Each year Christians celebrate the day of their savior’s execution, and for some peculiar reason they call it “Good” Friday. At the insistence of his own people, Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at Calvary. A casual observation of the event certainly incites pity. The death of an unjust man is always a tragedy. It was not the first of its kind and likely would not be the last.
Where the death of Christ differs from others is the Bible’s claim that this was exactly what was supposed to happen. In his sermon at Pentecost Jesus’ disciple Peter declared, “This Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.” (Acts 2:23) Peter acknowledged his people’s evil intent, and their responsibility for it, but claimed a bigger plan was in place.
It is one thing to claim God willed Jesus to die—that’s hard enough to reconcile, but here is the scandal of Good Friday: the biblical claim is that this was done out of love.
The well-known biblical text, john 3:16, proclaims that the Father giving his son conveyed the full extent of this love. “God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only son.” Do we really need to believe that God would send his son to die in order to show us his love?
For many, such action by God is offensive and hardly praiseworthy. Before we promptly discard the Bible’s claim about the Father’s love, we would fare well to do a little self-examination. How do we define love? The transience that characterizes so many of our relationships reveals a pervasive narcissism. Love is an emotive-driven commodity we seek to purchase. If we are not satisfied, we expect our money back guaranteed. Moreover, love is often perceived as indifferent toleration, not passionate pursuit.
In the Bible we see God’s relentless pursuit of those who are not looking for him. A violent zealot named Saul was confronted with the living God while traveling to assail followers of Christ. The man who became Paul wrote one of the most splendid expositions of love recorded in 1 Corinthians 13.
The scriptures teach that God’s love is prior to ours. In his epistle John writes, “In this love, not that we loved God, but that he first love us and sent his son to be the propitiation for sins.” (1 John 4:10) We can only know what love is if we acknowledge its very source.
The cross challenges us to reorient our view of love. The death of Christ reveals a love more beautiful, pure and real than anything imaginable. We are confronted at Calvary where the dying savior is lifted up so that he will draw all people to himself.