is that sin is never out of date! In the Bible, the word used for sin means “to miss the mark”. So whenever we sin, we miss the mark of what our actions or words are truly meant to be. Sin prevents us being who we are truly called to be. And this is where we need to be honest with ourselves – we do sin. No, not the other people who live with us, or the Donald Trump’s of this world, or the celebrities who would do anything for fame. Nope – you and me. But how can we change this?
If you look at the events leading up to and including Good Friday, you will see Jesus experiencing an incredible amount of suffering. Betrayal, denial, torture, abuse, an unfair trial, mockery, bullying, beatings, being spat upon, insults, false accusations and an excruciating and painful execution. In other words, within the space of 24 hours, Jesus experienced the worst of humanity – their worst sins. This is where we, in 2020, come in. Even though we were not alive then, what was done to Jesus on that day is what also lies deep within our nature today. Given certain times, certain situations or being with certain people, we are capable of doing any of the above. If you don’t think so, stop reading. Only humans read on.
But the God who created us out of love and for love, did not and does not want to see us remain in this state in which sin is ruling over us. God cares too much. So what is the answer? And this is the part that I found hard to grasp but this analogy was the best way for me to understand it. It’s not the complete answer but it is a way of understanding it.
Imagine that one day you lost your temper and you thrashed your local shop because they did not have any Easter eggs left (just play along!). You cause a serious amount of damage. You are arrested and appear in court some days later. The judge asks if you have the money to pay for the damage. You don’t. Does your family? Nope. So the only option is that you face the consequences. You must go to prison. Except something unbelievable now happens. The judge gets up from his chair and walks down to you. He takes out his chequebook, writes a cheque and hands it to you. He says to you “I am paying the debt that you owe – you are now free to go.”
Jesus believed that the only way he would gain us true freedom from sin, and all the ways it wreaks havoc in our lives, was through suffering and death. And he did this out of complete and utter love. No greater love is there than laying down your life for your friends, he had said to his disciples. He offered to be the one on whom humanity could do their worst – in other words, humans would exhaust all their sinful actions on him. In his body (literally) he would bear the marks of humanity’s potential for evil. Emotionally, he would feel the insults and the abusive behaviour towards him. Spiritually, he would feel the distance that sin puts between us and God, He wanted to be the one who would bear all our pain, guilt and shame and end it for us. He was willing to sacrifice his life to this.
But what if Jesus was not just a human? What if Jesus had been God too. Fully human and fully God? This astonishing realisation of the disciples after Jesus’ resurrection helped them to see that it had been God who had destroyed the power of sin. The judge had paid our debt. We were set completely free.
So why is Good Friday good? Because on this day, an incredible power was released into the world. It is called grace. This day asks us to leave aside our efforts to change ourselves and improve ourselves using our own strength and willpower alone. This applies to the angry young man, the drug addict, the alcoholic, the self-conscious teenager, the violent criminal, the depressed father, the overworked mother, the burnt-out teacher, the person who has taken a life. Whoever. On this day, the worst that lies within us lost its power over us. Now, instead of doing anything to change ourselves, we are asked to trust in what is being done to us and in us. We don’t have to do it on our own. When we completely trust in Jesus, we are given the grace that we need to help us live in such a way that fulfills our true purpose in life – to be images and reflections of God in our relationships and in our world. Sin doesn’t have the same power over us anymore. Grace is the new power.
And countless numbers of people have discovered this in their own lives – the power of a drug addiction has been broken; the girl who struggled with self-esteem has a new found confidence as she knows that she is loved for who she is; the person on the brink of suicide has spoken to their priest and rediscovers the love that means they have value and dignity despite what their circumstances tell them; the workaholic stops his long hours because he doesn’t need to prove himself anymore; the student auditions for the school musical for the first time because she is convinced that God has given her a talent. The list could go on.
Maybe you are struggling at present – perhaps there is a persistent sin or issue in your life that is affecting and infecting you, your relationship with others and your relationship with God. And you may have resolved time and time again to improve, change, make more of an effort etc etc. But nothing is changing. The anger, the bitterness, the guilt, the shame or whatever it is you are feeling still remains. Take a moment today, in the quiet, to imagine yourself at the foot of the cross and you see Jesus in front of you. His life is ebbing away. But his eyes are on you. Just take a risk – tell him that you can’t change on your own and that you need his grace. Hand it all over to him and invite him to take over.
You will then discover why this Friday is truly and really good.