Good Friday is observed on the Friday before Easter Sunday. On this day Christians commemorate the passion or suffering and death Lord Jesus Christ,on the cross.

Many Christians spend this day in fasting, prayer, and meditation on the agony and suffering of Christ on the cross, repenting for their sins asking God’s pardon because of the sacrifice of innocent Jesus for their sins.  (For a more detailed explanation about Christ's death, see Why Did Jesus Have to die?)

The Biblical account of Jesus' death on the cross, or crucifixion, his burial and his resurrection, or rising from the dead, can be found in the following passages of Bible: Matthew 27:27-28:8; Mark 15:16-16:19; Luke 23:26-24:35; and John 19:16-20:30.
Crucifixion was not only one of the most disgraceful forms of death; it was one of the most dreaded methods of execution in the ancient world. Accounts of crucifixions are recorded among early civilizations, most likely originating with the Persians and then spreading to the Assyrians, Scythians, Cartheginians, Germans, Celts and Britons. This type of capital punishment was primarily reserved for traitors, captive armies, slaves and the worst of criminals. Crucifixion became common under the rule of Alexander the Great (356-323 B.C.).

Why have Jesus died?

Over the years I've been asked, "Why is it that Jesus had to die?" Once an earnest seeker followed up the question  with these comments, "As a Christian I should know the answer, but I can’t think of any convincing explanation”.

Does Christianity only make sense by God deciding that Jesus had to be crucified?"

Why Did Jesus Have to Die?

This incredibly important question involves a matter central to Christianity, yet effectively answering it is often difficult for Christians. We will take a careful look at the question and lay out the answers offered in the Bible.
However, before we answer the question, "Why did Jesus have to die?" it's also important to understand that Jesus clearly understood his mission on earth, and that it involved laying down his life as a sacrifice. In other words, Jesus knew it was his Father's will for him to die.
He proves his fore-knowledge and understanding of his death in these passages from Bible: Mark 8:31
Then Jesus began to tell them that he, the Son of Man, would suffer many terrible things and be rejected by the leaders, the leading priests, and the teachers of religious law. He would be killed, and three days later he would rise again.  (Also see Mark 9:31)

Mark 10:32-34

Taking the twelve disciples aside, Jesus once more began to describe everything that was about to happen to him in Jerusalem. "When we get to Jerusalem," he told them, "the Son of Man will be betrayed to the leading priests and the teachers of religious law. They will sentence him to die and hand him over to the Romans. They will mock him, spit on him, beat him with their whips, and kill him, but after three days he will rise again."

Mark 10: 38

But Jesus answered, "You don't know what you are asking! Are you able to drink from the bitter cup of sorrow I am about to drink? Are you able to be baptized with the baptism of suffering I must be baptized with?"

Mark 10:43-45

Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all. For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many."

Mark 14:22-25

As they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread and asked God's blessing on it. Then he broke it in pieces and gave it to the disciples, saying, "Take it, for this is my body." And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks to God for it. He gave it to them, and they all drank from it. And he said to them, "This is my blood, poured out for many, sealing the covenant between God and his people. I solemnly declare that I will not drink wine again until that day when I drink it new in the Kingdom of God."

John 10:17-18
"Therefore My Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again. This command I have received from My Father."
This last verse also explains why it is pointless to blame the Jews or the Romans—or anyone else for that matter, for "killing" Jesus. Jesus, having the power to "lay it down" or "take it again," freely gave up his life. It truly doesn't matter who "killed" Jesus. The ones who nailed the nails only helped carry out the destiny he came to fulfill by laying down his life on the cross.

Now, on to answering the question, "Why did Jesus have to die?"
God is Holy
Although God is all merciful, all powerful and all forgiving, God is also holy, righteous and just.

Isaiah 5:16

But the LORD Almighty is exalted by his justice. The holiness of God is displayed by his righteousness.

Sin and Holiness are Incompatible

Sin entered the world through one man's disobedience - Adam, and now all of us are born into this "sinful nature."

Romans 5:12

When Adam sinned, sin entered the entire human race. Adam's sin brought death, so death spreads to everyone, for everyone has sinned.

Romans 3:23

For all have sinned; all fall short of God's glorious standard.

Sin Separates Us from God

Isaiah 35:8
And a highway will be there; it will be called the Way of Holiness. The unclean will not journey on it; it will be for those who walk in that Way; wicked fools will not go about on it.

Isaiah 59:2

But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.

Sin's Punishment is Eternal Death

God's holiness and justice demand that sin and rebellion be punished. The only penalty or payment for sin is eternal death.

Romans 6:23

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.

Romans 5:21

So just as sin ruled over all people and brought them to death, now God's wonderful kindness rules instead, giving us right standing with God and resulting in eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Atoning Sacrifice

Our death is not sufficient to atone for sin because atonement requires a perfect, spotless sacrifice, offered in just the right way.
Jesus, the one perfect God-man, came to offer the pure, complete and everlasting sacrifice to remove, atone, and make eternal payment for our sin.

1 Peter 1:18-19
For you know that God paid a ransom to save you from the empty life you inherited from your ancestors. And the ransom he paid was not mere gold or silver. He paid for you with the precious life-blood of Christ, the sinless, spotless Lamb of God.

Hebrews 2:14-17

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil, and free those who in all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. For  it is not angels he helps, but Abraham's descendants. For this reason he had to be made like his brothers in every way, in order that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in service to God, and that he might make atonement for the sins of the people.

Only Through Jesus Christ

Only through Jesus Christ can our sins be forgiven, thus restoring our relationship with God and removing the separation caused by sin.

2 Corinthians 5:21

God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

1 Corinthians 1:30

It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.

The Messiah - Savior

The suffering and the glory of the coming Messiah was foretold in Isaiah chapters 52 and 53. God's people in the Old Testament looked forward to the Messiah that would save them from their sin. Although he did not come in the form they expected, still, their faith, which looked forward to his salvation, saved them. Our faith, which looks backward to his act of salvation, saves us. When we accept Jesus' payment for our sin, his perfect sacrifice washes away our sin and restores our right standing with God. God's mercy and grace provided a way for our salvation.

Romans 5:10

For since we were restored to friendship with God by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be delivered from eternal punishment by his life.

In Summary, when we are "in Christ Jesus" we are healed by his blood and sacrificial death, our sins are paid for, and we no longer have to die an eternal death. We receive eternal life though Jesus Christ. And this is why Jesus had to die.


Good Friday Special

The Seven Utterances of Jesus from the Cross
“Good Friday” is the key to Christian faith. Everyone who believes in Jesus as his/her Saviour celebrates Good Friday with great devotion in silence and prayer, recollecting the sequence of events that led to Jesus’ arrest, trial and execution on the cross, inflicting on him a cruel death, causing great pains and suffering. Yet it is called “Good Friday” since through his suffering and death Jesus atoned for the sins of humanity and gained forgiveness and acceptance from God for all those who believe in him and in his atoning death.  Through his death, he has saved us from God’s eternal punishment reunited us to God. Hence he is called “the Saviour of humanity”.
“Good Friday” is the day when believers in Jesus remember, meditate and thank Jesus for his great self-sacrifice.  Hence on this day, the Christians read invariable the narratives of the Gospel writers (Evangelists) regarding the death of Jesus.  Quite often attention is given as to how Jesus died - by cursing God and his executioners or in despair and silence or still with a trust and hope in God?  Hence the meditation on Jesus’ death focuses on to what Jesus said from the Cross just before he died.
As a “Good Friday Special” we are presenting you from the Bible what Jesus said from the Cross before his death, so that  all of us realize that Jesus died with great trust and confidence in God, whom he always called as his father and our father.

1. “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do”

“There at a place called The Skull he was crucified together with the criminals, one on the right and another on the left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do.”  (Luke 23/33-34) 
Jesus had taught the people and his disciples “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”  He has just done what he had said, even when he was in agony on the cross – this is not a human way but a divine way of reaction. Jesus had said, “Be ye perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect”. Based on this utterance, there is a saying “to err is human and to forgive is divine”. Jesus invites us to live not just in our human way but in a divine way to become the children of God.

2.  Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise

“One of the criminals hanging with Jesus insulted him, “So you are the Messiah? Save yourself and us as well” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Have you no fear of God? You received the same sentence as he did. We deserve the punishment, this is payment for what we have done. But this man has done nothing wrong”. Turing to Jesus he said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”. Jesus replied, Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23/39-43).
Here we see Jesus accepting, appreciating and rewarding the one who speaks for him but utter nothing against the one who pocks at him even when he himself is a neighbor to him on another cross. He just ignores his comments. Jesus has taught us to love your neighbor as yourself. Hence he had pity on him and refuses to retort or argue with him. But he forgives him too.

3. “Woman, here is your son”….  “Here is your mother”

“Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister Mary, who was the wife of Cleophas, and Mary of Magdela. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, “Woman, here is your son”. And then he said to his disciple, “Here is your mother. And from that moment, this disciple took her into his own home” (John 19/26-7).
John happens to be the only man-disciple who could follow Jesus to his cross, the others could not. Hence ran away.  We notice that Jesus was concerned about his mother even at this moment of his death on the cross and he entrusted her to his disciple. Mary too cared for her son even when he was executed as a criminal.   She did not abandon him nor did he. So neither should we ignore her or abandon her because she is “the mother of my Lord” as Elisabeth had already recognized her when she met  her, after Angel Gabriel visited her “with the Good News of the Saviour’s birth, greeting here, “Hail, full of Grace, the Lord is with you”.

4. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

“From the sixth hour darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour. At ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ”Eloi, Eloi lama sabachtani” which means: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me” (Mathew. 27/45-46). 
Even at the moment of  complete darkness not only on earth but even in his life, Jesus did not abandon God rather, he calls up to God asking him the natural question, why have you left me alone as if you have rejected me. But still he did not curse God or abandon him, as he knew that nothing is impossible for God.

5.  “I thirst”

“With that Jesus knew that all was now finished and he said, “I am thirsty” in fulfillment of the Scripture. A jar full of bitter wine stood there; so, putting a sponge soaked in the wine, on a hyssop stalk, they raised it to his lips. Jesus took the wine and said,

6.  “It is finished”

it is fulfilled and then, he lowered his head and gave up his spirit.” (John 19-28-30).
It was natural that after a full night of agonizing trial and the journey to Calvary, carrying the cross and loss of blood from his body bruised with stripes and crown of thorns along with the blood flowing from his nailed wounds can cause nothing but a thirst. This thirst is aggravated by the mental agony of a feeling of abandonment by his disciples and even by God himself can make him feel nothing but exhaustion and thirst in his whole being. Yet he did not get disappointed. There was no sign of despair. On the contrary a sense of completion of what he has been doing, which made him say “it is finished”. This is what St. Luke brings out vividly in the seventh utterance of Jesus from the cross.

7.  Father, into your hands, I commend my spirit”

“It was noon. The sun was hidden and darkness came over the whole land until the ninth hour and at that time the curtain of the Sanctuary was torn into two. Then Jesus gave a loud cry, “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit”. And saying that he gave up his spirit. (Luke, 23/33-34).

Jesus was executed. He died on the Cross. His adversaries were sure that they have shut his mouth for ever and he has nothing else left except that he can rot in his grave. However, we notice that Jesus did not resign to such an idea - that he is finished, but that his mission is completed. Hence he entrusted himself to God, with confidence and hope. He did not have the feeling that his body and his spirit is now dead. But he had the conviction that he has now surrendered himself, body and spirit to God, whom he confidently and lovingly called, Father.  And this hope and confidence, comes alive on the third day after his death –  he rose again from his grave, both body and spirit.
Thus story of Jesus did not end with his death and burial but it unfolds further through his resurrection and appearance to his disciples several times and his ascension in their sight forty days after his resurrection.

Jesus’ confidence and surrender to God has made him the corner stone of human history, inviting and transforming humanity to be more divine than just human or inhuman. Good Friday invites all us to trust in God even at the moment a tragic death. For the one who believes and trusts in God will never be allowed to perish for ever. This what ultimately happened to Jesus. God raised him up from the dead on the third day. And now he lives for ever. That’s the story of the Resurrection of Jesus. Jesus thus has shown us our way to God who is our true hope and salvation.

St. Paul wrote in his letter to Philippians, “Jesus Christ, though being divine in nature, he did not claim equality with God, but emptied himself, taking on the nature of a servant, made in human likeness, and in appearance found as a man. He humbled himself by being obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and gave him the Name that outshines all other names so that at the Name of Jesus all knees should bend in heaven, on earth and under the earth, and all tongues proclaim that Jesus Christ is the Lord to the glory of God the Father ( Philippines, 2/6-11). We know today that the understanding of St. Paul and his comments about Jesus has already come true in our times.  

(All the four writers of Jesus life-story, describe the last days of Jesus before his death and after his death. See Mathew, (Chapters 26 - 28), Mark, Chapters 14-16) Luke, Chapters 22-24) John, Chapters 11-13, 18-21), in the New Testament of the Holy Bible)

- Fr. Varghese N. SVD,
Director, Divya Deepti,
New Delhi-1

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