Why do you seek the living among the dead? That was the question that rang in the ears of the women who went to the tomb that morning. They knew he was dead. They had seen him die. They wanted to get his body, to somehow prepare it for a proper burial. They must have known it would be an impossible task.
Jesus had been scourged. That’s a horrific form of torture portrayed vividly in The Passion of the Christ. Pieces of flesh were torn off of his back, buttocks, and thighs. Flesh had been ripped off in what has been referred to as “quivering ribbons of pulsating, bleeding flesh.” He had been beaten to within and inch of his life, and then they had stopped.
Later the women had watched as he was nailed, hands and feet, to a wooden cross where he hung for hours, again wracked in searing pain, but kept alive so the torture could be prolonged as much as possible. Then finally, after watching this horror while time seemed to stand still – finally, Jesus had cried out “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me?” Then he had proclaimed “It is finished”, and gave up his life.
Now, on the third day, they arrived at the tomb to perform their grim duties, only to be told that “He is not here”. Then the next three words they heard exploded into their hearts like a volcanic eruption – He is risen. Slowly the words, so incongruous, so completely unexpected, started to widen their eyes, to quicken their pulses, and to raise their astonished spirits. “Risen? What are you talking about? Dead men don’t get up and walk!”
Yet in the single most important event in the history of the world, he did just that. He rose from the dead by his own power. He rose to fulfill prophesies. He rose to fulfill things that had been prophesied about Him hundreds, even thousands of years earlier. Even His final words, “My God, My God, Why have you forsaken me” and “It is finished” were said just as had been foretold in the scripture. Jesus said “I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again.”
On this event hangs all of eternity
If Christ rose from the dead, everything Jesus taught suddenly becomes more important than money or fame or power or wisdom. His statements about Himself have to be taken more seriously. “I and the Father are one”, for example. If he rose from the dead, maybe even that audacious claim has merit.
But if He did not rise, if it is just a big myth or a hoax, then we all are dust in the wind. There is no hope for humankind outside the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The bible itself says that if “Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” .
Jesus Christ is the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. He always was and always will be. The bible says that “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”. It says that He is the maker of all things. There is nothing that’s been made that was not made by Him. He is life. He that has the Son has life. He that does not have the Son does not have life. Everything in the bible is about Him. Did you know that? It is the big, big story that God has been writing since the dawn of history. It is the story of grace. It is the story of God’s amazing plan of redemption for mankind. It’s the “gospel”, which means good news.
But why would God do such a thing? What did He possibly hope to accomplish? And why is it such good news? Well, before you can understand the good news, you have to come to terms with the bad news. And the bad news is that the only man who ever lived a life that was flawless in the eyes of God was the God-man, Jesus. So when the bible says that “There is no one righteous, not even one”, it’s talking about me. And it’s talking about you.
The commandments were given to us not as a means of measuring whether we are righteous enough to enter into paradise with our Lord. No, the bad news is that no one qualifies. So that way of attaining eternal reward is cut off by our own selfishness; by our own desire to serve only ourselves. No, the commandments were given so that God could subtly impress upon the minds and spirits of His people that without Him, they are utterly, hopelessly lost.
He created us to love us and to have fellowship with us. But He also gave us free will. He did not create zombies who had no will of their own, only the will to do their master’s bidding. No, if we don’t want Him, we are free to choose something else. And if we do not choose Him, He simply gives us over to our selfishness and our lusts and our greed. He says in effect, go ahead, knock yourself out. Eat, drink and be merry. But know this. There will come a day when you will find yourself out in the cold, where there will be crying and gnashing of teeth. But you will be right where you wanted to be. It is your own will that put you there.
But what about those who don’t want to be given over to their sinfulness? What of those who have a hunger and a thirst for righteousness, and who want to come to the Father, and to be with Him in paradise?
Jesus! The answer is Jesus. The only way to the Father other than living a sinless life is through Jesus. He himself said that he is the way, the truth and the life. He said that no one comes to the Father except by Him. All it takes is a simple step of faith.
But it all hinges on the cross – and on the resurrection.
John the Baptist was the one the prophet Isaiah spoke of when he said there would come one who would prepare the way – a voice crying in the wilderness. And when John laid eyes on Jesus for the very first time, incredibly he said “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.” How prophetic!
The resurrection of Jesus is real. More than that, resurrection BY Jesus is real. A short while prior to his own resurrection He brought Lazarus back from the dead. And Jesus talked openly of a general resurrection, when all will rise, some to eternal reward, some to eternal punishment.
Now comes the hard part. Yet it is also the easy part. It is one of the most poignant paradoxes in life. Ready?
Give up. Surrender. Stop trying to avoid God. Stop trying to pretend that He has not been pursuing you all of your life. Stop living to please others, and stop trying to please yourself. Come to the cross. Jesus said “For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.”
Stop saying that you don’t believe. Just open your heart and open your mind and say ‘Jesus, I want to know you. If you are real, show up in my life. I’m tired of living without you. I know that I have done many, many bad things in my life. I know that I feel ugly inside. I know that I have lived just for myself, and that the way you taught us IS the way. Lord, I want to be clean. I’ve been living my way for too long. Now I want to live your way. I want to live in a right relationship with other people, and I want to live in a right relationship with you. Change me, I pray. Make me a new person.’
For many, that’s an incredibly hard thing to do. It is illogical. It requires weakness, and neediness. We consider the mere thought of surrender as an affront to our own strength of will, our own courage, and our own ability to prevail over trials and troubles and difficulties. Let me help you with that.
First, you aren’t all that. Whatever you think you are, whatever strength or courage, or ability you have is a gift from your maker. He gave it, and he can take it away in a heartbeat. And one day He will. Your brain will turn to mush. Or your body will be invaded by some condition or disease, and you will be so weakened, so powerless, that you will surrender. It’s not a matter of if; it’s a matter of when.
Second, Jesus showed us how to do it. He was with His Father in heaven, enjoying his omnipotence and his ability to be unfettered by the limits of time and space, being hovered over by angels who adored and worshiped him and living without pain or heartache. Then he showed us his unfathomable love for us by first becoming a mere human, then by serving rather than being served, then by suffering in order to become the atoning sacrifice for sins of the very people who rejected him, spat upon him, tortured him and killed him.
The one who “was with God, and who was God”, in the ultimate act of sacrificial love, took upon his own body and soul the guilt of every man and every woman who ever lived or would live and had them nailed to a cross. And he died there with them, in submission to his Father in heaven.
So it’s hard to give up. It’s hard to admit our weakness and our need. But it’s not as difficult for us as it was for Jesus.
But there’s one more point to make here. It’s a point about faith.
Faith is absolutely necessary to attain the promises of God. But it’s nowhere near as hard as you think it is. Jesus talked of having a faith as small as a mustard seed. I heard one guy testify that his point of surrender went something like this. “God, I don’t know if you’re real, but I need help. I’ve made a mess of my life, and I need you to clean me up and use me for something worthwhile. But I love drugs too much to wait too long. So I’m going to give myself to you for a month, and if I’m not convinced by then, you’re out, and the drugs are back in. Amen.” He later said that within two weeks he was back on his knees thanking God, and committing unconditionally.
See, God will meet you more than halfway. It is absolutely impossible to find Him without taking that initial leap of faith. But when you do, He will run to you, embrace you with open arms and you will never be the same. That’s because that first halting step of faith is like a key that unlocks a buried treasure of hidden secrets. Suddenly, things will start to make sense that seemed nonsense before. Things you found difficult to accept will become like a sweet perfume to your life.
So this Sunday, amid family gatherings, Easter egg hunts, candy and the Easter bunny, stop and spend a few quiet moments contemplating the meaning of it all. And pray to thank God that, in the words of a beautiful song “Christ the mighty maker died, for man the creature’s sin.” And if you have not already done so, ask Him to become Lord of your life. It’s the most important decision you will ever make, but inviting Him in will become for you an indescribable joy and a priceless treasure forever.