Death by Love
- Thursday, October 09, 2008
For many years, the most sacred place on earth had been the temple, where the presence of God dwelled behind a thick curtain. Only one person a year, the high priest, was allowed to pass by that curtain and enter the presence of God on one day, the Day of Atonement. At the death of Jesus, however, the temple curtain was torn from top to bottom, signifying that God had opened his presence to the world through the cross of Jesus.
Though it was daytime, darkness came as Jesus was prepared for burial. Because Jesus died in poverty, there was not even a burial site prepared for him. A wealthy man named Joseph of Arimathea generously gave his own tomb as a gift to house the body of Jesus, in fulfillment of the promise Isaiah had made hundreds of years earlier, that Jesus would be laid with the rich in his burial (Isa. 53:9).
Three days after his death, Jesus rose with the sun on Sunday morning, triumphing over Satan, sin, and death, just as he had repeatedly promised (Matt. 12:38-40; Mark 8:31; John 2:18-22). Jesus then escaped from his roughly one hundred pounds of burial wrappings and spices, rolled back the large stone covering the entrance to his tomb, walked past the guards on duty, and walked into town on the feet that still bore the scars of his crucifixion.
Over the following forty days, Jesus appeared to crowds upward of five hundred people, proving that he was God who had come to fulfill the promise given to our first parents, that a boot would stomp on the head of the Serpent and liberate those who were held captive in sin and death (1 Cor. 15:1-11). Among those who witnessed Jesus' resurrection and were convinced of his deity were Thomas the doubter, who needed to touch Jesus' scars before he would believe, and Jesus' own mother and brothers, James and Jude, who began worshiping him as their God. His two brothers became Christian pastors and wrote books of the New Testament bearing their names.
Following Jesus' ascension back into heaven, the early church, numbering only one hundred twenty people, gathered informally for a time of prayer, seeking what God would have them to do and awaiting the empowerment of God the Holy Spirit that Jesus had promised. The first pages of Acts record that on the Jewish holiday of Pentecost, which commemorated God's giving the Law to Moses, God the Holy Spirit came with supernatural power, and three thousand people converted to Jesus in a single day.
The flame of Pentecost has continued to burn brightly ever since; today, a few billion people worship Jesus as their only God because they, like Paul, have realized that Jesus died for them personally (Gal. 2:20). They gather together each Sunday, rather than the traditional Jewish Sabbath day (Saturday), because Sunday was the day of Jesus' resurrection; they gather as the church that was purchased by Jesus at the cross (Eph. 5:25). In these churches, the faithful preachers of the gospel, like Paul, preach nothing but the cross and the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 2:2). In these churches, the faithful servants of the gospel are not ashamed of the cross (Rom. 1:16) but rather boast in the cross (Gal. 6:14), though they are deemed by many to be nothing but fools for Christ (1 Cor. 3:18). Their greatest fear is that they would live as hypocrites and enemies of the cross (Phil. 3:18). In sum, the Christian church lives as a witness to the work of Jesus on the cross for sinners.
In conclusion, it is tempting to look upon the crucified Jesus with condescending pity and feel sorry for his brutal suffering. Yet, out of respect for Jesus' dignity we must resist that temptation, because Jesus did not die as yet another helpless victim. Rather, with the cross on the horizon of his life, Jesus said that no one would take his life from him in defeat, but rather he would give it and take it up again in victory (John 10:18). Furthermore, Hebrews 12:2 encourages us to "[look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God." In dignity and triumph, Jesus endured the cross because of the joy that awaited him on the other side of his resurrection, where the Father is glorified in heaven and sinful people have been atoned for on the earth. Today Jesus sits upon his throne in heaven, smiling as he rules over all creation and prepares for the day of his final coming to establish his eternal throne upon the earth. This triumphantly joyous Jesus is not served by our pity but by our praise.
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