This is the first Good Friday in Christian history to be observed primarily online. Millions of Christians are attending worship services through digital means.
Unless they have their own chapel, that is.
The Christ family (pronounced “Crist”) lives on a slice of pastureland an hour southeast of Oklahoma City. They usually worship with the Wewoka Church of Christ. But three years ago, Ryan Christ constructed a tiny chapel, about twelve feet wide and twenty-five feet long, on their property. It has six small pews and can hold about a dozen non-social-distancing adults.
As the Christian Chronicle article notes, “That’s more than enough for a family of four, stuck at home in the midst of a pandemic.”
According to his wife, Ryan is always looking for ways to share his faith. His last name helps. When people ask him if he’s related to Jesus Christ, “he always comes back with, ‘I’m not him, but I know him,’” she says.
“The symbol of Christianity is an instrument of death”
So can we, because of what happened on this day twenty centuries ago.
Karl Barth is often considered the most important theologian of the twentieth century. In 1962, on his one visit to America, he was asked how he would summarize the millions of words he had published. Barth replied, “Jesus loves me, this I know; for the Bible tells me so.”
And what the Bible tells us is that Jesus loves us enough to die for us.
Frederick Buechner observed: “A six-pointed star, a crescent moon, a lotus—the symbols of other religions suggest beauty and light. The symbol of Christianity is an instrument of death.”
People wear crosses today as if they were originally jewelry, but they were not. They were instruments of the most horrific, tortured form of execution ever devised.
But it’s not enough today to remember the fact that Jesus died for us—we need to remember why he died for us. John R. W. Stott was right: “Before we can begin to see the cross as something done for us, we have to see it as something done by us.”
“Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”
Psychologist Karl Menninger published a book in 1973 that became a bestseller, Whatever Became of Sin? I’m not sure it would sell as well today for the precise reason he wrote it.
He noted: “The very word, sin, which seems to have disappeared, was a proud word. It was once a strong word, an ominous and serious word. It described a central point in every civilized human being’s plan and lifestyle. But the word went away. It has almost disappeared—the word, along with the notion. Why? Doesn’t anyone sin anymore? Doesn’t anyone believe in sin?”
Dr. Menninger rightly observed that sin has become a crime to be avenged by police and the courts or a symptom of disease to be cured by psychiatry. Failing this, it is projected onto a collective “they” so that we can evade responsibility for our personal contributions to evil.
But we have lost the sense that our sins are first and foremost against God.
I know that you know you are a “sinner” in a theological sense. But do you know—really know—that your sins (and mine) sent Christ to the cross? Do you know that they alone were enough to cause his death? That in order to atone for them, it wasn’t enough for him to be abandoned, or denied, or betrayed, or even to be whipped and beaten and scourged?
He had to die.
Gratitude for Jonas Salk
Sin breaks our relationship with our perfect Father. In that moment, it cuts us off from the only source of spiritual and eternal life. This is why “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). It’s like cutting off a flower at the stem. It may still look alive for a few days, but its death is certain.
And this is why to pay the “wages” of sin, Jesus had to die. Since he was sinless (Hebrews 4:15), he owed no debt of his own. As a result, his death could pay our debt and purchase our salvation.
Here’s the problem: our culture, in its rampant secularization, has abandoned objective biblical morality and along with it any sense that we are fallen sinners in need of salvation. In response, many evangelicals focus so fully on convincing the culture of its sins and need for repentance that we overlook our personal complicity. We know we have asked Jesus to forgive our sins and become our Savior, so we move forward with little thought to their cost or continuing danger.
I was immunized as a child against polio, but no one asked me to be thankful to Jonas Salk for providing my vaccine. I have given little thought to the disease since.
But like COVID-19, the disease of sin is still rampant in our world. It is still deadly. And anyone can “catch” it.
Why I’m grateful for Good Friday
This is why I’m grateful for Good Friday—not just the event, but the observance that brings us back to the event. I’m grateful for the worst day in history that is also the best day in history, as Easter proved. I’m grateful for a Savior who considered my eternal life worth his tortured death. And I’m grateful for a Father who watched his Son suffer and die so I could live.
How can I respond to such love except in grateful remembrance, genuine worship, obedient service, and passionate witness?
If you had been given the cure for COVID-19 so that you could not die of this deadly disease, wouldn’t you share it with the world?