Good Friday for Bad People

When Jesus went to the cross for you, you were not worth dying for. It wasn’t something in you that convinced him to bear the nails, the thorns, the wrath.

We’ve heard so much about his real and wondrous love for us that we might forget his love is wondrous precisely because we were not. Because, when he set his loving eyes on us, we were corrupt, defiant, repulsive. We were the treacherous wife prostituting herself out and then spending the husband’s money on other lovers. We should have been swallowed by holy rage, not by his mercy.

And yet he died for us, even us. “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). Do you know that God loved you before there was anything in you to love? Do you know that Christ died for you when you were still at your worst, when your black heart had wandered its furthest and hardened near to cracking?

Good Friday bids us to stop and remember just how sinful we were — just how bleak it was for us before that darkest day in history — and to remember the wild and tenacious love with which we’ve been loved.

While You Were Weak

While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. (Romans 5:6)

When Jesus went to the cross for you, you were weak — and not a little tired or flawed, but lame and helpless. Incapacitated. This word for weak is the same word used for the crippled man whom Peter and John met on their way to the temple in Acts 3. He was lame from birth, and had to be carried to the temple gate every day so that he could beg for enough to survive another day. That’s the kind of weak you were when Jesus found you.

In fact, Jesus died only for weak people. “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick,” he warned those who thought themselves strong. “I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31–32). “God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong” (1 Corinthians 1:27). He loves whom he loves to show us just how shortsighted all our “wisdom” really is and to expose the sickly frailty of our so-called “strength.”

While You Were Wicked

God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)

You were not only weak and helpless, however, but also thoroughly wicked. Your heart was deceitful and desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). Can you see that kind of darkness in your former self? Even your very best deeds were as filthy rags, because they were polluted with selfishness and pride. “Whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Romans 14:23). Everything you thought or said or did was an act of defiance. “Terribly black must that guilt be,” J.C. Ryle observes, “for which nothing but the blood of the Son of God could make satisfaction” (Holiness, 8–9).

“When Jesus went to the cross for you, you were not worth dying for.”

“Do not be deceived,” the apostle warns us. “Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9–10). And lest we think he has other, especially wicked people in mind, he says in the next verse, “And such were some of you” (1 Corinthians 6:11). All of that nasty, ugly evil was who you were, at least some of you.

And who you were was who Christ came to save. “The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15).

While You Were Hostile

If while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Romans 5:10)

In our wickedness, we sinned not just against the laws of God, but against God himself. All of our sinfulness was (and is) intensely personal. Your life apart from Christ was one prolonged act of divine hostility.

When King David slept with another man’s wife, impregnated her, and then had her husband murdered, notice how he confesses his sin to God: “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (Psalm 51:3–4). How could he say that? What about Bathsheba? What about righteous Uriah? What about the precious infant son who died because of his sin?

His prayer doesn’t diminish the awful sins he committed against the husband, the wife, the child — he sinned grievously against each — but it reminds us that the greatest offense in any sin is the offense against God. As awful as adultery and murder are at a human level, they’re a thousand times worse at a heavenly one. To be an unforgiven sinner, even a polite, socially acceptable sinner, is to be “alienated and hostile in mind” (Colossians 1:21).

And yet, while you were hostile, Christ died for you. In love, he walked directly into the arms of your animosity and bore its curse for you on the cross. He made his perverse and ruthless enemies his friends, his own brothers.

While You Were Dead

You were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked. (Ephesians 2:1–2)

You were not merely weak and wicked and hostile, though. You were dead. Sure, you may have been moving and breathing and eating and talking, but in all the ways that matter most, you were empty, barren, cold. You weren’t gasping for air or hanging on in a coma. The doctor had called it. And while you were lying in your lifeless blood, Jesus stopped beside you. And he not only stopped, but he chose to bleed and die so that you might stand up and live. Christ took the awful thing that killed you — your sin — and then breathed his own life and joy into your unmoving heart.

“Do you know that God loved you before there was anything in you to love?”

Who would die for a dead man? The one who died for you. Who would die for his enemy? The one who died for you. Who would die for a sinner? The one who died for you. He found you at your very worst, saw all of you at your very worst, and then he made himself your worst, so that in him you might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).

There Is a Remedy

One reason we lack the depth, faith, and joy we long to experience is that we fail to confront the sinfulness of sin — specifically, the sinfulness of our own sin. When Ryle wrote his classic book on holiness, he believed he had to begin here, with our weakness, wickedness, hostility, and ruin:

Dim or indistinct views of sin are the origin of most of the errors, heresies, and false doctrines of the present day. If a man does not realize the dangerous nature of his soul’s disease, you cannot wonder if he is content with false or imperfect remedies. (Holiness, 1)

Why do people wander after false gods and false gospels? Because they don’t take sin seriously enough. If they saw sin for what it is — crippling our souls, corrupting and twisting our minds, seeding hostility, and breeding death — then they would see that the cross is the only cure. Then they would find in Jesus a God more lovely than they are wicked, more alive than they are dead, more forgiving than they are guilty.

There is a remedy revealed for man’s need, as wide and broad and deep as man’s disease. We need not be afraid to look at sin, and study its nature, origin, power, extent, and vileness, if we only look at the same time at the Almighty medicine provided for us in the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. (Holiness, 12)

So, this Good Friday, look deeply again into the awful weight of sin — and then look even more deeply into the loving eyes of the sinless Man of Sorrows, crucified and crushed for you.