"Yet it was the will of the Lord to crush him..." - Isaiah 53:10
Over the last year, our country has faced enormous challenges. A pandemic has killed hundreds of thousands of our fellow citizens and millions worldwide. Many people are still out of work. Children in many states are falling behind as school re-openings lag. There is tremendous anxiety and strife along political, cultural, and racial lines. Some churches remain closed or are only partially open. For many, the future is grim.
On some level, the confusion and pain many of us feel today resembles the despair of the first Good Friday. Less than a week after His triumphant arrival into Jerusalem, Jesus is gasping for breath and dying on a Roman cross. For his distraught followers, the promises and expectations of Palm Sunday were a distant memory. Jesus's conniving enemies appear victorious. All hope seems lost.
Of course, those of us familiar with the Passion narrative know that Friday is not the end of the story. Easter is coming. But Jesus's resurrection is only glorious because of His obedience and faithfulness in death. Thus, it is appropriate to dwell for a few moments on the darkest day in history. To deepen our understanding of Good Friday, consider Isaiah 53, a well-known passage from the Old Testament.
Writing 700 years before the events of Holy Week, the prophet Isaiah wrote about ancient Israel's impending judgment. After generations of disobedience, the people were about to experience the consequences of their sin. However, amid prophecies of judgment, Isaiah promises that God will redeem His people from captivity and restore them to their homeland. Furthermore, Isaiah says that God also wants to forgive them of their sins and heal their broken relationship with Him.
God's plan to save sinners is not what you would expect. According to Isaiah, God's plan is to raise up a righteous Servant who will be despised, rejected, and killed. Incredibly, the Servant's mistreatment will be borne willingly; on his own volition, He will suffer for the transgressions and iniquities of unrighteous sinners (Isa. 53:5).
In Philippians 2:6-8, Paul consciously connects Jesus with Isaiah's righteous Servant, writing, "though He [Christ] was in the form of God, [He] did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, He humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross."
As the long-awaited Servant of Isaiah 53, Jesus's substitutionary death provides the ultimate hope for sinners. According to Scripture, the only hope for sin-plagued humanity is a restored relationship with God. Because of our sin we are estranged from God and cannot rescue ourselves or each other. In fact, in our sin, we are spiritually dead and do not even realize we need saving (Eph. 2:1-3).
Scripture teaches that the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit) has taken the initiative in redeeming lost sinners. God's initiative in salvation is seen in Romans 5:8, which explains, "But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." The most well-known verse in the Bible, John 3:16, teaches the same truth: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life."
These verses contain the core of the gospel, the "good news" of Christianity. Through a personal relationship with Jesus, sinful people can be reconciled to God. Reflecting on the cross, Paul writes, "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Cor. 5:21). In this verse and others, the Bible teaches what theologians refer to as "penal substitution." As Wayne Grudem explains, "Christ's death was 'penal' in that he bore a penalty when he died. His death was a 'substitution' in that he was a substitute for us when he died."
To pay the penalty of death merited by our sins, Christ died as a sacrifice (Heb. 9:26). By draining God's wrath to the dregs, Jesus fully satisfied God's justice and holiness. Sin was completely paid for. Through His death and resurrection, Jesus reconciled us with God (2 Cor. 5:18-19).
Because of Jesus's saving work on our behalf, it is appropriate to call this dark day "good." Good Friday is good because Jesus paid the price for our sins. Moreover, He not only died in our place; He was raised to life. On Easter Sunday, we celebrate Jesus's resurrection, which attests to His power over death. His resurrection is what Scripture describes as the "first fruits of those who have fallen asleep" (1 Cor. 15:20). As Jesus was resurrected, so too will His followers when He comes again.
So, even as we reflect on a difficult year, Good Friday gives us perspective. If God can redeem Good Friday, he can redeem anything -- including us. For many of us, today might be dark. But take heart, hope is on the horizon.
Today is Friday, but Sunday is coming.