Redeeming Love

It happened on an early Sunday morning, the beginning of a beautiful day even though deep sorrow hung in the air. Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome, were going to the tomb to anoint the body of Jesus with spices. Suddenly, a violent earthquake shook the earth, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven, and going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it. His appearance was like lightening, and his clothes were white as snow. The guards were so afraid of him that they shook and became like dead men.

The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid for I know you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: ‘He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you back into Galilee. There you will see him.’ Now I have told you.”

The Back Story

God created the earth full of beauty and grace. He created humans to have companionship and the joy of loving relationship with him. But humans, being created in the likeness of God himself, wanted more; wanted to know everything God knew and took it upon themselves to do their own will, disregarding the will of God. Instead of living forever with God, now humans were condemned to live only a short life on earth that would end in their death, and eternal separation from God.

But God loves his creation and had a remedy for that.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son, Jesus, to condemn the world but to save the world through him.”       ~John 3:16-17

The Christmas story tells how Jesus entered the world as a human being.  He gave up his throne in heaven, his God-position, glory, honor, beauty, perfectness, and safety, choosing to put aside his Godhood to experience all of  life on earth that humans experience, good and bad, including the worst pain and agony, emotionally and physically, that humans endure. This was to fulfill God’s plan for the reconciliation of mankind to himself. While he was here, Jesus lived among the people as any common man, except for one thing: He was both human and the Son of God. He was tempted in every way that we as humans are tempted, and yet he did not yield. He lived a holy and sinless life. He befriended, mentored, and taught people. He did miracles so that people would come to know and understand how much God loves them. He came to save them.

… back to the story of the empty tomb on that Sunday morning...

The previous Thursday: Jesus gathered with his disciples to eat the Passover meal. He told them more about who he was, and God’s plan that would make it possible for all people to be saved and reconciled to God. He warned them that he would not be with them much longer. He was disappointed that they understood so little about what was to come, and he knew that one of them was about to betray him, which broke his heart, and yet, he was obedient to God and remained committed to carry out God’s plan to completion.

Jesus went to the Garden of Gethsemane to pray, taking the twelve disciples with him and saying to them, “Sit here while I go over there and pray.”

He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”

Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

(The cup represents his crucifixion.)

Then he returned to his disciples and found them sleeping. “Couldn’t you men keep watch with me for one hour?” he asked Peter. “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.”

He went away a second time and prayed, “My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.”

An angel from heaven appeared to him and strengthened him. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.

When he came back, he again found them sleeping, so he left them and went away once more and prayed the third time, agonizing over what was to come.

He returned to the disciples, saying to them, “Are you still sleeping? Look, the hour has come, and the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!”

While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived, and bringing with him a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders. Jesus, knowing all that was going to happen to him, went and asked them,

“Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied.

“I am he,” Jesus said.

When Jesus said, “I am he,” they drew back and fell to the ground.

Again he asked them, “Who is it you want?”

“Jesus of Nazareth,” they said.

Jesus answered, “I told you that I am he. If you are looking for me, then let these men go.”

Then Peter, who had a sword, drew it and struck the high priest’s servant, cutting off his right ear.

Jesus commanded Peter, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?” And he touched the man’s ear and healed him.

Then Jesus said to the chief priests, the officers of the temple guard, and the elders who had come for him, “Am I leading a rebellion that you have come with swords and clubs? Every day I was with you in the temple courts, and you did not lay a hand on me. But this is your hour – when darkness reigns.”

They arrested Jesus and took him to the Caiaphas the high priest, where the teachers of the law and the elders had assembled. The chief priests and whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so they could put him to death. They asked him many questions, trying to trap him.

Finally, the high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Messiah, the Son of God.”

“You have said so,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: From now on you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of The Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.”

Then the high priest tore his clothes and said to the crowd, “He has spoken blasphemy! Why do we need any more witnesses? Look, now you have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?”

“He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and mocked him, saying, “Prophesy to us, Messiah. Who hit you?”

While all this was happening, the disciples scattered, staying amongst the crowd, afraid to be seen with him. Peter, when asked if he knew Jesus, denied it three times, just as Jesus said he would.

Early Friday morning:  All the chief priests and elders made their plans to execute Jesus. They bound him, led him away and handed him over to Pilate the governor. When Judas, who had betrayed him and arranged for his arrest, saw that Jesus was condemned, was seized with remorse and said, “I have sinned for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” So Judas threw the thirty pieces of silver he had been paid to betray Jesus into the temple and went out and hung himself.

Pilate asked Jesus if he was the king of the Jews. Jesus asked him, “Is that your own idea or did others talk to you about me?”

“Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”

Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”

“You are a king then!” said Pilate.  Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born, and came, is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

“What is truth?” retorted Pilate. With this he went out again to the Jews gathered there and said, “I find no basis for a charge against him. But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of Passover. Do you want me to release ‘the king of the Jews’ ?”

They shouted back, “No, not him! Give us Barabbas!” (Barabbas had taken part in an uprising and was truly guilty.)

Then Pilate took Jesus and flogged him. He was whipped again and again, leaving his body torn and bleeding. The soldiers twisted together a crown made of thorny twigs and pressed it onto his head, gouging his scalp. They clothed him in a purple robe and went up to him again and again, mocking him, saying, “Hail, king of the Jews!” And they slapped him in the face each time.

As soon as the chief priests and officials saw him dressed this way, they shouted, “Crucify!  Crucify!  Crucify him!”

Pilate told them, “You take him and crucify him then. I find no fault in him.”

The chief priest spoke again, “But we have a law that says he must die because he claimed to be the Son of God.”

This frightened Pilate. He asked Jesus, “Where do you come from?”  But Jesus gave him no answer. “Do you refuse to speak to me?” Pilate asked. “Don’t you realize I have power either to free you or to crucify you?”

Jesus answered, “You would have no power over me if it were not given to you from above. Therefore the one who handed me over to you is guilty of a greater sin.”  From then on Pilate tried to set Jesus free, but the Jews kept shouting, “Crucify him!”

“Here is your king then,” Pilate said, and handed Jesus over to be crucified.

The soldiers took Jesus away. He was required to carry the cross on which he would be crucified, which was made of two heavy rough-hewn posts tied together to form a cross. The weight of it caused its rough edges to dig into his torn and battered body, and he stumbled to the ground from the pain of carrying it. Along the way they met a big man named Simon, and forced him to carry the cross the rest of the way.

When they reached the place called Golgotha, meaning “the skull,” they crucified him there, driving long spikes through his hands to nail him to the crossbar, his arms stretched out wide. They drove more long spikes through his feet to anchor his body to the post for they could not touch the ground. (Crucifixion was a torture designed to cause a slow agonizing death over several days.) Jesus was positioned between two criminals.

Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

The crowd and those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads, and shouting, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!”

The chief priests and elders mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.”

The soldiers also came up and mocked him. They offered him wine vinegar and said, “If you are the king of the Jews, save yourself.” And then they laughed.

A sign was nailed above his head which read: KING OF THE JEWS.

One of the criminals who hung there also hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

Jesus waited that long day for death to overcome him with a crowd of onlookers mocking and spitting on him.  Every breath he took caused his body to move, making the thorns gouge his brow and the wounds on his hands and feet deeper, causing more pain and bleeding. The heinous cruelty, even the tortuous and agonizing physical  pain, was outdone by the emotional and spiritual pain. He had been betrayed by those he loved, mocked by his people, unjustly sentenced by his leaders, and worst of all, he had the sins of the whole world heaped upon him – the One without sin – while His Father gave him over to death.

It was about noon and darkness came over the whole land, for the sun stopped shining.

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?)

One of the soldiers standing there ran and got a sponge, filled it with wine vinegar, put it on a staff, and offered it to Jesus to drink. When he had received the drink, Jesus said,

It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

{2 Corinthians 5:21  “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”}

At that moment the temple curtain was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection, went to the holy city, and were seen by many people.

The soldiers guarding the tomb saw all that happened and were terrified.  “Surely he was the Son of God!” they exclaimed. When the witnesses saw it all, they beat their chests and ran away. All except those who knew him, including his grieving mother who had witnessed everything from the beginning.

Now it was the Day of Preparation for the next day was to be a special Sabbath. The Jewish leaders did not want the bodies left on the crosses so they ordered the soldiers to break the legs of them so they would die sooner and be taken down. However, when they came to Jesus, they did not break his legs because they saw that he was already dead. Instead one of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.

Later, Joseph of Arimathea, asked Pilot for the body of Jesus, and with Pilot’s permission took the body away with the help of Nicodemus. They wrapped the body with spices and strips of linen and laid him in a tomb that had never been used.

Saturday:  Fearing that Jesus would do what he said he would do – rise again after three days- Pilot ordered the tomb to be secured.  Soldiers went to the open tomb where Jesus’ body lay and rolled a huge stone in front of the opening. They put the seal of Rome upon the stone, and assigned guards to watch over it. Because it was the Sabbath, no one else came to the tomb.

Sunday: Earthquake!  Light as bright as lightening!  The women gathered at the tomb were afraid.  But the angel who was the bright light rolled away the stone and told them those beautiful words at the beginning of this glorious story:

He is not here!  He is risen!  Go and see the place where he lay.” When they entered, they saw the linens in which his body had been wrapped, folded and placed where he had lain, but his body was not there. Suddenly two men in clothes that gleamed like lightening [angels] stood beside them. Frightened, the women bowed their heads to the ground, but one of the men said, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here for he is risen!”  So the women left the tomb to go do as the angel guarding the tomb had instructed.

Jesus was unjustly arrested, crucified, buried, and rose to life again on the third day, just as he said he would.  He fulfilled every prophecy about the Messiah in perfect detail.

He proved he is the Son of God.

He completed His Father’s plan of salvation. He sacrificed his own life on the cross, taking upon himself the sins of the whole world, past, present, and future, that we could be free of sin, and be righteous in the eyes of God to be reconciled to him if we choose to believe.

“But he was pierced for our transgressions,
    he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
    and by his wounds we are healed.”   ~Isaiah 53:5

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead…”  ~ I Peter 1:3

“Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.”  ~ I Peter 1:8-9

If you have not yet asked Jesus to be the Lord of your life, today is the day of salvation, as he said:  …”I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation”  ~ 2 Corinthians 6:2

 

Narrative Scripture references (NIV)
Matthew 26:17 to 28:20
Mark 14:12 to 16:19
Luke 22:7 to 24:8
John 18:1 to 20:18