Perhaps more than at any other season, professing Christians throughout Christendom will attend a Good Friday or an Easter Sunday church service. They will hear any of a variety of perspectives. Easter might be presented in the context of thoughts about Spring, a time of new beginning after Winter. Jesus might be spoken of as a divine messenger from God, a fabulously inspired teacher, who offended the religious and political authorities of His day and so was silenced, but whose inspired teachings didn’t die but live on in the minds and hearts of His followers. Jesus on the cross might be presented as demonstrating the love and acceptance of God for all of humanity, who bore the sins of His people on the cross in the sense that His sacrifice served to inspire and motivate us to overcome our difficulties. Like a great cosmic boyfriend, He inspires us to reach our full potential and accepts us and affirms us just as we are because, after all, He really, really likes us! I once listened to an Easter sermon that was built on the premise that the moved tombstone at the empty grave of Jesus was a metaphor for obstacles we need to have removed in our life. The real point of the moved tombstone, however, and the point of the empty grave, is much more than a reminder about our personal obstacles; it is that Jesus was alive after being dead, and because of that there is eternal life in Christ.
The Bible teaches that humans are sinners in need of salvation, not merely salvation from bad things that happen to us in this life, but from the righteous anger of God against our sin and rebellion both individually and corporately as part of the human race. In 1 Thessalonians 1:10, the Bible reminds us “to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.” Jesus died to deliver us from the wrath of God, preaching and repeatedly warning of an impending judgment of the world, at which point God is going to pour out His wrath against the unredeemed, the ungodly, and the impenitent. The only hope of escape from that outpouring of divine wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ. Jesus’ work on the cross was to placate the wrath of God. He didn’t die by accident; it was the divine plan of God from the very beginning. He didn’t die because He took a risk of offending, He didn’t die merely as a martyr or an example, or as a general expression of love and acceptance toward all of humanity. He died as the perfect sacrifice, the One Saving Plan of God, to turn away God’s righteous anger and make possible a change of God’s disposition toward those who would repent and believe the Gospel. The idea of placating the wrath of God is not popular today. Some would say that it is beneath the dignity of God to think that we should have to do something to soothe Him or appease Him. But this is the very core of the biblical concept of salvation, not that we ourselves can do something to merit salvation, but that it has been done for us by God Himself in Christ. The only hope of escape from God’s wrath is to be covered by the atonement of Christ.
What Christ’s achieved on the cross is nothing less than the reality that He placated the wrath of God that is inherent in the nature and purpose of God and which condemns us if we not covered by the sacrifice of Christ. Further, the atonement at Calvary didn’t take away the sins of all of humanity and so leave us with a Gospel defined as merely a path to living a better life in this world since we’re all going to heaven anyway, about making one’s life better or to becoming part of a movement to “make the world a better place.” Many speak such ideas about “Jesus,” but they don’t acknowledge the real message of Jesus, which is the Gospel of the Holiness of God and His Law and the truth of our utter lostness in light of that. Without the real Gospel of salvation by God’s grace through faith and repentance, made possible by Jesus’ death and resurrection, human beings remain under the penalty of their sin. But there is no wrath for those whose sins have been paid. That is what salvation is all about. That is what The Cross – and the Resurrection – is all about.
The Bible says that everyone born in Adam is a sinner at birth and needs to repent of their own sin and look to Christ by Faith Alone. The apostle Paul in the letter to the Romans clearly explains this. All have sinned, and have fallen short of the glory of God, everyone born in Adam is an enemy of God and must be born from above as a supernatural work of God, a work that only the Holy Spirit can do by virtue of regeneration. A failure to do so will result in receiving the payment of their own sin–the wrath of God.
We understand the love of God only in this context. He doesn’t merely love us as His created beings. He doesn’t merely love us and accept us and affirm us and forgive us just as we are. He loves us far more than that. He loves us enough that “He became sin for us, Who knew no sin.” Christ the God-man became the sacrifice for those of the ages who simply by God’s grace through faith would believe the Gospel. God suffered and died on the cross for us! He loves us enough to forgive our rebellion – creature against Creator – by providing Himself as the only acceptable atonement for our sin. He loves us and forgives us on that basis. The Resurrection and empty tomb demonstrate that He has conquered sin and death for us and has given us eternal life. Good Friday is “good” because of the good news that if you accept Jesus as Lord and Savior you get eternal life with Him. It is “good” because He died on a Roman cross willingly as a substitute for you. He conquered death for you. On the cross the Father turned His back on Jesus as all of the sins of the world were placed on Him. Jesus bore our sin, guilt, and shame. And now you just need to trust Him.
The empty tomb guarantees the end of the dominion of death over those who believe the Gospel. In John 14:19, speaking to His disciples shortly before His arrest, Jesus told them, “A little while longer and the world will see Me no more, but you will see Me. Because I live, you will live also.”
“Because I live, you will live also.” That is the real meaning of Good Friday and Resurrection Sunday.