The Good in Good Friday: A Holy Week Meditation

In Christianity’s seemingly upside-down economics, we call the death of our hero, our teacher, our miracle worker, and our God, ‘good.’ For outside observers, Good Friday is often just one more bit of evidence that Christianity doesn’t make any sense: “How could a cruel, gruesome, and unjust death be ‘good’ in any sense, especially for the central character?”

Of course, for those who come to the story through the lens of faith, the cruelty, gruesomeness and injustice of Jesus’ death break our hearts. The circumstances of Jesus’ death are by no means ‘good.’ Rather, the ‘good’ of Good Friday describes the loving will of Jesus to suffer these things on our behalf. The ‘good’ of Good Friday describes how on the Cross Jesus became our substitute, paying for our sin with his life so that we may receive full pardon before God Almighty.

Who would have known Jesus as substitute better than Barabbas?

I picture Barabbas sitting in his cell in chains, awaiting his execution. The cries of the courtyard crowd are muffled by the stone walls, but they sound more animated and angrier than he would have expected. After all, some still considered him a hero for killing the Roman soldier in the Insurrection. But now, faintly, he hears the mob calling his name, “Barabbas!” then, “Crucify him!”

The guard jerk Barabbas up so roughly, he wonders if the man he killed was a relative of the guard’s. His heart is racing and his dirty tunic is soaked through with sweat as he’s led down the stone hallway towards the crowd chanting for his death. “Crucify him! Give us Barabbas!” Justice awaits.

As he is brought into the bright Israeli sunlight, the crowd cheers. Just then, Barabbas locks eyes with a man across the courtyard he didn’t recognize – another man in custody, standing by the governor himself, silent as a lamb. Barabbas would never forget those eyes – the kindest, deepest, most sorrowful, most hopeful eyes he’d ever seen. Nor would Barabbas forget the crude crown of savage thorns pressed deeply into the man’s forehead. But most surprising, most confusing, and most memorable to Barabbas was that the man carried Barabbas’ cross.

Barabbas can only stare as the bloodied man is led out to begin the grueling and fateful walk he has expected to take himself. And then a guard, obviously resentful, unlocks Barabbas’ chains and says sourly, “You’re free.”  If the guard had only known just how true his words really were…

Just as Jesus took Barabbas’ cross, so has he taken yours and mine. This means infinitely more than a bloody piece of wood. Whatever has you in chains or tied up in knots, he took it that day to die with him. That night that haunts you that you wish you could have back; the sin of another that was imposed so painfully upon you; the idols you’ve made of success, image, money, or perceived righteousness; the secret you’re so ashamed of; the cruelty and injustice of this fallen world – whatever it is for you, He took it all willingly, he took it decisively, and he took it eternally. He put it to death – once, for all. This is the goodness of Good Friday.

We rightly feel grief and sorrow today as we contemplate the suffering of our Savior, especially as we consider that it is our sin that put him there. Sit with that sorrow today; don’t rush ahead to Sunday morning. Marinate in the cost and the love; soak in the gift and the grace. Today, we are all Barabbas staring across the courtyard, watching Jesus shoulder our burden.

Thank you, Lord Jesus.

To read the entire series of mediations: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4.

Joe Gibbes is the Rector of the Episcopal Church of Our Saviour in Jacksonville, FL.  He and his wife Amy have been married for 20 years, but they don’t feel as old as that makes them sound.  They have 3 beautiful children who give Joe every opportunity to pray without ceasing.

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