What’s so good about Good Friday? This day has been celebrated by Christians for the last two thousand years and too often is not understood. At the core, the question answers what Jesus came to accomplish. The short answer is that he came to demonstrate both God’s justice and love through the cross. Why celebrate the grueling horrific death of an innocent man? Not only is this not in vogue, but detested by our age that is passing away. And yet for all the ages, it is the greatest event of all.
So why is this good? Because God’s wrath has been satisfied, and hopelessly lost sinners through Gods’ grace and kindness have the opportunity to enter the family of God through Jesus Christ’s, life, death, resurrection, and ascension (see my Reflections from Romans:1-5 for more in depth Biblical explication).
In Christian theology the topic of the cross is under the heading of the Atonement. In what follows, I’m going to explain what the atonement is, what its cause was, why it was needed, and what its nature is.
WHAT IS THE ATONEMENT ALL ABOUT?
In Christian theology, that which surrounds the attempt to understand the cross is what’s called the atonement a term that means to “cover over’. It comes from the basic idea that man is a sinner in need of a Savior, a redeemer from God’s holy wrath. That is, in order for sinful man (who is hell bound) to be in relationship with a holy God, a sacrifice must be made.
This is seen in Genesis when after disobeying God, He covered Adam and Eve with animal skins (requiring the life of an innocent “animal” to make relationship possible). It’s extensively demonstrated in the Old Testament sacrificial system (Lev.1:14; 4:20; 7:7; 16). These sacrifices were a type pointing to Jesus Christ according to the writer of Hebrews: (Heb. 9:22-26; 10:4-10).
“22 And according to the Law, one may almost say, all things are cleansed with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no forgiveness. 23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.”
“4 For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.5 Therefore, when He comes into the world, He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired,
But a body You have prepared for Me; 6 In whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have taken no pleasure. 7 “Then I said, ‘Behold, I have come (In the scroll of the book it is written of Me) To do Your will, O God.’” 8 After saying above, “Sacrifices and offerings and whole burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You have not desired, nor have You taken pleasure in them” (which are offered according to the Law), 9 then He said, “Behold, I have come to do Your will.” He takes away the first in order to establish the second. 10 By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.”
Paul says that, “God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself” (2 Cor.5:19), which he accomplished through Jesus’ death on the cross (Rom.5:10). This reconciliation was and is many sided which involves Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, and ascension. Having said that, central to the doctrine of salvation in the New Testament is the cross. As Christian Theologian Leon Morris put it:
“This [the cross] is distinctive of Christianity. Other religions have their martyrs, but the death of Jesus was not that of a martyr. It was that of a Savior. His death saves men from their sins. Christ took their place and died their death 2 Cor.5:21).” 
As the following texts attest:
“45 For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.” (Mk.10:45)
21 He made Him (Jesus) who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Cor.5:21)
This problem is denied by Monists as an illusion, it’s considered superstition by Atheist’s, and is seen as blasphemous by Muslims. But historic Christianity understands this to be the monumental event in of all history. So, what was the cause of the atonement?
THE CAUSE OF THE ATONEMENT
For our purposes, we will define the atonement as: the work Christ did in his life and death to earn our salvation. God’s Love is no small feat and the apostle John captures its depth too often falling on deaf ears. Both God’s love and justice are the cause for the atonement:
“16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19 This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.” (Jn.3:16)
God is love and here we see that His love moved Him to do the unthinkable—offering His innocent Son so that we might me His friends. Such a view does not seem to be a man centered concoction of myth but a sever mercy of the transcendent Creator. Not only was it God’s love that caused this atonement to be realized but also His justice.
Paul the apostle goes to great lengths in Romans to explain our need and God’s remedy. That is, God’s Justice had to be met out:
“21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, 22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction; 23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, 24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus; 25 whom God displayed publicly as a propitiation in His blood through faith. This was to demonstrate His righteousness, because in the forbearance of God He passed over the sins previously committed; 26 for the demonstration, I say, of His righteousness at the present time, so that He would be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.” (Rom.3:21-26)
Freedom is never free. Someone has to pay for it. The penalty due for our sins Christ paid; otherwise God could not have accepted us into fellowship with Himself. The term propitiation (NASB) speaks of a sacrifice that bears God’s wrath so that God becomes favorably disposed toward us. Thus, both God’s love and justice were satisfied by Christ alone. This is why Jesus could say with absolute authority, “I am the way the truth and the life, no comes to the Father but by me”. So what of the need for the atonement?
WHY WAS THE ATONEMENT NEEDED?
When we speak of the need of the atonement, we must clarify that God did not need to save us, as though he needed anything from us seeing that He is the self-existent One. Recall that He did not spare the angels, but cast them into hell (2 Pet.2:4).
Yet, in God’s economy, it was not only impossible for Christ not to die on the cross (Garden of Gethsemane Mt. 26:39), “…My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not as I will, but as You will,” but it was also necessary for the Messiah to die for the sins of his people as Luke declares:
25 And He said to them, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and to enter into His glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and with all the prophets, He explained to them the things concerning Himself in all the Scriptures. (Lk.24:25-27)
This is foolishness to the Greeks, and a stumbling block for the Jews, but to those who are called, Christ is both the wisdom of God and the power of God (1 Cor.1). This atonement was also necessary for Jesus to be made like us in every way (Heb. 2:17-18), “…He had to be made like His brethren in all things, so that He might become a merciful and faithful High Priest in things pertaining to God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. V-18 For since He Himself was tempted in that which He has suffered, He is able to come to the aid of those who are tempted”. He had to atone for those He’d save and by doing so is worthy to represent them before the throne of God as a faithful high priest.
The necessity for Christ’s sacrifice is also because animal blood could never achieve what the blood of God’s unique Son did, “For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins” (Heb.10: 4). Again the writer of Hebrews hammers this home:
“23 Therefore it was necessary for the copies of the things in the heavens to be cleansed with these, but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these. 24 For Christ did not enter a holy place made with hands, a mere copy of the true one, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us; 25 nor was it that He would offer Himself often, as the high priest enters the holy place year by year with blood that is not his own. 26 Otherwise, He would have needed to suffer often since the foundation of the world; but now once at the consummation of the ages He has been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice of Himself.” (Heb.9:23-26)
God’s love and justice caused the atonement, our need for forgiveness and a faithful high priest demanded the need of the atonement. What of the nature of this atonement?
THE NATURE OF THE ATONEMENT
The nature of the atonement appears to be based on Christ’s obedience and suffering. Christ had to be obedient for us because we could not. That is, Jesus had to obey the whole Law on our behalf so that the positive merits of his obedience would be counted for us (Rom.5:19) “For as through one mans disobedience the many were made sinners, even so through the obedience of the One the many will be made righteous.” What Adam ruined, Jesus came to restore.
Christ’s suffering for us was also necessary to pay the penalty for our sins. We can see this with; his pain on the cross, his being abandoned, and his bearing the wrath of God. A man of sorrows depicts the Master.
Jesus’ Whole life was filled with suffering. Jesus’ suffering involved the entirety of his being: his body and his soul. Consider his temptation in the wilderness which was tremendous suffering (Mt.4:1-11; Mk.1:13). When the text says that Jesus was being tempted, in the language of the New Testament it means that he was continually being tempted throughout the forty days in the wilderness.
When he was growing up Jesus went through the process of learning to obey and this involved suffering (Heb.5:8) “Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through the things He suffered”. Furthermore, remember that he endured great opposition from the Jewish leaders (Heb.12:3-4), and was acquainted with grief. Speaking of him Isaiah says: (Is.53:3) “He was despised and forsaken of men, A man of sorrows and acquainted with grief; And like one from whom men hide their face He was despised, and we did not esteem Him.”
The pinnacle of such pain and suffering occurred on the cross of Calvary. Toward the end of his earthly life, Jesus sufferings intensified and climaxed on the cross for it was there that he must pay for the penalty of our sins. In (Mt.26:38) while undergoing the agony in the garden of Gethsemane, he says, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death”. This pain on the cross he was about to endure was fourfold.
It was a physical pain and death. The means of death was through crucifixion (Mk.15:24). Remember “The Passion” movie and imagine it superlatively worse. Then there was the pain of bearing sin. Jesus not only endured physical pain, but also psychological pain by bearing the guilt for our sin as Isaiah describes:
“6 All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his won way; But the LORD has caused the iniquity of us all to fall on Him.” (Isa.53:6, 12)
This and other passages demonstrate that it was God the Father who put our sins on Christ. Then there’s the pain of abandonment. Jesus was abandoned by the disciples and by the Father. The disciples were his closest friends who in the Garden of Gethsemane could bring him no comfort as he was in agonizing sorrow (Mk.14:34). When Jesus was arrested the disciples fled (Mt.26:56).
Jesus nonetheless loved them to the end (Jn.13:1). We all experience rejection to one degree or another, but in Jesus’ darkest hour his friends were absent. The worst pain of all was when the Father abandoned him for it deprived him of the sweet fellowship he had throughout his life with the Father. Finally, it was the pain of God’s wrath unleashed on him that crushed the Savior (Mt.27:46). The Son became the object of God’s wrath! But that was not the end. For death could not keep God’s holy one from life.
What’s so good about Good Friday? God’s love and justice are commemorated. That is, in the work of Christ Jesus, God’s enemies have the opportunity to become His friends. There’s only one way, and that way has been provided by an amazing Creator who day and night stretches out his kindness to rebellious creatures whose doom is a breathe away but for His son’s kindness expressed in “it is finished!”. Consider the following text in light of your life and ask yourself friend if you are His enemy or friend:
11 As a result of the anguish of His soul,
He will see it and be satisfied;
By His knowledge the Righteous One,
My Servant, will justify the many,
As He will bear their iniquities.
12 Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great,
And He will divide the booty with the strong;
Because He poured out Himself to death,
And was numbered with the transgressors;
Yet He Himself bore the sin of many,
And interceded for the transgressors.
 Leon Morris, Atonement, EDT, pg.97.
 Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology, pg.568. Also, we could speak of Christ’s resurrection and ascension, but for our purposes we will concentrate on his life and death.
 Ibid., p.568.
 Ibid., p.571-572.