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Why Is it Called 'Good Friday'?

If anyone has viewed the Passion of Christ where the last hours of Jesus are shot in excruciating detail, most would question why Good Friday is called, ‘Good Friday.’ At least that was my thought between wincing over the lashes and the obvious pain Jesus was experiencing. As a new Christian, the movie came highly recommended to learn about Good Friday and Easter, but I wondered, “Why is it called Good Friday when it’s the day Jesus, brutally died?”

Why Is it Called Good Friday?

For Christians, Good Friday is a crucial day of the year because it celebrates what we believe to be the most pivotal day in the history of the world. On Good Friday, Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (1 John 1:10).

D.A. Carson wrote, "It was not nails that held Jesus to that wretched cross; it was his unqualified resolution, out of love for his Father, to do his Father’s will—and it was his love for sinners like me." It is a good day because he traded places for you and for me. It is a good day because it was the day he conquered sin and death so that we will never be apart from God on this side of heaven or the other.

If you had asked his friends, family, and disciples on the day he died, they wouldn’t have said it was a good day when all hope seemed lost; evil and death seemed to have triumphed, but their responses would’ve been very different three days later because the forces of evil had been defeated, death had been destroyed, and from that point on, we all have a way to be free of sin and death.

Still, some have debated where the name of Good Friday originated. Justin Holcomb wrote, “Some Christian traditions do take this approach: in German, for example, the day is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” In English, in fact, the origin of the term “Good” is debated: some believe it developed from an older name, “God’s Friday.” Regardless of the origin, the name Good Friday is entirely appropriate because the suffering and death of Jesus, as terrible as it was, marked the dramatic culmination of God’s plan to save his people from their sin.”

It’s called Good Friday because, by Jesus’ death, he became the final, complete sacrifice for our sins. We couldn’t have erased our sins. Our hands would have been forever stained with every single sin for a lifetime. But Jesus broke the bonds of death and sin!

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What Happened on Good Friday?

So how did Jesus die for us? What happened that day? The Bible says his disciple and friend Judas betrayed Jesus’ whereabouts in the Garden Gethsemane. He was arrested and taken to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, which was an informal late-night meeting of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council. They had plotted to put Jesus on trial. They were looking for evidence that would justify putting Him to death, but they could not find any.

Finally, the high priest demanded Jesus, "Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God." Jesus then replied, "I am, and you will see me, the Son of Man, sitting at God's right hand and coming back on the clouds of heaven." Then the high priest said, "You have just heard His blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? What is your verdict?" They all shouted, "He deserves death!" Then they spat in Jesus' face and started beating Him. After he was convicted in their mock trial, they took Him to Pilate because they did not have the authority to put anyone to death under Roman law. They falsely accused Jesus of treason against the Roman Empire for claiming to be the king of the Jews and for urging people not to pay their taxes. However, Pilate knew Jesus wasn’t guilty of any crime; yet the mob wanted Him crucified. So he washed his hands of it and did what the crowd wanted.

At the time, crucifixion was the cruelest form of death reserved for criminals and slaves. Jesus, the son of God was flogged and ordered to carry a cross that would he die upon. After he was nailed to the cross, he was given a crown of thorns and the title as “King of the Jews.” The cross was placed between two other men who were being crucified that day. The soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross and left Him to die. They put a sign on the cross to mock Jesus that said, "Jesus of Nazareth, the King of the Jews." Jesus struggled on the cross for six hours, and according to the Bible, when he eventually gave up his spirit darkness fell across the land.

Then at noon, strange things began to happen. The sky grew dark for three hours and Jesus cried out, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," and then He died. The curtain of the temple was mysteriously torn in two from top to bottom and there was a great earthquake. It was Friday afternoon, and the Sabbath would start at sundown, but it wasn't just any Sabbath! It was during the Passover celebration, making it a very special Passover. After Jesus’ body was taken down from the cross, He was wrapped in strips of cloth and laid in a tomb. Roman guards were sent to guard the tomb to ensure no one stole the body or spread rumors that He wasn’t dead. Finally, three days later, Jesus rose from the dead and conquered death!

If you haven’t read the complete story of the crucifixion recently, today’s a perfect day to revisit it. Here are the four Gospel accounts of the story:

Why Is Good Friday Celebrated?

Jesus went through so much for each of us to become heirs of heaven. He became the bridge when there was no bridge. Good Friday is celebrated because deep down, we know the darkness within ourselves. We’re aware of the sins we’ve committed, and we know just how dark our actions and thoughts can be. As we think about the things that have stained our hands, we know deep down, the things we’ve done are worthy of punishment. Especially when we understand God’s holy standards.

The difficulty for us is that living for God requires sinless perfection, and none of us is perfect. Not one, until Jesus came, not until he came and took our place on that Friday so long ago! That is why we need a Savior—and Scripture identifies Him as Jesus Christ (Luke 2:11; Titus 2:13–14). We need the Savior, Jesus, because we need to be made holy: “without holiness no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). We need a Savior because we cannot save ourselves. We need a Savior because, without Christ, we are described as “having no hope and without God in the world” (Ephesians 2:12).

Even though the Bible doesn’t tell us to celebrate Good Friday, we observe it and call it Good Friday because it was a good day for humankind! God demonstrated his love for us through the perfect sacrifice of Jesus. “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” 1 Peter 3:18 tells us, “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit.”

This year, Good Friday will take place on Friday, April 2; no matter how you choose to observe it, knowing the story of Good Friday causes our hearts to cry out to God in humility and thanksgiving. It is a day that is holy and makes us holy because God was drawing the world to God's self in Christ.

Prayer for Good Friday

Father God, we thank you for your love and the plan you have for all of mankind. From the beginning, you loved each of us so much that you sent your son to us. We thank you for his ministry. We thank you for the life he led, and we are deeply grateful for his sacrifice on the cross. 

As we go into the weekend, help us remember with wonder and awe how he suffered for us; how he paid the price, and it was at such a great cost. Through the crowns of thorns and scourging, and through the cross, you carried our sins. We pray to remember to carry our cross and heed your call to follow you.

May we never forget what Christ did for us. Like a lamb to the slaughter, clothed in humility and grace, he willingly offered himself to death so that we might live forever. We are truly thankful for the extent of his love, stretched out on a cruel wooden cross. We come to you in repentance and reconciliation and forgiveness. Through the power of the cross, you have redeemed us. May we not dwell on our sufferings but leave them at your feet, trusting that You know what’s best for us.

Heavenly Father, how great and how gracious your great redemption plan for mankind. We thank You greatly as we walk through this day and commemorate the great love and sacrifice of Your beloved Son Jesus.  In Christ’s name, we pray, amen!

Related:
7 Incredible Good Friday Traditions
A Good Friday Prayer
When is Good Friday?

Photo credit: ©Thinkstock/RomoloTavani


Heather Riggleman is an award-winning journalist and a regular contributor for Crosswalk. She calls Nebraska home with her three kids and a husband of 22 years. She believes Jazzercise, Jesus, and tacos can fix anything and not necessarily in that order! She is author of I Call Him By Name Bible Study, the Bold Truths Prayer Journal,  Mama Needs a Time Out, and a contributor to several books. You can find her at www.heatherriggleman.com or on Facebook.  


This article is part of our larger Holy Week and Easter resource library centered around the events leading up to the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We hope these articles help you understand the meaning and story behind important Christian holidays and dates and encourage you as you take time to reflect on all that God has done for us through his son Jesus Christ!

What is the Holy Week?
What Is Palm Sunday?
What is Maundy Thursday?
What Is Good Friday?

What Is Easter?
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