Good Friday readings: Isaiah 52:13–53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16–25; John 19:1–37
Our world is filled with many tragic deaths. Just last week, we heard of three adults and three precious children who were killed in a school shooting in Nashville, TN. It’s in these times that we feel most helpless. It seems as if evil people are in control, and there’s nothing that we can do to stop them—try though we may.
For many in our world today, the death of Jesus of Nazareth was this kind of death. They suppose that Jesus was a good moral teacher who taught a way of love and tolerance but got himself killed for exposing hypocrisy and intolerance.
However, in John’s account of the Passion, we are told four times in one chapter that what happened on Good Friday was to fulfill the Scriptures—to complete what God had begun and foretold in the Old Testament. The soldiers cast lots for his clothing to fulfill Psalm 22:18: “They divided my garments among them, and for my clothing they cast lots.” Jesus was given sour wine to fulfill Psalm 69:21: “for my thirst they gave me sour wine to drink.” The soldiers did not break his legs, in fulfillment of Exodus 12:46, which says of the passover lamb, “you shall not break any of its bones.” And they pierced his side to fulfill Zechariah 12:10, “they will look on him whom they have pierced.”
All that happened on Good Friday, down to the parting of Christ’s clothes, happened according to the Scriptures, in order to fulfill them.
The death of Christ was not just another tragic death at the hands of evil men. All that happened on Good Friday, down to the parting of Christ’s clothes, happened according to the Scriptures, in order to fulfill them. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus had told his followers, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt. 5:17). Matthew’s Gospel records that when Christ was betrayed and arrested, he told his disciples, “all this has taken place that the Scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled” (Mt. 26:56).
It is essential not just that Christ died, but that he died according to the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul stressed this point in 1 Corinthians 15:3–4: “For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures.”
No doubt, the Jews thought that they were writing the script. Pilate, of course, thought that he was the one in control. He even asked Jesus, “Do you not know that I have authority to release you and authority to crucify you?” But Jesus answered him, “You would have no authority over me at all unless it had been given you from above.” It wasn’t Pilate, Caiaphas the high priest, the Jewish mob, or the Roman soldiers who determined Christ’s destiny. The events of Good Friday were the unfolding in history of God’s plan from before the foundation of the world.
The events of Good Friday were the unfolding in history of God’s plan from before the foundation of the world.
Peter would later preach in Acts 4 that “truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
If Good Friday was within man’s control, then it wouldn’t be “good.” If Jesus died on Pilate’s authority, then Good Friday would not be good. If Jesus’s death was just another crucifixion under Roman oppression, then Good Friday would not be good. If the death of Christ was just another tragic death, then he would be a failed Messiah, and we would have no hope.
But if Jesus died according to the Scriptures—if he died on God’s authority, according to God’s predestined plan—then this was no ordinary death. If “it was the will of the Lord to crush him,” then that changes everything. If the smallest details of that day, from the divided clothing and the sour wine to the unbroken bones and pierced side, were foretold by God and fulfilled by Christ, then surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows. He was pierced for our transgressions and crushed for our iniquities. Upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace and with his wounds we are healed.
Pilate and the people were unwitting participants in God’s plan of redemption. They delivered him up to judgment that we might be spared in the day of judgment. His clothing was stripped that we poor naked sinners might be clothed in his righteousness. He cried out in thirst that we sad thirsty sinners might have in us a spring of water welling up to eternal life. His legs were unbroken that the angel of death might see our passover lamb and spare us from the coming wrath. His side was pierced that we might be washed clean by pure water and cleansed from our sins by his blood.
For those who did not know the Scriptures, or were slow to believe Moses and the prophets, Good Friday looked like just another tragic death. While Christ was being crucified, most of the world was going about business as usual. And so it is today. But for those who know and believe all that God foretold—for those with eyes to see and ears to hear—Good Friday is truly “good.” What Christ endured at the hands of sinful men, he endured for us and for our salvation—for our good forever.