What’s so good about Good Friday anyway? The day was preceded by betrayal, denial, abandonment, and conspiracy. It ended in mob rule and the execution of a righteous man—the one the ancient Israelites hoped would break the shackles of oppressive Roman rule. Their king hung on a cross meant to bring shame, not something to celebrate.
The day was a disappointment on so many levels. Closest friendships were undone, human frailties unmasked and the corruption of institutions laid bare. The religious establishment recruited false witnesses and manipulated the state to carry out a death sentence. On Sunday he was cheered by an adoring crowd, but on Friday he was met with anger and a crown of thorns. And the state failed to protect the life of an innocent man.
Yet, death did not have the final word that day. Courage overcame fear, conviction overcame faithlessness and sacrifice won over self-preservation. The greatest act of love swallowed up the greatest act of evil in order to reconcile sinners to a holy God. Out of the ashes of mankind’s treachery came a resurrection three days later and history was turned on its head.
The West has been greatly influenced by Christianity. Biblical principles such as the Golden Rule and loving your neighbor as yourself have permeated society. Biblical metaphors fill our conversations, Scriptures are etched on public buildings and church steeples rise within and above most American cities.
Yet despite Good Friday, and the underpinnings of our republic, we move in a direction of fierce autonomy made possible by secularism that pushes back against anything that encroaches on personal passions and desires. Academia and the entertainment elite most often lead the way in this battle of what boils down to who shall be God and the arbiter of public morals and acceptable conduct
Rome’s Caesar demanded obedience by burning incense as an act of worship while modern Caesars impose sanctions on those refusing to bow to public policy that violates their conscience.
Good Friday is a reminder that there is an authority above the state. After all, Jesus’ silence angered Pilate leading him to say, “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?” Jesus felt this demanded a response so he replied, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above.”
The state isn’t the ultimate authority.
Jesus’ followers, while respectful of temporal rule, owe their ultimate allegiance to him. They emulate him in giving up their selfish desires for something greater. They are called to love their enemies, bless those who curse, and pray for those who persecute them. They are to be reconcilers, peacemakers, and healers. They often miss the mark, but a society populated by adherents filled with love and kindness and doing acts of charity build places worth living in. We could use more of this in an age of war and conflict.
Christian apologist Ravi Zacharius tells a story of meeting with one of the founders of the terrorist group Hamas. They were talking of the possibility of peace in the Middle East and Ravi pointed to the story of Abraham, whom Jews, Christians and Muslims all claim as their father. God told Abraham to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. As the knife was coming down, God stopped him and provided a ram. Some 3000 years later, God gave his own son to be the sacrifice. That time he didn’t stop the knife. Zacharius said “until you and I receive the Son that God has provided, we will be offering our own sons and daughters on the battlefields of this world for land and power and pride.”
This is the good news on Good Friday.
Richard Nelson is the executive director of the Commonwealth Policy Center, a nonprofit public policy organization. He resides in Cadiz with his family.