Jean’s Gospel: Good Friday: The Victory of our God
Has anyone ever asked you why the day of Jesus’ crucifixion is called “Good Friday”? To call it “good” might seem scandalous to an unbeliever. Who would believe that the goodness of God is made manifest in His suffering Son? Or put another way: How can the humiliation of the Son of God nailed to a cross be seen as “good”?
Therefore, it is with good reason that the Apostle Paul calls “Christ crucified” a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles (1 Cor 1:23). Yet, this was God’s plan of salvation for mankind from before the foundation of the world (1 Pet 1:20).
This year, I would like to look at a well-known story from the Old Testament, which points us to Christ and Good Friday.
“And Jacob was left alone. And a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day has broken.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go unless you bless me.’ ” (Gen 32:24-26)
The story begins at night with a wrestling encounter between two men: one was Jacob; the other was an unnamed antagonist identified only as “a man.” Although most English translations use the word “wrestle”, this encounter was not a sporting contest. It was an unexpected, violent assault by a strange antagonist. The struggle was waged on the ground, in the dust (hence the reference to wrestling), and it lasted all night.
When the antagonist saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, the man touched Jacob’s hip socket, dislocating his hip. The antagonist then demanded that Jacob release him, because it was daybreak. In dislocating Jacob’s hip with just a touch, Jacob recognized that he was contending against something greater than a mortal man. Even so, Jacob refused to release the man unless he would bless Jacob.
“And he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ ” (Gen 32:27)
Jacob held no real leverage or power whatsoever over his antagonist. With a second touch, the man could have stopped Jacob’s pulse. Yet the antagonist yielded to Jacob.
The man knew Jacob’s name, but he wanted Jacob’s confession. In the Old Testament, names often signified the character or destiny of a person. In Hebrew, the name “Jacob” literally means “heel-catcher” because Jacob emerged from Rebekah’s womb clutching the heel of his older brother, Esau.
More importantly, the name Jacob also signifies that he was a supplanter (or usurper), a cheater, as it is written: “Esau said, ‘Is he not rightly named Jacob? For he has cheated me these two times. He took away my birthright, and behold, now he has taken away my blessing.’ ” (Gen 27:36). By confessing his name to his antagonist, Jacob also confessed his poor character.
“Then he said, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.’ ” (Gen 32:28)
The man renamed the heel-catcher “Israel.” In Hebrew, the name “Israel” literally means “God fights.” Jacob’s name change was a type of new birth, which came with a new hope and destiny.
Jacob would no longer be the supplanter, but Israel: “for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Jacob was given a renewed character and a new relationship with God. He was no longer the strong, usurper, who attempted to control the Divine, but Israel who is totally dependent on God’s grace and lame. Israel would become the nation’s name.
In what outwardly appeared as defeat, God was the real victor. He would keep His promise to Abraham that from his offspring the Christ would come. He willingly yielded the wrestling victory to Jacob, so that he might absolve Jacob of his prior dishonest past and renew him with a new name and destiny, both individually and as a nation. This destiny would find its telos in the coming of Jesus Christ.
“Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered.’ ” (Gen 32:29-30)
Who was Jacob’s antagonist? The story says he was both God and man! The Prophet Hosea called him an angel (Hos 12:4), but this was no created angel: “for you have striven with God.” And Jacob’s declaration: “For I have seen God face to face.” This was God who temporarily took the form of a man!
We are given a foretaste in this short story of both the incarnation and the passion of Christ. In Christ, God came down from heaven and became incarnate to have a final “wrestling” encounter with Jacob. Israel had fallen from grace and had become Jacob again in character. But this final encounter was to the death!
Jesus struggled against the people of Jacob with His Word, calling men to repentance: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe the gospel.” (Mark 115) Like the man Jacob, the people would not relent (i.e., believe). And thus Jesus wept: “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes.” (Luke 19:41-42)
One final time, the God Man yielded to Jacob. On Good Friday, Jesus willingly laid down His life for Jacob and, by extension, for all of us. It was not because mankind was stronger than God, but because God’s mercy is stronger than man’s rebellion against God.
On Good Friday, Jesus died for our sins: “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree” (1 Pet 2:24). He atoned for the sins of the world with His own blood. On Easter, God raised Jesus from the dead, declaring His victory over the powers of sin, death and the devil.
Good Friday is “good” because it was God’s plan (and the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham) that in Christ all nations of the earth shall be blessed. This blessing includes the forgiveness of our sins, life and salvation through faith in Jesus. In this salvation, God blesses believers in Jesus with a new name – “Israel of God” (Gal 6:16) – but more than a new name, He also blesses us with a new hope and destiny: He adopts us as children, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8:16-17).
Therefore, may we celebrate the cross of Christ and Good Friday as the victory of our God. On Good Friday, Jesus fulfilled the Scriptures, as it is written: “But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed.” (Isa 53:5) We are forgiven! We are healed! Amen.
May His churches continue to boldly proclaim Christ and Him crucified for the redemption of the world. Amen.