Easter Morning. The tomb is empty and Jesus is raised. Obviously.
I say obviously because it never could have been any other way. Some people have a problem with that – they say irrational things like ‘Dead people don’t come back to life – that’s just impossible’. But the Bible says just the opposite – that it was not possible for Jesus to stay dead.
‘God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it.’ (Acts 2:24)
Granted the dead rising to life again is not a common occurrence but if the rationale for you not believing in the resurrection of Jesus boils down to ‘It can’t happen so it didn’t happen’, then you are not being intellectually honest with yourself, drawing your conclusions on preconceived assumptions not based on fact. And it’d only take a resurrection to happen once for you to have to change your point of view.
At the end of a lecture he had given on the reasons for his atheism, noted philosopher Anthony Flew, was once asked the question, ‘But what if Jesus was raised from the dead?’. ‘Well,’ he replied ‘If Jesus was raised from the dead, that would change everything’. His response was consistent with his lifelong commitment to go where the evidence led, a commitment that would result in him coauthoring, a few years before his death in 2010, a book entitled ‘There is a God’.
It was the apostle Peter who made the statement above regarding the impossibility of Jesus staying dead. It is interesting to note the change that had occurred in Peter since Good Friday. After Jesus’ arrest he had been running scared, denying left, right and centre that he had ever even known Jesus. But here, on the day of Pentecost, just seven weeks later, he stands and publicly proclaims to a crowd of thousands the reality of the resurrection. The reason for the change in Peter isn’t hard to find: ‘This Jesus, God raised up,’ he says, ‘and of that we all are witnesses.’ (Acts 2:32).
Like Anthony Flew he had followed the evidence.
The evidence for the resurrection is well documented and a couple of links follow for those interested:
But why was it not possible for Jesus to stay dead? This is a philosophical argument and is based on the nature of death and the reason for it. We tend to think death is normal – the inevitable end to the wearing out of our bodies after years of use or, alternatively, the tragic result of some violent insult, overwhelming infection, or malignant growth that our bodies cannot withstand. But the Bible says that there is a more fundamental reason for why we die and that, it says, is because of sin.
Death is not part of how things should be – rather it is a travesty, the consequence of the presence of wrong in the universe, the penalty for the sin of which we are all guilty – myself more than anyone. An awareness of this opens the door to understanding Peter’s assertion that it was not possible for Jesus to stay dead. Jesus was sinless, therefore death could not hold him.
If we struggle to believe anything about the Easter story, it shouldn’t be the resurrection of Jesus – that bit stands to reason. The amazing part of the story is that he ever died at all. That the author of life should die is a great mystery – but die he unquestionably did, the evidence, as for his resurrection, is overwhelming – attested to even by a paper published in 1986 in the Journal of the American Medical Association ( https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/403315)
So what was the reason for Jesus’ death? The answer to that can be given in one word: Love. The love he had for those he came to save, those he was willing to lay down his life for, [John 10:15], those for whom his death would bring eternal life.
The very reason that Jesus’ was born in the first place was ‘to seek and save the lost’ [Luke 19:10]. The ‘saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’ (1 Timothy 1:15).
Jesus knew this and, furthermore, understood that the salvation he would achieve would be realised through his death. ‘The Son of Man must suffer many things’ he said, ‘and be rejected by the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.’ (Luke 9:22). That is why, when the time of his crucifixion drew near, Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’. (Luke 9:51) Jesus went there purposely to die.
But why did he have to die – more than that, why did he have be killed rather than slip away quietly in his sleep? Because ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23) – if justice is to be upheld, the penalty that must be paid for sin is death.
We all want to live in a just universe – we cry out for justice when we see others maltreated especially when that injustice is particularly great or we are the ones experiencing it. The only time we are unhappy with justice is when we are the guilty ones. Speeding drivers ought to be punished but the excuses I had for why I shouldn’t have to attend a speed awareness course a year or two back were myriad!
God is, by his very nature, holy, perfectly right – he has standards which he must uphold if he is to be just. If we’re honest, we know we don’t live up to even our own standards let alone those of a holy God. And since as has been stated the ‘wages of sin is death’ we have a problem for, unless a suitable substitute can be found, we must face that punishment ourselves.
Now this is where the bad news of the law of God becomes the good news of his gospel. Because, not only is God Holy and rightly angry at injustice he is, at the same time, merciful and gracious. God gave his only son to be the penal substitute we desperately need to take the punishment we deserve.
Isaiah had prophesied some 700 years previously how God would lay on Jesus our sin and punish him in our place: ‘But he was pierced for our transgressions;’ he wrote, ‘he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his wounds we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.’ (Isaiah 53:5-6).
Jesus, because of his love, both for his Father and for us, willingly took on our sin and died in our place so that we need not suffer that punishment ourselves. He was put to death so that ‘whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.’ (John 3:16). For our sake [God] made [Jesus] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21).
That is, God treats Jesus as if he had lived like us so that he can justly treat us as if we had lived like Jesus. This is what it means to say that God loves us – not that he thinks everything about us is just peachy, but rather that he treats us well despite how little we deserve his kindness. He loves us, not because we are lovely, but because he is loving.
‘In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10). ‘The wages of sin is [indeed] death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.’ (Romans 6:23). ‘And this is eternal life, that [we] know…the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom [he has] sent.’ (John 17:3).
This is how God loves us – how he shows it – by rescuing us from himself so that we might enjoy knowing him forever rather than forever being in fear of his righteous anger toward us. God’s justice was satisfied by his anger at sin being directed toward Jesus who willingly absorbed it all on the cross such that there is no longer any left over for us. That is what is meant by Jesus’ death atoning for the sins of those he died for. That is the meaning of ‘propitiation’ in the verse above. God hasn’t laid aside his anger at sin only for it to rise up again at some later date – it has gone for good as it was fully poured out on Jesus.
That is why on the cross Jesus cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) and why the apostle Paul can write that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 8:1). The job of satisfying the requirements of the law and maintaining God’s justice as he forgives us our sin is complete. As Jesus said, as he died on the cross, ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). The resurrection on Easter morning proves that the sacrifice was acceptable, that it was sufficient.
Knowing God for all eternity will not be dull like some people imagine. You know what it’s like when you see something truly beautiful – a glorious sunset perhaps, a magnificent mountain view maybe or simply waves crashing powerfully against a rocky coastline. It’s an awesome sight, one to be enjoyed. But such an experience will pale into insignificance when we see God face to face, when heaven is on earth and the dwelling place of God is with man. ‘He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’ (Revelation 21:3-4).
Seeing God and experiencing that future new creation will be infinitely more satisfying than the happiest times this world has to offer, better even than Easter Day. And the prospect of that future joy might just be enough to sustain us through the saddest times this world affords – days like Good Friday.
Easter morning – the tomb is empty and Jesus is raised.That’s good news – but not unexpected. It was always going to happen.
It was Good Friday? Then it was Saturday. But now Easter Sunday has come. Obviously.
If you have read thus far, I am (a) surprised [I believe the expression is TL:DR – Too long: didn’t read] and (b) grateful. Thank you.
I am aware that this has been long but some things need more than the length of a tweet if one is to have any chance of conveying their importance.
I am also aware that there will be some, perhaps many, who will consider what I have written as naive, irrelevant and perhaps even offensive. If that is you I trust you’ll accept my words as a genuine attempt to explain things I hold to be of first importance for us all to know and understand. If, as a doctor, I genuinely believed I had a life saving cure for your terminal illness, you’d consider it cruel of me if I withheld that treatment from you even if you didn’t share the belief in its effectiveness. So consider me foolish by all means, but I hope you’ll not consider me unkind in writing as I have. If one can not write of these things at Easter time, then when can one write of them?
For all that however, I hope that there may be others who will agree with what I have written and, rejoicing with me at the news of Jesus’ life death and resurrection know that this news is simply too good not to share.