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Why is Good Friday... "Good"?

Why is Good Friday Good

Have you ever wondered when people began to call Good Friday “good”? There are many adjectives to choose from, so how did we land there? It could have, theoretically been called, “Tragic Friday,” “Suffering Friday,” “Dark Friday,” or even as a program my daughters were watching a couple days back referred to it as, “the Long, Sad Friday.” But it isn’t ordinarily called any of those. When did Good Friday become Good Friday and why? 

When we think of Good Friday, we consider the agonies of the cross, which were twofold. We dwell upon the ferocity and bloodlust of fallen men who hated the Light, lest their deeds be exposed, and sought to murder the very One who came to save what was His own. We consider their lies, blatant false testimonies, manipulation, and the torture that followed. 

But then there’s that which we cannot begin to even comprehend––not in the slightest. Is 53:10 begins, “But Yahweh was pleased To crush Him, putting Him to grief.” It pleased the Father to crush the Son. Verse 5 says, “He was crushed for our iniquities,” which is the reason for the Father’s action. 

Jesus said to Peter in John 18:10, “The cup which the Father has given Me, shall I not drink it?” Jesus came to drink the cup of Yahweh, the crushing cup of wrath, bearing in His body the impartial judgment for all sins for all time for those who would come to Him by faith. The effect of this is both seen and described in Is 52:14, “Just as many were appalled at you, My people, So His appearance was marred more than any man And His form more than the sons of men.” Jesus’ appearance in His suffering, made Him unrecognizable. 

In Jesus’ death, we see the cost of sin. Sin isn’t some small inconvenience, it isn’t just a whoopsie that can be simply forgotten. It cost the life of God’s beloved, only begotten Son. And it wasn’t a peaceful death, walking down the primrose path. He suffered beyond what even the most tortured martyr in church history can ever begin to comprehend. 

When we think of Good Friday, we think of the scourging, the thorns, the nails, the blood, the cross, and rightfully so. So when did the adjective “good” start to be used concerning this day? 

Since the term Good Friday isn't used in Scripture, we are off on a journey looking through the annals of historical records, and surprisingly, there’s less to be found there than I would have expected. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing to be found. First, we will consider the establishment of the practice, second, we will consider the name Good Friday itself, and finally, we will consider the reason for its celebration. 

According to Encyclopedia Britannica¹, the eleventh edition, which was published in 1910, “Prior to the 4th century there is no evidence of non-celebration of the eucharist² on Good Friday; but after that date the prohibition of communion became common. In Spain, indeed, it became customary to close the churches altogether as a sight of mourning; but this practice was condemned by the council of Toledo (633).” This quote is helpful, in as much as, we can see that there was a time of remembrance that was established in the church that goes back to the 200s AD, where the Lord’s Table was partaken by local churches in remembrance of what Jesus accomplished on Good Friday. 

Also worth mentioning, T.P. Gilmartin³ references how both Irenaeus and Tertullian noted the church gathering on Friday with reference to a feast. The feast is interpreted by some as a fast. But you can understand the celebration of communion on such a day. 

One could argue that it was the normative practice of the early church to celebrate Good Friday. In the Encyclopedia Britannica¹, there’s a connection that’s made between the church gathering on Good Friday with the practice of the Passover.

That’s not difficult to understand or far-fetched. In John 19:14, we read, “Now it was the day of Preparation for the Passover; it was about the sixth hour. And he said to the Jews, ‘Behold, your King!’” Jesus was crucified on the day when the Passover was prepared and celebrated by the Jewish people. The connection is right there. Such that Paul would write to a primarily Gentile church in 1 Cor 5:7–8, “Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. For Christ, our Passover lamb, also was sacrificed. Therefore let us celebrate the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” Christ is the Passover Lamb, not only for the Jewish people who were accustomed to celebrating the Passover. No, He is the Passover for all who place their faith in Him regardless of their ethnic background, social status, job title, educational accolades, or any of that. 

In Ex 12, we are first introduced to the Passover, though it has already been foreshadowed even back in the garden with God sacrificing an animal to cover Adam and Eve. The Passover is associated with the final plague that would be poured out upon the land of Egypt, which was also the most severe. It was the death of the firstborn sons of the families who did not celebrate the Passover. 

Moses and Aaron commanded the Israelites who were slaves in Egypt to take a year-old lamb and after slaughtering it at twilight, they were to spread its blood on their doorposts and on the lintel of their houses. Their houses would be covered and marked out by blood. In verses 12–13, the Lord says, “And I will go through the land of Egypt on that night and will strike down all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, both man and beast; and against all the gods of Egypt I will execute judgments—I am Yahweh. And the blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and I will see the blood, and I will pass over you, and there shall be no plague among you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt.”

The lamb that each family would take would be slain in their place. The death of the lamb meant that God’s wrath would pass over the homes that listened to His word. And that’s exactly what took place. Verses 29–30, “Now it happened at midnight that Yahweh struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. Then Pharaoh arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians, and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead.”

And of course, understanding this background allows John the Baptist's words to burst with significance. John 1:29 reads, “On the next day, he saw Jesus coming to him and said, 'Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!'" Jesus is the Lamb of God, who takes away sins. The blessed ramification of which, all who take refuge in Him, trusting in God’s provision, as Israel did in the past, wrath and punishment will pass over them. Christ is our Passover. 

It’s not at all difficult to see how the early church would continue to celebrate on the day of the Passover, but not looking back to the day that God delivered His people physically from Egypt, as monumental as that event was, but instead, looking back to the day when God delivered His people forevermore from His righteous wrath, through the sufficient sacrifice of His Son, Jesus, in our place. As the church went out and boldly preached the gospel in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and even to the end of the earth, it isn’t difficult to see this practice and celebration being passed on over time.  

While there’s no command to celebrate this day, Good Friday, in Scripture, that doesn’t mean it’s wrong to do so. The church celebrated this day in the 200s AD, but it may have done so since its inception. 

Now, to the name itself, Good Friday. Good Friday might not even be the original name––in fact, I don’t believe it is. It’s helpful to note at the outset here that there are different languages involved as well as different time periods in this conversation. Some argue that the name is originally German, others appeal to Latin, and still others, English. Gilmartin³ spoke about how the Romance Languages historically refer to the day as "Holy Friday." Some, as he goes on, have referred to it as "God’s Friday," which appears less likely and still others, "the Long Friday." That’s not exhaustive. To some it’s known as "Black Friday" or "Mourning Friday," particularly in present-day Germany. 

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, “The earliest known use of the noun Good Friday is in the Middle English period (1150—1500). OED's earliest evidence for Good Friday is from around 1300, in St. John Evangelist.” Good Friday could have been used earlier than that, but that’s as far as the record goes at present. The word good itself, in this context, appears to have originally meant holy. That would give precedent to many languages referring to the day as “Holy Friday,” which does seem to me to be the origin.

Having said that, even if it is the case, that Good Friday is really "Holy Friday," it does not change what I think about the day, nor do I think that it should for you. It is a holy day. It is a good day. While holiness and goodness are not one and the same, they are inextricably linked in this case. 

And that brings us to the why. Why is Good Friday… good? Well, I alluded to the reason already, but we’ve been circling in a bit of a holding pattern––no longer. Regardless of when Good Friday began to be celebrated as such, Good Friday became Good Friday, when Jesus laid down His life as He said that He would in John 10:17–18. It was the Friday when the Son of God, for the joy set before Him, endured the cross. And Jesus, on the cross, suffered as a substitute, that which we deserved to bear eternally for breaking the standard of our perfectly holy, Triune God. Jesus was forsaken in time so that we will not be forsaken forevermore. And it is because of the death of death, in the death of Christ, as Owen puts it, that we have, as Bunyan declares, “life, life, eternal life!” 

Paul explains in Rom 5:6–8 why Good Friday is Good Friday without ever using those exact words. He writes “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” 

Good Friday is Good Friday, because of the effect of what took place on that day. Without Jesus’ death on the cross, without God’s love… There is no hope for anybody. If God did not show forth His love toward mankind, if He didn’t show forth His mercy and His grace, then our ever-present expectation would be judgment and sentencing. 

Paul says it’s while we were weak, that Christ died. That word is used in the Bible to speak of sickness, physical weakness, and by the false apostles to speak of Paul’s unimpressive presence in person. Yet, none of those are the way the word is used here. Weakness here speaks to inability. The inability isn’t concerning physical matters, but spiritual ones. Left unto ourselves, we are unable to be the people God has called us to be, and this forms the backdrop that will give way to the glories of this day in history. 

In case there’s any question about the way Paul is using this word, consider the beginning of Rom 5:8, where Paul says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners.” While we were weak and while we were sinners are related. While we were Eph 2:1, unable in our deadness in sin, at the predetermined time in God’s plan, that’s when Good Friday occurred. It happened not a day too early and not a day too late. 

And this verse is unthinkable. Were it not written, we would never believe it. God is holy, holy, holy… His perfection is incalculable, His wisdom is unsearchable, and His righteousness is incomprehensible. And, the King, Yahweh of hosts… whose eyes are too pure to see evil, looked down and had mercy, such mercy on such great sinners. 

Paul says that Christ, God’s own Son, died for the ungodly. He died for that which rejected Him and opposed Him. When there was nothing we could do, we were unable, ungodly, and His opposite… Jesus died for us. For the saint, that reality is stunning, it’s mind-boggling, it’s overwhelming, as David says, “My cup overflows.” For all the days of eternity, we will revel in and marvel at the wonders of this statement. We'll never outgrow it or move past it.

It's after considering what Christ did in a moment in time that Paul continues the line of thought in expounding upon the sheer compelling nature of what Jesus has done. Verse 7, “For one will hardly die for a righteous man, though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die.” 

In 1 Sam 18–20, we see an example of this love. Jonathan loved David as his own soul. Because of this, Jonathan spoke up for David before his father, Saul, and put his life on the line. Saul sought to murder his son in a rage about David not being at dinner, seeing that his son had aligned himself with David. Jonathan survived due to Saul’s bad aim, but he would have been willing to die for David. He demonstrated it.

In a related, more recent direction, many heroic individuals have jumped on grenades in battle to save those around them, most have lost their lives. But, they did it to save others. Even Jesus said in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” 

It is so rare, extremely rare, that one will lay down his or her life for another. It does happen, but it doesn’t happen often. And it happens in one direction. People don’t go out of their way to die for those who are evil. Those who were oppressed severely in the 20th century by evil dictators, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao… weren’t seeking to die for those men, instead, they wanted them gone.

And that’s when we have the whiplash of verse 8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” And the heart breaks in awe. How is that possible? We were Jesus’ enemies! Paul says in verse 10, “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” It’s simply unfathomable. As Charles Wesley considered and rejoiced, “And can it be that I should gain An int'rest in the Savior's blood? Died He for me, who caused His pain? For me, who Him to death pursued? Amazing love! how can it be That Thou, my God, should die for me?” 

We weren’t neutral toward God. We were ungodly. We weren’t innocent. We were sinners. We were rebels against the One who made us. We were the causes of the cross. We were sinners like Judas, who betrayed the One who showed benevolence toward us. We were sinners like Gehazi, who preferred what this world has to offer over the One who made the world. We’re sinners like Pilate, who feared and loved men more than God. We were condemned and rightfully so. But Christ died for sinners. 

When you think of the cross, and you think of all that occurred, all that Jesus suffered… He went through it for you. And see God’s love break forth over the horizon. He didn’t die for you with your Sunday's best on, with your hair done up, with your shoes polished, no. He died for you when you were dead as a doornail, in vile, abject rebellion against Him. 

When Jesus was on that cross, He died for you, knowing that in just under 2000 years you would be born, knowing all the ways you would sin against Him and deny Him, knowing all the ways you would serve the god of this world… and knowing all that He knows, He died for you. Oh friend, be filled with amazement when you consider the cross. Be brought low by the God who loves the undeserving, the unworthy, the dregs of this earth so much, that He sent that which is most costly and precious, to succumb to the consequence of the fall, that you might be made part of His family, and seated at His table forevermore. 

And if you aren’t part of God’s family, don’t believe that God’s arm is too short to save. You’ve seen it here, Jesus came to save sinners. Charles Spurgeon pleaded, “You will say, ‘Oh, I am one of the worst in the world.’ Christ died for the worst in the world. ‘Oh, but I have no power to be better.’ Christ died for those that were without strength. ‘Oh, but my case condemns itself.’ Christ died for those that legally are condemned. ‘Ay, but my case is hopeless.’ Christ died for the hopeless. He is the hope of the hopeless. He is the Savior not of those partly lost, but of the wholly lost.”  

So… why is it called Good Friday? It’s because of what the Lord Jesus Christ did on the cross for sinners. It is such a good day. It is a holy day. It is a solemn day. It’s a day of worship and marveling at the love of God. It’s good because as Keith Getty and Stuart Townsend wrote, “... On that cross as Jesus died The wrath of God was satisfied For every sin on Him was laid Here in the death of Christ I live, I live.”

¹ “Good Friday.” The Encyclopaedia Britannica: Gichtel-Harmonium. Vol. 11. New York: University Press, 1910, 237–238.

² Eucharist, which speaks of giving thanks, was a term used regularly in the early church. In the context here, it is defined as communion in the latter portion of the sentence. For more information on the views of the early church concerning the Lord’s table, please read “Did the Early Church Teach Transubstantiation?”

³ Gilmartin, Thomas. "Good Friday." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 6. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1909. 


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