It's ironic that we call it Good Friday, isn't it? From the perspective of those who were there it certainly wouldn't have fit. For the disciples it would have been Terrible Friday.
This was the man on Whom all their hopes hung, and now He was hanging on a cross before them. They had bet everything on the idea that Jesus was who He said He was – that He was the Messiah – and the last thing they expected the Messiah to do was die a shameful death on a cross. In one sense this was the worst moment in the history of the world. The Light of the World, snuffed out. And yet we call it Good Friday.
See, God is an amazing storyteller. In the grand drama of Scripture, Jesus is the climactic turning point. In Genesis 3 when God pronounces a curse as the consequence of our first parents' sin, He first curses the snake and therein promises redemption through the woman's seed. All the rest of the Old Testament is a build-up to the arrival of the promised one: the Messiah. The shocking twist of the story is that instead of conquering evil outright as we might expect, Jesus takes the full weight of our sin on Himself and is seemingly defeated. We should have seen it coming – Scripture's descriptions of the crucifixion echo a myriad of prophecies that foreshadowed the event – but it still comes as a shock. It's a tragedy. It doesn't even seem possible. How could God die?
But then there is a second shocking twist on Easter Sunday when the worst moment in history is revealed to be the best. Jesus is risen from the dead and we see that in reality it was Death that died on Good Friday! This is what God does when He tells a story. God is in the business of transforming the darkest moments into glorious ones. Pay attention as you read scripture and this will jump out at you. But God doesn't only do this in scripture. Look back over your life and you will see that God works this way in our stories too. It often doesn't happen quickly – sometimes we don't even get to see the transformation on this side of heaven – but it is ultimately what God does.
This is why, as I've said in a previous post, we cheat ourselves when we try to eliminate the pain of life, whether through building our little kingdoms of comfort or by pretending the pain isn't there. The way to new life leads through the valley of the shadow of death. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it.” As the old hymn says, “Made like Him, like Him we rise. Ours the cross, the grave, the skies.” Yes, all three: the suffering of the cross, the darkness of the grave, and the glorious new life of the skies when we are exalted with Christ. It's a package deal and it comes in that order.
But we can choose to lay down our lives and follow Jesus with full confidence that no matter what the cross or the grave may look like, He is faithful enough and powerful enough to carry us through and transform it into something glorious. Our greatest proof of this is that we can look back on what was in one way the darkest day in history and say that it was indeed Good Friday.