Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth for blasphemy against Israel’s God and insurrection against the Roman Empire. Only in light of God’s act of raising Jesus back to life again on Easter morning, can Good Friday be called “good.” It is “good” only in view of the part it played in God’s plan to reconcile the world to himself in Christ (2 Cor 5:18-20) and because it demonstrated the depths of divine love (Romans 5:1-11). The cross of Christ is, as Paul never tires of saying, something in which to glory—an irony indeed because crucifixion was designed to shame the victim to the extreme measure. There is much to ponder in this reversal. However, on this Good Friday I found myself thinking of another divine revelation made known in the events of that day.
On the first Good Friday, God displayed his wrath on the world and pronounced his judgment on all flesh. In the persons of Judas the betrayer, Peter the coward, the Jewish religious leaders, and the Roman Empire, all humanity betrayed, rejected, denied, and murdered the Messiah and the Son of God. Whereas the Jewish leaders and the Roman Empire acted to judge and condemn Jesus, in fact they judged and condemned themselves. In their act of judicial murder, God revealed the corruption and futility of all human efforts, religious and political, to bring about salvation. Democratic politics can do this no better than Imperial politics. The Christian religion will fail just as the Jewish religion failed. Coercion will not work. Nor will persuasion.
Every new generation thinks it can do what no other generation has been able to do: If we evangelize the world, the Kingdom of God will be established! If we put all our energies into social causes, we can create a world of justice, love, and peace. Just one more war, one more revolution, one more election, one more treaty, one more freedom achieved, one more scientific advance…. But the glorious future never arrives. It never will.
Good Friday stands as the definitive refutation of optimism in human capacity for goodness. When the very embodiment of justice, love, and peace—indeed the exact image of God—appeared on earth, the “best” of men condemned him to death. They still do.