For the longest time, I did not understand how this particular Friday could be labeled as good.
To be beaten, flogged and scourged to nearly unrecognizable;
to have a crown of thorns pressed into my head;
to be nailed to a tree with spikes through my wrists and feet;
to die by crucifixion alongside common criminals…
No. None of this, I’ve imagined, could be good if I would have had to experience it.
I didn’t have to, but I knew Jesus had experienced it all.
How could it be that we’d wind up called this a “good” kind of Friday when He had to go through that?
I attended a Presbyterian church as a child. Church was something we did on Sundays, and during my high school years, I also attended a youth group during most weeks. I was raised with good morals. We were taught to do the right thing, to fear and respect authority, to pray before dinner and bedtime, and to be good people.
Sunday mornings at church were almost the same each week. Being there wasn’t the most enjoyable part of my week, but there were two particular services I especially looked forward to each year: the 11 p.m. Christmas Eve Candlelight Service and the solemn Good Friday service.
The Good Friday church service was also known as the Tenebrae Service. “Tenebrae” is a Latin word meaning “shadows” or “darkness.” This service was different from any other during the Christian year because it was supposed to be very solemn. There were a few quiet hymns, readings about the events leading up to Christ being nailed on the cross, and sober readings from the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) about Jesus’ time on the cross.
Much of the Tenebrae Service was done in dim light or candle light. Following the readings, the chancel area in the front of the church was stripped of the Bible, the offering plates, and the gold cup and plate. The candles were extinguished and the gold candlesticks were removed, and the cloths that covered the front table and pulpits were taken away. All of this was done in silence. Everyone would sit in complete silence while observing these items being removed from their places in the church.
Then, we’d leave in silence. The lights were turned up just enough for us to see, but we’d all leave in silence. Complete silence. There were no greetings, no hugs, no handshakes, no well-wishes to one another. There was no Reverend to greet us as we’d make our way out the door. We’d just walk back the aisle, down the steps, out the door, and we’d get into our car to go home. The silence even continued in the car.
I think this service touched me in some way, because it seemed to contain emotion. I remember often being bored with the monotony of Sunday services. The hymns, messages and sermons varied each week, but the order was always the same. I don’t remember feeling much joy or worship-filled emotion about the services unless we’d sing something like “Go Tell it on the Mountain,” “Alleluia,” or “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
The Tenebrae Service did have emotion. I felt the emotion, even though it wasn’t full of joy. The service always felt mournful. It felt dark and without light – a mere glimpse of what it must have been on that crucifixion day two thousand years ago.
Jesus was nailed to the cross in the morning at about 9 a.m.** after enduring questioning, a trial and brutal beatings. Once that cross was set into place, He hung there until noon, at which point the skies overhead darkened. The darkness lasted for three hours, and around 3 p.m., Jesus cried out amid His suffering and suffocation to proclaim, “Tetelestai!” before giving up his spirit and breath of life.
It was finished.
Most of us automatically equate the “it is finished” to His life, since, just moments afterward, His life was over on this particular Friday afternoon – the day we commemorate in remembrance as “Good Friday.” However, the “it is finished!” was much more than just a part of the final words he uttered in the final moments of His life before giving over his life and spirit. The “it is finished!” was His “paid in full” proclamation regarding our sin.
He paid the ultimate price by taking the sins of all mankind – the past, present and future sins of the past, present and future mankind – upon himself and shedding His own blood to redeem us in exchange for Himself. The ransom price was paid, and the salvation plan was now complete. He had completed the will of God and the will of the Father.
That’s where the “Good” comes in. He suffered for us. He demonstrated his self-sacrificing love for us and for our wrongdoings by dying for us (Romans 5:8). What He did for us once, does not have to be repeated by all of us (1 Peter 3:18) in order for us to live eternally in His presence (John 3:16).
For the longest time, I didn’t understand how His death could be “good” and recognized as “Good Friday.” I knew He died for us, but I guess I just didn’t fully grasp that He died for ME.
About 13 years ago, I went to a new church. On my first visit to this church there was a song sung by the congregation which stood out to me. I didn’t know it, so I didn’t sing it. I just listened. I didn’t understand what the words meant, but that song awakened something within me.
The song was Above All. The words which resonated with me were:
“…crucified, laid behind the stone.”
I understood this.
“…lived to die, rejected and alone.”
What did this mean?
Ok, He died on that cross, but what did it mean that he “lived to die?”
“…You took the fall and thought of me above all.”
Me? Me?!? What did that mean?
What did I have to do with what He did?
I didn’t get it, but I was curious.
I’ll never forget those words. An awakening within me had begun. I had come to that new church with questions, but now – after only one visit – there was an even bigger question burning within my mind…and in my heart. It was one that would lead to knowing what He did for ME, and one that would lead to me knowing HIM personally.
That’s what is good about Good Friday.
He died for US.
He died for ME.
If He died for us, and if He died for me, then he also died for YOU.
That’s what is good about Good Friday.
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**Notes about the times of day:
The Gospel of Mark uses “the third hour” to designate when Jesus was crucified or put on the cross. This would have been 9 a.m. (Mark 15:25). Mark then goes on to say that at “the sixth hour,” darkness came over the land (Mark 15:33). This would be noon or 12 p.m. In Mark 15:34, we are told that Jesus cried out in the ninth hour, at 3 p.m., and then, shortly afterwards, took his last breath (Mark 15:37).
The Gospels of Matthew and Luke use similar time designations (see Matthew 27:45 and Luke 23:44). This way of calculating time was based on the Jewish method, where 6 a.m. would have been the first hour of the day, so noon would have been the sixth hour and 3 p.m. would have been the ninth hour. It is believed the Gospel of John, which presents a different time for the start of the crucifixion, used a Roman method of time calculation, which would have started the day at midnight (John 19:14). There could have, however, been a three-hour period of time between his sentencing before Pilate (sixth hour) and time Jesus spent under the charge of the soldiers, time spent carrying his cross (John 19:17) and arriving at Golgotha where the crucifixion took place.
Various commentaries show a consistency in these interpretations of time. I’ve used Sonic Light, The Bible Knowledge Commentary (see my Recommendations page on the last tab above) and Got Questions for my sources in this post.