There are two kinds of death we face in this life. There is physical death, which Jesus experienced in his crucifixion on a cross at Golgotha. And there is also a spiritual death, which was aptly described by Evanescense in their hit single, “Bring me to Life”,
Wake me up inside, wake me up inside; call my name and save me from the dark. Bid my heart to run; before I come undone; save me from the nothing I have become…
Neither kind of death is pleasant.
They are both disturbing and distressing; not really the kind of stuff we want to spend much time thinking about. But the profound truth of this weekend is that we cannot know the meaning and significance of Christ’s resurrection, unless we are also willing to face the reality of death – in all its forms!
Scholars over the centuries have stated that Easter stands at the apex of the Christian theology. Paul the apostle said it this way,
If Christ has not been raised, then your faith is useless…If we hope in Christ only for this life, we are the most miserable people in the world…
I Corinthians 15:17,19
Celebrating Easter is a no-brainer. However, I must admit that as important as this event is theologically, I have not connected with that significance personally for the last couple years, and I’m not proud of that fact, but over the last few weeks I decided to spend some time sorting myself out.
What occurred to me, is that slowly but surely, I have wanted to experience the joy of Easter without dealing with the hardship of Good Friday. I wanted to celebrate the good news of the resurrection without first grappling with the seriousness of crucifixion – and the core of the Christian message is that these events must be embraced together. We must deal with these truths in tandem.
What surprised me in my personal processing is how much I resisted this joint consideration. Perhaps you feel it too. Why do we need to spend time reflecting on the death of Jesus? That’s the bad news portion of Holy Week. It was such a horribly gruesome scene. It was completely unfair. It even seems a bit un-necessary to have to re-hash it. We hate it when a good man dies. So, why do we want to re-live it?
In fact, it seems absurd to call this Good Friday!
I’d like to take you through the process I have walked through over these past few weeks. Yes, Jesus was a good man! Yes, his death was unfair, gruesome, and far beyond what he deserved. But this crucifixion wasn’t just about him. His death (though it occurred many years ago) has significance for us here today. Let me explain how.
When we see Christ as he is – in all his fullness and glory (no one really argues whether or not Jesus was an exceptional human) – we realize how much different he is from us. As a result, we can’t help but feel the gap between what we are and who he is. If knowing Jesus on a personal level (spiritually) is the way for us to live in/with him, then getting closer to him is what we most need, but there is too much distance to make up.
In other words, the very reason we feel drawn to Jesus (that he is so much more than just another guy) is also what makes us feel so far away from him. We want to move closer, but there is just too much distance to cover – and there is simply not enough life left to bridge the gap on your own. We can’t do enough good to overcome our own brokenness!
That is why Jesus purposefully and willingly died on a cross. What we could not do for ourselves, he did for us. The reason we must remember Christ’s death, and the reason we call it “good” Friday, is because without it we would remain lost and separated. It was because of his great love for us that he allowed himself to be beaten and crucified. It was not because he was too weak to fight back. Rather, it was that he had us on his mind. He knew exactly what we needed in order to be redeemed. He did it all for our sake. He did it for you and me!
Now, one of the things that I have found most ironic is that when people finally see this, when we see that Jesus died for us, it’s still difficult to embrace. It’s hard to accept a gift like that. When we work hard, and receive a paycheck, we understand that arrangement. We feel comfortable with that arrangement, because we understand that system. It is the system of fair exchange.
But, when we talk about someone dying in our place, or someone making up the difference that we could never pay ourselves that takes us to a whole new realm. It takes real humility to accept that. It takes even greater humility to admit our need for it. It takes the most profound kind of humility to realize that our sin required that.
In fact, when we start considering that proposition, and we realize the truth of it, we must die our own kind of spiritual death. For that is when I realize how offensive our sin really is, and that there is nothing we could have ever done to make ourselves right. Christ loved me enough to take the cross that I deserved, and that changes everything.
I can remember growing up around the church. I heard the statement “Jesus died on the cross for our sins” probably hundreds of times. I even mouthed the words myself during the responsive readings, taken from the back of our hymnals every Sunday. I heard the pastor utter those words when we passed communion down the aisle once a month. I heard sermons about it, and there was even a stained-glass window in the sanctuary depicting the scene. But the meaning alluded me. It was never personal. It was religious. However, when my eyes were finally opened to the truth of it, I was absolutely overcome by the implications of it.
Perhaps you have experienced this very same thing – and it is hard to find the words to adequately describe what happens inside when this truth is finally made real to you. It affects you deeply. And you know what? If that were the end of the story, there wouldn’t be much to celebrate. You’d just end up feeling terrible. “I did this to him! My sin nailed him to that cross.” What a place of despair! But, once we feel that, and realize there is also an Easter that follows it – it becomes a life-changing revelation for good.
Yes, Jesus died for our sins, but he did not stay in the grave. He rose from the dead! And in the same way that his death leads to a kind of spiritual death in us (when we understand it in all its fullness), so also does his resurrection become our own new day!
It stands to reason, doesn’t it, that if the alive-and-present God who raised Jesus from the dead moves into your life, he’ll do the same thing in you that he did in Jesus, bringing you alive to himself?
The Message, Romans 8:10
Lord, help us to the see the goodness of this day with fresh eyes, so that when think on Easter, will appreciate its profound miracle all the more deeply!