The Crucifixion, Veronese, 1580
In his book Death on a Friday Afternoon, author Richard John Nuehaus made an amazing statement. He said, “If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything.” That is an incredible statement to make, but it is, in fact, what we as Christians believe. Out of all the days this world has existed, all the days and years and centuries of human history, out of all those days, what happened on Good Friday, when combined with what happened on Easter day, really does contain all the truth about everything– that is, everything of ultimate significance. Granted, it may not contain the truth about whether or not eggs are good for you, but it does contain all the truth about everything that will still matter to you a hundred years from now.
First of all, that truth about everything includes the truth about the human condition. Good Friday tells the story of a death, and death is that most basic and certain aspect of the human condition. People are born into different times, with different abilities, and with vastly different opportunities. Some live only a few moments and some will live for more than a hundred years. But all die, just as Jesus died on that long ago Friday afternoon.
There is a second fundamental truth about the human condition, and that is, that there is something wrong with us. The most basic explanation of the meaning of Good Friday is that Jesus died on the cross to save us from our sins. Sin– that is what’s wrong with us. The sin that is within us is acted out in countless ways– meanness, jealousy, greed, hatred, selfishness, ingratitude, theft, gossip, covetousness, rebellion, lust, adultery, slander, anger– the list could go on and on. And it has been that way from the very beginning; from the first two people created who were cast out of the Garden of Eden for disobeying the one and only command God gave them, to the first child born who became a murderer, and on down to Genesis chapter 6 where we read that God was already regretting his creation of humankind.
That story of sin continues throughout the Bible until the story of Jesus Christ, God himself who came to earth to do something about that sin. And what happened to Jesus? John 1:11 tells us that, “Jesus came to that which was his own, but his own received him NOT.” These have to be some of the saddest words in the Bible. In their sinfulness, the opponents of Jesus killed their own Creator and Lord, the One who had come to be their Savior. What greater evil and wickedness could there be? ‘His own received him not.’ And on Good Friday we see human sin at its worst. Judas, friend and disciple of Jesus, betrayed him. Caiaphas, religious leader of the people, engineered the execution of the Messiah his people had prayed for centuries. Pilate, the representative of Roman justice, declared Jesus innocent, and then sentenced him to execution. How about you? Have you always been faithful and obedient follower of Jesus?
Good Friday not only tells us the truth about ourselves, it also tells us the truth about God, God who ‘so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, so that whosoever believes in him will not perish.’ Perishing would be all any of us would have to look forward to in our long range future, if it were not for Jesus. Good Friday first of all teaches us that there is something wrong with us and the world, and then it tells us that if anything is to be done about it, it will have to be done by God. We cannot save ourselves. It has to be up to God to find a way to forgive us of our sins, and to one day again make us into the kind of people he had created us to be. Forgiveness, and a new heart, and a new life, all won for us by God, first of all on the cross, and then in the resurrection on Easter morning.
“If what Christians say about Good Friday is true, then it is, quite simply, the truth about everything,” said Nuehaus. Life and death, the sinfulness of men and the goodness of the Savior, the power of evil defeated by the power of God, Christ in the tomb and then Christ risen for all eternity, the helplessness of man and the salvation of God– it is all there on Good Friday and the Easter Sunday that followed. The truth about everything, a truth to live for, and a truth to give us hope and confidence even in death.
Luke 23:33 — When they came to the place called the Skull, there they crucified him, along with the criminals– one on his right, the other on his left.
Luke 23:44-46 — It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour, for the sun stopped shining. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Jesus called out with a loud voice, “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” When he had said this, he breathed his last.
Mark 15:39 — When the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, “Surely this man was the Son of God!”
II Corinthians 5:17-19 — Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.
Lord Jesus Christ, you stretched out your arms of love on the hard wood of the cross that everyone might come within the reach of your saving embrace: So clothe us in your Spirit that we, reaching forth our hands in love, may bring those who do not know you to the knowledge and love of you; for the honor of your Name. Amen.
—Book of Common Prayer