What is Good Friday, and why do we call the Friday of Holy Week “good”?
What is Good Friday?
This Christian holiday is also known as Holy Friday, Great Friday, Great and Holy Friday, and Black Friday.
For Christians, Good Friday is an important day of the year because it commemorates what we believe to be the most significant time in the history of the world. Ever since Jesus died and was raised, Christians have proclaimed Jesus's Crucifixion and Resurrection as the decisive turning point for all creation.
Paul considered it “of first importance” that Jesus died for our sins, was buried, and was raised to life on the third day, following God's promise in the Scriptures:
"For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance; that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that He was buried, that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures" (1 Corinthians 15:3-4)
On Good Friday, we remember the day Jesus willingly suffered and died by crucifixion as the ultimate sacrifice for our sins (1 John 1:10). Easter follows it, the glorious celebration of the day Jesus was raised from the dead, heralding his victory over sin and death and pointing ahead to a future resurrection for all who are united to him by faith (Romans 6:5).
Bible Events of Good Friday
"Then the detachment of soldiers with its commander and the Jewish officials arrested Jesus. They bound him and brought him first to Annas, who was the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Caiaphas was the one who had advised the Jewish leaders that it would be good if one man died for the people." (John 18:12-14)
He was then taken to trial before the Jewish Sanhedrin, where he was falsely accused of blasphemy. He was then sent to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor of Judea, who sentenced Him to crucifixion at the demand of the chief Jewish priests.
"I have spoken openly to the world,” Jesus replied. “I always taught in synagogues or at the temple, where all the Jews come together. I said nothing in secret. Why question me? Ask those who heard me. Surely they know what I said.” (John 18:20-21)
“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’?” They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” Now Barabbas had taken part in an uprising. (John 18:38-40)
Jesus was led to Calvary, where He was crucified between two thieves.
"Two others, who were criminals, were led away to be put to death with Him. And when they came to the place that is called The Skull, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on His right and one on His left" (Luke 23:33-34)
He hung on the cross for six hours, during which time He spoke seven last words. At about 3:00 pm, He gave up His spirit.
"It was now about the sixth hour, and there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour, while the sun's light failed. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two. Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, "Father, into your hands I commit my spirit!" And having said this he breathed his last." (Luke 23:44-46)
Meaning of Good Friday Today
For Christians, Good Friday is a day of mourning and reflection. It is a time to remember the great sacrifice that Jesus made for all of humanity. It is also a time to remember the power of God's love and the promise of eternal life.
Good Friday is also a day of hope and new beginnings. It is a reminder that even in the darkest of times, there is always hope. Jesus' death on the cross was not the end but rather the beginning of something new. Through his resurrection, Jesus conquered death and opened the way for eternal life for all who believe in him.
How Christians Observe Good Friday
There are many different ways that Christians observe Good Friday. Some may attend church services, while others may simply spend time in prayer and reflection. Some may also fast or abstain from certain foods. The most important thing is to find a way to observe Good Friday that is meaningful to you.
Here are some specific ways that Christians observe Good Friday:
- Attend church services that focus on the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
- Read Scripture passages about the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
- Pray and reflect on the meaning of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
- Fast from certain foods as a way of expressing sorrow and repentance.
- Give to charity as a way of expressing gratitude for the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
Good Friday is a day for Christians to remember the great sacrifice that Jesus made for all of humanity. It is a time to mourn his death, but it is also a time to celebrate his resurrection and the promise of eternal life.
Why is it called 'Good' Friday?
Still, why call the day of Jesus’ death “Good Friday” instead of “Bad Friday” or something similar? Some Christian traditions take this approach: in German, for example, the day is called Karfreitag, or “Sorrowful Friday.” In English, 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 sins.
For the gospel's good news to have meaning for us, we first must understand the bad news of our condition as sinful people under condemnation. The good news of deliverance only makes sense once we see how we were enslaved. Another way of saying this is that it is essential to understand and distinguish between law and gospel in Scripture. We need the law first to show us how hopeless our condition is; then, the gospel of Jesus’ grace brings us relief and salvation.
In the same way, Good Friday is “good” because as terrible as that day was, it had to happen for us to receive the joy of Easter. The wrath of God against sin had to be poured out on Jesus, the perfect sacrificial substitute, for forgiveness and salvation to be poured out to the nations. Without that awful day of suffering, sorrow, and blood at the cross, God could not be both “just and the justifier” of those who trust in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Paradoxically, the day that seemed to be the greatest triumph of evil was actually the death blow in God’s gloriously good plan to redeem the world from bondage.
The cross is where we see the convergence of great suffering and God’s forgiveness. Psalms 85:10 sings of a day when “righteousness and peace” will “kiss each other.” The cross of Jesus is where that occurred, where God’s demands, his righteousness, coincided with his mercy. We receive divine forgiveness, mercy, and peace because Jesus willingly took our divine punishment, resulting from God’s righteousness against sin. “For the joy set before him” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus endured the cross on Good Friday, knowing it led to his resurrection, our salvation, and the beginning of God’s reign of righteousness and peace.
Good Friday marked the day when wrath and mercy met at the cross. That’s why Good Friday is so dark and so Good.
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When Is Good Friday?
In 2024, Good Friday will be on Friday, March 29th.
Good Friday is always the Friday right before Easter. As part of Holy Week, Good Friday is five days after the Christian holiday of Palm Sunday, which commemorates Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem.
Good Friday in the Bible
Good Friday Prophecy:
"But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed." (Isaiah 53:5)
Good Friday Fulfilled:
"He himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By His wounds you have been healed." (1 Peter 2:24)
The Crucifixion of Jesus
As they were going out, they met a man from Cyrene named Simon, and they forced him to carry the cross. They came to a place called Golgotha (which means “the place of the skull”). There they offered Jesus wine to drink, mixed with gall; but after tasting it, he refused to drink it. When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots. And sitting down, they kept watch over him there.
Above his head they placed the written charge against him: THIS IS JESUS, THE KING OF THE JEWS. Two rebels were crucified with him, one on his right and one on his left. Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, save yourself! Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!”
In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.’ ” In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (Matthew 27:32-44)
The Death of Jesus
From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land. About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lemasabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”). When some of those standing there heard this, they said, “He’s calling Elijah.”
Immediately one of them ran and got a sponge. He filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. The rest said, “Now leave him alone. Let’s see if Elijah comes to save him.” And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit.
At that moment, the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people.
When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, “Surely he was the Son of God!” Many women were there, watching from a distance. They had followed Jesus from Galilee to care for his needs. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of Zebedee’s sons. (Matthew 27:45-56)
Good Friday Traditions
Here are some of the traditions Christians have observed on Good Friday when commemorating Jesus' death on the Cross.
Strict Fasting and Prayer
Many observe Good Friday as a day to fast and pray. The physical act of fasting is to abstain from food or activity to devote that time to prayer. Many Christians observe Good Friday as a day of fasting and prayer to focus on the suffering and sacrifice of the Lord but also as a day to refocus attention on the Father. Fasting and prayer remove distractions and open an opportunity to hear the heart of the Father. Fasting on Good Friday is a helpful way to unite one’s focus to Christ.
Attending a church service is common on Good Friday. The Easter season begins with Lent six weeks prior with an Ash Wednesday service in many denominations and leads up to events during Easter week. Maundy Thursday commemorates the Last Supper, Good Friday the sacrifice and suffering of Christ, and Easter Sunday celebrates the fulfilled promise of Christ raising just as He promised. Many denominations have weekly services, including Good Friday, to ponder such a somber day.
The singing of hymns or songs to the Lord is a way to worship Him through song. Some churches make specific observations between 12 noon and 3 pm, or the hours in which Christ was on the cross to worship the Lord in song. You can sing with the people you live with or even get on a video call with your small group or family and sing together.
This Good Friday practice is more common among the Orthodox and Byzantine Catholic churches. According to OrthoChristian.com,
"The Holy Shroud is taken out of the altar on Friday afternoon during the Vespers of Great Saturday, at the third hour of Holy Friday—that is, the hour of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross (the service usually begins at about two o’clock in the afternoon). The Holy Shroud is carried out of the altar and placed into the tomb in the middle of the church. This is a raised platform adorned with flowers and perfumed as a symbol of our sorrow at the death of Christ. The Gospel is laid in the center of the Shroud. As the Shroud is carried out, the hymn “Noble Joseph" is sung:"
"The noble Joseph,
when he had taken down Thy most pure body from the Tree,
wrapped it in fine linen and anointed it with spices,
and placed it in a new tomb."
Prayer for Good Friday
Justin Holcomb is an Episcopal priest who teaches theology at Reformed and Knox Theological Seminary. Justin wrote On the Grace of God and co-authored with his wife Lindsey Rid of My Disgrace and Save Me from Violence. He is also the editor of Christian Theologies of Scripture. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and JustinHolcomb.com.
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