Doesn’t it seem strange that the day Jesus was crucified would be called “Good Friday”? Does it seem stranger still that Christians call it “Good Friday”? On that Friday which we commemorate, Jesus was stripped, spit upon, beaten, mocked and finally nailed hands and feet to a cross where He died. It was a horrible experience, a gruesome spectacle. How could anyone who cared anything about Jesus say such a thing about such an awful day in His life?
In all four Gospel accounts (records of the life and ministry of Jesus) we are told about a man named Barabbas who was incarcerated at the same time as Jesus. Barabbas was not a good man. He had been arrested for being part of an insurrection wherein people were murdered. Apparently, he had a long rap sheet. Barabbas was sitting on death row with two other condemned men. These three men knew that Friday morning they would be led to a familiar hill just outside of town to be crucified.
Suddenly and unexpectedly Jesus, the renowned Rabbi, was arrested and thrown in with these prisoners. Pilate, the official in charge of Jesus’ case, knew from the beginning that the religious leaders who brought Jesus to him wanted Him put to death. In an attempt to avoid crucifying a man in whom he could find no fault (Luke 23:21), Pilate appealed to the crowd gathered in the street. He offered to release one of the prisoners and gave them what surely seemed like a no-brainer to him. He offered to release to them either Barabbas or Jesus. Even more obvious than the goodness of Jesus was the guilt of Barabbas. Jesus was famous; Barabbas was infamous.
To Pilate’s utter shock, the crowd chose Barabbas. As if to double-check their response, he asked what they wanted him to do with Jesus. They shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify Him!” So, he did.
Scripture doesn’t tell us how aware the prisoners were of the transaction with Pilate and the people in the street. I imagine they were close enough to hear the crowd, but not Pilate speaking to the crowd. Think about that for a moment. From inside his cell Barabbas heard the crowd shout his name. Can’t you see him perk up? “What’s this about,” he thinks. But the next thing he heard was the crowd chanting, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” He could not have been prepared for what happened next.
A guard came in, unshackled him, led him outside and said “Get out of here; you’re free.” Perhaps it was minutes later, hours later, or days later that he heard the rest of the story. But no one ever understood the goodness of “Good Friday” like Barabbas. In a literal and physical way Jesus took his place on the cross that day. Barabbas is a symbol of all sinners.
Get in Barabbas’ shoes and you can appreciate the goodness of Good Friday better. Those shoes probably fit much better than you would like to think. What is good about Good Friday is that Jesus took my place on the cross that day. I was the one under a death sentence for my sins (Romans 3:23; 6:23 ). The Gospel message (the Good News) is this: Jesus, who was tempted in every way just like you and I, unlike you and I, was consistently victorious over those temptations; and in His unique purity, Jesus paid for all our moral failures ( Hebrews 4:15; 2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 3:8 ).
It is truly a tragic thing that the Son of God was so mistreated, was subject to such injustice. Jesus did not suffer and die for nothing. He died for us. And you and I are not nothing! If you have been mistreated, He knows what that’s like. If you have suffered injustice, He knows what that is like. He has identified with our experience. He didn’t consider Himself above that (Philippians 2:5-8 ).
Sin is a Bible term with which many people are quite uncomfortable today. It means we have failed to do the will of God. Sin is what is wrong with our world. If none of us sinned, this planet would be heavenly. Most of us can be riled about the sins of other people, sinners who sin much worse than we.
Jesus calls all of us to be honest with ourselves and honest with God about our sinner status. His mission was not to condemn us but to save us. Following the popular verse John 3:16 are these words from Jesus: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him” (John 3:17). That is what Jesus did on Good Friday!
Near the end of his life, John Newton, author of the song Amazing Grace, said, “Though my memory is failing, I remember two things very clearly: I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Savior.” God would have us recognize both of these truths, too. May God enable us to see, embrace, and celebrate the goodness of Good Friday.
(All Scriptures are from the New International Version.)