Many people will write about a great man’s death today. They will tout the man’s greatness, what he allegedly accomplished, and further perpetuate the legend that has more or less been declare irrefutable. Some will emphasize the future plans that the man anticipated implementing and lament the undoing of those noble ends by his less principled, more radical supporters.
I’m referring, of course, to Abraham Lincoln and his assassination by John Wilkes Booth on this date in 1865. That act of murder was lamentable because Lincoln was human, because he was president of the United States, because Booth’s cowardly act was a morally and politically reprehensible act that did nothing to help the cause or recovery of the South, and because it actually was the spark that kindled into flame the smoldering wrath of Radical Republicanism against the South. That oppression remained until Federal troops were finally removed in 1876. (Many people do not realize that Union troops occupied much of the South for eleven years after the War Between the States was over.)
But this date in history is also noted for a death so significant that it makes Lincoln’s assassination pale in comparison. Today is called “Good Friday,” the date on which the Christian world notes the death of Jesus Christ.
As a child, I often wondered why it was called “Good Friday.” What was good about a man’s execution, especially that of a good man? As I have aged and matured in my thinking about and understanding of my faith, however, it has become more clear to me.
Jesus Christ, born in Bethlehem, lived approximately 30 years, working with Joseph, His human father, in his carpenter shop in Nazareth. He was baptized by John, His cousin (aka, the Baptist), whereupon He immediately began a period of ministry lasting approximately three and a half years. During that brief ministry, He preached and taught first the Twelve, His closest disciples, and then the multitudes. Of the Twelve, only one, Judas, failed to get His message.
Many people today rightly emphasize Christ’s teachings on love, compassion, selflessness, and forgiveness. But they choose to ignore the other things He taught, such as holy living and walking the talk and condemnation of wickedness in all its multitudinous forms.
They like to talk about His healing of the sick, His blessing of little children, and His patience with those who struggled with problems or lacked depth of understanding. But they dislike and therefore downplay or ignore His chasing of the moneychangers from the temple, His condemnation of hypocrisy, and His setting of an even higher moral standard. They love to discuss His interactions with people of beliefs different from His Own and God’s Word. But they reject His clear declaration of exclusivity, that He is the only way to eternal salvation: “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Unlike the teachings of other mere humans, from whose statements we may pick and choose what we want to believe, we must accept or reject the teaching of Jesus Christ lock, stock, and barrel; it’s either all or none.
Why? Because Jesus Christ was not merely a good man or a great teacher. Rather, He is God. As Jesus, He is God come in the flesh. As Christ, He is Messiah, the Savior. We can’t accept just the earthly, physical manifestation; we must accept the totality of Who He is–God the Son. And we must respond to the fact that He, the sinless Son of God, died for mankind, the just for the unjust. We must either accept or reject that fact.
Good Friday is good because it marked the end of Jesus’ earthly ministry and the beginning of His heavenly ministry for all who believe on Him, accepting Him as their Savior from sin. Good Friday is good because He did not remain in the tomb, as the leaders of all other human religions have done. Rather, three days later, He arose, alive, from the dead. And shortly after that, He ascended into heaven. There, He ever lives to “prepare a place for [us]” (John 14:2) and to intercede with God the Father on our behalf (Heb. 7:25). And although He, as Jesus, is not on earth today, He sent a Comforter (John 14:16), an Intercessor (Rom. 8:26), and an Advocate (1 John 2:1), the Holy Spirit, to help those who believe in Him.
Without Good Friday, none of the rest of those events would have transpired. But Jesus Christ did die, for you and for me. And He offers us His gift of eternal life if only we’ll believe and accept it.
Jim Bishop wrote several good books, including The Day Lincoln Was Shot and The Day Kennedy Was Shot. He also wrote The Day Christ Died. Those three books are often portrayed side by side as though each of the deaths were of equal importance. They decidedly are not. No death was more important than that of Jesus Christ. His death holds eternal consequences for every individual who ever lived.
Yes, Good Friday is a good day of commemoration. But it is also a day of decision. It forces each of us to answer the question that Pilate asked just before the Crucifixion: “What shall I do then with Jesus which is called Christ?” The Jews yelled, “Crucify Him!” What is your response?
A.B. Simpson stated well the choice and its consequences in the refrain of a hymn that he wrote and published in 1905:
What will you do with Jesus? Neutral you cannot be; Someday your heart will be asking, “What will He do with me?”