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Good Friday, Black Friday

by Darren Johnson

darrenjohnsonIt’s midday in Jerusalem. The temple square is bustling with Passover tourists when suddenly the lights go out. For three hours darkness descends upon the land. That same afternoon a violent earthquake rocks the city and its temple. The giant veil guarding the inner sanctuary is ripped from top to bottom. In the hill country that surrounds the city, boulders are split in two, tombs are emptied of their dead. Some are rumored to have come back to life and roamed the panic-stricken streets of Jerusalem.

No, this isn’t the next episode of “The Walking Dead.” This is the day Jesus died, the day we call “Good Friday.” We’d call it “Black Friday” if the day after Thanksgiving hadn’t claimed the title.

What’s so good about this day anyway? An innocent man, accused of crimes he didn’t commit, is flogged within an inch of his life and forced on a death march as passersby jeer, mock, and spit on him. His closest followers desert him. His siblings are nowhere in sight. Even his beloved “Abba Father” seems to turn a deaf ear to his cries.

Good Friday? We might as well rechristen September 11, 2001 “Terrific Tuesday” or December 7, 1941 “Sensational Sunday.” We remember those dreadful dates as “the day world stopped turning” and “a day that will live in infamy.” We wouldn’t dream of calling them good.

If we want to witness the world in all its pristine goodness, Good Friday is the last place to look. I’d recommend that we start with a different Friday. Genesis 1:31 says that on the sixth day of creation God creates mankind in his image. He blesses them, then surveys the cosmic canvas and pronounces that everything is good, very good! The opening scenes of Genesis welcome us into a harmonious world ruled by God’s image-bearers. Everything is in order, exactly as God intends. In fact, everything looks so good that the Creator decides to take a day off!

Isn’t this the Good Friday we ought to celebrate, creation’s finest hour? Instead, each spring we gather just before sunset to relive the world’s darkest hour. Unlike that first Friday, Good Friday reveals humanity at our absolute worst. We witness the depraved depths to which God’s image-bearers have plummeted. Hell-bent on becoming gods ourselves, we stop at nothing to oust God from his throne, even if it means crucifying the King of Glory. The apostle Paul is right: “There is no one who does good, not even one!”

The day Jesus dies is the day our humanity dies, and creation along with it. It’s as if the entire cosmos rips its garments, drapes itself in black, and convulses in inconsolable grief. The Gospels record that only a handful of women gather to mourn Jesus’ death. Amid humanity’s incriminating silence, the rocks are compelled to cry out.

The events of that dark Friday seem worlds removed from the first Friday described in Genesis 1. But they’re actually bookends to the same story. When God’s image-bearers rebel against him, he doesn’t hit the delete button and embark on a new script. He reaches out in grace to those who’ve rejected him. He chooses a barren, elderly couple living in what’s now southern Iraq; he promises to make of them a great nation and through their offspring extend his blessings to all nations.

From this promise the Jewish people are born. Each spring time at Passover, the Jews recall how God liberated their ancestors from slavery, guided them to a spacious land, and entered into a special relationship with them. Through the nation of Israel, God aimed to steer creation and humanity back to the goodness he originally intended.

But the story takes a tragic turn. The chosen nation chooses to turn away from God. Rather than embrace their holy calling, they insist on imitating their pagan neighbors. Time and again, God sends prophets to call the nation back to his covenant. Yet only a remnant remains faithful. Stripped of their homeland and persecuted by their pagan overlords, they cry out for a deliverer. They yearn for the day when God will send his anointed one, the Messiah, the ideal image-bearer, to restore hope to their fallen world.

The story begun in Genesis 1 hinges upon the outcome of the Messiah’s mission. Humanity has failed. Israel has failed. The righteous remnant has failed. It’s all on Jesus now. If he goes down, everyone and everything goes down with him, including God. That’s right: God’s credibility is on the line! All of his promises will prove empty unless the Messiah accomplishes his mission. Failure is not option.

Yet that’s the option Jesus takes. He embraces failure—your failure, my failure, the failure of the Jews, the failure of the Gentiles, the failure of every man and woman who’s lived or will live. His death is like a magnet drawing to itself all the carnage of our sin and lumping it together at this point in time, at this place, on this person. The iniquities of us all are laid on him.

God is mysteriously at work in death of his Son, personally absorbing the world’s sin, judging it, and exhausting its power as he pours out the full measure of his wrath against it. The Son accepts the cup of divine justice, the cup we deserve, and drinks it dry, down to the dregs, until there is no longer any condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, not even a drop. The death he died he died to sin, once and for all!

What’s good about Good Friday? Jesus, nothing but Jesus. And we killed him. There’s no secret conspiracy or controversy as to who did it. Our bloody fingerprints are all over the crime scene. His blood is upon us all. Like Pilate, we can try to wash our hands of his blood. Or by faith we can let his blood wash us, cleanse us, and make us whole.

The early Christians had a name for this paradoxical message of victory achieved through failure, life born in death. They called it “good news.” Good News Friday—I like the ring of that! Don’t you?

That’s why Jesus came—to bring good news to broken sinners, to embrace abject failures and renew God’s beautiful image within them. The same Word that spoke God’s glorious creation into existence and pronounced it “good” now declares to us, “You aren’t just good. You’re very good! You are God’s masterpieces, created anew in me to join us in the good work we’ve prepared for you to do.”

As long as we dwell this side of eternity, we’re all still works in progress. But from the vantage point of the cross, “It is finished!” And it is very good!

The work of redemption is complete, and so is this message. The Good Friday sun is setting. Tomorrow is the Sabbath; the Messiah must rest. A new creation is about to begin!

-Darren Johnson lives in Catlin, IL and preaches for the Catlin Church of Christ

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The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

John 10:10