Why Call This Friday Good? Back to all sermons

Date: April 18, 2014

Speaker: Pastor Cameron Arensen

Category: Easter

Scripture: Romans 5:6–5:11

Tags: Thessalonica, Acts, faithfulness, love, Paul, gospel

Synopsis: It is a logical question. It was a day of darkness, violence and a massive miscarriage of justice resulting in the death of the only truly innocent man who ever lived. The symbol for the day is a cross. So why do we call it Good Friday? In this sermon (Why Call This Friday “Good”?) we address this question and, using Romans 5:6-11 as our text, we find that in spite of the horror of the day, the events of Good Friday represent the greatest love story ever told.

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A few weeks ago, I received an email from someone in the congregation with this question. “Why do we call the day Christ died Good Friday?” It is a good question. Why call a day on which the Son of God died a “good” day? The chief symbol for the events of that day is a cross – one of the cruelest forms of execution ever devised by man. How is that good? It was a day that represented the most extreme miscarriage of justice imaginable, resulting in the death of the only truly innocent man who ever lived. How can that be good? A day of suffering, tears, unimaginable anguish and slow, torturous death: why do we call it good?

The origins of when and why Christians began using this phrase to describe this day have been lost in history. But I would like to propose an answer to the question and some reasons why this is indeed a Good Friday.

I would like to propose this premise: That the events of Good Friday represent the greatest love story ever told. The passage I am using for my text today is found in the Book of Romans, chapter 5 and verses 6-11:

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

My premise is that the events of Good Friday represent this greatest love story ever told. Why do I say that? To address that question using these verses, I want to pose three answers, each in the form of a rhetorical question.

Here is the first one: Could there be any less likely candidates for love? Even as I pose that question, we should be swept by the realization that this is a different kind of love story. Normally love stories focus on the lovable qualities of the person loved: beauty, strength, courage, nobility of character. All of these are attributed to the persons loved. Even in the classic fairy tale of “The Beauty and the Beast” there is this theme. Certainly the Beast character is unsightly and unlovely in appearance, but underneath we know that he is truly good. But when we examine these verses, we find that this is not the case. Could there be any less likely candidates for love?

Let us look at how the human race is described in these verses. The first description is found I verse 6: while we were still weak…There are two ways this adjective is used according to the lexicons. It is used to describe a state of helplessness in light of circumstances; trapped and unable to help ourselves. The second use is to describe someone who is morally weak and incapable of doing good. Both uses are actually true and relevant to this verse. This is the doctrine that theologians refer to as the doctrine of man’s depravity. Morally weak and incapable of doing or sustaining any good course of action and hence helpless and trapped; unable to help ourselves. It is not a pretty picture!

But that is not all. Later in the same verse, Paul describes us as ungodly. It is a word that describes someone who lives his life without regard for God or his standards; someone who is wicked and impious.

In verse 8, Paul refers to us all as “sinners”. This is the same root as the word used in Romans 3:23 where we are told that “all have sinned.” This is the noun, describing people who consistently miss the mark and fail to live up to God’s standards.

Verse 10 then adds to the description by calling us God’s “enemies.” We are, by our very nature from birth, in a state of active rebellion against God and his rule over our lives.

And the consequence and culmination of all this bad news? In verse 9 Paul talks about God’s wrath. This phrase takes us all the way back to Romans 1:18 where Paul states that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all godlessness and unrighteousness of men…

As I said, it is not a pretty picture. When we look at the human race, and see ourselves as God sees us, through the prism of his righteousness and holiness, we are morally powerless, spiritually bankrupt, miserable failures, active rebels against God and richly deserving of God’s wrath. Could there be any less likely candidates for love?

That brings us to the second point in this sermon, also put in the form of a question: Could there be any greater measure or demonstration of love? The measure and demonstration of God’s love is the dominant theme of these verses. The measure of God’s love is clearly stated repeatedly. It is found in verse 5: Christ died for the ungodly. It is there again in verse 8 most clearly: God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us .

Verse 9 also makes a clear reference to Christ’s death when Paul states that we have now been justified by his blood. And verse 10 makes it clear once again: we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son. This is the ultimate measure of love, is it not? Jesus said it himself: Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John15:13) This is truly the final and ultimate measure of love: to die for the one loved. Abraham Lincoln, in his famous Gettysburg address, paid tribute to the patriotism of the Union’s fallen soldiers and their love of country when he referred to the “last full measure of devotion.” You cannot give more than life itself. That is how much God loved us, how much Christ loved us. Christ died for us!

The full impact of this “greatest love story” comes through, however, when we put the first two points of this sermon together. The uniqueness of this love story is seen when we compare “the candidates for love” and “the measure of that love.” This is what Paul points out in verses 7-8:

For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die— but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

The very highest standard for human love is “dying for a good person”. We can stretch ourselves and imagine that happening.

But God’s love takes up where human love leaves off. The greatest measure of his love was spent and expended on those who were least deserving! When we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly…While we were still sinners, Christ died for us…When we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son. This is how God demonstrated his love. It is the greatest love story ever told! The full measure of devotion was expressed toward those who were most unworthy and undeserving. He did it because he loved us. He did it when we were least deserving.

There is an upside down theology that has invaded the church and infiltrated much Christian preaching and writing and music lyrics. It comes from the human self-esteem movement. It is a teaching which looks at the cross of Christ and concludes, “The death of Christ on the cross demonstrates that we are worth dying for.” I am sorry, but that is not what the Scripture teaches! The Scripture teaches that we were unworthy, but Christ loved us enough to die for us anyway. John Newton, the hymn writer had it right: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.

There is a very subtle, but essential distinction between Biblical teaching and the modern purveyors of self-esteem. Christ did not die for us because we were valuable. We weren’t. We were sinners. We were rebels. We were God’s enemies. But now we have value because Christ died for us. The value lies in Christ, and in his love for us, not in us. And to him goes all the glory! We are saved by grace and grace alone. When we were powerless…when we were sinners…when we were God’s enemies…Christ died for us. That is grace. Could there be any less likely candidates for love? Could there be any greater measure or demonstration of love?

This takes us to our third point, also phrased as a question: Could there be any greater result or benefit from love?

As we turn to this question, I would point us back to the context of this paragraph, and especially something Paul said in Romans 5:1; Therefore, since we have been justified by faith… That is the overall result or benefit we have received from the love of God which was demonstrated on Calvary. We have been justified by faith. Very briefly, the technical definition of “justify” is to declare someone judicially and legally righteous. We have been declared righteous in God’s sight and before his courtroom by belief in Jesus. In the closing verses of this paragraph, Paul expands our understanding of justification by describing the benefits we have received in two additional ways.

First we are told that because of Christ’s great love we shall be saved. This is one of those phrases that has become a standard in the vocabulary of evangelical Christians. “Have you been saved?” we ask each other. Or we give our testimonies and say, “When I was saved…” We may have overused the language. It may have become a cliché. It may be misunderstood and even offend people.  And we should probably not use it in our initial evangelistic efforts with people who are unfamiliar with the gospel. But let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water. Let us never lose this glorious truth. It is grounded in the Scriptures. Paul uses the expression twice here: first in verse 9: Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God

He repeats it again in verse 10: 10 For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. To understand this language, we must understand what it is that we are being saved from. Paul makes it clear, does he not? Saved from God’s wrath. God’s wrath against sin has been revealed from heaven. That is what Paul told is in Romans 1:18. Now we are told that “since we have been justified by his blood, we shall be saved from God’s wrath.” It is interesting that Paul uses the future tense. God’s wrath, his judgment against sin is something coming, both on the sinful world and on sinful people. How will we be saved from God’s wrath? How will we escape? Through Christ and faith in his blood! By being justified by faith.

That brings us to another way of describing what happened to us when we were justified through faith: we were reconciled to God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.

The word “reconciled” describes a change in relationship. It means to change from being an enemy to being a friend. Here Paul is not so much adding new truth as he is bringing us back full circle to where he began this paragraph. Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. Being reconciled to God is another way of describing the state of being at peace with God. We were at war. Now we are at peace. We were God’s enemies because of our sin. Now he declares us to be his friends.

Could there be any greater result or benefit from love?

Truly, this is the greatest love story ever told. Could there be any less likely candidates for love? We were powerless, ungodly, sinners, enemies of God. Could there be any greater measure or demonstration of love? Christ died for us. Could there be any greater result or benefit from love? We have been reconciled to God. We shall be saved from God’s wrath.

You know, the more I think about it, I am not sure “Good Friday” is really such a good name for this day after all. I am not sure it even begins to do the day justice. I think we should rename the day “Awesome Friday”, don’t you?

Before we leave this message, I want to make this very personal to each one here this morning. The Love Story which reached its climax on Awesome Friday is what the Bible calls the Gospel, the Good News. And the spiritual reality proclaimed in the Bible is that this Good News is only for those who will receive it by faith.

John 3:16 says it so clearly: For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…

That is the object of his love: God loved the world. It is also the measure and demonstration of his love; He gave his only Son.

But we must finish the verse: that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.

The good news is for those who believe in him and in his death on the cross and who personally put their trust in him.

Have you done that?

Of course, I would add that for a correct understanding, we must always look at Good Friday through the lens of Easter and the Resurrection. We could put it this way: Jesus’ resurrection puts the “good” in Good Friday when Jesus rose from the dead to proclaim his victory over sin and death.      

So this is not just a “Good” Friday. It is an Awesome Friday! And what do we do when we experience something that is truly awesome? It calls for some kind of response, does it not? Some kind of exclamation; a cheer, a celebration, an urge to shout out loud and exclaim at the wonder if it all. This is really what Paul describes in the closing verse of this paragraph.

More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:11a)

That word “rejoice” means literally to give a shout of exultation or celebration; to cheer and boast. This particular Greek word was used in the Greek translations of the Old Testament to translate the Hebrew word “Hallel” which forms the first part of the word “Hallelujah”.  So I suppose we could translate this verse this way: “More than that, we also shout ‘Hallelujah!’ through our Lord Jesus Christ!”

To conclude our worship service, Loraine is going to come and sing a song that takes us forward from the cross to the Resurrection and expresses the kind of celebration that this verse is calling for: He Is Risen! Hallelujah!

Discussion Questions

  1. Have you ever wondered why Christians call this day “Good Friday”?
  2. Read Romans 5:6-11 together.
  3. Based on this passage, Pastor Cam makes the statement that “the events of Good Friday represent the greatest love story ever told.” Do you agree or disagree – and why?
  4. “The death of Christ on the cross demonstrates that we are worth dying for.” Do you agree or disagree with this statement – and why?
  5. How does this passage relate to the Biblical phrase “by grace you are saved”?
  6. What are the “good results” we (as followers of Jesus) enjoy because of the events of “Good Friday”?
  7. What are some ways we can “rejoice (boast, cheer, celebrate) in God through our Lord Jesus Christ”?