We are all familiar with the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. But several things jumped out at me as I considered the Easter story again this year in the run-up to Holy Week. These are observations I had not made before.
1. Christ did not die from the wounds inflicted upon Him on the cross. He said, “I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” (John 10:17-18) He had to willingly give up his spirit when He died on the cross.
2. Every other crucified person eventually lost the strength to lift up their body so they could take another breath. When they no longer had the strength to do so they suffocated. So they all lost consciousness before dying. Jesus was not only conscious when he took His last breath, but his last words were a loud cry which took a full lung of air, “Then Jesus, calling out with a loud voice, said, Father, into your hands I commit my spirit! And having said this he breathed his last.” (Lk 23:46) He did not suffocate. He gave up His spirit.
3. Jesus was nailed to the cross at about 9 am. The first three hours He received merciless ridicule and torment from the bystanders. But God’s wrath did not descend upon him until noon when the sky suddenly went pitch black as though someone had flipped a switch and turned out all the lights. There was no sun or moon or stars. This was not an eclipse. We know because Jesus was crucified on Passover. Passover is based on the lunar calendar and always occurs during a full moon. When Jesus was on the cross, the moon was on the side of the earth opposite the sun, not between the earth and the sun. The darkness that enveloped the earth was supernatural. It was palpable and absolutely terrifying.
4. The crowd was so terrified that they stopped mocking and immediately began beating their breasts in fear. Now God the Father began pouring out the full measure of His wrath against sin. A violent earthquake broke rocks into pieces. Graves were opened up and dead people came to life. (Lk 23:44-49, Mt. 27:45-54) Amazingly, this display of divine fury was directed against the One God called, “my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” ( Mt 3:16-17). It was not directed against those who mocked Him and scourged Him and crucified Him, as one might expect. Jesus was absorbing the punishment of those very people. So for three hours Jesus endured the hatred of man against God and for three more interminable hours he suffered the wrath of almighty God against sinful man. He could have chosen to stop the whole ordeal at any time, but He didn’t. He yielded to His Father’s will which was to make Him an offering for sin.
5. Jesus died at 3 pm, the exact hour the priests began the Passover sacrifice of thousands of lambs for the sins of the Jews. At that same time, the massive curtain that separated the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Jewish Temple was ripped from the top to the bottom as though an invisible hand had torn it in two, no doubt throwing the Temple into chaos and disrupting the sacrifice. Jesus’ sacrifice had opened access to God. Animal sacrifices were no longer necessary.
6. Some years later in 70 AD the temple was finally destroyed by the Romans as Jesus had predicted. This effectively abolished animal sacrifice. Now the Muslim Dome of the Rock stands on the same site, desecrating the place where the temple once stood.
Jesus’ Boundless Love
Think about the events leading up to Good Friday from Jesus’ perspective. From the very beginning Jesus knew how He would die and when it would happen. Because He knew all things, He knew what it would feel like. Yet this was the very purpose for which He had come and the time he called, “my hour.” He had an eternity to think about it, to anticipate it. In the days leading up to His crucifixion, he said, “I have a baptism to be baptized with, and how great is my distress until it is accomplished!” (Lk 12:50). As he contemplated what awaited Him in the Garden of Gethsemane, his anguish was so great that he sweat great drops of blood (Lk 22:44). Even so, He was not consumed by His own troubles to the extent that He could think of no one but Himself. Any other human being facing the same fate would have been unable to think of anyone but himself. But even in the midst of His agony, Jesus’ foremost thought was still the welfare of His loved ones.
Consider Jesus’ prayer for His disciples the very night before His crucifixion. This was the night Judas betrayed Him. See how he pleads with the Father to protect the disciples, to sanctify them, to fill them with the love of God and to unify and glorify them together with Him and His Father (John 17:6-26). What a heartfelt and selfless prayer given the awful events that await Him in just a few hours! The entire prayer is devoted to His followers. He made not one plea for Himself.
Then consider the selfishness of the disciples. Rather than share Jesus’ sorrow after He told them they were going to Jerusalem where He would be killed, they began to argue about who would be greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven! Jesus had to sit them down and wash their feet to show them that in His kingdom the way to greatness is through humble service (Luke 22:14-27)! Another selfless act of compassion.
In John 16, Jesus tells his disciples, “But now I am going to him who sent me, and none of you asks me, Where are you going?” (John 16:5) He is disappointed that they show no concern about His troubles. He says, “A little while, and you will see me no longer; and again a little while, and you will see me” (v16). Finally the disciples want to know what He is talking about. But He tells them, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now” (v 12). Despite their indifference to His sorrow, He is worried about how they will take the news! He does not want to burden them with the details of His coming death because it would crush them! And yet He is the one who is about to be crushed for their sins, “But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities” (Is 53:5). And in a very magnanimous gesture toward such heartless friends, He says to them, “the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me,” (John 16:27). Shortly after that, they all abandoned Him. That is hardly something someone would say to His closest friends on the eve of their betrayal!
Then Jesus asks His disciples to pray for Him as they await His arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane. While He is pouring out His soul in prayer to His Father, His disciples fall asleep! Finding them all asleep, He says, “So, could you not watch with me one hour?” (Mt 26:40). Even then He didn’t chastise them for their lack of compassion. Instead, He warned them against falling into temptation, “Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Mt 26:41). Then when the soldiers came to arrest Him, Jesus interceded with them to let the disciples go free, leaving Himself without any earthly companions to provide comfort through the coming ordeal (John 18:8).
After His trial when Jesus was carrying His cross to the place of His crucifixion, a great crowd followed Him. The women were weeping loudly. Jesus turned to them and said, “Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children” (Lk 23:28) because He knew that Jerusalem would be destroyed by the Romans just a few short years later in judgment for their unbelief. He was grieved because of the ruin that would soon come upon them!
In the days just before His crucifixion, he gazed longingly at Jerusalem and speaking of its coming devastation said, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you would not! Behold, your house is forsaken. And I tell you, you will not see me until you say, Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Lk 13:34). He was grieving for the bloodthirsty mob that was about to ruthlessly scourge Him, mock Him and nail Him to a cross!
His very first words as He hung on the cross were, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). He told the thief who had been mocking Him along with the others but suddenly decided to repent, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Lk 23:43). No hesitation, no recrimination, only compassion.
Then, Jesus saw his mother standing with John. The Bible describes John as “the disciple whom Jesus loved” (John 21:20). He was very close to the family and was there offering comfort to Mary. The Bible says, “When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to his mother, Woman, behold, your son!” Then he told John, “Behold, your mother! ” (John 19:26-27) After that John took her into his home to care for her. In Jewish custom, it was the practice of the elder son to look after his mother in her old age. Now, out of compassion for Mary, Jesus was handing her care over to the disciple who was closest to Him.
God Absorbs Evil
The crucifixion of Jesus Christ was the epitome of evil. Man’s rebellion against God had culminated in the murder of His only Son. And people ask, “How could a loving God allow evil?” Evil is our fault! Nonetheless, Christ is not indifferent to the evil we have brought upon ourselves. He absorbed the full force of that evil — the worst that man can do– the first three hours on the cross. Then He absorbed the full fury of God’s wrath against evil the second three hours on the cross. He was betrayed by man and abandoned by God. That is how God dealt with the problem of evil — by absorbing it and then destroying it so that evil-doers can be set free from the power of evil. The book of Hebrews puts it this way, “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin” (Heb 4:15).
Jesus did this to show the extent of His love, mercy and grace to a people who were hostile toward Him. It is not good people who go to heaven, but forgiven people like the thief who repented on the cross. Some of the sinners in heaven are worse than those in hell. But the sinners in heaven have all been forgiven.
The Immeasurable Riches of God’s Grace
In the book of Revelation we have an account of heaven as seen by the Apostle John. All of heaven gathers round the throne of the risen Christ and says:
“Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals,
for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God
from every tribe and language and people and nation,
and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they shall reign on the earth.” (Rev 5: 9-10)
What makes Jesus worthy of such praise is the gracious way He responded to His Father’s will — to endure the physical abuse and utter humiliation of the cross and the wrath of Almighty God for the sake of the very people who were so determined to destroy Him. Without Easter it would be impossible to know the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and mercy.
As the book of Ephesians says, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus” (Eph 2:4-7). Jesus Christ took the worst both man and God had to offer and in exchange offered love and life and even a place of honor in His kingdom! In the words of that great hymn, “What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Jesus. What a wonderful Savior is Jesus, my Lord!”