Today is Good Friday, a day we celebrate with both sorrow and joy. Sorrow for the suffering Christ endured, but joy for the salvation it accomplished. Many of us today may be going to a church service where we will sing songs about his death, take the Eucharist, sit in quiet meditation, and listen to a sermon. I hope that we can all do something today to remember the great price paid.
I know, for me, the repetition of the traditions surrounding holidays like Good Friday can be important in giving me occasion to think about what God did and remember. However, it can also be easy to do the traditions and remembrance of the events, but forget why it happened in the first place. Too many fear that “why” is the antithesis of faith, but what is faith if we can’t answer “why?”
So here is a list of five reasons Jesus died on the cross that I hope will help us have context for why today is such an important day and why our great God suffered such humiliation for us.
1. God is a God of wrath – This is an unpopular truth about God. I think a lot of people hear God’s wrath and assume it means that God is some hot head who gets upset over petty things and uses his power to exact trite revenge on people who offend him. This is an easy association because in a lot of the other ‘wrathful god’ situations, especially the Greek and Roman mythology, the wrath of gods was petty. But the true God’s wrath is not. When he looks at the injustice of the world, the exploitation of the poor, the violence done to one another, the dishonest and undercutting behavior people have with each other, God gets angry. It is a righteous anger that is violently and justifiably opposed to the evil that exists in our world. The reason Jesus died in the manner of the brutal and humiliating cross instead of dying quietly in his sleep is because the manner of death needed to reflect the measure of God’s wrath towards sin.
“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.” (Romans 1:18 ESV)
2. God is a God of Justice – Not only does the cross reflect God’s wrath, but it also shows God’s justice. The motivation for the wrath of God being poured out on the Son is that justice might be had for the injustice of sin. Not only is God’s justice positively for the weak and oppressed, but it has to be against the wicked. God has to punish wrong, and the consequences for rebelling against God is death, not merely physically, but an eternal separation. So for God’s justice to be satisfied, there needed to be a death. Not because God is unnecessarily cruel, but because he is necessarily just. Jesus’ death was the result of a just God.
“Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.” (Hebrews 9:22 ESV)
3. God is a Holy God – Although it is our nature to think of God in terms we can relate with and in fact create God in our image, the truth is that God is something completely and totally other than us. The realm in which he dwells is completely separate from us. This means that God is a God who’s uniqueness does not allow sin into his presence. Even though he has a deep desire to dwell among people and let them dwell with him, his holiness separates him from sin. This is why God can’t just ignore people’s sin and allow everybody to just be with him in heaven. He is holy and separate from a world sin. The only way for someone to stand before God is to be in the same holy state as him, namely, perfect. The holiness of God is the reason the cross had to happen in the first place, because if God was not holy but just as tarnished as we are there would be no requirement of perfection to be in his presence.
“But as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.”” (1Peter 1:15–16 ESV)
4. God is a God of Mercy – The violence of the cross is explained by God’s wrath, the death on the cross is explained by God’s justice, the impetus for the cross is God’s holiness, but why was it God in Jesus who suffered all these things? If God is wrathful, just, and holy, the grotesque death of a person on the cross would actually make sense, but why was it Jesus, both God and man, on the cross and not us? This is answered by God’s mercy. Because his wrath needed to be placed somewhere, justice needed to to punish sin, and man become holy to be in God’s presence, God decided to allow all of those things to be placed on a substitute instead of ourselves. In order for ancient Israel to atone for sin and maintain their covenant, God mercifully allowed them to use the substitute of animals to meet the needs of God’s wrath, justice, and holiness. Jesus was the ultimate substitute expressing God’s mercy. The reason it was Jesus and not me on the cross is because God had mercy on me and allowed himself to be the substitute for my sin.
“But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—” (Ephesians 2:4–5 ESV)
5. God is a God of love – The question still remains, why would God grant mercy on a people who have rebelled against him in all ways? Why would he take our place and endure the consequences of his wrath, justice, and holiness? This is because, despite ourselves, in spite of ourselves, and not because of ourselves, God actually loves us. He, our Creator and Father, loves us with a love that initiates and pursues beyond what we can ever fully comprehend. The exact nature of his death and the presence of Christ on the cross may be answered by the above attributes, but the whole reason God was there in the first place, the reason he even cared to do anything to save humanity from the inevitable death we chose by sinning, was his love! And this is why we humbly, somberly, but joyfully celebrate Good Friday. Because in the cross, the whole nature of God was both manifest and satisfied and as a result, we are now children of God!
Have a great day and remember why Jesus died as we celebrate what he did!