Why is Good Friday good? Why should this dark day two thousand years ago still matter for contemporary people and world culture?
On Good Friday, Jesus embodied his most radical principle in the most devastating moment of his life: “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44; Luke 6:27).
From the beginning of his career, Jesus taught that loving our enemies is the mark of spiritual perfection, because it reflects God’s unconditionally generous character (Matthew 5:45-48; Luke 6:35-36).
And unlike so many leaders, Jesus resisted hypocrisy when it cost him everything.
First, Jesus was arrested and condemned by a mob jury for his counter-cultural life. Second, Jesus was brutally tortured and viciously ridiculed without cause. Finally, Jesus was unjustly executed in the most humiliating and excruciating manner devised by the Roman Empire: naked crucifixion in public.
It’s difficult to imagine the raw physical pain and psychological torment Jesus suffered. But beyond the suffering of one innocent man, Christians believe that Jesus was the incarnation of God. From this perspective, the murder of Jesus was also the most extreme evil in history: the murder and rejection of God.
And yet Jesus didn’t curse or call for revenge. He didn’t respond to the cutting taunts of those who watched him die. Jesus didn’t cry out to his followers, “Never forget!”
Instead, Jesus cried out to God, “Father, forgive them” (Luke 23:34).
This is surely one of the most astonishing moments in history. Jesus turned the most devastating day of his life into a declaration of forgiveness. He released his killers from their evil and embraced them as more enduringly valuable than the horrific pain they caused him.
Jesus loved his enemies to the end and thus embodied “the power of an indestructible life” (Hebrews 7:16).
In this way, Good Friday is a source of radical hope and cultural revolution.
First, radical hope.
If Jesus can forgive the most hideous crimes committed against himself as God’s Son, what sins can’t Jesus forgive? Good Friday in all of its murderous terror is transformed into a day of radical hope for the entire world.
The killers of God can be forgiven. We can be forgiven. Across the catastrophic failures of human history, Jesus cries from the cross, “Father, forgive them.” When it seems like hope itself has been murdered, a new beginning is given.
Jesus’s final words declared a theological revolution whispered throughout his life. God is not a killer. God does not want to destroy. God does not save by mirroring evil. Instead, God is the innocent sufferer who proclaims forgiveness to those who deserve it least. On the cross Jesus declares exactly what he taught after he commanded, “Love your enemies”: God is “kind to the ungrateful and wicked… your Father is merciful” (Luke 6:35-36).
There is no sin that God cannot forgive and heal. This is the moral core of God’s omnipotent love. Hope is final.
Second, cultural revolution.
Soon after Jesus’s death, Peter wrote to his persecuted community, “Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps” (1 Peter 2:21). The radical hope of Jesus’s forgiveness is not simply a free gift. It is a call to action. Jesus’s death is the ultimate reaffirmation of his original command, “Love your enemies.”
It’s striking that Stephen, the first martyr of the early Christian movement, died exactly like Jesus. Stephen was falsely accused, brutally tortured, and publicly murdered. And he makes his final words a declaration of forgiveness for his killers: “Lord, do not hold this sin against them” (Acts 6:60).
This radical love became Christianity’s strangest and most inspiring challenge to ancient culture. Entrenched practices of dehumanization, exclusion, and violence were uprooted. A movement was launched to love beyond every boundary.
In this way, a third option was introduced to society beyond passively withdrawing like the philosophers or violently revenging like the politicians. Radically love like Jesus and create new beginnings for others when they least deserve it.
This new way of living and dying is still possible for us today. Our anger, aggression, and violence can be transformed into patience, gentleness, and forgiveness. Our suffering needn’t unleash a vicious cycle of cursing and killing. Our suffering can reveal the meaning of life: the unconditional value of the human person and God’s undefeatable will for forgiveness.
This radical hope and cultural revolution are the reasons why Christians call this terrible day “Good” and think it remains endlessly relevant for contemporary society.
In a time when despair shadows the earth and culture seems hopelessly addicted to self-destructive violence, Jesus not only teaches but personally embodies our final hope and best possibility for society: “Love your enemies.”
Good Friday to you, dear friends. Hope is final. A new way of being human is possible.