In this season when the Jewish Passover feast is observed and Christians give their attention to the Crucifixion and the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, many look back to the story that is at once ancient and very present -- God's loving provision for His people.
It began before creation. It deals with the whole world -- but through people as individuals. As Adam and Eve introduced sin into the world, other individuals became the instruments for victory over it.
There was a man named Abram (later called Abraham) who lived in the city of Ur of Chaldees, on the Euphrates River, in what is modern Iraq. Out of the comfort of his home and familiar community, the Lord called him -- with a promise.
Abram was told that he would be taken to a Promised Land, that from him would come a Chosen People, and that all the world would be blessed through a Savior to be born of them.
With this promise, Abram set forth to settle in what is now Israel. His family obviously was insufficient to occupy it, for it already was the home of people of advanced culture, the Canaanites. They were numerous and had literature, science and military might. Later, they were to enjoy Iron Age accomplishments centuries ahead of Abram's descendants. But the Lord had planned for all of that.
HOW IT WORKED
One of Abram's descendants, Joseph, was sold into Egyptian slavery by his jealous brothers. But from their evil was to come good. Joseph, empowered by the Lord, was advanced in Egypt from prison to the palace, where he became prime minister to the pharaoh.
Then when famine came, as it often did in the Middle East, Joseph's family came down from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain that Joseph, with the wisdom of the Lord, had stored against such an eventuality. Instead of vengeance, Joseph showered love on his brothers, and the whole family, then numbering 70, came to Egypt to live.
At first, they lived like royalty, for Joseph was a high official. But then, as such things happen, there was a "change of administrations" in Egypt. A new pharaoh came to power.
It is possible that the pharaoh who favored Joseph was from the Hyksos -- shepherd kings of Semitic background, but that the new pharaoh was of a different, non-Semitic line. He was wary and jealous of the Semites of Joseph's family who had come to power and were becoming populous in Egypt.
So the Jewish people were turned from security to slavery.
After being hardened by 400 years of slavery and growing in number sufficiently to occupy the Promised Land, the Israelites' time came for Moses to lead the Exodus from Egypt. But the pharaoh was not ready to let his slaves go -- until a series of 10 plagues changed his mind.
The last plague was the death of the firstborn in every family throughout all of Egypt -- with an exception. The Hebrew people were told to mark their door posts with the shed blood of a sacrificial lamb, and the Lord would pass over, leaving them unharmed. After this, they were freed to march to the Promised Land.
This was the beginning of the Passover feast that is still celebrated today.
About 1,500 years later, Jesus Christ fulfilled the many Bible prophecies and was born as the promised Savior, from the Chosen People, in the Promised Land.
After a three-year ministry begun at about the age of 30, He approached the climax of His life on Earth.
He celebrated the Passover in a borrowed room, it being the custom for hospitality to be extended to any who did not have a place to observe this important feast.
Gathered with His disciples, Jesus instituted what Christians refer to as "the Last Supper." It is commemorated in Holy Communion. He said the broken bread and the wine were to recall His broken body and shed blood for the remission of sins.
It was shortly after the Passover feast when Jesus was arrested as He prayed in the garden of Gethsemane (the name means "oil press" in Greek, and the garden still has ancient trees producing olives from which oil may be pressed).
TO THE HIGH PRIEST
Jesus was arrested there and was taken from the garden on the slope of the Mount of Olives, marched down into the valley and up the hill to the house of Caiaphas, the high priest, on the southern side of Jerusalem, for the beginning of the trials that were to lead Him to the cross.
The vocal objection to Jesus' teaching was initially religious, then was changed to political. But there was also an economic motive.
There was a racket at the time whereby high priests sold concessions to money changers and purveyors of birds and other animals that could be purchased by worshippers for sacrifice at the Temple. Jesus had condemned the worldliness of the religious rulers and had driven the money changers from the Temple, threatening both the power and the pocketbooks of the religious leaders.
The religious rules provided that anyone charged with violation of the religious law must be tried by day in a special room in the Temple. But Jesus was tried at night before the high priest at his home, where trial was illegal.
The law also required that trials must be on two days, to guard against the possibility an accused might be railroaded by passion. But two days did not elapse between Jesus' arrest and final condemnation.
Furthermore, trials were illegal on feast days and on the Sabbath. The feast of the Passover had just been celebrated and the Sabbath was at hand, not allowing two days for legal trial.
It also was required by religious law that a written record be kept of the proceedings, but writing was considered to be "work" that was prohibited on holy days, and so no record could have been kept, violating the law.
The original charge against Jesus was "blasphemy," in that Jesus claimed to be the Son of God. Using false witnesses, with the condemnation being illegally unanimous (the law required a split vote as assurance against "lynching"), Jesus was convicted in the illegal trial.
But the alleged religious offense charged by the Sanhedrin did not carry a death penalty. That could be imposed only by the Roman overlords, who had no law against blasphemy. So Jesus then was taken before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate, and the charge was changed to sedition, attempting to overthrow the Roman government. That offense did provide for execution upon conviction.
Pilate examined Jesus, Who made it clear His kingdom was spiritual, not a political movement, and Pilate knew He was not guilty. So he sent Jesus before the puppet governor of Galilee, Herod, who mocked Jesus and sent Him back to Pilate.
Pilate tried to dodge the issue. He pointed out that it was the custom to release some noted prisoner as a sign of mercy in holiday periods. There was a murderer named Barabbas. Should Pilate release Jesus and hold Barabbas?
But the people, incited to be against Jesus, shouted that Barabbas should be released. Then what should be done with Christ? "Crucify Him!" they shouted.
Pilate couldn't stand up to the mob. After all, Roman rulers in captured territories were called home from their posts if there was too much strife in the streets. Pilate was willing to do the wrong thing to keep from angering the mob.
So Pilate washed his hands as though to absolve himself of blame, and surrendered Jesus to the mob with permission that He be crucified.
But who really caused Jesus' death? Does the responsibility lie with the mob, or with Pilate, or with both? The Bible teaches that the sins of all people crucified Jesus Christ: "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son" to pay the price of all sins for all who accept this gift through faith.
Innocent but condemned, Jesus Christ was whipped, crowned with thorns and taken out of the city of Jerusalem, to a hill called Calvary, or Golgotha, "place of the skull." There He was crucified on a cross between two thieves.
He hung there in pain and anguish, nails in His hands and feet, a spear wound in His side, thorn marks on His head -- and the sins of all the world bearing down on Him. And He died.
So how did this come to be known as "Good Friday"?
It was not the end of the story. Out of the evil of men came the good of God in providing forgiveness for sins and life eternal. It was proved by the bodily Resurrection of Jesus Christ from the tomb, His appearance to many on Earth and then His Ascension into heaven.
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16)
Thus eternal life with the Lord has been assured for all who accept the Savior, Who came from a Chosen People in the Promised Land, making Good Friday "good," indeed.