Now, before you spit out your coffee, fall out of your chair, and dump all the chocolate eggs out of your Easter baskets so that you can pick up your stones, allow me to explain. I do not intend to disparge Easter at all. Easter is, after all, perhaps the most joyous day in the church. We pull out all the stops for Easter service! Brass plays, choirs sing, banners fly, lilies cover the altar, and everyone wears their absolute best on Easter Sunday. Fancy Easter brunches, egg hunts, arts and crafts, and yes, even dunk tanks all add to the celebration as people shout with hope, “Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! Alleluia!” With great hope, we have waited for that word of praise. It is an incredibly jubilant day.
When I say that Easter is overrated, I simply mean that most people (including myself) are so overflowing with anticipation of this special day that we overlook why there is an Easter in the first place. We go to church on Palm Sunday, receive our palm branches, hear the story about our humble king riding to save the people crying, “Hosanna!” and then move on through Holy Week. Sure, some of us make a quick stop at Good Friday (maybe Maundy Thursday if you have the time), but we can’t wait to get to Easter Sunday. As you read this you may have even seen an Easter advertisement online from a local church inviting you to come “celebrate joy” with them on Sunday. It’s overrated. Why? Simple:
There cannot be a resurrection without a crucifixion. For one to be made alive, one must first be put to death.
Let’s try this another way. We just celebrated one of the best Super Bowls in modern memory. Whenever a team wins the Super Bowl, the city responds by throwing a party. Businesses shut down, people flood the streets, and kids are even pulled out of school to go see their heroes ride on the back of a brand-new Corvette holding the Vince Lombardi trophy, the prize they earned after a grueling season culminating with the sweet taste of victory. The celebration is on! The victory has been won.
Here is the hard truth, though: Nobody gets a Super Bowl ring for attending the Super Bowl parade. They get the ring because they played in the actual Super Bowl. Because they poured their sweat and tears into the game they love and earned the coveted Super Bowl ring. Because they may have literally bled for those they love.
Easter is the celebration of what happened on Good Friday. But we are so eager to get to this celebration that we often give into the temptation to throw Good Friday in the back seat and only glance at it every now and again. The cross, then, is a second thought. We are no longer theologians of the cross, but theologians of the empty tomb.
Good Friday is where the victory is won. It’s where Jesus goes toe to toe with Satan and wins. It’s where Genesis 3:15 is fulfilled; Satan bruises the heel of Jesus at the cross, but Jesus ultimately crushes Satan’s head by dying. It is where Jesus empties himself, takes the form of a servant, is obedient to the point of death even death on a cross (Phil. 2:7-8). By this cross, Jesus reconciles to himself all things making peace by the blood of the cross (Col. 1:19). At the cross, Christ Jesus swallows up death forever (Isa. 25:8). As Jesus dies, he bows his head, gives up his spirit, and utters a marvelous word: “tetelestai.” It is finished (John 19:30).
There is nothing else. Everything is complete. God’s mission to redeem you by the blood of Christ is accomplished. The war between heaven and earth has ceased. Mad and endless attempts for man to win salvation for himself are no more. Jesus obliterates and frees you from the law, that tyrant that enslaves you with its painful, suffocating, impossible demands. He becomes sin, is rejected by man and by the Father, and does everything you cannot. He then gives you his righteousness in the greatest scandal in history so that you can stand before the Father justified, blameless, and righteous. Because of what Christ accomplished on Good Friday, your sins are forgiven. You are free.
Jesus did all that was necessary for you on Good Friday. On a hill, between two men held up for all the world to see, Christ purchased and won you with his blood. And because of what he did for you, you are freely justified for Christ’s sake, through faith, when you believe that you are received into favor, and that your sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake, who, by his death, has made satisfaction for your sins (AC IV.1-2).
By his death. By his work. By his wounds we are healed (Isa. 53:5).
Easter, then, is the result of Good Friday. A marvelous celebration! Christ’s resurrection is vital because it tells us that God the Father has accepted Christ’s Good Friday sacrifice for the reconciliation of the world (SC, Apostles Creed, Second Article). We know for certain that death has truly been defeated and is swallowed up in victory (1 Cor. 15:54). To those who have been gifted the forgiveness, life, and salvation that Christ won on the cross, who are baptized into these promises, death is no longer the end. “This is the end; for me, the beginning of life,” as Dietrich Bonhoeffer would say as he walked to his death.
Easter shouts that because of Christ there is infinitely more hope in death now, than any suffering or trial we may face in this earthly life. Easter is precisely why James tells us to consider it all joy when we face struggles of any kind (James 1:2). All of this has been put to death, and from those ashes, new life in Christ begins.
Easter must be seen in light of the cross. It must never overshadow Good Friday. They are a packaged deal! Paul writes that we have been united with Christ in a death like his and we shall certainly be united with Christ in a resurrection like his (Rom. 6:5). Paul is the same one who resolves to know nothing among us but Jesus Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2), but still boldly proclaims that if Christ has not been raised, then his preaching is in vain (1 Cor. 15:14). Paul is clear about the Christian living in this tension between death and resurrection.
But it's a good tension. As Lent comes to a close and the ministry of Jesus culminates with his death and resurrection, take heart. Be excited about Easter, but let’s not skip blindly or blithely past Good Friday.
This is the day that you were saved from your sin and the death only sin can bring. This is the day that forgiveness flowed from the side of our Savior. This is the day that Satan was defeated.
Good Friday is the culmination of God’s redeeming plan for you fulfilled in Jesus Christ.