It was Good Friday, but now, as surely as day follows night, sunshine follows rain, and a more normal life will surely one day follow this pandemic, it’s Easter Sunday. A day to both remember and celebrate the most significant event in history, a source of hope powerful to sustain in even the darkest of days.
The following is an updated version first posted last year.
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 simply impossible’. But the Bible says just the opposite, the Bible says it was impossible 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 which are 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, a few years before his death in 2010, ultimately lead to him coauthoring a book which was entitled ‘There is a God’.
It was the apostle Peter who made the above statement 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 to everyone 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, Peter 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 underlying reason for it. We tend to think that death is normal – the inevitable end to the wearing out of our bodies after long years of use or, alternatively, the tragic result of some violent insult, overwhelming infection, or malignant growth, something 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 the wrong that is 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 our being able to better understand how Peter can make his assertion that it was not possible for Jesus to stay dead.
It is because Jesus was sinless, that 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. As it is for his resurrection, the evidence for Jesus’ death is overwhelming, even bein* attested to by a paper published in the Journal of the American Medical Association in 1986. You can read it here:
So what then 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 reason that Jesus’ was born in the first place was ‘to seek and save the lost’ [Luke 19:10]. As the apostle Paul once wrote, 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 understood that the salvation he had come to 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 the reason why, when the time of his crucifixion drew near, Jesus ‘set his face to go to Jerusalem’. (Luke 9:51).
Jesus went to Jerusalem on purpose, with the expressed intention of dying there.
But why did he have to die? More than that, why did he have be killed? Why couldn’t he have simply slipped away quietly in his sleep at a ripe old age? The answer to that question is that ‘the wages of sin is death’ (Romans 6:23). If justice is to be upheld, sin must be punished, and the penalty 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 when we are find that it is who are the ones who are experiencing the injustice. The only time we are unhappy with justice is when we are guilty! I believe speeding drivers should suffer a penalty but many were the excuses I had for why I shouldn’t have had to attend the speed awareness course I was invited a few years ago!
God is, by his very nature, holy. He is perfectly right, perfectly just. And if he is to remain just, His standards must be he upheld. We, on the other hand, are not what we should be. We know, if we are honest, that we don’t live up to even our own standards let alone those of a holy and righteous God. Therefore, since as has been already been said, the ‘wages of sin is death’, we have a problem. We all deserve death, myself included and, unless a suitable substitute can be found, we face the prospect of experiencing that punishment ourselves.
But this is where the bad news of the law of God becomes the good news of the 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 a penal substitute, one who would act as the wrath absorbing, justice satisfying, atoning sacrifice for our sins. One who would gladly take our place and suffer for us the punishment we deserve.
At this point it is important to remember the mystery of the Trinity. God, though one, is three persons. We are not, therefore, seeing here a loving Jesus who absorbs the wrath of an vengeful despotic God. On the contrary, Jesus is himself fully God even as he is fully man. And the Father and Son, along with the Holy Spirit are one. As the Father loves the son, so the son loves the Father. Therefore, the death of Jesus, planned and agreed by all three persons of the Godhead before time began, and pointed too throughout the Old Testament [see for example here and here] reveals a loving Father every bit as much as it reveals a loving son,
The Old Testament prophet Isaiah had, some 700 years prior to the crucifixion, prophesied how God would one day 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. It’s 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.
And how great is that love with which he loves us. We cannot conceive how vast that love is. ‘For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far does he remove our transgressions from us’ [Psalm 103:11-12
‘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 then is how God loves us. Jesus death is not just a sign of God’s love, it is an act of love too, one that achieves our salvation. One that achieves our rescue. If I’m walking along the river with my wife and I turn to her and say ‘Darling, I love you so much and because I want to show you how much I love you I’m going to throw myself into the river’, and then, having made my declaring, I promptly proceed to do just that and drown, I am, what is commonly known as, an idiot! If however, as we walk along the riverbank she falls in and begins to drown, and I jump in to rescue her but, in so doing, lose my own life, then I have acted out of love. I will have demonstrated my love by my actions, by what I have done, by what I have achieved. I will have done a loving thing, but one that is no where near as loving as that which was done by the son of God who, of infinitely greater worth than I, died for those who were only deserving of death.
God then, in the death of his beloved son, at great personal cost, rescues us from himself so that we might enjoy knowing him forever, no longer having to live in fear of his righteous anger towards us. God’s justice was satisfied by his wrath being directed toward another, toward Jesus, the one who willingly absorbed it all for us on the cross. So completely did Jesus’ death pay the penalty for our sin that there is now no longer any of God’s anger left over to be directed at 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 merely laid aside his anger at sin only for it to rise up again at some later date, on the contrary, it has gone for good, even as it was fully poured out on Jesus.
That is why Jesus, as he hung on the cross, cried out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Remarkably God was turning his back on the son he loves so deeply in order to save we who have ourselves turned our back on God. And it why the apostle Paul can write that ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.’ (Romans 8:1). All condemnation towards those whose only hope for salvation lies in Christ is gone! The job of satisfying the requirements of the law and thereby maintaining God’s justice even as he forgives we who have sinned and deserve death is complete. As Jesus died he said ‘It is finished’ (John 19:30). He wasn’t talking about h8s life, rather he was talking about his work of atonement. And he was right, the resurrection on Easter morning proving that his sacrifice really was fully effective in paying the price for all that we have done wrong. God’s grace really is completely sufficient for even the chief of sinners.
Rest assured, knowing God for all eternity will not be dull like some people imagine. We have all had moments in our lives when we have experienced something truly beautiful – a glorious sunset perhaps, a magnificent mountain view maybe or perhaps waves crashing powerfully against a rocky coastline. These are awesome sights, ones to be fully enjoyed enjoyed. But they are mere a faint echo of what we will one day experience, they 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 [us], and [we] will be his people, and God himself will be with [us] as [our] God. He will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things [will] 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.
But now it is Easter Sunday.
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.
To read, ‘Good Friday – 2021’, click here
To read, ‘The Resurrection – is it Rhubarb?’, click here
To read, ‘Real Love?’, click here
To read, ‘Hope comes from believing the promises of God’, click here
To read ‘John 3:16’, click here
To read ‘Water from a rock’, click here
To read ‘The Sacrifice of Isaac’, click here