Have you ever wondered why we call today “Good Friday”? From what I can tell, only English speaking countries call it “Good.” The Germans call it Karfreitag, which means, basically, “Mourning Friday.” Other languages call it “Holy Friday.” Perhaps we chose “good” because “holy” was already taken by Saturday.
But let’s take a closer look at Friday of holy week by reviewing what happened on Maundy Thursday (the subject of discussion for another time):
- Jesus shared his last supper with his disciples
- Judas betrayed Jesus to the ruling authorities
- Jesus cried out to God in the Garden of Gethsemane, asking to bypass the cross, but then relented to the will of his father in heaven. The disciples slept.
- Jesus was arrested like a criminal and appeared before the High Priest
- He was mocked and beaten
- Peter, one of Jesus’ closest friends, denied him three times
- Jesus was delivered to Pilate, then Herod, then back to Pilate, who found Jesus innocent—but then handed him over to be crucified
- The people who a week earlier were clamoring to crown him king were now shouting “Crucify Him!”
- Jesus was beaten and mocked.
Doesn’t sound like a good day. But then it gets worse for Jesus. On “Good” Friday:
- Jesus was forced to carry his cross to Golgotha, walking through crowds that mocked him, spit on him, and hurled stones at him
- He was then nailed to a cross between two criminals
- Hanging on the cross, Jesus was mocked by the people he sought to save
- He experienced abandonment by his father in heaven
- Jesus carried the sins of the world on his shoulders
- Then around 3pm, Jesus died
Doesn’t sound like much of a good Friday to me. In fact, if all of the above-mentioned actions were committed against me, I would pretty much consider it a Bad Friday. Or even Sad Friday. Mourning Friday makes more sense. So it doesn’t make sense calling it good.
Depending on how you define “good.”
Oh yes, one other thing occurred on Good Friday:
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom.
Matthew 27:50–51 (NIV)
The curtain in the temple is a reference to the veil separating the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. The Holy Place was the room that priests entered regularly to replenish the oil in the Golden Lampstand, supply fresh bread for the Table of Showbread, and furnish hot coals for the Altar of Incense.
The Holy of Holies contained one item: the Ark of the Covenant. The lid on the ark was called the Mercy Seat, which the Jews considered to be the throne of almighty God. Only one day a year, on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest entered the Holy of Holies. Usually, a rope was tied around one foot so if he was struck dead, the other priests could pull him outside without endangering themselves by enter God’s presence.
So a veil separated the two rooms. The curtain in Herod’s temple was 30 feet wide, 60 feet high, and 4 inches thick. It was so heavy that three hundred priests were reaquired to hang it from the ceiling.
For over a thousand years, a veil hung between the Holy Place and the Holy of Holies, separating a holy God from his sinful people.
When Jesus died, that veil was torn in two. The divide separating God from humanity was torn. Anyone can approach God in prayer without the assistance of a pastor or priest. Through Jesus’ death on the cross, we have been forgiven and granted access into God’s life-giving presence. And we need no longer live in fear of being struck dead when we encounter God!
Is that good news? No, that’s great news!
The reason for calling today “Good” Friday is a mystery. But Jesus’ death on Good Friday is great news for all of us.