Black Friday. When these two words are placed in such proximity to one another, they have the potential to produce fascinating results. With some folks, these words, when used during the latter part of November, can evoke a passion that transforms normally mild-mannered people into wildly-wandering nomads in search of the deal of a lifetime.
I must admit that I’m trying to choose my words carefully to refrain from offending these fine people. The truth is, I’m really just afraid of them. If they would stand in a line that long, run that fast through a store, and fight that hard for something that will likely be obsolete in a few weeks – then I’d rather not offend them.
However, I must confess that I’ve taken part in one of these events. Notice I said one. One was enough for me. Additional full disclosure demands I mention that members of my family have received great deals on various products through the years. All of this got me to wondering. Since today is Black Friday, I was curious as to its origins.
According to www.history.com, "The first recorded use of the term ‘Black Friday’ was applied not to holiday shopping but to financial crisis: specifically, the crash of the U.S. gold market on September 24, 1869." The first time the phrase was used in conjunction with shopping was some eighty years later. "Back in the 1950s, police in the city of Philadelphia used the term to describe the chaos that ensued on the day after Thanksgiving, when hordes of suburban shoppers and tourists flooded into the city in advance of the big Army-Navy football game held on that Saturday every year. Not only would Philly cops not be able to take the day off, but they would have to work extra-long shifts dealing with the additional crowds and traffic. Shoplifters would also take advantage of the bedlam in stores to make off with merchandise, adding to the law enforcement headache" (www.history.com).
Depressing, isn’t it? Hang on, it gets better.
Use of the sales-enticing Black Friday phrase was redeemed by merchants in the latter part of the 20th century. "Sometime in the late 1980s, retailers found a way to reinvent Black Friday and turn it into something that reflected positively, rather than negatively, on them and their customers. The result was the ‘red to black’ concept…and the notion that the day after Thanksgiving marked the occasion when America’s stores finally turned a profit (for their fiscal year)" (www.history.com).
But the truth behind the phrase Black Friday goes back further than the 19th and 20th centuries. For millions of us, it can be traced all the way back to the 1st century. Here’s why.
It was an eerie scene. This public spectacle began before a hastily arranged Jewish court in the morning’s early hours. There are several reasons as to why this trial was illegal (by their own rules of jurisprudence), but that’s for another time. Having certified the predetermined guilty judgment sought by their religious leaders, the condemned man was harried and hurried over to the Roman Governor of Judea. Upon examination, Pilate found no fault in him. Wanting no part of this sorry excuse for justice, but unable to legally extricate himself, Pilate sent the prisoner to Herod, who returned him to Pilate, who eventually gave in to the demands for crucifixion rising from the increasingly unruly crowd. Even a scourge – which left the prisoner bleeding profusely and rendered him nearly unrecognizable – would not appease the people’s blood-lust, as they continued to demand the crucifixion of the man already condemned by their leaders. Pilate reluctantly agreed, and the crucifixion of Jesus carried Roman certification.
The process of crucifixion was a protracted event designed to wring the last measure of agony from the condemned. Having borne the weight of the cross (being assisted by Simon, a man from the northern African city of Cyrene) the procession arrived at the designated place – a skull-shaped hill located on the outskirts of the ancient city of Jerusalem.
Roman soldiers placed Jesus on the horizontal piece and His hands were pierced, fastening them to the beam. It was here that most condemned men would curse, scream, plead, spit, and shout all manner of vulgarities at the soldiers. But Jesus was different. So different in fact that He prayed for His tormentors. Luke penned the words Jesus prayed: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do" (Luke 23:24).
It was 9 a.m. local time when this grisly process began, and while it was not uncommon for crucifixions to last for days, the Bible tells us the crucifixion of Jesus lasted six hours. Six hours was long enough. Reading the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, a chronological narrative emerges. Each of these gospel writers provide information that reveal Jesus speaking seven times during those six hours. For the time being, let’s examine the fourth, the centerpiece of the words Christ spoke from the cross.
By noon, three hours in to the crucifixion, Jesus had spoken three times when everything went dark. Matthew provides testimony that "…from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land" (Matthew 27:45). According to Jewish reckoning, this meant that from the hours of noon until 3:00 pm, there was an unnatural absence of light. In that ninth hour (3:00 pm), Jesus pierced the darkness with an agonizing shout that no one else will ever need to utter. "And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’" (Matthew 28:46). Matthew translated this Aramaic question from the lips of Jesus as "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?" (Matthew 27:46). Students of the Scriptures are told by biblical scholars that this was the agony Jesus was experienced when, as Paul put it, God "…made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him" (2 Corinthians 5:21). Never before, and never again would the fellowship of Father and Son be severed. But on that awful day, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of humanity and suffered separation from God so that no one else would ever need to.
And by the way, this darkness and the ensuing declaration of victory ("It is finished!" see John 19:30) each happened on – that’s right – a Friday.
For me, this is where the real Black Friday began. All because of the substitutionary death of Jesus for sinners like me, and His subsequent resurrection three days later, I got the deal of a lifetime: eternal life.
But it gets better. On this Black Friday, His offer is still available for everyone – including you.
John Burleson is the Pastor of Calvary Church of Conway. Email him with questions and comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.