Sin in Eden knocked all creation into chaos. Sin at Babel marked the collective pride of mankind. And while every sin is an act of God-rejection, humanity’s wickedness reaches new heights in the horrifying events of Good Friday.
Holy Week makes us uncomfortable. There is glorious life and victory to come on Easter Sunday, but to get there we must pass directly through the darkness of Good Friday. We must remember the day when human malice broke barriers and reached levels of previously unmatched atrocity. The Messiah, the King, come to save mankind, was nailed to an accursed tree and left to die.
There is no immunity for such cosmic treason.
On Good Friday we feel the finger of guilt and culpability rightly shoved into the ribs of humanity:
- “...this Jesus whom you crucified...” (Acts 2:36)
- “...you denied the Holy and Righteous One, and asked for a murderer to be granted to you, and you killed the Author of life...” (Acts 3:14–15)
- “...whom you crucified...” (Acts 4:10)
- “...whom you killed by hanging him on a tree...” (Acts 5:30)
Humanity has never heaped upon itself more self-condemning guilt than on Good Friday. This simple phrase — you killed — pierces through all vain excuses. It was a conspiracy to kill the God-man, and success in the evil plot has stained our hands with God’s own blood, blood on the hands of both scheming Jews and acquiescing Gentiles.
This is why Good Friday was the most horrible sin the world ever witnessed (Sibbes). More terrible than Babel’s arrogant tower. If ever there was cause for God to rain down wrath upon the world, and re-flood the globe with justice, there was no more opportune moment than the brutal slaughter of his beloved Son.
In his Good Friday sermon of 1928, Dietrich Bonhoeffer drives this cosmic tragedy home like three cold steel stakes pounded through the nerves of humanity's own wrists and feet.
Good Friday is not the darkness that must necessarily yield to light. It is not the winter sleep that contains and nourishes the seed of life within. It is the day on which human beings — human beings who wanted to be like gods — kill the God who became human, the love that became person; the day on which the Holy One of God, that is, God himself, dies, truly dies — voluntarily and yet because of human guilt — without any seed of life remaining in him in such a way that God’s death might resemble sleep.
Good Friday is not, like winter, a transitional stage — no, it is genuinely the end, the end of guilty humanity and the final judgment that humanity has pronounced upon itself. . . .
If God’s history among human beings had ended on Good Friday, then the final pronouncement over humankind would be guilt, rebellion, the unfettering of all titanic human forces, a storming of heaven by human beings, godlessness, godforsakenness, but then ultimately meaninglessness and despair. Then your faith is futile. Then you are still in your guilt. Then we are of all people most to be pitied. That is, the final word would be the human being.1
This is the awful memory Good Friday presses on us.
Humanity, aspiring in arrogance to become godlike, has slayed the God-man by both murderous intent and by woeful passivity. And in this crime, Bonhoeffer goes on to explain, everything else has been made futile. All our culture, all our art, all our learning, all our hopes, have come to a meaningless end once we have heaped on our own heads the murder of God’s only Son.
Thank God, the story doesn’t end here, but Good Friday presses us to imagine if it did. What if the story ended at the cross? What if the God-rejecting sin of humanity wrought despair to life now and nothing short of a godforsaken despair for eternity?
Divine words of accusation stab into the ribs of humanity:
You have swelled up around him like a wall of unfounded hate and vicious lies (Psalm 69:4).
You have circled him like ravenous dogs (Psalm 22:16).
You have ambushed the beloved son (Mark 12:1–9).
You have killed the Author of Life (Acts 3:15).
Let these hard words sting as we consider for a moment together how stupid and how foolish and how ignorant and how wicked is the human heart to have brought this end upon human history — the darkest day of mankind, the apex of human ignorance, a situation so hopeless that human history seems to have been brought to its very end. What now can we look forward to but only eternal despair and desolation forever?
But sinful mankind does not get the last word. How appropriate the prayer of the dying Christ — “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
As a human race we can scarce understand what we've done, what we've unleashed in evil ignorance.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer Works, Vol. 10, Barcelona, Berlin, New York: 1928–1931 (Fortress, 2008), 487–88. ↩