April 3rd, 33AD may not have a ring to it, but events from 1979 years ago were so dramatic, they’re still celebrated even to this day.
It was on this day in history that a hastily arranged execution took place. Jesus of Nazareth had been arrested the night before and between the Roman and Jewish authorities in Jerusalem, his fate had been decided. Crucifixion.
Jesus hadn’t really broken any laws and at first, the Roman Prefect (Pontius Pilate) had tried to placate the religious leaders of the city by having Jesus beaten and whipped. That did not work and eventually Pilate buckled under pressure. He handed Jesus over to be killed. Jesus was then mocked, treated as a thief and executed in such a cruel way that its very name became the basis for a new word.
Jesus’ death in and of itself was far from unique, the Bible tells us that he was executed along with two other individuals. Historical research has shown that there were various forms of crucifixion, some took days however the Bible states that Jesus was nailed to the cross, these traumatic injuries coupled with his severe beatings from earlier meant that Jesus’ time on the cross was relatively short, around 6 hours.
Good News? Really?
You’d still be forgiven for wondering why any of this could be seen as ‘good’. Once again, we are seeing how cruel and inhumane mankind can actually be however its when we look behind the cross, we start to see why the death of this one man would change history and influence the whole world.
The early Christian writings tell us that Jesus’ death was no disaster. One of the writers tells us that ‘he came to serve, and give his life as a ransom for many’ (Mark 10:45). At the heart of his teachings was the theme of reconciliation with God, that somehow he would find a way of dealing with evil once and for all. That way was to be through facing death and despair head on. Jesus came to die. Not some slow, natural, peaceful death at the end of a long life but a painful, inhumane, tortuous death that even of itself, showed so much why it was necassary.
Even the Jewish writers had hinted at a ‘suffering’ saviour, someone who would know pain to help others deal with it and although they didn’t (and still don’t) recognise Jesus as the Messiah. Their scriptures have been used by Christians ever since to highlight that God’s plan all along was to include Jesus’ death upon the cross. Take a look at this part of the Old Testament which was written around 1,000 years before the crucifixion of Jesus.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
2 O my God, I cry by xday, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
3 Yet you are yholy,
4 In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
5 To you they bcried and were rescued;
in you they ctrusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am da worm and not a man,
7 All who see me gmock me;
they make mouths at me; they hwag their heads;
let him rescue him, for he kdelights in him!”
9 Yet you are he who ltook me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
10 On you was I cast from my birth,
and from mmy mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Be not nfar from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is onone to help.
12 Many bulls encompass me;
13 they ropen wide their mouths at me,
like a ravening and roaring lion.
14 I am spoured out like water,
and all my bones are tout of joint;
it is melted within my breast;
15 my strength is wdried up like a potsherd,
and my xtongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 For ydogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers zencircles me;
17 I can count all my bones—
they bstare and gloat over me;
18 cthey divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
19 But you, O Lord, ndo not be far off!
O you my help, dcome quickly to my aid!
20 Deliver my soul from the sword,
my precious life from the power of ethe dog!
21 Save me from fthe mouth of the lion!
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
23 You who jfear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, kglorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of lthe afflicted,
and he has not mhidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he ncried to him.
25 From you comes my praise in the great ocongregation;
those who seek him shall praise the Lord!
May your hearts tlive forever!
27 All uthe ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all vthe families of the nations
shall worship before you.
28 For wkingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
29 All xthe prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall ybow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not zkeep himself alive.
30 Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming ageneration;
that he has done it.
Anyone who reads the New Testament accounts of the crucifixion will see some striking similarities. Obviously Jesus (who was a Jew), would have been well aware of this Psalm, he would of read it himself many times and could easily choose to quote from it as he was dying (which he did), however, there are so many other similarities in areas which Jesus had no control. The Psalm even hints as to a scene not dissimilar to crucifixion itself yet the Psalm was written long before the rise of the Roman empire and the invention of crucifixion as a method of execution.
No, once we start to look beyond the physical, we start to see that the death of Jesus was much more that how it first appeared
A Ransom for Many
The theological reasons behind the death of Christ are completely different than the political or physical ones. The Bible teaches that Jesus’ death was like a ‘perfect storm’. Everything came together to create an event which far exceeded the total of its parts. In dying, Jesus put death ‘to death’ . His loveless and perfect sacrifice meant that a price had been paid for all the wrong. God’s Holy and perfect justice had been perfectly satisfied. Jesus’ death on the cross was perfect because the Bible says he was perfect. Jesus is God. Consider the Writing of St. Paul to the early church in Philipi
‘ Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,16 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant,2being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.’
Good Friday is Good because, on this day, all those years ago. God stepped onto our world, walked in our shoes, hung upon the cross that we deserve and died a death so that we can know perfect forgiveness for all that we do which is wrong. It’s Good, because now, we have a way out.