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Why Do We Call It Good Friday?


In what is the greatest act of love in history, Jesus willingly went to the cross, not just to forgive our sins but to pay the penalty for our sins. And it is for this reason that we celebrate the entirety of Easter weekend — counting it all joy that Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave.

“Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people?” This question was once asked before a crowded Ligonier Ministries national conference in Orlando, Florida. R.C. Sproul and Voddie Baucham were seated on a panel before a packed room. In his usual compelling muster, Sproul retorted, “What’s wrong with you people? I’m serious…”

The usual familiarity with this question sometimes confuses the most mature Christians because the question is asked upside down. The more honest question is, “Why does God allow any good thing to happen to evil people?”

But Sproul answered this question differently: Why does God allow bad things to happen to good people? He said, “That only happened once — and He volunteered.”

Roman Crucifixion

Friday historically marks the day of Christ’s crucifixion. Some 2,000 years ago, Jesus Christ was betrayed by one of His friends for 30 pieces of silver and handed over to Pontius Pilate for crucifixion. He took the place of Barrabas, one of the vilest of men in all of Jerusalem. He was stripped naked and He was scourged, His body ripped with the Roman cat o’ nine tails. A crown of thorns was placed on His head. He was made to carry His cross, like a lamb to the slaughter, to a place called Golgotha, where He was crucified (Matthew 27:26-66; Mark 15:15-47; Luke 23:24-56; John 19:16-42).

There is no death and no torture that is more unbearable and barbaric than crucifixion. It was a method of capital punishment utilized by the Persians and Carthaginians, but the Romans perfected it. A Roman beheading was far more merciful. The great Roman statesman and orator Cicero believed crucifixion was “the most cruel and disgusting punishment” and a true terror to anyone who heard the word. The condemned would be nailed through skin and bone to a wooden cross beam, staked into the ground, and then bleed, suffocate, and die in slow agony over many hours and days. Crucifixion was the most significant deterrent for the enemies of Pax Romana. It is estimated that some 150,000 people were crucified during the reign of the Caesars.

But as awful as the crucifixion was, nothing can compare to the wrath of God and the eternal weight of the punishment that was poured out on Jesus that fateful Friday. His betrayal, scourging, and ultimate death were not the result of any wicked thing He had done; Jesus was completely innocent. He died as a result of human wickedness and as a substitute for sin. Today, you will seldom hear the full presentation of the Gospel, which includes essential teachings on substitutionary atonement.

Penal Substitutionary Atonement

Jesus did not simply die to forgive our sins; He died to pay the penalty for our sins.

The prophet Isaiah records,

“Surely, he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrow; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.”

–Isaiah 53:4-5

There is no way to account for the crucifixion without understanding the holiness and justice of God. When Jesus was in Gethsemane on the night of His betrayal, He prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me…” (Matthew 26:39). Jesus drank the bitter cup of God’s wrath on our behalf, and He stood condemned in our place.

While we were all deserving of death and judgment, Jesus bore God’s wrath so that we could be justified before a holy and righteous God by faith (Romans 3:21-26). Throughout Scripture, it is evident that “it is the blood that makes atonement” (Leviticus 17:11) and “without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins” (Hebrews 9:22). It is because of this that Jesus died in our place for our sins. He exchanged our sin for His righteousness as our substitute (2 Corinthians 5:21).

John Stott put the substitutionary atonement in these words, “The concept of substitution lies at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man.”

Similarly, Jonathan Edwards said, “You contribute nothing to your salvation except the sin that made it necessary.”

This is the greatest transaction to ever occur on behalf of all humanity: Christ’s righteousness for man’s sin.


Why do we call it Good Friday? Because we rejoice in Christ’s death and defeat of sin as the greatest act of love. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).

Unlike with the Passover, we no longer eat bitter herbs, unleavened bread, and roasted lamb to remember this day. The Lord’s Supper is a celebration, and we count it all joy that Christ died for our sins and rose from the grave.

When we take inventory of the horrors of the crucifixion, it is an absolute wonder that the bloodied and cursed tree has become the universal symbol of Christianity. Every nation, creed, and ideology has a visual symbol, whether it be the Star of David, the crescent moon, or the sickle and hammer.  Today, the cross is synonymous not only with suffering but also with the Christian faith and our salvation. Because of Christ, it has become the ultimate depiction of righteousness triumphing over evil. And that is why we call it Good Friday.

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