Dr. Phillip Brassfield
Good Friday. There is no real consensus as to why it’s called Good Friday. Some believe that the word Good is derived from its close historical association with God. The word good and God seem to go together. This has a precedent, for example, the word Goodbye began as the phrase God be with you, and was shortened to Goodbye through social transition and as time evolved. Others suggest that the name Good Friday is connected to the idea of Holy Friday in the same way the Bible has often been referred to as the Good Book. And the day has been called several other things over the years, Passion Friday and Black Friday to name a couple. But Good Friday? Perhaps it will always remain a mystery.
But no matter what you call it, the events of the day are not in question. Good Friday is where we see the Passion of the Christ leading to His death on full display. It’s a day filled with virtually every deplorable human experience imaginable: greed, lies, betrayal, injustice, disappointment, humiliation, emotional and physical abuse, suffering beyond compare. You name it, as bad as you can think it, it was worse. Good Friday, taken alone, could cause you to question everything. Is there any good to be found in anything, anywhere? And what in the world could make this day worthy of the name Good?
Well, the answer, at least from Jesus’ perspective, comes from an obscure reference in what would become a famous passage of Scripture recorded in John chapter 3. According to the passage, Jesus is visited at night by a well to do, influential member of the nation’s supreme court, a man named Nicodemus. It’s a mysterious conversation filled with symbolism and deep truth. Nicodemus is seeking to determine Jesus’ true identity. Is He actually the long awaited Messiah? Jesus, rather than answer that question, introduces the idea of the New Birth, and then of the Father’s love and the Son’s sacrifice. All of this would have been a complete mystery to Nicodemus. Out of their conversation comes one of the most, if not the most, famous passages in the New Testament. John 3:16 “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” But it’s during this conversation that Jesus makes an interesting statement that, as time would prove, was directly connected to His death and is a clue to what makes Good Friday, good.
This is the statement:
Jesus said in John 3:14 & 15… “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the Wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
This encounter with Nicodemus took place relatively early in Jesus’ ministry, but later, actually during the week of His death, Jesus again mentions this idea. John also records it for us in John 12:32. In the passage, certain Greeks had come to the group of people traveling with Jesus and asked for an audience with Jesus. Philip and Andrew come to Jesus to tell Him. His response is strange. He begins to talk about His death. “The hour has come…”, He says. He metaphorically uses the death of a grain of wheat as a precursor for a multiplied harvest, clearly applying it to His death. In the storm of great anguish He was beginning to feel, He rhetorically asked, “Shall I say, Father save me from this hour? But for this purpose I came to this hour.” And then finally He, as He had done in the Nicodemus conversation says, “If I be lifted up I will draw all men unto me.” John explains for us in verse 33, “This He said, signifying by what death He would die.”
What did Jesus mean? Why did He repeatedly identify Himself with the bronze serpent lifted up during the Israelites’ wonderings under the leadership of Moses hundreds of years before His lifetime? Clearly Jesus makes reference to this story from the Old Testament in both passages recorded in John’s gospel. And what does it have to do with Good Friday?
Let’s take a quick and cursory look at the story Jesus keeps mentioning and apparently identifying with. It is recorded in Numbers 21. Israel has become discouraged and dissatisfied with Moses, God and even God’s miraculous provision. They begin to complain, even blaspheme. In judgment, God sent fiery serpents among them. We can assume they are called fiery because the venom from their bite apparently produced a raging burning feeling for those bitten, perhaps a fever. You were bitten and in agony you died. As you can imagine, the people repent and come to Moses and ask for help. When Moses inquires of God for a remedy, God instructs him to make a bronze serpent and attach it to a pole and raise it up among the people. God added that when someone who has been bitten looks upon the serpent, the poison that is killing them will be stopped and they will be healed.
Here are three observations as to why Jesus identified with this story and connected it with His death:
- Moses was commanded to take brass (historically considered a symbol of humanity) and form (through hammering) it into the shape of a serpent. The people’s healing was dependent on something that looked like what was killing them. It was a snake that made them sick. It must be a snake that will make them well. In this, metaphorically we see a picture of Jesus. He had to become a man. He had to be made into the likeness of what was killing us in sin. He was always fully God but he also became fully man. He would come from the humble beginnings of a peasant family born in a simple place at an inconvenient time and take upon Himself the likeness of sinful flesh.
- The brass of the serpent in the wilderness had to be beaten. The process of abuse endured by the brass formed it until the pain and pressure left its imprint on the substance of the brass. Jesus was beaten in an agonizing torture that should have killed him. He should have died at the whipping post. But He refused to die there because suffering was not enough; He had to be lifted up in death.
3. The serpent had to be lifted in view of all those sick with the venom of death from being bitten by the serpents. When people were bitten, they would die unless they looked on the brazen serpent on the pole. They did not have to recite perfect prayers, learn complicated theological or religious concepts, complete rigorous catechisms; they only had to look to the serpent on the pole in obedience. When they did, the poison in them was destroyed. This is the wisdom and simplicity of salvation. If we look in obedience to the Christ on the Cross and believe, the venom of sin that burns, torments and eventually kills us will be destroyed.
Jesus said, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all men unto me.” He said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness so must the son of man be lifted up.” Jesus knew the suffering was necessary, He knew what awaited Him on Friday. He knew that on that particular Friday He would experience life, humanity at its worst. He knew that on that Friday He would suffer every passion known to man and be lifted up in death. But He also knew that those who looked on Him would be saved and healed!
What’s so good about Good Friday? The writer of Hebrews sums it up well in Hebrews 2:14-15: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”
The Friday Jesus was crucified is good because it was our emancipation day! As it was for the children of Israel in the wilderness who looked to the serpent and lived, it was the day when the final remedy for sin and suffering was provided and sin’s effect destroyed for us through Christ. It was a day when fear and its torment were forever taken away from those who look to Jesus and His Cross and believe! Every day we can live in freedom because He became accursed for us, as us, and in the process, freed us!
Today is a great day for you to be freed, healed and delivered. If you’re tired of the burning pain of failure, if you’re sick of yourself and the weakness of your own humanity, look to Jesus. It’s just that simple. If you have been bitten by sin, bitten by bad decisions made by you or someone who hurt you and the venom of the bite is raging in your soul, look to Jesus. See yourself in Him as He pays sin’s debt. See Him bleeding, broken, rejected and suffering. See Him bearing your shame, carrying your sorrow. When you look to Him, a miracle will happen and a Black Friday will become a Good Friday for you!