It’s not enough to remember that Jesus died. It’s crucial, mind you, but not enough. Almost all reasonable historians agree that Jesus lived in Israel from 5 or 6 BC until 32 AD. They further agree that Jesus died by crucifixion. Christians especially remember Jesus’ death on “Good” Friday. Why do we call it “good” Friday? Why was it “good” that Jesus died? On the purely semantic level, wouldn’t Jesus’ enemies think it was “good” that he died? Isn’t that what the corrupt leadership in the Sanhedrin wanted? Isn’t that what Satan wanted?
You see, it’s not enough to remember that Jesus died. We have to remember what Jesus was doing by his dying for it to be good. An incomplete view of what Jesus did by dying robs his death of its goodness (read: greatness). So what was Jesus doing when he died? There are all kinds of answers to this question in the Bible. Let’s consider just a few as we prepare for “Good” Friday:
1. Jesus’ death was “for our sins.” As Paul said in his summary of the gospel in 1 Corinthians 15:3, “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures.” In 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul says, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin…” Peter said in 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree…” When Jesus was dying he was doing something about our sins. Don’t limit this to the corporate sins of Western Culture, or the cumulative effect of all sin. Jesus died for your sin. Don’t miss that it’s personal.
2. Jesus took upon himself our sins; he died as our representative. In so doing, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins. In Colossians 2:13-14 Paul describes how God makes sinners alive, “having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.” Jesus’ death paid the debt of our sin owed to God.
3. Because Jesus died for our sins, as our representative, he secures our forgiveness, righteous standing before God, and eternal blessing. In Hebrews 2:17 the author of Hebrews says that Jesus had to be like us “to make propitiation for the sins of the people.” A propitiation is a means of mercy as a wrath-satisfying sacrifice. Jesus himself said in Mark 10:45, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” He was the ransom paid for our forgiveness. Again in 2 Corinthians 5:21 Paul said, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” Jesus’ death makes us holy by making payment for our sin and providing righteousness for us.
4. Jesus’ death brings us healing and peace. Peter, as well, said in 1Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.” Peter quotes here from Isaiah 53:5, “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” In Romans 5:1 Paul says, “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
5. Jesus’ death displays God’s incredible love for us. In Romans 5:8 Paul reminds us that “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Paul says in Ephesians 2:4-5, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ…”
Jesus’ death was the culmination of God’s rescue plan for sinners. It was the completion and fulfillment of the sacrificial system established for Israel in the Old Testament. He died as our substitute, so that our sins could be forgiven and so that we could be declared righteous in God’s sight.
Let’s be explicit about what Jesus was doing when he was dying. Let’s talk about it as friends, family, and Christians. This Friday many will remember that Jesus died. Sadly, many will not remember what Jesus was doing when he was dying. If we miss what Jesus was doing when he died, we take the “good” right out of “good” Friday.