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Good Friday: Buffet or Cafeteria?

Photo of Daniel McCoyDaniel McCoy | Bio

Daniel McCoy

Daniel is happily married to Susanna, and they have 3 daughters and 2 sons. He has his bachelor’s in theology (Ozark Christian College), his master of arts in apologetics (Veritas International University), and his PhD in theology (North-West University, South Africa). His master’s thesis was on apologetics to atheists, and his doctoral dissertation was on apologetics to Buddhists. In 2014, he co-authored The Atheist’s Fatal Flaw with Norman Geisler. Daniel works as editorial director for the Renew Network. His passion is to help people understand that they can totally trust Jesus. He plays guitar and piano and occasionally enjoys writing songs. daniel@renew.org

I had just spent a week in Mexico on a high school mission trip. We crossed back over the border and stopped at a restaurant where we could enjoy familiar food. Best of all, we were told that the meal was a gift: the leaders of the trip were covering the cost.

Now, I had been to buffets before. I knew the drill, and it made me drool. At all-you-can-eat buffets, you load up and overeat. In fact, you’re almost supposed to overeat, because that way, you get your money’s worth. For one sum, you’re getting as many platefuls as you can pack away. For a kid, that’s a lot of trips to the dessert line.

This buffet was a bit different than what I was used to. There was still a ton of choices. But instead of filling a plate, you filled a tray with tiny plates. And the tiny plates already had a particular kind of food on it.

Well, I had just been serving all week in a foreign country. It was time to indulge. So, I grabbed anything and everything that looked good to me. The tray was wiggly and heavy by the time I got to the end of the line. But it was at the end of the line that something unexpected happened. Instead of taking the tray to the table, I had to pause and wait. But wait on what? Wasn’t everything already paid for?

It was then that I realized that the cash register wasn’t at the beginning of the line but at the end.

And—even more strangely—the cashier was counting up each item on the tray. On the screen, I saw the numbers mount with each count. It wasn’t long before the numbers got embarrassing: another $4 for my third entrée, $3 more for a second, and then a third, dessert.

At a buffet, you pay one price for all-you-can-eat. But, as it turned out, this wasn’t a buffet. It was a cafeteria. In a cafeteria, you have to pay a price for each individual item. But this was even worse, for I wasn’t the one paying. Each individual item meant more cost for the kind people who were covering our meal.

So what does all this have to do with Good Friday? Well, on Good Friday, we solemnly celebrate that the sins of those who trust in Jesus have been paid in full.

Question: Which model more closely resembles the way our sins were paid for: a buffet or a cafeteria?

For Jesus, did it feel like a set price that automatically covers everything, or did Jesus feel the full cost of each and every one of my sins?

Isaiah 53 prophecies what Jesus would experience on the cross. To describe what he would bear on the cross, Isaiah uses plural words ending in s—words such as griefs, sorrows, transgressions, and iniquities. And if Jesus’ anticipation of the price He would pay is any indication, we are told that, the night before, Jesus was in such anxious agony that “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).

My hunch is that Jesus felt a blow from each and every one of my sins on the cross. This was no swift swiping of a credit card. This was a digging up of each embarrassing, shameful decision from the darkest corners of our hearts. Once unearthed, each sin must have shot a jolt of betrayal throughout His body as it was nailed into His own heart.

What a horrifying experience for Him “who knew no sin” to take on each one of our sins, such that the Holy One Himself became sin (2 Cor. 5:21). 

And what’s most astonishing of all is this forgiveness of each and every sin was done, not in bitterness, but in love. It was a gift of grace that cost Him everything. Let us take in just how enormous a gift it was.

This Good Friday, let us remind ourselves that, not only does each sin we choose to commit come with a terrible cost to our relationships. But each sin we choose to commit was felt in full by Jesus as He paid it in full.

Fill us, O Lord, with gratitude for this enormous gift—that the wrath for each and every sin we commit was felt and paid in full. And rather than returning like a dog to his vomit, let us live in the freedom and joy that comes from being debt free from sin.