What does Good Friday remember? For Christians, of course, it commemorates the death of Jesus on the cross for our sins. It’s the moment when, decisively, Jesus turned aside the wrath of God from those who deserve it—us—and turned it on himself, who didn’t deserve it. Yet he did this willingly, under no compulsion from his heavenly Father, because of his and his Father’s great love for us.
But Christians need to remember this is not how everyone sees it. On face value, Jesus is not the most obvious candidate for ‘saviour of the world’. By all objective standards, the cross looks like a very bad end for Jesus. Doubtless a good man, and with good intentions to start with, isn’t it possible that Jesus just got swept away in the hype that grew around him, and began believing his own press? And that he only saw the error of his ways once it was too late, when the Jewish leaders and the Romans already had him in their sights?
That’s certainly the line Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice take in their 1971 smash hit musical, Jesus Christ Superstar. In a haunting scene where Jesus hangs on the cross, Judas’ ghost mocks him in the words of the title track, ‘Superstar’. ‘Every time I look at you I don’t understand / Why you let the things you did get so out of hand / You’d have managed better if you’d had it planned / Why’d you choose such a backward time in such a strange land?’ That is, Jesus was a victim of circumstance, he never intended to go to the cross, and was just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Was Jesus the ultimate ‘April Fool’?
He would be, if it weren’t for the evidence. Because the earliest and most reliable accounts of Jesus’ life, the Gospels, make it clear that Jesus believed, in advance, that he would die and rise to life on the third day. In Mark’s Gospel, no fewer than three times Jesus predicts his death and resurrection, and goes knowingly and willingly to the cross. Jesus, far from being a victim of circumstance, knew exactly what he was doing when he went to the cross and was entirely in control of the situation.
Why would someone willingly do this? Well, of course he could have been bad; a religious charlatan hoping to pull off the greatest April Fools trick of all time. But if he was bad, and lying, then presumably he was lying about his ability to rise to life too. Which wouldn’t do him much good when the time came. Or, he may have been mad; a religious nut who really thought he could die and rise again but was mistaken. But read the Bible and Jesus doesn’t come across as mad. Even his secular detractors never claimed he was that. Which leaves one alternative: he was who he said he was. Good Friday, far from making an ‘April Fools’ of Jesus, was his crowning moment. Because it was there he would die and save the world from its sins, and rise to life on the third day.
So which is it for you? Bad? Mad? Or really who he said he was? We hope you find the real Jesus this Easter.