Why do we call Good Friday ‘good’? Because Easter Sunday proves that what Jesus accomplished at the cross is “good news” for all who believe and trust in him. We read in the Bible that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:8, 16); Good Friday proves it.
Some junior school children were asked to define what love is… Here are a few of my favourite responses:
- “When my grandma got arthritis”, said Rebecca aged 8, “she couldn’t bend over to paint her toenails anymore. So my granddad does it for her now all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s what love is.”
- Elaine, age 5, said, “Love is when mummy gives daddy the best piece of chicken.”
- Kari age 5, “Love is when a girl puts on perfume and a boy puts on aftershave and they go out and smell each other!”
Q: I wonder if you have ever been head-over-heals in love: maybe when you first met your husband or wife (if you are married).
Q: Do you remember when you were first courting or dating each other; how did you demonstrate your love for each other?
If you have ever experienced that all-encompassing kind of love for another person you’ll remember how it felt. You’d have done anything for them. They were constantly on your mind and you just couldn’t wait to be together. You were always looking for ways to please them – little gifts or notes to show that you care, always wanting to shower them with presents and spend as much as time as you could together. Maybe you had your own song or secret pet name for each other. (Suzanne used to call me “Froggy” or “Frog”, not because I ‘Fully Relied On God’ and not because I was green and slimy! but because on our first date I bought some frog shaped cakes or biscuits to eat!) Of course, you always knew deep down that the other person wasn’t perfect… but in your eyes they were perfect! Despite their faults and blemishes and imperfections, and their slightly larger than usual nose, you loved them with a passion; you loved them unconditionally.
That’s how God loves us: God loves us unconditionally. In fact, the most loving act and the purest demonstration of love in all eternity is described in Romans 5:8, and in this one verse we have the Gospel in miniature: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Here is the whole of the gospel in a sentence. Romans 5:8 tell us that:
- God loves us and wants us to be in relationship with him.
- We are sinners who need to be rescued, forgiven before we can be reconciled, before we can enjoy a relationship with God.
- We can’t grant our own forgiveness or rescue ourselves, nor can we do anything to earn our own salvation… so God does it for us.
- God sent his Son to die in our place and take away our sin. That’s how much he loves us; how he demonstrates his love for us.
Let’s unpack Romans 5:8 and look at the verse in more detail by breaking it down into three sections:
- God demonstrates his love for us.
- While we were still sinners.
- Christ died for us.
God demonstrates his love for us
First off then, God demonstrates his own love for us: We looked a moment ago at how we, often, demonstrate our love for others: By caring for them, by putting them before our own needs, by being kind and considerate, by giving them gifts etc. Jesus said, “Greater love has no-one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). That’s how God demonstrates his love for us: God sent his Son to die for us – for all mankind – to pay the price for our sin.
Ernest Gordon was the author of the book “Miracle on the River Kwai”, later turned into a well-known film. The book is based on his own personal experiences as a Japanese POW during WWII and his forced labour on the infamous Burma Railroad over the River Kwai.
In his book there is an account of a particular incident, which had a profound effect on Ernest Gordon and also on many of the other prisoners. One day while working on the railway a shovel went missing. The Japanese officer in charge became enraged. He demanded that the missing shovel be produced! When none of the prisoners budged, the officer got his gun and threatened to kill them all on the spot. From their previous experience of this officer it was obvious he meant what he said. Then, finally, one man stepped forward. The officer killed him in front of the other prisoners. Afterwards the survivors carried his body with them to the second tool check and head count. This time there was no shovel missing. It turned out there had been a miscount at the first checkpoint! The word spread like wildfire throughout the whole camp. An innocent man had been willing to die to save the others! – Ernest Gordon was reminded of Jesus – who willingly died to save others, to save us from our sins… God demonstrates his own love for us in this.
While we were still sinners…
Let’s turn to the second section of our verse says, “While we were still sinners…”
While we were still sinners: these are truly amazing words. God sent Jesus to die for us, not because we were good enough, but because He loved us. Friends, if you ever feel uncertain about God’s love for you, then remember this: He loved you before you ever turned to him. If He loved you then – when you were a rebel – most surely He loves you now, if or when you also love him too.
The author, Max Lucado, put it like this: “If God had a refrigerator, your picture would be on it. If He had a wallet, your photo would be in it. He sends you flowers every spring and a sunrise every morning. Whenever you want to talk, He’ll listen. He can live anywhere in the universe, but He chose your heart. And what about the Christmas gift He sent you at Bethlehem? Not to mention that Friday at Calvary. Face it, He’s crazy about you!”
‘But how can God love me, I am so unworthy?’ some people ask.
‘There are far better people than I am, so why me?’
‘But I have done so many wrong things in my life. I am so un-loveable; why would God ever love me or forgive me?’
Can you see that to say such things is really to negate what God has done? To say that we are not good enough is exactly right, we’re not, and that is exactly the point… it is ‘while we were still sinners’; unworthy, unrighteous people, enemies of God even… it is while we were in the wrong that God demonstrates His love for us. It is all about what He has done for us, not we have or haven’t done.
Just why God chooses to love us, when we are so un-loveable, is perhaps one of the greatest mysteries in the universe but then, it’s not for us to always understand why. That’s God’s territory, His sovereign domain, but one thing is for certain: God’s choosing to love us is not because anyone deserves it! Why God loves us is not so nearly as important, though, as the fact that He does indeed love us, and God demonstrates his love for us in sending Jesus to die in our place, as an act of propitiation; to pay for our sin; to be our substitute. The only part we get to play is to accept this free gift by faith and with gratitude. In fact, we should be so grateful that God chooses sinners like us, that we live out the rest of our lives with an attitude of gratitude, which overflows in our love for God and for his church.
‘While we were still sinners’ – there is also such freedom in these words! We were powerless (Romans 5:.6); we could do nothing so God does it for us. We simply cannot do anything and here is the liberating truth, the freedom… we don’t have to do anything – just accept and believe. You see, we are not, and never can be, saved because we are worthy or because of our good works – it is ‘while we were still sinners’ that Christ died for us.
1 Peter 3:18 tells us, “Christ died for sins once and for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.”
Martin Luther put it this way: “Our most merciful Father…sent his only Son into the world and laid upon him…the sins of all men saying: Be thou Peter that denier – Paul that persecutor, blasphemer and cruel oppressor – David that adulterer – that sinner which did eat the apple in Paradise – that thief which hanged upon the cross – and briefly be thou the person which hath committed the sins of all men; see therefore that thou pay and satisfy for them. Here now comes the law and saith: I find him a sinner…therefore let him die upon the cross. And so he setteth upon him and killeth him. By this means the whole world is purged and cleansed from all sins.”
Christ died for us
Briefly, and finally, the third part of Romans 5:8 tells us: “Christ died for us” [for you and for me]… and that’s what is so good about Good Friday. That’s the gospel, the good news. God has not waited for us to take the first step back to him but He has intervened in an act of pure grace to provide us with Jesus: ‘the Way’ for us to come back to Him.
Why do we call Good Friday ‘good’? Because Easter Sunday proves that what Jesus accomplished at the cross is “good news” for all who believe and trust in him. Just before Jesus took his last breath he said, “It is finished” – not ‘I am finished!’ It was job done not game over! Good Friday would not be “good” if it were not followed by Easter Sunday. Remember things didn’t look good at the crucifixion but hold on… it might be Friday but SUNDAY IS COMING!
(For further resources see Sacrifice , and How can one man’s death on a cross 200 years ago possible affect me?