Early in the morning of the Day of Preparation for Passover, the religious authorities met in Jerusalem and affirmed their vote convicting Jesus of blasphemy. They intended to take him outside the gates of Jerusalem and stone him to death, but first they needed Roman permission for an execution. Governor Pontius Pilate was hearing other civil cases that morning, so the authorities brought Jesus to Pilate.
Blasphemy is not a crime in Roman law—especially not blasphemy by claiming to be the Son of God. The Romans had lots of gods, and many of them had sons. The authorities adjusted their verdict to get the governor’s attention. They said that Jesus claimed to be a king, making him a rebel against Roman rule. After a brief investigation, Pilate realized that Jesus was not guilty of rebellion. Three times he publicly announced that Jesus was innocent. (A few hours earlier, Peter had said three times that he did not know who Jesus was.) Pilate attempted several ways to escape the verdict that the local authorities wanted from him. Finally, in desperation, he offered the authorities and the mob supporting them a choice: to observe the Passover, the governor would release one prisoner. Either he would release Jesus, an innocent man, or he would release Barabbas, a convicted terrorist.
No one had mentioned crucifixion up to this moment, aside from the several times that Jesus had predicted how he would die. Evidently, Barabbas had just been sentenced to this form of execution. Now, the authorities and the mob demanded freedom for Barabbas; when the governor asked what he should do with Jesus, the mob shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”
Christians know that we are all just like Barabbas. We are guilty of breaking God’s laws. We deserve punishment. The evidence of our wrongdoing is inescapable. Yet we are set free. Jesus takes the punishment we deserve, and we are given our freedom. More than that, we are granted the rewards Jesus deserves for his sinless life.
Jesus was beaten by the Roman soldiers. They mocked him, thinking it laughable that anyone would even want to be “King of the Jews.” They followed orders, having him carry his cross through the streets of Jerusalem. Jesus was crucified outside the gate of Jerusalem between two thieves (possibly partners in crime with Barabbas). Roman soldiers, guarding the place of execution to prevent a rescue, were granted whatever property the condemned men had carried with them. Jesus had only the clothes on his back, but the soldiers gambled to see who would claim that clothing.
Over the years, thousands of people were crucified by the Roman government. Some survived the torture up to two days. Many people have suffered other kinds of excruciating pain, and some have endured it for years. Many people have been abandoned by their families and their friends. Physically, nothing is unique or special about the way Jesus died. Yet one thing is different: Jesus, the sinless Son of God, was abandoned by his Father. Always the two Persons had been with each other, loving each other, doing things for each other. Now the Father treated his Son as guilty of all sin. This separation is what sinners deserve—our rebellion against God signals that we do not want to be with him. God’s just judgment against us (“You don’t want to be with me? Fine, then I will abandon you.”) was turned against Jesus. In agony of separation Jesus cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus knew the answer to his question. His words are not meant as a philosophical query; they describe the despair Jesus was feeling in his heart. A thousand years before, David had written a Psalm that begins with the words Jesus prayed; Psalm 22 contains vivid descriptions of crucifixion, even the detail of enemies gambling for the victim’s clothing. A possible temporal loop exists here, as Jesus prays the words written a thousand years earlier, words which prophesied his predicament. The beginning, though, is with Jesus. He was forsaken by his Father and endured the cross, and then earlier in time he spoke of his experience to David, who wrote about what Jesus faced.
Judgment Day is coming. Every human who ever lived will stand before the judgment seat of God, and God will express his wrath over every sin that has been committed. The sun will turn to darkness, according to the prophets, and the moon will change to blood. The earth will shake because of the judgment of God. Christians do not need to fear that Day. Jesus has already endured his Father’s wrath in our place. The sun refused to shine for three hours on that Good Friday. The earth did shake. And, if historians are correct that these events took place in Jerusalem on April 3, AD 33, then the prophecy was completed, because the moon that rose at sunset was a “blood moon,” stained by the shadow of the earth.
“It is finished,” Jesus said before he died. He did not merely mean that his life or his suffering was finished. He meant that his mission was finished. The war between God and evil was finished. Evil’s claim on the lives of sinners was finished. The power of death was finished. Jesus had fought and had prevailed; goodness and love and life had won. For those reasons, we call the Friday when Jesus died “Good Friday.” J.