Today we Christians celebrate one of the most important days of the year: Good Friday. The day where God did something unfathomable. He willingly took on torture and punishment that didn’t belong to Him. Was He a masochistic crazy man? Or a historic figure representing an ancient myth? Those would make his behaviors more palatable.
We know His story so well we can recite it in our sleep: Jesus died for our sins so that we would be forgiven and have eternal life in heaven. Amen. We’re done.
Not so fast. Please. It’s Good Friday so let’s linger long enough to think this through a little more. If Jesus’ plight is a story from which we learn a few good lessons to follow, I’ll pass thanks. I’m just not that nice. Aside from my children and husband, there aren’t many folks I’d even consider being tortured for and even then, well….
There is also the possibility that Jesus didn’t really go to the cross or die. It could be a myth. But that would be hard to believe because many people recorded seeing him die and then coming back to life. We have scads of real documents so convincing that even the toughest skeptics agree that he did in fact die and rise from the dead. If you don’t believe me, I strongly encourage you to go on a hunt for the truth yourself. Because truth does matter.
So, if he allowed himself to be tortured and die, we’re stuck with a really tough question: WHY?
Crucifixion is a horrific act and if God was Jesus (as Christians claim He is) then why couldn’t He simply snap His fingers and say: “OK, all you messed up people who won’t be nice, you’re forgiven. Stop being such jerks.” Then move on. Snap His fingers again and make people nicer. Make them stop doing horrible things to one another.
Clearly, something mysterious must be going on. If God is who He says He is and Jesus is God, we’re missing something here. God inflicted the horror on Himself at Calvary. One more hard concept to wrap our simple earthly minded brains around. He was up to something and displayed that something through the God-man Jesus.
But that still doesn’t answer why the torment. I remember as an 11-year-old being so upset about Good Friday that between the hours of 1-3 pm, I had a hard time thinking about anything else. I thought that if God allowed Jesus to die for sins He didn’t commit and that even if Jesus was God, it was still too awful to think about.
Let me share with you the answer I have found over the 45 years since then. The answer to the why. And it is the only answer that makes sense and the only one, that is truthful and that matters.
God allowed Jesus to be tortured and die because He wanted two things very desperately.
- He wanted you and me to experience His love. This sounds like the greatest irony or hypocrisy ever stated but stay with me. If you wanted to show the ultimate expression of love for someone, how would you do it? Let’s say you had a 4-year-old with leukemia who was dying. Would you offer to take on his disease and die in his place? I bet you would. Giving up one’s life is the supreme way to express and give love. It is anything but sadistic – it is a wholly altruistic act. God did that for you and me.
- We needed atonement. This is something that is hard for you and me to understand because we live in a culture where almost anything can be justified as acceptable. In short, we’re not big on sin. We have softened the edges to almost every type of behavior that sin is passé to many of us. So, the idea that sin must be atoned for is gone too. But not in God’s mind. Remember, God is perfect. Jesus never sinned. Ever. In the natural world, there are consequences to sin – or bad behavior, as you call it. In the spiritual world (who would deny that?) there are consequences too. We don’t see these with our eyes. God, who lives in the spiritual realm sees our bad behaviors (sins) and hates them. He knows they hurt us and they hurt Him. Since He knows that we can’t compensate for them or peel back the consequences, He stepped in and said, “I’ll do it.” And He did. On Good Friday.
Whatever your religious bent, let me ask you to consider something extraordinary and life-changing today. Think about the person of God and the reason that He stepped into a horrific experience. It will make you cringe (and maybe you need to.) But if you think long enough on it you will see, perhaps for the first time in your life, that God made Good Friday happen for one reason and one reason alone: love.
The question for you and me is: how will we choose to respond to that love? Will we say thank you and take it or turn away, believing that Jesus’ death on the cross was just one more story for the books?
Friends, if you need love today, stop looking to your kids, husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends, whomever for more. Look up. He is there.
Happy Easter to each of you, my friends.