What We Get Wrong About Jesus and Good Friday

I taught New Testament and Theology at John Brown University for fifteen years, and I’m still called back to “fill in” during my retirement years. Teaching university students is invigorating—and at JBU it’s also challenging because the student body has lots of students from Christian-infused homes, high schools, and youth groups.

More than a few students walk into class on the first day with “easy A” in their heads and a profound lack of interest in the study of Scripture. I passed by a group of students once, and I overheard a well-seasoned student of mine give a bit of advice to new students who were in one of my classes for the first time.

“Just remember, with her, it’s always about Jesus. It’s all about Jesus, who he was, what he did.”

One newbie replied, “OK! Shouldn’t be too hard.”

I kept walking and prayed once again for the wisdom and grace needed to introduce the Jesus of the New Testament who, in fact, is pretty hard to understand, trust, and follow. Even for his disciples who were with him 24/7 for three years!

Who Jesus Is

Christology, the study of “who Jesus is,” is all about the historical Jesus. Our understanding of who Jesus is can anchor our only hope for eternal life or set us adrift in a mental sea of philosophical gymnastics.

It can be tempting for us to reduce Jesus to simply an idea we argue about or an idol we defend or a seminar we research. However, the person of Jesus matters because Jesus was real. Christology matters because, in Jesus, God took on our flesh through the virgin’s womb, lived in our flesh through his life, baptism, temptation. He suffered in our flesh through dying and death, proved the reality of our redemption’s fullness in his resurrection, and restored our humanity in his ascension.

But beyond its own nature, Christology matters because who Jesus is, and what Jesus did for us, tells us who we really are.

The Christology of Good Friday defines our understanding of salvation.

How we define Jesus tells us how we really see ourselves.

It’s the bedrock of how we really understand sin, the suffering of Jesus and the cross. Any attempts to explain away or avoid who Jesus is as the eternal Son of God Incarnate actually erodes how we see our own sin.

A soft “Good Friday” Jesus who “just loves us so much” often fails to take God’s attitude toward human sin as seriously as the suffering and cross of Jesus demands. The wrath of God is a reality concerning sin and its ultimate judgment.

Only when we are convinced our righteousness is a filthy rag, that our best efforts don’t aid grace, that faith is a gift, and that we are utterly without hope apart from Jesus, our Christology will reflect the truth of God found in Jesus Christ.

The Christian life is a journey in the “footsteps” of Jesus (1 Peter 2:21) all the way to the cross. It’s a lifelong journey of denying ourselves, taking up the cross of dying to self, and losing our lives for His sake (Mark 8:34—38).

When we follow Jesus, we share in his suffering on the way to sharing in his glory (Romans 8:17). If we abide in Jesus, we know and obey his word (John 15:7-10). If we are known by Jesus, we are indwelt by his Spirit (Ephesians 1:13-14). If we pray in his Name, the Father responds affirmatively to the will of the Son reflected in our own prayer (John 14:13-14).

Knowing God as our Father is all about knowing Jesus as God’s Son. Our relationship with God as Father is mediated by how Jesus the Son related to God as Father. Our dependence on God the Holy Spirit is only possible because of the redemption gained for us in the work of Jesus Christ. It’s all about Jesus because there is no salvation apart from his person, life, work, word, hope, promise, intercession, obedience or love.

If the cross of Good Friday becomes a place of a martyr and not the obedience of God the Son, we are left in our hopelessness with only a unique example. And our understanding of sin necessarily shrinks to meet our own expectations.

If Jesus as the Son was not God, not begotten but made, not one in being with the Father, then the resurrection necessarily becomes an act of works-righteousness. And we become more religious to compensate for our loss of imputed righteousness.

If Jesus has not ascended to the right-hand of God the Father, with the fullness of our embodied and redeemed humanity, then there is nothing to do but stand around and look toward heaven (Acts 1: 9—11). And we get tired and weary because the Christian life would be propelled on our own energy, witnesses to nothing more than our own history.

My student was right. “Remember, with her, it’s all about Jesus.”

I can think of no finer accusation for a Christian theologian and sinner like me to hear.

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