Today is Friday the 13th of February and that means tomorrow we celebrate Valentine’s Day. Two days back-to-back that most people recognize as being very different. Friday the 13th is most famous for being the name of a horror film franchise about a knife-wielding psychopath named Jason. These movies were very successful and created such a cultural stigma around the date that movie studios regularly release horror films on Fridays that fall on the 13th day of the month, if at all possible. But that’s not where it started.
Friday the 13th wasn’t an arbitrary date some screenwriter chose. The number thirteen has long been considered an unlucky number. Most people trace this back to the thirteen people seated around the table at the Last Supper—one of them being a traitor whose betrayal would ultimately result in the Crucifixion of Christ on Good Friday. So put thirteen and Friday together and the worst is sure to happen. That’s the superstition anyway.
Valentine’s Day is celebrated as a day of love. Where boys buy girls flowers and candy and take them to nice restaurants, and so on… but why? In the Third Century there was an emperor named Claudias who had banned soldiers from getting married. He believed a single soldier was an undivided solider. Church tradition says that a Roman Priest named Valentine started performing undercover weddings for these soldiers. He was eventually arrested and sentenced to death. February 14th is the day the Church believes Saint Valentine was beheaded, thus the day is named after him.
Both of these days were extremely bloody and both were about love. When it comes to the love of God, it is best revealed to us in a horrific display of torture, shame, sacrifice, and death that is almost impossible to wrap your head around. The Apostle Paul says it this way:
For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:7-8 ESV)
Paul states that the Cross of Christ is where the love of God is most clearly shown. Not shown to the righteous or even to the good, but to sinners. Paul says elsewhere that the Cross of Christ is an offense (Galatians 5:11). That is to say, the very thing that displays the love of God in its fullest extent is an offense to us. Now prepare to be offended.
The cross offends us because we need it. The cross says that you and I are sinners. We’re not good. We are people who have fallen so radically short of God’s will for us and lived in such blatant rebellion to His Law that the only just punishment is death. This need for the cross names us all guilty of crimes deserving of capital punishment. We deserve to die. This is offensive.
The offense doesn’t stop there. Jesus stepping in to take our place is good news, but what He was required to go through to do it, is an assault on our sense of decency. It takes an innocent man to be wrongly accused and condemned. It takes Him being mocked, beaten, and spit on. It takes a crown being fashioned from thorns, then being placed on, and pressed into His head. It takes a scourging where veins, arteries, ligaments, and tendons were ripped from His body. It takes shame and blood—a lot of blood, and more of it. It takes a filthy Roman cross that other men had bled, urinated, defecated, and died upon—all before being placed upon the raw open flesh of His back. It takes nails being driven through His hands and feet. It takes Him being stripped fully naked and raised up on a cross for everyone to see. And it takes Him dying.
This is the horror of the cross and the love of God. This is what it cost to get the guilty off. It is in this bloody offense that Paul says the love of God shines most brightly. It was all for sinners. It was all for you and me. We deserved it and Jesus took it for us that we might go free. The eternal Word made flesh, having that flesh mutilated, is a word from God declaring, “Here is how I love you: I love you to my own death.”
So often we try to move past the cross and on to nicer, cleaner, more family-friendly aspects of the love of God. But we don’t lead nice, clean, family-friendly lives in a nice, clean, family friendly world. It’s a mess out there and “horror love story” might not be the genre we are comfortable with, but it’s the one the salvation of sinners was wrought in. So plant yourself at the foot of the cross and don’t look away, recognizing that redeeming love is a bloody business.
Saint Valentine died on February 14th for performing outlawed weddings. Jesus died on a Friday to make outlaws into His bride and He will forever be our scar-bearing groom. Friday the 13th and Valentine’s Day back-to-back are perfect for each other, and for us as well. After all, we see love best in the horror of the cross.