When I was a kid, we went to church on Good Friday (the Friday before Easter.) We would interactively read through the gospel accounts of Jesus’ arrest, trial, and crucifixion. The readers would take the part of Pilate (“What is truth?”) and Peter (“I don’t know him!”) and we, the congregation, would be the crowd. “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
The priest would play Jesus, but he didn’t say much. I always thought Jesus could have said or done any number of things to get himself out of the crucifixion, but he didn’t. Every year I would root for him, and every year he would meekly die a horrible death, forgiving the very people who were killing him.
Why? I asked people, why did Jesus die? And they would say he died to forgive my sins. It didn’t make any sense. He forgave other people’s sins just by telling them their sins were forgiven. Why did he have to die for mine?
I didn’t know until many years later that the separation between God and man was so absolute that there was no way we could cross it by ourselves. We tend to judge ourselves by comparing ourselves to the people around us, and by that standard we can always find someone who is “worse” than we are. I didn’t know it then, but God doesn’t grade on a curve. He is holy and absolutely perfect, and to deserve to be in His presence, we have to be holy and perfect too.
One scripture says “The wages of sin is death.” Wages are what you deserve to be paid for the work you have done. According to this, if I were a defendant in court being accused of having sinned, I would be declared guilty and sentenced to death. I have sinned and deserve to die. But the rest of the verse says “but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” How did I go from deserving death to getting eternal life instead? To being able to stand before God with a perfectly clear conscience?
When Jesus was tortured and crucified, He took the punishment for my sins and for the sins of the whole world; past, present, and future. He paid all the debt we all owed to God. And more than that, He suffered every kind of pain and torment so that we would not have to suffer them. He defeated the devil so that we don’t have to be controlled by sin any longer. On the cross, He willingly exchanged His perfect righteousness for our sin! If Jesus had not died, the judgment and punishment, the guilty verdict, would still be hanging over me and all of us, and there would be no way for us to pay it off. Other scriptures say that Jesus gave us the power to become children of God rather than children of the devil. Think about what it means to be a child of God. If you could choose your parents, would you rather they be good and loving and generous, or would you choose ones who were hateful and violent and out to destroy you?
Like most parents, I love my children. I want them to have good health and good relationships. I want them to find work that they enjoy and to be surrounded by people they love and who love them. I want them to have peace, to be free from stress and worry, guilt and shame. I want them to know that I love them no matter what they do. And that is what God wants for His children. I love being a child of God. I love knowing that what He wants to give me is better than anything I could ever get for myself. Now that I know why Jesus died, and what His death accomplished, I am eternally grateful that he did. I finally understand why they call the commemoration of His death Good Friday.