Isn't Good Friday an Oxymoron?

Published in the April 2009 issue of Faithlink, the magazine of Faith Methodist Church

Isn’t Good Friday an oxymoron? Good Friday commemorates the crucifixion and death of Jesus Christ. What’s so good about a day when someone died? We all celebrate life but why celebrate death? What’s so good about the death of Jesus?

Let’s go back in time to the night when an angel appeared to Joseph (the husband of Mary) in a dream. The angel instructed him to call the baby "Jesus" which means "The LORD saves" because Jesus will save His people from sins (Matthew 1:21). But this salvation demands death. "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 6:23). Death is the wage (result) a person earns by his sins. Jesus was born to die (Matthew 20:28). Is that good news?

Before we can understand and appreciate what’s so good about the death of Jesus, we need to see how bad a situation we are in and how bad we are. Is sin really so serious?

Break one commandment and we become guilty of breaking all in the sense that we have violated God's will. A man who broke all the commandments is a violator so is a man who broke just one commandment.
Alan S.L. Wong
Separation from God

By the time I was in my first year in the University, I had already sat for the penultimate (next to last) section of the professional examinations of the Association of Certified Accountants. I had many friends and was actively involved in the then Singapore Association of Retarded Children. Yet there was emptiness within me.

Pascal, the French physicist and philosopher said, "There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of each man which cannot be satisfied by any created thing but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ." Man’s constant search for significance betrays the truth about man - that man is created by God and he cannot find lasting fulfillment other than in a relationship with his Creator. When we choose to exclude God from our lives, our hearts are restless. The prophet Isaiah described us as sheep. "All of us like sheep have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way …" (Isaiah 53:6a).

Are you busy but running on empty? Is there a similar restlessness in your heart?

Conflict with man

Life is filled with relationships and relationships are complicated, often painful - misunderstandings (even quarrels) with parents, spouse, children, boss, colleagues and subordinates. The root cause of conflicts is our big fat ego or self-centredness. Everything that we see, we see with us in the centre. We fail or refuse to consider the other people’s views. We exaggerate our virtues and the other people’s vices.

You may say that you are a good man and that you have done as well (if not better) than anybody else. But God measures us not against other people but against Jesus Christ. Jesus said …

"You have heard that the ancients were told, 'YOU SHALL NOT COMMIT MURDER' and 
'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.' 

"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and 
whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and 
whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell." 
                                                                                                  Matthew 5:21-22
The Bible states the harsh reality "… there is none who does good, there is not even one … for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:12b, 23).

We don’t have to look far to validate the above statements – just look within ourselves. I was a perfectionist. I strove to improve myself and to be good. Yet I know what I am capable of and what I had done – things that I am ashamed of. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we have fallen short even of our own standards.

You may argue that you have committed just a few sins. But the Bible states

For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, 
he has become guilty of all. 

For He who said, "DO NOT COMMIT ADULTERY," 
also said, "DO NOT COMMIT MURDER." 
Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, 
you have become a transgressor of the law.
                                                             James 2:10-11
Break one commandment and we become guilty of breaking all in the sense that we have violated God's will. A man who broke all the commandments is a violator so is a man who broke just one commandment.

Bondage to sin

Sin does not only alienate us from God and others, it also enslaves us. Sin is not just an outward act but an inward corruption. Jesus said in Mark 6:21-23,

"For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed the evil thoughts, fornications, thefts, murders, adulteries, deeds of coveting and wickedness, as well as deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride and foolishness. All these evil things proceed from within and defile the man."
Our sins are outward manifestations of our rotten core. Jesus also said that "everyone who commits sin is the slave of sin" (John 8:34) – following the desires of our body and mind.

Good Friday is Good News

This is our sad and desperate state – alienated from God and man and enslaved to the desires of our body and mind. To our rescue comes the good news of Good Friday. Jesus paid the penalty for our sins; He died for us. (Romans 5:8)

I have a good friend – a girlfriend – in my younger days. We talked for hours on the phone – when it gets hot on one ear, I simply shifted the phone to the other ear. To cut the story short, the relationship did not work out; however we wanted to remain as friends so we would still call one another but there would be silence – dead silence - for a minute.

One minute of silence was awfully long for a couple who could talk for three hours. Then what about three hours of silence for Jesus who had never before experienced anything but intimate fellowship with His Father? (Matthew 27:45-46)

Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour. 
About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, 
On the cross, Jesus bore the judgment on man's sins. He died not only physically but spiritually (experiencing separation from the Father). He did it for me and you – incomprehensible but true. Charles Wesley, a Methodist leader composed these words in a hymn,
And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
If you were to ask me, "Will you die for your wife and/or sons?" I would unreservedly answer in the affirmative. "Would I die for a friend?" "Would I die for my enemy?" "Probably not"

It is an inexplicable mystery that the immortal Jesus died and that He died for the unworthy. Romans 5:7-10 state that Christ died for us while we were "sinners" and "enemies" under "the wrath of God".

7 For one will hardly die for a righteous man; 
though perhaps for the good man someone would dare even to die. 

8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, 
in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. 

9 Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, 
we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him. 

10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, 
much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
Through the death of Jesus, we are reconciled to God – once enemies, now friends even children of God – to those who believe in Jesus (John 1:12). This is the good news of Good Friday.

Christianity is a rescue religion

Imagine that you are swimming from here to heaven. You soon realized that despite your vigorous preparation and training, you have fallen short. Heaven is beyond your reach. You are tired and struggling to stay afloat. You called out, "Help! Save me!" A boat pulled up alongside you and the boatman throws you a manual entitled "How to Swim to Heaven". He said, "If you will follow the rules in the manual you will reach heaven". You tried to follow the rules but you don’t have the strength. You cried out again. You need more than a manual.

Then along comes another boatman. This time, the second boatman jumps in and begins to demonstrate a new swimming stroke. He says, "If you would just follow my example then you will make it." But you still don’t have the strength and you are drowning. You need more than an example, a model.

A third boatman grabs and pulls you up into his boat. You were relieved. After some time, the boatman said that you failed to earn your keep to deserve your place in the boat and threw you back in the water. Obviously, this boatman is no savior and you need more than an occasional boost.

A fourth boatman reaches over, grabs and pulls you up to his boat, sets sail to heaven and finally puts you down on its shores. This boatman is truly a savior.

Similarly, God did not write the Bible as an instruction manual on "How to Get to Heaven". Neither did Jesus come to show us how to live a life that is acceptable to God. Nor did Jesus come to give us a boost but still expect us to do our part. No, Jesus did it all for us. This is the good news of Good Friday.

The Bible says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) Jesus said, "I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly." (John 10:10) The Bible promises, "… if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!" (2 Corinthians 5:17)

Jesus is reaching out to you. You can simply take hold of His hands. Pray believing …

"Lord Jesus, I need you.  Thank you for dying on the cross for my sins.  
I receive you as my Savior and Lord.  
Thank you for forgiving my sins and giving me a new life. Amen."

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