As a child I never could figure out why we called it Good Friday. The story of Jesus’ crucifixion seemed anything but good; in fact, it seemed absolutely horrible. My reaction tended to be similar to the response someone might have to a tragic secular narrative: “Did it have to end this way? Oh, if only Jesus and his disciples hadn’t gone to the garden of Gethsemane the previous night! If only Judas hadn’t betrayed him! If only Pilate hadn’t condemned him!”
It shames me to admit this now, because I was clearly missing the story of salvation, the entire reason why Christ came into the world. The apostle John counters this notion with parenthetical notes in his Gospel that Jesus knew “all that would happen to him” (18:4) and “that all was now finished” (19:28).
One of the themes throughout John’s gospel is “that you [the reader] also may believe.” After he describes Jesus’ death, John comments:
He who saw it has borne witness—his testimony is true, and he knows that he is telling the truth—that you also may believe. For these things took place that the Scripture might be fulfilled: ‘Not one of his bones will be broken.’ And again another Scripture says, ‘They will look on him whom they have pierced.’
–John 19:35-37 (ESV)
Here the apostle clearly shows that nothing about Jesus’ arrest, condemnation, and crucifixion was accidental; each event transpired to fulfill all of the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament. In the gospel of Luke, the risen Christ explains the fulfillment of these prophecies to his despairing disciples:
‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, ‘Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’
–Luke 24:44-48 (ESV)
What is amazing about this passage is that Christ himself explicitly refers to the psalms as prophecies about the Messiah. As we remember the Lord’s death today, I’d like to point you to one of the most powerful messianic passages in all of Scripture: Psalm 22. As you read the excerpts below, think back to the events of the Crucifixion. Seeing these prophecies so powerfully fulfilled, we ought to be inspired to declare with the centurion, “Truly this was the son of God!” (Matt. 27:54).
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint;
my heart is like wax;
it is melted within my breast;
my strength is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to my jaws;
you lay me in the dust of death.
For dogs encompass me;
a company of evildoers encircles me;
they have pierced my hands and feet—
I can count all my bones—
they stare and gloat over me;
they divide my garments among them,
and for my clothing they cast lots.
But you, O Lord, do not be far off!
O you my help, come quickly to my aid!
None of us can come close to fully comprehending the suffering Christ endured, and the wrath of God he bore for us. At the same time, however, Psalm 22 looks forward to deliverance—to Jesus’ resurrection from the dead and our redemption and eternal life.
I will tell of your name to my brothers;
in the midst of the congregation I will praise you:
You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you offspring of Jacob, glorify him,
and stand in awe of him, all you offspring of Israel!
For he has not despised or abhorred
the affliction of the afflicted,
and he has not hidden his face from him,
but has heard, when he cried to him.
All the ends of the earth shall remember
and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
shall worship before you.
For kingship belongs to the Lord,
and he rules over the nations.
All the prosperous of the earth eat and worship;
before him shall bow all who go down to the dust,
even the one who could not keep himself alive.
Posterity shall serve him;
it shall be told of the Lord to the coming generation;
they shall come and proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn,
that he has done it.
It has been pointed out, very appropriately I think, that the very last phrase of Psalm 22—“he has done it”—was paralleled in Jesus’ final words on the cross: “It is finished.” This moment was the climax of history, the culmination of God’s incomprehensible plan of salvation. As the Heidelberg Catechism explains it in Q&A 37:
This he did in order that,
by his suffering as the only atoning sacrifice,
he might set us free, body and soul,
from eternal condemnation,
and gain for us
and eternal life.
As we commemorate Good Friday, then, may our grief never stem merely from Christ’s suffering on the cross; may it grieve us more that it was our sins that put him there. But although we may grieve, this should also be an opportunity for us to offer our humble thanks to God for bringing about our salvation. In the powerful words of the old hymn:
What Thou, my Lord, hast suffered
Was all for sinners’ gain;
Mine, mine was the transgression,
But Thine the deadly pain.
Lo, here I fall, my Savior,
‘Tis I deserve Thy place;
Look on me with Thy favor,
Vouchsafe to me Thy grace.
What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend,
For this Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?
O make me Thine forever;
And should I fainting be,
Lord, let me never, never
Outlive my love to Thee.